We all sew in here, right? That means you all know how it is with us – our own projects always come in dead last when it comes to prioritization on a timeline. Same story here. Now that my niece and sister were solidly on their way to finished dresses, I had to start my own.
And I was stumped.
Let me clarify; I knew how I wanted to put the dress together and how to get it done. The problems were:
1) I had *too many* ways that I could proceed – nothing like choices to slow you down;
2) I was pretty sure the best way involved a whole lot of things I have never done before…
As with all projects, I spent a lot of this time pondering my stash of freshly purchased fabric. I am actually very proud of my selections, especially in light of the All Purple, All The Time palette from my inspiration image. I managed to find a range that looked good together and got pretty close to the original colors/textures of the piece. Woo hoo! The Palette (from L to R): Main Dress, Narrow Sash, Shawl
Then I spent another few days messing about with my accessory pieces. I started with the ‘fabric pauldron’ support structure you see on the left shoulder of the inspiration image. My sneaking suspicion is that Alphonse added this bit as an artistic whimsy (“Her shoulder would look so much better with a huge flying buttress of material…”), but since it was in the piece I had to try and make it work in my real-world dress.Flying Fortress of Fabric
I started my process by strapping Eloise (my dressmakers dummy[i]
, a gift from claughter713
) into my intended support garment. I knew I was probably going to end up draping the dress in the long run (although I feared the results) so I traced the shape of the Merry Widow onto Eloise’s form; this way I would be able to determine if my draping was going to cover the undergarment, even if the undergarment wasn’t on the form at the time of the draping. BTW - This was done with one of my favorite sewing accessory EVAH…Click On The Pic To Get Your Own - I am not the only one who loves them
.Eloise - Chalked And Ready To Go
First, I made a paper mockup of the general shape I thought would work for the pauldron which I pinned to Eloise’s shoulder, making sure to overlap the line of the undergarment[ii]
. This also gave me a chance to check the 'angle' of the pauldron's wear - not too sharp or droopy a line from my own shoulder.
I checked the result from all angles, trimmed and shaped it a bit, and then cut two layers of my craft felt[iii]
base, and an additional 'edging piece' of the same felt that matched the outer curve of the pauldron. Using my machine I sewed all the layers together along all edges, on the outer edge I sewed a number of channels, spaced approx. 3/8 of an inch apart. Between this stitching and placing a section of featherweight boning in the outermost channel, I achieved the level of firmness in the shape that I needed.Weirdest fabric boomerang ever.
I then cut a cover from my fashion fabric using the same paper pattern and covered the whole shape, handsewing the final seam. Now I could work on placing my dress fabric over a support structure that looked (essentially) like another bit of draped fabric.Easy Smeeshesy Items
Next up were the sash and the shawl. The making of both is pretty easy, so let’s skip on to the next project. The Medallion Belt
Early on in the project (like, back in April) claughter713 and I scoured the interwebz looking for a source offering oval belt buckle blanks for a price that was almost reasonable. What we discovered was that a wholesale license was going to be needed in order to get the quantity necessary for less than an arm-and-a-leg. Then I remembered, I *know* a costuming couple with a wholesale license – Better Yet! – they make custom belts!
I called A&B of Legendary Costume Works, they confirmed that they had the necessary blank on hand and were willing to give them to me. Hooray! Best of all, they hand delivered them at the headdress workshop.
Now I had the materials on hand, but they required both modification and painting in order to work the belt configuration I had in mind. So after I removed the original ‘mounting hardware’ on the backside of each, they got four holes drilled in them[iv]
and a coat of paint (or two) inside and out and then mounted them on (yet more purple) rawhide cord.
I tried them on Eloise and was pleased as punch with the results. But now I had no more ‘distraction work’ to do and needed to get on to the final project…THE DRESS
Seriously y’all, if I spend as much time sewing projects as I do *thinking about* how I can sew them, I would have an entire wardrobe full of gear.[v]
I knew that the dress could be done in a variety of waysm and this was what I had been considering:Plan A
: Fully draped dress mounted to a fitted underlayer with no actually ‘patterning’ in sight;Plan B
: Fully patterned dress with some level of decorative draping over the top;Plan C
: A combination of the above (with about 12 variations possible dancing through my head at any given time).
So I hemmed[vi]
and hawed, I did test drapes and cried at how they looked. I searched the internet for resources on how other people had made their Mucha creations, and found none. I leaned heavily on the trust that my fellow LSCaCS members were getting along with their projects, and they looked great (so mine could hid in the background if necessary). Then I realized I needed to just pull the trigger on Plan C if I was going to be wearing ANYTHING[vii]
So I started with an underlayer. Using Eloise as my base, I draped a pattern for a basic strapless bodice with a dropped waist. I bit my lip as I made my mock-up and then had my niece help me with a final fitting.
And what do you know? It. Totally. Worked.[viii] With a bit of tweaking, the wrinkles seen here didn't end up in the final patternMaking the mock up
Once the basic bodice was cut using the same pattern as above for the fashion fabric and lining, I got to play with featherweight boning for the first time. I literally applied in the Exact Same Manner And Location as shown on the product packaging.
Of course, what I failed to note was that the resulting bodice promptly rolled itself into a tube.
Apparently, plastic boning should be heat treated to get it to lay down flat and behave
*before* you add it to your project. Since I had failed to do this utterly, I simply pinned the whole bodice to Eloise and then steamed it into submission with my iron.
This also works, by the way. ;)Finished Bodice - I cannot lie, this result made me very happy. :D
Once the bodice was complete and pinned securely in place (no back closure yet, since Eloise is just a *schosh* bigger than me – even when dialed down to her smallest size) I attached the fabric paudron and simply began draping.
The big head ache here was that my fabric, which I had purchased 8 yards of, was really *chunks* of yardage. What was left on the bolt when I purchased consisted of 2-3 pieces of 1.25-1.5 yards and another few longer bits. I loved the fabric so much that I had convinced myself that this would be OK to work with. Now that I was actually doing so, I wasn’t as sure.
I started with the shortest bits first, ensuring they were long enough to drape from the center front of the bodice and still hit the floor. They were. Then I worked my way around to the back of the dress, adding fabric and playing with the shaping of the draped bits as I went.[ix]
This tutorial was very handy in calming my nerves and giving me a direction to go in
Despite my initial misgivings, I was pleased as punch with the results! Eventually... From L to R: First attempt - which resulted in a stiff drink. Second attempt - More Pins! = Success!
Next, handsewing. Lots and lots of handsewing. I made my way all the way around the bodice, removing pins and tacking the fabric in place. The biggest concern was not sewing all the way through the bodice and into Eloise – which I managed to only do twice!I could never do this much sewing without Netflix, praise be to the internet gods!
This handsewing included one bit of machine work which was installing the hook-and-eye tape at the center-back of the bodice. The closure was largely covered by the draped fabric that gathered at the back of the gown in a manner not unlike an 18th
C sack-back gown (only much more free form). That portion which was visible was then covered by the drapery that had been swagged and attached to the pauldron at the dresses shoulder being tucked in once the dress was hook-and-eyed closed.
At this point, all that was left to do was the hemming. Given that the dress was entirely draped, I had a lot more fabric at the hemline than you would normally encounter. After checking to make sure that Eloise was as close to my height as possible[x]
I placed her on my sewing table and then simply chalked a rough hemline into place. This allowed me to play with the shaping of the train a bit before any cutting was done, and the added height helped ensure my back wasn’t in agony.Draping from the back - Eloise ready to help me hem(the bit draped up over her neck is the tail of the fabric pauldron draping, placed up and out of the way)
I had intended to use the same method of facing the hemline that was employed on my niece and sister’s dresses; but in the end it wasn’t practical to attempt to create pieces that matched the cut of my draped-and-pieced hem. Thankfully, the ‘inside’ of the dress fabric was beautiful and I didn’t care if it showed (and I had taken the time to French my long seams), so I just used my chiffon hem finish
and called it a day.
As soon as the dress was finished, I nervously tried it on over my Merry Widow and discovered that a) It Fit! B) It covered the undergarment completely. C) I loved it…Why yes, that *is* my inspiration image on my phone cover...also, that dog is not dead - no matter what he'd like you to think
So ends the saga of my portion of the Mucha Maiden’s project. I had an amazing time, learned a ton of new sewing techniques, and generally discovered that I can survive outside of my 16th
C comfort zone.
Which of course means there are a TON of new projects to consider…
[i] Thankfully, Eloise is very close to my own figure; although she is a bit taller than me and her conversational skills leave a lot to be desired. At least she doesn’t steal my drinks or scream when I stick her with pins. Which I did. A lot. [ii] At the time, I was thinking of sewing the pauldron directly to this layer…but later thought better of it when I realized just how complex that could make the draping of the garment top… [iii] I think I actually had to burn my Historical Sewing Card just for touching this stuff. [iv] My poor, long suffering husband helped with this portion of the activities by helping me figure out the best removal method and setting up the drill press and a template for me to use. Without him I am sure that I would now be down a number of fingers… [v] OK, maybe TWO wardrobes; since really I do have at least one already. [vi] Sewing pun alert! Of course, if I had *actually* been hemming there would have been more progress at that point… [vii] BTW – naked was a totally legit choice in my head, after all Alphonse clearly enjoyed the unclad feminine form. I was pretty sure that CoCo administration would frown on that choice though. :P [viii] You could have knocked me over with a pin. This was the moment that draping when from exotic art form to a skill I actively want to cultivate. Because seriously – WHO NEEDS TO EVER BUY A PATTERN AGAIN?!? [ix]
In the end, I didn’t even use the longest piece of fabric.
[x] I checked this by standing next to her and looking in a mirror to see if our bustlines were at the same level.