A Festive, Fiery Dress for Designin’ December (aka The Anna Has Landed)

Welcome! This VERY LONG post has been a long time coming–my initial muslin for this dress was completed during the summer months!–and I am glad I can finally share it with you. But be warned: this project did not end entirely happily.

Before I dive in here, a note about Designin’ December: this fun challenge taps into one of the reasons that sewing your own clothes can be so thrilling: you can replicate a designer or high-end garment that would otherwise be unattainable (due to price, color, limited size ranges, etc.) and make it your own. I love that Linda has gone to all the effort to include other people in her quest for designer style! When she announced this sewalong of sorts, I didn’t think I’d be able to join in–I hadn’t been researching designer dresses when I decided to make this dress–but was looking forward to seeing what everyone else chose and wanted to have in their closet. But as I worked on my dress, I remembered that the Gorgeous Fabrics description for my fabric had mentioned that dresses made in this very yardage had been for sale for several hundred dollars. I decided that some snooping was in order, and while I never did find THE dress made from this fabric, Elie Saab dresses kept coming up in my search results (for “ombre silk dress”).

I don’t know about you folks, but I LOVE snooping fashion week photo galleries and slobbering over all the pretties. The evening/red carpet gowns are always near the top of my lust-list, as impractical as they may be! Elie Saab is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring modern designers, in my opinion–his evening wear is second-to-none when it comes to delicate, feminine, dramatic, gasp-inducing beauty. I looked through the selection of ES dresses that were coming through the search and found two that both had elements of my own planned project:

ES 1

Elie Saab ombre dress; Photo property of BySymphony.com

ES 2

Elie Saab ombre dress; Photo property of Bergdorf Goodman

Upon seeing these, I decided to toss my dress into the Designin’ December group just for fun! My color palette is much more similar to the second photo, but the effect I got–and wanted!–is much more like the ombre pattern of the first photo. (But seriously, I would take that first dress in a heartbeat, because WOWWWWWWW.) And of course, I am incorporating a big split like the 2nd dress has! 😉 I did opt for the higher neckline from the Anna pattern, since I would rather stick to showing off ONE bit of skin at a time. YMMV, of course! It helps that my chest resembles something more like a xylophone than bountiful cleavage, and I’m pretty sure nobody wants to see that in a deep V neckline!! But I bet you *do* want to see this dress, right? Drum roll, please…

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Anna in motion

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Reclining on a bridge, as one does

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Filtered for lighting, but you get the idea

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Bodice and waist

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Skirt!

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Back

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Big front split, up close

IT’S SO PRETTY I’M GONNA DIEEEEE!!! 😀 The close-up series of the bodice and skirt are probably the truest depiction of the color of the fabric in real life. Now for the gory details:

I did a lot of fiddling with the fit on the bodice, but I had it down. Side seams and pleats were appropriately relocated, and excessive waist ease (all 2+ inches of it) was marked for removal. And then somehow, after tireless preparations (gelatin bath for the silk, anyone?) and conscious choice-making (cutting the dress out on the floor of our non-climate-controlled walk-up attic so that all the yardage could lay flat and not be disturbed by “helpful” kitties), I did something wrong between making the new pattern and cutting out the bodice. The result? A bodice whose waist was about 1.5″ too small for me. (Had I been going for a fully-exposed zipper, it would have fit. But yeah, no.) The worst part? I didn’t realize it was too small until I had assembled THE ENTIRE BODICE, french seams and all, and we were trying to pin the zip opening closed to see how things were going (BECAUSE I WAS WORRIED IT MIGHT BE TOO BIG LOLOLOLOLOL). PSA: try not to do this, especially when sewing meticulous french seams in a silk crepe de chine. You will hate yourself, you will hate your dress, and you will hate literally any living thing that dares to cross your path as you try not to vomit from rage and scramble to fix your fuck-up so that you can wear this damn dress. Note: this is doubly true if you are also dealing with bad things in your personal life when this sewing shitstorm occurs.

The bodice of this dress LITERALLY ended up in the trash can at one point–I knew how dangerous unpicking anything was going to be–and was only grudgingly rescued when I confirmed that I did not have enough fabric to recut the bodice AND preserve the ombre effect the way I was running it. Luckily for me and this demon dress, nobody had thrown away anything gross immediately before or after this tantrum. I believe my last words to my husband as I threw the wadded up, un-binned bodice onto my table and quit for the night were, “I don’t want to be awake anymore.” O_o

Now, since it has been several weeks since I did everything, I am not 100% sure now what went wrong. (That is why I try to start blog drafts when the project begins, which I did not do this time.) Regardless, it was my own damn fault and I had to buck up and fix it if this dress was ever going to see the light of day.

Rather than mutilate myself or go on a tapeworm diet, I ripped out (yep) the outermost pleats in the bodice and re-sewed them much narrower at the waist, tapering to the prescribed width by the time I reached the stopping points; the remainder was picked up by using a 3/8″ SA at the waist area of the center back zipper instead of the included 5/8″. This would not have been quite as possible had my invisible zipper tape not been 3/8″ wide, so thank you, little crappy zipper. Unfortunately, while these on-the-fly fixes solved the zipping-things-up problem, they *also* resulted in the side seams of the bodice no longer matching up with the side seams of the skirt, which as you may remember, I had already painstakingly fixed before sewing the final muslin. Yay! (Not.) My choices were to live with it, or scrap the dress. I opted to live with it. Is this an example of the sunk cost fallacy in action? Perhaps, but here we are. In addition, my silk dress ended up with lots of excess fabric in the back above the waist–and it was much more prominent than it had ever been in my final muslin. Instead of the excess looking like wearing/design ease in a flowing fabric, it looks quite blouse-y and I’m not particularly happy with it. 😦

And now for some gloating: I am very, very pleased with my hand stitching on the sleeve hems, split, and one side of the bottom hem. The other side of the bottom looks just as good from the outside–which is ultimately what is most important, right?–but I fell into automaton mode and did a much more visible stitch on the inside and only realized what I had done when I finished and looked at my sleeve hems again. D’oh! I don’t want to rip it out (this project has had quite enough of that already) but it does bother me. Here is one of the good pieces:

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Hem stitching

I also decided to do a lot of hand overcasting on this project. I suppose that’s my vintage nerd coming forth–you see that finish a lot in Victorian-era garments particularly–but it was soothing work and I think it looks neat. I used that finish on the CB seam below the zipper and on the closed portion of the front split seam, which were both sewn normally due to the difficulty of doing french seams in those areas.

IMG_20151213_114130

Hand overcasting; obviously the right side was the second stretch!

The entire waist seam was stabilized with silk organza selvedge strips; since the waist ease is minimal (which was what I wanted in the first place) and that seam has to bear the weight of the long-ass skirt, this was absolutely necessary. I may also go back and add a proper waist stay once I stop fuming at this dress, because that would help with both of these concerns and look a bit nicer.

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You can see the organza here; I didn’t bother zipping it for such a short photo session.

This dress marks the first time I have inserted a zipper by machine. (I know, I know, that sounds stupid. But I like the control and freedom to sit on the couch that I get with hand insertions, and somehow that way always felt more approachable to me from a “this is something I can do successfully” standpoint.) It was also the first invisible zipper I have ever used. I am pleased to gloat say that I got the zip in on the first pass! I do not have a specialized foot for this kind of zipper, but my regular zipper foot was perfectly sufficient. I could have gotten a little closer to the teeth, but that’s about the only complaint I have. Rather than thread baste the zipper in place–which I had done with EVERY other seam of this dress–I used Wash-Away Wonder Tape to stick it down. (#noregrets, because that stuff RULES.) I then sewed the rest of the CB seam; the last step was to attach the facing to the neckline and zipper before putting the dress through a wash cycle to remove the gelatin. The wash went perfectly and the dress was then (clutch your pearls, y’all!) dried in the dryer on an air-only cycle for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. After a final press, this beauty was ready for her debut!

That debut was my company holiday party, and it was quite a hit! Here we are before leaving the house:

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A little washed out, but you get the idea!

Tom-1

So handsome! (The “Captain Morgan” pose was to show off his new coordinating dress socks!)

Here are a few more photos from today’s outing; we’ve had unseasonably warm weather this weekend, so even though the lighting was utter shit, we took the opportunity to get some photos done without freezing to death!

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Anna Attitude

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“…are you taking the photo?”

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Caught a little bit of the breeze!

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Don’t mind my face–this was a great dress pic!

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Gotta flash the leg! (And UGH again with the face.)

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You know you aren’t a real model when you have to walk to your photo shoot in your evening dress AND carry your own keys and phone…

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Pensive

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Some more filter tweaks for lighting purposes

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Being ridiculous

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Pulling a face for y’all

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My “Are we done yet?” face

So that’s the skinny (LOLOL see what I did there?!?) on this dress. Please check out other Designin’ December pieces over at Linda’s space, because it’s always fun to see what other people come up with! As for me, I am working out what to make next–goodness knows I have one hell of a queue built up by now! Perhaps something for Jungle January?? 😉

Have you ever screwed up mid-project and had to scramble for a fix? Were you happy enough with the results to wear or use the item? 

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25 thoughts on “A Festive, Fiery Dress for Designin’ December (aka The Anna Has Landed)

  1. OMG! You walking down the stairs in your dress! Just to die for! All three of them are lovely and one of them was designed by you! I’m sorry you had difficulty with parts of the dress, but I am so glad you continued – just smashing! I love the colour/two tone and the length and the fabric… it’s like you are just floating along like a model – you even have the model’s facial expressions! 😉 I’m going to show you off on my blog tonight – if that’s okay with you! (See you during Jungle January!)

    • Thanks, Linda! That stairs photo is funny, because the original had Tom’s thumb in the bottom corner–I told him he ruined the best shot, LOL! He cropped it out for me so I could use it, luckily! And of course you may share it: I would be honored! Thank you for giving the rest of us the opportunity to “play along” this month, as it were!

  2. Great job! That is so frustrating about your fitting issues with the bodice. I’m glad that you did not give up, though. The dress is gorgeous and you should be proud. Your outdoor photos are beautiful.

  3. W. O. W. You have outdone yourself, Ms. Mads! After all of your fitting issues, the final result looks so professional and not over-worked at all. I also LOVE the pictures (oh, to have trees again!).

    To answer your question, I have had a project go wrong right in the middle of making it… actually probably a few… but the one that stands out most is my mullet dress – the facing pieces shifted when I cut them out and I spazzed and re-cut the interfacing to match the wonky fabric, which of course didn’t fit in the dress! I Frankensteined more fabric to the facing and eventually made it work. It looks terrible on the inside, but no one but me will see that! It was also my first time sewing with a slippery fabric and I wanted to try it out… now I’ve learned my lesson and DON’T RE-CUT THE INTERFACING TO MATCH THE FABRIC… go off the pattern only, lol!

    • You are so sweet–thank you! I am truly relieved to read that the dress doesn’t look tortured!!

      And oh my gosh, if what happened to you had happened to me, I might have chucked the whole thing!! Good on you for pushing through it. And yeah, as far as I am concerned, the innards of my handmade clothes are nobody’s f*cking business, LOLOL! (Unless they look really good, hah!)

  4. Beautiful dress and well worth the effort! I’ve had many a mid-project snafu but haven’t always persevered as you did congrats on figuring out the fix. I love that shade of red and your make is as gorgeous as your inspirations.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment! It’s funny to me that I was drawn to this fabric, because I have a very serious rule about not wearing red because of my hair! I did start with the coral part of the fabric up by my face, which helped. (The orange made me look ill, it was decided.)

      And I tell you what: I would NOT have persevered had this fabric not been so precious–both in terms of my goal to wear it for an event and in terms of its price! I am still cranky about the whole thing, LOL!

      • Interesting rule…I thought the red looked great on you because of your hair😳nice to have a goal to motivate you through the rough bits because now you have a show stopper in your closet. I have a project on my sewing table right now that’s just not happening…might get booted to the garbage which sometimes feels oddly satisfying.

  5. AWESOME dress, serious work and the fabric is to die for. I did remember it from when you were doing the muslins. Combined with the outdoor pictures it looks like an ad for a designer garment. Very well done. Very often I do realise that something’s wrong when I’m halfway through finish the garment. I will have overlocked or french seamed and will need to rip and redo. It makes me so angry, but I don’t always fix, most of the time I try to recut, which is why I end up with garments made up of scraps or different fabrics haha.

  6. This is a show stopper of a dress!! Heads must of turned when you entered the party. Plus, telling people you made it yourself! I would have done a catwalk across the room and told people ‘it’s couture darling’ if I ever make a dress this brilliant. You look amazing in it and was well worth all the time and energy getting it right. 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I am just glad it is finished and wearable after all the drama. =) I did love being able to turn up to the party and be absolutely sure that nobody would be wearing “my” dress–yet another awesome part of sewing our own clothes!

  7. Pingback: 2015 Reflections and 2016 Goals | Life in A "Mads" House

  8. Pingback: An Utterly Unnecessary Holiday Outfit | Life in A "Mads" House

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