My employer has a large Christmas party every year at The Jefferson Hotel and it is a stunning venue. Very festive. I usually make my dress each year, but have very little time to make it, much less blog about it. This year is no exception, but I knew early on that I wanted to make Butterick's re-issue of 4919. (For the life of me, I can't find my pattern envelope, so you'll have click on the link to see the pattern.)
The pattern appeared to fit my requirements of a Christmas dress: simple lines but a full circle skirt for maximum impact. My go-to choice of fabric for a party dress is shantung silk. It is the easiest of the silk weaves to work with. Shantung is a lot like dupioni silk, but it has a smoother, more refine weave; that is, the slubs aren't as noticeable. And it has a lovely sheen.
Here's the weird thing about shantung silk: unwashed it is lightweight but it has a nice crisp body and keeps a crease incredibly well. But if you wash it, all the body goes with it, becoming a mere wisp of its former self. It reminds me of cotton candy - it looks substantial, but once you apply moisture, it is reduced to nothing.
I sew my shantungs unwashed, and dry clean them as the garment warrants later. I had some dark red, nearly burgundy, colored shantung in my stash, but it was only 45 inches wide, and I really wanted to make the long skirted version of this dress, which requires the wider 60 inch fabric. I thought about black as this dress would have really been dramatic in black, but I get tired of seeing everyone in black, especially at a party.
I decided on a color at NY Fashion Center Fabrics website (where I also bought my wedding dress silk shantung fabric) that was described as "turquoise". In incandescent yellow light it looks more teal, and I don't like teal, and I should have gotten a swatch first, but I didn't have time. So I'm stuck with it and here is the color outdoors:
See that great sheen? I'm counting on that sheen for dramatic effect!)
As with past Christmas dresses, I give myself permission to do a half-assed job. That means no finishing of seam allowances or too much fiddling with zippers, or re-doing, etc. My reasoning is that this dress will be worn once, maybe twice, so there's no point in spending the time on quality construction on a dress that doesn't have to survive the washing machine or repeated wearings. Also, the party is dark, filled with people full of holiday cheer (i.e. alcohol), and no one is going to notice the details. And after I'm done wearing it, I'll cannibalize it for other projects.
What they will notice is the color and the sheen and the big skirt - my sewing approach is like costuming, which I learned about at the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the VMFA. I'm going for an illusion here, folks, not an award for Best Dress Construction. A case in point, the front v-neck:
As you can see, it's my usual, not-so-great job in precision sewing. But its fine, because it is going to be covered by a beautiful gold and diamond brooch my father gave me many Christmases ago.
The hand and smell of this fabric brought back memories of making my wedding dress, and I was reminded of something else from making my wedding dress experience too: I ended up not having enough fabric to cut out my dress. When I was making my wedding dress, I just figured my layout wasn't in accordance with to the pattern instructions and I just ordered more. But this time, I laid out the pattern pieces exactly as illustrated, and I ended up short. I think the reason is that this silk is 54 inches wide (or maybe shorter) than the 60 inch layout.
I didn't have the time or the money or the motivation to order more "turquoise" fabric. I just cut out the front bodice lining piece from some hot pink shantung I had in the stash, which I think is a complementary color to the turquoise:
If it ends up showing a little bit while wearing the dress, I hope people believe it was a deliberate design feature rather than having insufficient fabric!)
A few words about this pattern. It is weird. The wrap bodice has a new-to-me construction that was difficult to picture in my mind, and I just had to take one step at a time and see how it went. Also, this dress can't really be tried on as you sew, making alterations-as-you-go damn near impossible. And there are no shortening or lengthening lines on the bodice, so if you don't have a fairly standard figure, I haven't got the slightest clue how you would fit this thing to your body.
And for whatever reason, I haven't enjoyed making this dress. I cut it out before I went to Italy, I constructed the bodice the weekend I got back, and this weekend I constructed the skirt, attached it to the bodice, and put in an invisible zipper. It's coming along but I'm not enjoying it. Here's my zipper with no finishing of the bodice edges:
I thought such quick sewing would be fun and freeing after the slow-sewing Butterick Gertie coat, but no dice. I think, deep down, I want to be working with wool/cashmere tweed I got in Italy, but I have to finish this dress first.
Here's a photo of the gathered shoulders which I'm not entirely happy with - this silk is thick and didn't gather very well, unlike the pink lining which was thinner and gathered beautifully:
I tried it on this morning and the good news is that the dramatic effect I was going for was all there. Also, the length is good - all I'll have to do it turn the skirt up 5/8 inch and topstitch it down and call it a day. I do need to sew on some hooks and eyes, and handstitch the bodice lining, so I'm in the home stretch.
More photos to come when I'm done, and hopefully made up for the party!