Monday, September 30, 2013

Smithson 2013: The Inside Story

Now that I've had a day to recuperate from all the fun, I figured I would show my sewing friends a few details of the construction of this year's gown.
Since this was a strapless gown, I knew it would require a very stable foundation garment. I've always told my sewing students that a well-constructed, stable foundation garment is the most vital part of a strapless gown; the dress itself is merely "coming along for the ride." The dress itself shouldn't be relied upon to be structural; it should just hang neatly from the top edge and skim across the body.
With that said, this dress did indeed have a foundation, albeit one with a less-than-couture aspect to it.

The foundation itself is actually the muslin! I figured, it won't be seen, fit well, so why waste it?
I also needed to add bust cups to the foundation to give it a nice "line." While I did have a set of traditional sew-in bra cups, I also had a bra that was the right size but had seen better days, so why not use that? To get the placement right, I put on the bra under the muslin and pinned it in place. Then I cut off the straps and most of the band and stitched it to the muslin to secure it. Plastic boning was added along the zipper, at the sides, and at the side back seam (six places in all) on the outside of the foundation, so it wouldn't be on the skin side. The pink ribbon was added as a waist stay mostly to make sure the boning wouldn't poke out and stab me. The facing along the upper edge was hand-stitched in place.
Putting on the dress required doing the inner foundation zipper first, then the dress's invisible zipper. I was worried about the bulk, but it worked out great. The dress was very comfortable to wear (although being pegged in the thigh made it a little difficult to get in and out of the car).
The flounce wasn't hemmed; I cut one each of outer and lining fabric and seamed them together at the outer edge. The inner edge was then stitched to the body of the gown.

One last-minute addition was a bit of netting to try and fluff out the flounce a bit. Honestly, I don't think it made much of a difference.

I just gathered 4 yards of netting and stitched it to the bottom of the dress lining. Inside the netting was another flounce of lining fabric to protect my legs from the scratchy netting. Unfortunately, the netting just bunched around my lower legs rather than poufing out the flouce, so it was a wasted effort.

Here's a close-up of Bob's vest and tie.
I used the same vest pattern I've used for the past several years, with the dress fabric on the outside and the red suede as lining/lapel. The edges were piped in the same brown/black as the dress and vest.
For the first time, I decided to make a real bow tie rather than a clip-on or adjustable. After some searching I found a great free pattern at Sew Like My Mom. It worked perfectly! Searching YouTube for some tutorials also showed me how to tie the tie, which turned out to be not that difficult at all.
I used two fabrics on the tie so Bob could wear it either with the pattern side showing or with the solid red showing.
So now the dress is in storage, waiting for its next scheduled wearing, which will be in January in Nashville, at the annual Home Inspection Conference.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Smithson 2013: After the Ball

What an incredible evening!! We didn't get home until after 11pm. But I know people want to see pictures, so here we go!

So here we are, all dressed up and ready to head out to the Gala.

But we made a stop on the way to the Zoo...

Since it was on the way, we decided it would be fun to stop by the Joanns store where I bought all the fabrics for my dress, and take pictures alongside the bolt of fabric! The staff really loved seeing the finished product. I'm tempted to send the pictures to the company to show them what was done with one of their fabrics.

Here's where the red suede fabric came from.

Then it was off to the Zoo! When we got there, we saw that a few couples had shown up early and were making a festive occasion of it.

That is tailgating with style!

The first part of the evening was a reception, held in and around the new Elephant Community Center. Since this was really a huge group (more than 500 attendees!), there wasn't enough room inside for everyone, so there were also tents set up outside. And yes, it was quite chilly, so I'm glad I had my bolero!

For dinner, we walked down the Olmstead Path to the Big Cats area, where the entire path around the three cat enclosures was tented over and filled with 66 dining tables, each seating 8 guests.

Our table was at the side of the Lion habitat, and we were periodically serenaded by the big male Lion -- who was most likely expressing his displeasure that all this delicious food was being served but not to him!

As always, Bob was being my "fashion photographer," getting pictures of interesting outfits throughout the evening.

These last two gentlemen were classmates from Princeton University (class of 1965)!

After dinner, we were invited to ride the new Conservation Carousel, which is located near the big cat area. It was such a hoot to see the gentlemen in their tuxedos and the ladies in their gowns gleefully riding the hand-carved animals! Many of the ladies (including me) had to ride sidesaddle!

Overall impressions

  • The vast majority of the dresses were single-color, and a good percentage of them were black. There were a few standouts (like the young lady in the pink strapless dress), and two ladies had nearly identical dresses (the teal sheaths). Not a lot of prints; not a lot of sparkle.
  • The real surprise was that there was quite a bit of variation among the menswear! Lots of colorful vests, some white jackets (one gentleman had a white coat and tie and black shirt -- very striking!), a kilt, and one long green velvet coat.
  • We didn't see anything that didn't fit properly. There were a lot of fitted garments, but also a few "art jackets". Most of the women had either shawls or jackets to cover up with, which was a good thing because when we left, the temperature was hovering at about 58 degrees. Brr!
  • Lots of people noticed that Bob and I matched, and they also loved the reversible bolero. I did change it around a few times during the evening, too!
My only regret about the evening is that, because the crowd was simply so large, I didn't get to cross paths with several people (especially one fellow member who also makes her outfit every year). I do wonder where they will hold the gala next year; with so many people, there aren't many Smithson venues that can accommodate all of us!
In the next few days, I'll do a post with some construction notes about the dress. But now I need to go rescue my sewing room from the pile of scraps and muslin pieces that were tossed hither and yon in my rush to get everything finished!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Smithson 2013: Take me to the Zoo!

The dress is done! The purse is done! Bob's vest and tie are done! Now I just need to do my face and hair and we'll head down to the Gala at the National Zoo in just a few hours.
I am so, so happy with how this dress turned out. I had to use a few unconventional construction techniques, but everything worked well in the end. And it's so comfortable to wear!!
The nice thing is, I can wear it three different ways for three different looks. Here's the dress by itself.

I'm carrying the purse I covered to match the dress. Well, to pick up the red color in the dress. This is the same clutch purse I used two years ago; that time I covered it with blue fabric to match that year's Smithson Gown. This time around I also added a layer of batting under the cover to give the purse more of a rounded profile.

The back view:

Yes, it's a hair on the too-tight side. But my upper body fluctuates quite a bit, so getting the "perfect fit" can be dependent upon my salt intake. And we had Mexican for lunch yesterday, which probably puffed me up.

Now comes the fun part. I also needed a cover-up, and elected to make a bolero-style jacket. My PMB users' group was a tremendous help with determining what would look best on me. I drafted a bolero with a two-part sleeve. Then I thought, why not make it reversible? So the whole thing was constructed with a deep brown-black piping along the edge and cuffs. Here's the view with the print side out:


And, if I feel like it, I can turn the jacket the other way around and get a different look:

I like both looks, and may decide to switch off during the evening just to confuse people. Since the event is being held mostly outdoors at the Zoo, I'll probably be wearing it most of the time anyway.

I don't have any pictures of Bob in his getup yet, but he'll have a matching vest with the print fabric on the outside and the red for the lapels, and a bow tie that is also reversible depending upon how he ties it.

Now I'm going to put my feet up for a little bit to get ready for the festivities. As always, we are planning on taking lots of pictures of what other people wore and will post them tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Smithson 2013: Bolero Jacket Muslin

Thanks to the ladies from my PatternMaster Users Group, I got a good idea on what to do for a cover-up. I drafted a bolero jacket with two-part sleeves. And by golly, I think we have a winner!

The sleeves need a little tweaking, but that's about it! The outer shell will be the red suede-like fabric, and it will be lined in the dress fabric. I will probably bind it all the way around with a narrow black bias binding, and will also have black cording along the top edge of the dress.

Back view:
I really like the longer sleeves; at first I was thinking I would shorten them to 3/4, but I will keep them long. Not as long as this, though... I'll take about 4" off. I also need to add a bit of room in the upper arm. But aside from these few tweaks, it feels great!

Due to previous obligations, I won't be spending any time in the sewing room until next Monday. The gala is next Saturday the 28th. I'll have just a few days to sew the final dress, the bolero, Bob's vest and tie, and re-cover my clutch purse and possibly a pair of shoes. And pick out jewelry: I need to check my jewelry box for nature-themed stuff. Not sure what I've got in there!

Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions. I really do appreciate the input!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Smithson 2013: First Muslin

So, when I left you all hanging last time, I had shown you the fabrics and said I had a design in mind. Today I finally got the time to get up into the sewing room and put together a muslin.
I used the same basic pattern as for the Ursula costume, but instead of the tentacles, added a somewhat-circular flounce to the bottom edge. I ended up having to make two muslins, though, as the first one was about 4" too big in the waist and I had mis-measured the flounce and it looked terrible. So, no pictures of that one. But I did get the second muslin done up and got Bob to take some pictures.
First the front view.

Now, remember that this is without any kind of foundation, lining or boning. It's just to test whether the style will work for my body. And I think it does! The only thing is that I think I took just a little bit TOO much out of the top. I'm going to add about half and inch back in to allow for the foundation and lining and for me not to look like a stuffed sausage. I'm also going to add bra cups.

The back view shows the design of the flounce a bit better.
The dress bottom edge is cut lower in the back than in the front, so the flounce isn't a circle but more like a deviled-egg shape. This took a bit of math on my part to figure out how to cut the bottom edge, but it was worth it.
While the initial dress pattern was done with PatternMaster, I did do some tweaking in Pattern Editor, and additional tweaking with pencil and scissors. The flounce was also drafted entirely by hand (very freehand, really).

Now, a few thoughts and questions.
About that flounce: does it need to be fuller? I am trying to figure out how to make it a double circle, or I could just add some netting underneath it to puff it out.
Should I raise the flounce hem in front (peek-a-boo shoe toe style) and lower it in back for a hint of a train?
What type of jacket would look best as a cover-up? Since the gala will be outdoors and the weather will likely be in the 60s, this by itself will be too chilly. I've got the fabrics for the top, but am unsure as to whether a capelet, shrug or bolero would look best. Pointers to pattern sites are most welcome!
Business has been incredibly busy, and I've got just two weeks to finish this dress, plus the cover-up, plus a vest and tie for Bob. But no pressure, right?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Smithson Gown 2013 -- Getting started

The annual James Smithson Society Gala is usually in April or May, but this year it was moved to September, which is why I haven't been doing anything about it yet this year. But now it's sneaking up on me again (in three weeks!!) and that means I have to kick into high gear to get it done in time.
The good news is, I have both the design and the fabric, so I'm ahead of where I was last year. What's better, hubby actually picked it out for me! I never would have considered the one he chose, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. I'll have to take him fabric shopping with me more often.
This year I'm going to try and do a strapless gown. I had such a great success with the strapless sheath I used for the Ursula costume, that I'm going to take that same pattern and modify it to give it a skirt instead of tentacles. And while I was sorely tempted to use neoprene for the gown, cooler heads prevailed and I'll be using regular fabric.
The multicolored fabric on the left will be the gown itself. The brown suede-looking fabric to the right will be the body of a bolero jacked to go over the gown (I'm thinking it could be a tad chilly as the event will be outdoors at the National Zoo), with the red fabric as the trim. At the lower right is the lining fabric for the dress and jacket.
This is the first time in a long time that I've used anything but a solid colorway for my gown. I've already got my pattern printed out and will be doing a muslin in the next few days to tweak the fit -- after all, regular fabric will probably behave quite differently than neoprene! I also need to build the foundation a bit better, to make sure the stays don't work their way out of the casings and try to stab me to death.
So, another gown saga begins! I'll do my best to keep you all updated. And let me know what kinds of details you're interested in, okay?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sewing for me: Trumpet Skirt

Happy National Sewing Month! To celebrate, I'm finally, finally getting around to sewing some new wardrobe staples! This weekend I started a new skirt and finished it this afternoon. I'm really quite happy with it; it's modeled after a skirt I bought years and years ago and it's still hanging in my closet even though it's about four sizes too small (hey, I can dream!). The original is a khaki twill, but I decided to make it out of a denim that's been aging in my stash.
It was drafted with PatternMaster Boutique. The settings are: gored skirt, flare of 10, flare depth of 12, length 32. I had drafted inseam pockets, but at the last minute decided to have patch pockets on the front side panels, so those were just done manually.
Every seam was sewn, then serged, then pressed to one side and topstitched twice. Boy, did that add to the construction time! But I'm very happy with the look. Since I used blue denim, I used the traditional gold thread for the topstitching.
Here's the back view:
The center back seam was pressed open, and the seam topstitched on either side of the open seam, all the way up to the waistband. The buttonhole is a little wonky; I didn't make it quite long enough for the jeans button, so had to clip through the end stitching to get the button to go through. I'll fix it by hand... eventually.

Pocket close-up:
All I did for the pocket was to trace the shape of the side front panel and cut off a corner of it. The corner was turned down and topstitched, and then the pocket was stitched to the side piece at the bottom edge. The rest of the pocket is caught in the two vertical seams and the waistband.
I'll be making more of these, in different fabric weights, because I really love wearing skirts. This one will have to go through the wash a few times to soften it up, though... it's pretty stiff right now.