Monday, April 16, 2012

Smithson Gown 2012 is Ready to Go!

The Smithson Gala is this coming Saturday the 21st, and much to my amazement my dress is already finished and ready for the ball! I think this is probably the fastest that I've ever finished a Smithson gown: I only bought the fabric a little under two weeks ago, during my one-day Fabric Buying Trip to New York.
I'm afraid details about the design and fitting process are a little slim this time around. I didn't even make a muslin, believe it or not. Originally, I was going to make an underdress out of a solid fabric (the copper charmeuse), with an overdress of lace, with long sleeves, a shawl neckline, and a full skirt.
Finding and buying the fabric forced a design change, mostly because I just couldn't afford more than three yards of the lace. My original design would have required at least five yards of lace, with a lot of waste due to the cut-on sleeve style known as the Kimono draft in PatternMaster Boutique. So it was time to come up with a new plan.
How about doing an over-sheath, with a straight skirt (I was really trying to reduce the number of seams I would have to sew in the beaded fabric)? Nope; the fabric wasn't wide enough to go from shoulder to floor in one piece. But perhaps an Empire waist...
I hadn't tried an Empire draft in a long, long time... For some reason I always thought of them as terribly unflattering on large bodies. But it was really the only option. So I drafted an Empire-waisted dress with no darts in the back and a waist dart in the front, with set-in short sleeves.
But could I get it on and off without a zipper?
I made a mad dash to the fabric store to pick up a yard of lace and test my idea. Originally I had planned to put a side zipper in the underdress, but found I could slip it on and off without a zipper. But the overdress... Could I wriggle my way into (and out of!) the lace without damaging it, or getting stuck? Fortunately, I could get it on and off by myself, so I took a deep breath and got started.
Have you ever cut into expensive fabric? I stood poised over that lace for about fifteen minutes, second-guessing myself, pondering the "what ifs", positioning and repositioning the pattern pieces, until I finally just took a deep breath and made that first cut. And once that was out of the way, the rest of the cutting proceeded pretty easily.
See, the fabric is heavily beaded in motifs:
It's a combination of sequins, glass tube beads, and round glass beads. Everything was sewn on by hand. And those beads are NOT kind to scissors. I crushed beads with pliers along the cut lines, and then had to go back and remove MORE beads from the seam allowance. Still, during the sewing process, I managed to break four Titanium needles on my industrial Juki. Yes, I was wearing safety glasses.
Anyway, the construction of the dress went pretty quickly, considering how difficult the fabric was to work with. And now, here is the result:
The lace overdress is about two inches longer than the solid copper underdress. I kind of wish the underdress was longer, and I might still go back and add a band at the bottom. The length of the overdress was dictated by the beading: I would have liked it to be about an inch or so shorter, but that would have meant cutting and sewing the waist seem right smack through the middle of the most heavily beaded sections of the fabric.
Here's the back view:
The waist sash was a suggestion made on Saturday by my good friend Jennifer, who also suggested that the underdress should have a square neckline (it was originally a scoop neck) with a facing. Her suggestions were spot on!!
The sleeve detail. You can see that I used French seams for the overdress. What may not be as obvious is that the upper armscye of the charmeuse underdress is tacked to the armscye seam of the overdress. This keeps the two dresses aligned and makes that shoulder seam on the overdress less obvious. This was a suggestion made by the PatternMaster Users Group at our meeting on Sunday. Thanks, ladies; you were right!
The neckline edging was another challenge that Jennifer helped me with. I really wasn't sure what I was going to do. She suggestion using the gold trim and sewing it onto the edge of the neckline, trimming away the extra netting underneath. So I carefully trimmed just the gold edging from the piece left over from when I cut the skirt, and hand-sewed it to the neckline edge, using gold embroidery thread.

Now, for a moment of total serendipity. When we first arrived in New York for our buying trip, my dear friend Sarah met us for lunch and presented me with a pair of earrings she had made, as a birthday gift. And, wouldn't you know, these earrings are the PERFECT complement to the dress!!
Now my only conundrum is what to wear as a necklace... if anything. I'm open to suggestions!!

All in all, I am very happy with the dress. It's totally different from anything I've made for past events! Thanks to everyone who sent me emails or commented with their suggestions. I'm looking forward to taking pictures at the gala and posting them on Sunday!


  1. This is the best one yet! You look stunning.

  2. This turned out beautiful! You will shine at the event!

  3. Very nice. Expect to see this at the fair this year!

  4. What a figure flattering silhouette. The dress is lovely on you, and it's great that while the dress is stunning, you are still visible. You know how sometimes you see a gorgeous outfit and the person wearing it is secondary? You managed to create a gorgeous outfit that compliments you, so you shine through. I do think I'd add a panel to the underdress though so the lace and underdress were closer in length. Have a wonderful time at the gala!!! Hugs.

  5. Lovely. Ditto what Diane, 4/16, 8:07 pm, said. I think the necklace you are wearing in the last photo is the right idea. Although the trend in necklaces now is large and chunky, I think a more delicate chain with a pretty jewel would work well. I suggest you print out the full front photo, put tracing paper over it and sketch your necklaces. Or cut up page protectors and use thin felt tip pens to draw the necklaces. Or print the photo on regular paper and sketch on each copy.

  6. Very lovely dress, the lace is so beautiful.
    I vote for a more delicate necklace as well.
    Maybe you could persuade your friend to make a necklace to match your ear rings...a totally hand crafted outfit!

  7. You look lovely. I have gone back to look at your past gala dresses as well. They are all beautiful.

  8. Stunning! You look beautiful and I absolutely love your dress.

  9. How lovely. I think a slightly longer underdress would highlight the lace even more. What a beautiful outfit.

  10. I agree with tingledfangers, add the band to the underdress to highlight the lace even more. My first reaction on seeing your beautiful dress? Tres' Titanic! And so appropriate for the 100th Anniversary!
    A lovely delicate "Y" necklace would be the the perfect neckline accessory for this dress.

  11. my favorite Smithsonian dress! Love it! great job!

  12. Is it ok to say you look 'adorable' in this dress? The lace is beautiful. I am with you on lenghtening the under-dress.
    Can't wait for the party day to see you in all your fineries.


  13. As I sit in the Chicago airport waiting to come home I am jealous of her friend that is taking my place at the gala as I had a board meeting. This is the first Smithson weekend I will miss since we joined. I will miss seeing her with a silly grin meeting all her friends..I hope she takes lots of pictures.

    Her husband...inspector bob


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