Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2011 In Review -- Part 3: Costumes

2011 was a pretty typical costume sewing year for me.  Every year, MB and I go to DragonCon over Labor Day weekend, and each year I typically make three costumes for myself and one or two for MB.  DragonCon being the bastion of all things geeky that it is, costume inspiration can come from pretty much anywhere, and chances are someone at the con will be excited to see it, no matter how obscure.  As much as I'm enjoying making and wearing more everyday clothing, I could never completely give up costume sewing.

The first costume I focused on in 2011 was one I had planned for 2010 (but which got bumped for
Hit Girl).  The concept was steampunk Tinkerbell -- a callback to the silhouette of Disney's Tink, with a vaguely Victorian corset, in brown and brass instead of Tink's usual green.  As with a lot of my DragonCon costumes, I imposed a couple of other rules on myself as well: I wanted to be able to pair the corset with other steampunk outfits, and the wings had to fit into carry-on luggage.

I wrote about the corset construction in detail over on the LiveJournal Corsetier community.  Corsetry is by far the most challenging sewing task I've ever undertaken, but in the end I felt like it was worth the effort.  I started with Simplicity 9769, which I purchased years and years ago with the vague notion of making a corset someday.  Working from that as a starting point, I went through a pretty tedious process of measuring the tissue pattern and then adapting it to my measurements.  Most of that was done in late 2009 and early 2010, and by March 2010 I had a working mockup of the corset.  When my costume plans for DragonCon 2010 shifted, the corset got put on the backburner until May 2011 or so.

After making two other corsets in 2010, jumping back into this project last year wasn't all that difficult.  I turned the cotton duck mockup I had started in 2009 into the strength layer of the corset, and used brown upholstery pleather as the exterior layer.  The brass busk, steel bones, and brass lacing eyelets came from CorsetMaking.com, and the rest of the materials came from my local JoAnn's.

I finished the corset in mid July (after again setting it aside for another costume, which I'll get to below) and then moved on to the other pieces off the costume.  For the skirt, I decided I wanted two layers: a poofy gold underskirt and a draped overskirt made from the same brown pleather as the corset.  For the underskirt I used two different gold netting fabrics, both from JoAnn's.  The lower layer is a yellow glitter tulle and the upper layer is a more metallic gold tulle with a filigree pattern in the netting itself.

I gathered both fabrics onto a waistband made from a bit of stretchy faux suede I had in my stash, to which I added a simple elastic casing.  The glitter tulle shed glitter everywhere, of course.  Seven months later I think I've finally stopped finding it in corners behind my sewing table.  This was another project that I wished I had a gathering presser foot for -- something I should invest in before tackling any gathering in 2012.

For the overskirt, I draped and pinned (on myself, looking in the mirror, as I don't yet have a dressform) until I got the Victorian swag overskirt look I wanted.  I ended up gathering the sides of the overskirt and tacking a few of the folds in place with a bit of handsewing.  The back is closed with a length of brass chain that I found in the notions section at JoAnn's, which tends to sit just under the back edge of the corset, but looks wonderfully steampunk when it is visible.

I used a bit of leftover tulle to make a gathered, flouncy little bustle in the back of the skirt as well.

The last major piece of the costume were the wings.  I had made cellophane wings previously, for my original-concept fairy costume for DragonCon 2009, so I was able to knock out this fairly simple pair in a couple of hours.  I started with small sketches, looking at the shape of the traditional Disney Tink's wings, and then made a full-sized pattern on posterboard.  I wanted to keep the Disney shape, but add filigree-type swirls.

Using the pattern as a guide, I carefully hand-bent 16 gauge brass wire into the shapes I wanted, making sure both wings more or less matched each other.

Once I had the wireframe done, I used floral tape to hold the wires together, and the shape of the wings started to emerge.

From there, I covered the wire frame with a layer of clear light-weight vinyl (also from JoAnn's) on one side, and clear vinyl and iridescent cellophane on the other side.  I used a Elmer's blue glue stick to initially bond the layers, and then ironed them on low heat to melt everything together (based on the steps of this tutorial, and what I learned with my previous wings).  Once I trimmed the vinyl and cellophane down to the right shape, they started looking a lot more like wings.

The backbrace for these was designed to slip into the back of my corset and to be held in place by the tightness of the corset, so I didn't use any shoulder straps or the like.  Because I wanted these to be able to fold flat and fit in a roll-aboard carry-on suitcase, I rigged up a hinged crossbar using small pieces of the same brass wire, then covered the whole backbrace in white duct tape and painted it gold.

The last thing I made for this costume were puffballs for my shoes.  I wanted to keep that traditional Disney aspect, but give it a steampunk twist.  I bought a set of FairyBerries, little plastic bubbles with an LED in each that fades slowly on and off.  I tied them into two bunches of three each, and used a bit of leftover tulle from the underskirt to make puffy coverings for them, gathered around some gold elastic from my stash. 

When I wore the costume, I looped the elastic between my toes (think flipflops) and then wore the same Gabriella Rocha black flats pictured in my last post, and let the elastic keep the puffballs in place.  The three LEDs in each puffball faded on and off in a nice firefly type pattern.  I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this little detail, but I really loved it.

Along with the pieces I made for this costume, I also wore a pair of Old Gold Aviator Goggles that I bought a few years ago specifically for steampunk costumes.  Goggles are a big deal in steampunk costuming, and honestly a bit overplayed, but I felt like between flying and tinkering on inventions, Tinkerbell would probably wear a pair.

I wore this Sunday night at DragonCon 2011, by which point I was pretty exhausted and not feeling well (not unusual given my illness), but I couldn't miss out on my chance to wear it, so I went out for a bit despite not feeling great.  I had a lovely time wearing the costume, and only wish I'd gotten to wear it for longer.

At this point, I'm planning on bringing this costume back for DragonCon 2012, hopefully with a few prop additions.  My dad and younger brother worked out a great little device that looks like a welding torch but shoots glitter out the end -- perfect for a steampunk tinker fairy who welds with pixie dust -- but the propulsion source is compressed air, and when it came down to it I just didn't have time to get compressed air shipped to the hotel for DragonCon.  I'd like to spend some of my costuming time this year working out an alternate propulsion source.  The other prop idea that I'd like to pursue is a giant thimble as a drinking tumbler, but we'll see if I have any luck finding or making something like that.

In keeping with the original concept for the corset, the second costume I made for DragonCon 2011 was another steampunk outfit that featured the corset.  This costume was a bit more free-form and less character driven, and I called it "Steampunk and Old Lace" for lack of a better name.

The concept for this costume started with a knitting pattern in VogueKnitting's Holiday 2009 issue for lacey, fingerless, opera-length gloves.  I knitted the pattern up in an unbleached crochet string to show off the laciness, and loved the effect.  The finished gloves sat in my costume drawer for at least a year before I got around to making the rest of the outfit.  

Once I finished the corset, the last remaining bit was the skirt, which I made from salvaged cotton sheets that had bit the dust a few years earlier.  The sheets were a creamy off-white with a tone-on-tone satin stripe, just perfect for the sort of slightly shabby, antiqued look I wanted for this costume.  By the time I got around to making the skirt (mid to late August), I was so done with all the hand-gathering and careful arranging of gathers that I had done with the Tink underskirt and the black French lace skirt.  

But I knew I wanted some poof to this skirt to balance out how top-heavy I look in the corset, so I took the quick-and-dirty route in sewing this.  The cotton ripped cleanly on the grain, and frayed nicely without unraveling too much, so I ripped instead of cut, and left all the pieces unhemmed.  I cut a basic waistband, higher in the back like I typically prefer, and folded the top edge over to form an elastic casing.  For the skirt body, I figured out roughly how long I wanted the skirt to be, measured out that length on the salvaged sheets, and ripped long strips, with the stripes on the vertical.  I ripped eight long strips total, but didn't sew them together, just gathered the top edge, without worrying about matching the gathered length to the waistband length.  I then layered the strips on top of each other, sewing them to the waistband, while making sure that any slit between strips at one layer was covered up by the next layer, in a sort of brick pattern.  The result was a very fluffy and free-moving skirt that is surprisingly heavy, but doesn't take up much luggage room.

I paired the skirt with the corset and the gloves I made, and the goggles I wore with Tink, along with a pair of brown Pikolinos boots I've had for a few years, a pair of LegAvenue pinstripe thigh highs from the ever-awesome SockDreams, and some surprisingly steampunky jewelry from Target.  I wore this outfit Friday night at DragonCon (one of the few things I would do differently if I had the chance is wearing this one on Sunday and Tink on Friday, but live and learn), and it was fun and comfortable, though the corset tended to push the skirt downwards, aided by the weight of the skirt.  If/when I wear this again, I'll have to tighten the skirt's elastic waist.

I ran into a Dexter costumer while out and about at DragonCon, and had way too much fun getting wrapped in plastic wrap:

Other than exchanging the nights I wore this on and adjusting the waistband of the skirt, there's not much I would change about the outfit.  It'll be a good backup costume for DragonCon or any other steampunk events, but I'm not necessarily planning on bringing it back for DragonCon 2012.

The third costume in my DragonCon 2011 lineup was once again, the one that snuck up on me.  Like a lot of people, I got really into the Game Of Thrones tv show that premiered last year (and be warned, if you haven't watched the show, there are spoilers below), and particularly enjoyed the character Daenerys Targaryen.  In the sixth episode there's a fairly iconic (and graphic) scene in which Daenerys eats a raw horse heart, which started the wheels in my head turning.  I was absolutely blown away by the costuming in Game Of Thrones, but I wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary, and the idea of a fully edible "horse heart" as a costume prop started to percolate at the back of my mind.

(I posted a detailed description of this costume over on my Cosplay.com page, and I'm recycling some of the text from there here, so my apologies to those of you who have read this already.)

From the get-go I knew I wanted to debut this at DragonCon 2011, which would mean that the costume, including any edible props, would be flying with me from southern California to Atlanta, Georgia, and anything that wouldn't be airplane-safe would have to be assembled in my hotel room.  As the idea started to come together, I narrowed down on the idea of jello as the edible medium, mixed and poured into an anatomical heart-shaped mold in the hotel room.  I read up on making your own gummy bears, and added a good dose of unflavored gelatin to my recipe draft -- and I read up on making jello shots, and added vodka to this list too, so I could get my drinking on while still looking like Daenerys.  A test run of mini batches of gummy-shots followed, and a final recipe was selected: raspberry jello, black cherry jello, unflavored gelatin, cocoa powder, red food coloring, vodka, Irish cream, and water.

Once I was certain I would be able to make the gummy heart in my hotel room at DragonCon, I turned to the outfit itself.  At first glance, it looks like Daenerys wears the same outfit throughout the middle of the first season, but on closer inspection, it's the same leather skirt, leggings, and boots, but her top and accessories change ever so slightly from episode to episode.  I focused on her outfit during the horse heart scene specifically, while using screenshots of her other similar outfits as additional reference.

In the interest of comfort walking around the crowded and hot DragonCon hotels, and in the interest of saving room in my suitcase, I decided skip the leggings and boots that Dany wears throughout the season, in favor of flat, lace-up leather sandals, identical to those worn by other Dothraki women during season 1.  I wore a pair of Aruba's Oasis sandals that I've had for a few years and absolutely adore.

For the skirt, after looking at every scene and every angle I could, and considering the realities of a culture that lives on horseback, I decided to go with two distinct layers, both in faux suede.  The underlayer is a short, off-white skirt, split at the sides all the way to the waistband, while the overskirt is sage green, split to the waistband at the front and back, with a few inches of overlap between the two panels in the front.  Splitting the skirts this way means that they could be worn on horseback without having to ride side-saddle, and behave the way we see Daenerys's skirts behave in the show.  I made the overskirt knee-length in front, as in the show, but longer (nearly floor-length) in back, because of my lack of boots.  

To the underskirt I attached another bit of off-white faux suede that folds over the top of the green overskirt, forming the base of the belt area.  Both skirts are made from unhemmed, unseamed pieces of faux suede fabric -- the off-white was from my stash, leftovers from my 2009 Victoria costume, and the green was from SyFabrics -- cut with ragged edges (the stray threads carefully snipped off) to simulate a suede hide. Both have elastic waistbands, secured with hooks-and-eyes, which are hidden by the folded over top of the underskirt.  The overskirt also has a small pocket hidden behind the overlap in the front, sized to fit my phone, credit card/ID/room key, and chapstick.

For the top, I looked at a lot of different fabrics, both in person and online, trying to find something that had that home-spun, almost primitive look to it.  Every single fabric I looked at was too finely woven and too uniform.  I went as far as to look into woven placemats and hand-made scarves from Thailand, but couldn't find anything I was completely happy with.  So I decided to make the fabric from scratch.  I started by knitting a base in roughly the shape of Dany's top, first with a thick brown/gray tweed yarn, and then a second time with a sock-weight tweed yarn, as the first knit up far too puffy and bulky.  I knit it on large gauge needles, and used a drop-stitch pattern at irregular intervals, to increase the space between the rows.

Once I finished knitting the base, I used a tapestry needle to weave random bits of yarn into the knitted loops, without worrying about being too precise or perfect.  The end result doesn't exactly mimic the colors or patterns on Daenerys's top from the baby shower sequence, but (like the sandals) I felt had a Dothraki feel to it, more than any of the fabrics I had considered for the top.  I braided several of the main yarns I used in the weaving into a trim for the top front edge, and the neck-ties.

The top folds over in the front, and like Dany's is held closed by two pins.  I looked for pennacular pins similar to the ones she wears in the show, but when I was unable to find any of the right size and look for less than about $50, I decided to start looking for dragon pins instead, to echo the Targaryen house crest.  I ended up going with two small circular pins (meant to be a place to hang your glasses, lol) I found on ebay.  I also purchased a couple of metal belts from etsy, similar to the ones Dany wears.  The pins and the belts all started out too shiny silver, so I applied a paint wash (a mix of black, brown, and antique gold paint colors, with a whole lot of water) to all of them, to age them.

The necklace that Daenerys wears in the horse heart scene appears to be two large metal claws or fangs (perhaps dragon?), suspended and freely rotating on a metal chain.  Again I wasn't able to find anything online that looked right to me -- most real fangs/claws are far too small -- but when I stopped by a costume store to buy a wig cap, a pair of bright red devil horns caught my eye.  They seemed to be the perfect size and shape, so I bought them, sanded them down smooth, applied a coat of primer, and then painted them a weathered gold to match the chains.  When I bought them they had a suction cup at the wide end (no idea how they were intended to be used, lol), which I cut off to get to the hollow center.  To give the horns some weight, I bought a fairly fine 100" aged gold chain from JoAnn's, split it in half, and put 50" inside each horn. To that I attached a thicker chain of the same color to go around my neck, and secured the horns to the chain using a toggle bar clasp, with the hole where the suction cup once was acting as the loop for the toggle.

In the horse heart scene, Daenerys is wearing an armband (but no gloves), which I made out of a length of leather, a couple of feathers, and a few beads I had in my stash, all held together with clear beading elastic.  The leather strap originally had a small brass rivet to hold it closed, but it fell out and was lost at DragonCon, so I had to rig it with a bit of string at the last moment, and get MB to tie it for me (ironically the only part of the whole costume I couldn't put on myself).

Throughout the middle of the first season of Game Of Thrones, Daenerys wears a narrow strip of fabric over her skirts in the front (which again, would help with being able to wear these skirts while actually on horseback).  The best screenshots of other episodes showed what looked like a woven piece of fabric, similar to the fabric of her top, but I noticed that in the 'baby shower' scene, she's wearing a different piece that looked, when she moved, to be made out of rows of brown and blue tassels.  With help from my sister Jezunya, I made 12 brown tassels and 12 blue tassels, using yarn I had used to make the top as well as a few other complementary yarns.  Using the thick yarn I had started with for the top but eventually discarded, I knit up a quick long rectangle, again using the drop-stitch pattern.  I then tied the tassels to the knitted base in 6 rows of 4 tassels each, alternating brown and blue, and tied an extra length of yarn to the top corners, so I could tie it around my waist, under the belts and folded over underskirt.  The tassels move in a really lovely way, and I was able to attach my DragonCon badge to the back of the skirt, keeping it hidden for pictures but easily shown to the security at the con doors.

For the wig, I bought a long curly white wig from easyshop75 on ebay, the same vendor I bought my HitGirl wig from.  As before, I wasn't disappointed, and the wig was high quality and quite thick.  I would have preferred a bit longer, but once I broke up the curls a bit and braided back the front, it was a fine length.  

I decided to do the violet eyes described in the books, even though the show didn't, and got a pair of Super Pinky Violet 15mm contacts from PinkyParadise.com (in prescription strength, woot!).  I'm really happy with the contacts and had a ton of fun wearing them with the costume, and have even worn them out of costume, just because.

In addition to the costume itself, I also packed all the dry ingredients to make the gummy heart, along with cooking supplies to mix it all up, and an immersion heater so I could boil water in my hotel room.  Once I got to Atlanta, I bought a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream to complete the recipe.  My plan was to wear the costume to the Game Of Thrones meetup Saturday evening, so I made the heart in two separate halves on Friday, boiling the water and mixing everything up on the teeny tiny table in my teeny tiny Hyatt Radius hotel room.  I packed the heart molds in ice to help the jello set, but with the unflavored gelatin thrown into the mix, it will actually set at room temp.

The Saturday Game Of Thrones meetup was split into two parts, first at 4:30 and again at 7:00pm (before and after a 5:30 GOT panel), so I went to the first without the heart and blood, to get clean pictures.  

Between the two meetups I went back to my hotel room and mixed up a half batch of the gummy recipe, poured just a touch onto one of the heart molds and put the other heart on top of it, so they would meld into one giant heart, and then got started on the blood.

The fake blood makeup is actually the exact same recipe as the gummy heart.  To get the right look, I smeared some around my mouth and let it drip off my chin and onto my chest, and then took a big handful in both hands and let it drip down my arms.  And then stood over the hotel room sink and let it drip.  It took about 15 minutes to dry, maybe half an hour to really cure, but once it did the drips were all completely solid and not at all sticky -- kind of the dry, powdery texture of gummy bears.  That meant that I could open doors, push elevator buttons, pose next to other people, etc, without leaving any fake blood behind.  The drips still looked wet, but were in fact completely solid.

The one unforeseen issue I ran into at DragonCon was that the gummy blood around my mouth liked to stick to the gummy heart when I took a bite, and so started peeling off as the evening went on.  I went back to my room once to apply more gummy blood to my mouth (re-liquifying set gummy is harder than it sounds, turns out, but enough hot water did the trick), and then just carried a tube of bright red lipstick I had somehow thought to pack, and touched up the peeling bits with that the rest of the night, in sort of the Joker school of lipstick application.  I took bites out of the heart for most of the pictures I posed for, so the peeling wasn't really visible, but I would like to figure out a way to keep this from peeling before I wear this costume again.  

In addition to my Daenerys costume, I somehow talked MB into letting me make him a Ser Jorah Mormont costume to match.  We pretty quickly narrowed down on the outfit that Jorah wears in the second half of the first season: off-white cotton shirt, wool riding kilt, black pants, and black boots. 

For the shirt, we used one that MB has had for years, which I believe he bought at a ren faire in Texas in 2000 or so.  To better match the show, I tea-dyed it to a slightly darker off-white/aged yellow, and cut the v-neck a bit deeper, but otherwise left it as is.

The riding kilt I drafted from scratch from MB's measurements, using four rectangular overlapping panels (which, from what I can tell from screenshots, looks like what they used for the show, too).  My first attempt I used black and brown cotton, since I was a bit worried about MB being too warm in wool, in the crowds at DragonCon in Atlanta in August.

But after MB tried it on, we both agreed that the cotton just wasn't draping right.  We also decided that the panels needed to be wider and overlap more.  So I headed back to JoAnn's and picked up suiting wool in black and brown (probably the same brown I used for MB's wool Jedi Robe in 2010, but I didn't have enough scrap from that to make the kilt).

Once I had the panels sewn together, MB was a bit worried that the brown was a tad too light, so with some trepidation, I threw both fabrics into the washer with some
black iDye, just long enough to darken the brown slightly.  Washing it also gave the wool a nice lived-in, almost felted look, which fit the character better than dry-clean-only suiting would have.

Of course with all my other costume sewing going so well, the pants for the Jorah costume began and ended as a disaster.  I started out with a pair of black canvas pants I had made for MB for a costume a few years ago, where I had somehow managed to mess up the rise and make it way too short.  Since he was planning on tucking the pants into his boots, and the kilt would cover most of the top of the pants, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to cut a section from the bottom of each of the legs and attach it to the top of the pants in a sort of extended waistband yoke thing.

Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking.  The pants only got worse each time MB tried them on.  After the third or fourth disastrous alteration, MB talked me into scrapping the pants and letting him just buy a pair, since they wouldn't really be visible, anyway.  One very short trip to Target yielded a pair of black jersey pajama pants -- on sale, even! -- that tucked into his boots easily, and even had pockets.  Moral of the story: no more pants.

To complete the costume, we bought a pair of Funtasma Walker boots in black and a double wrap sword belt that matched the one worn in the show fairly well.  I whipped up a few accessories: linen and cotton fabric wraps for his wrists, a silver beaded bracelet I just happened to catch sight of in one screen shot, and a black suede baldric that can occasionally be seen peaking out from under Jorah's shirt.  I used a bit of scrap black suede left over from the Aragorn jerkin I made for MB way back in 2003, and even put a small hidden pocket in the baldric, sized to fit MB's iphone and/or roomkey, etc.  Though I think in the end, he just used the pockets on the purchased pants, heh.

We had tons of fun wearing the costumes, both at the meetup and just walking around the hotels at DragonCon Saturday night.  Everyone we met at the meetup was unbelievably cool, and their costumes were to die for.  I was one of about 20 Daeneryses (Daeneri, we decided!) at the meetup, and as far as I know the only one at DragonCon with an edible horse heart.  We had about 50 people total at the meetup, and everyone was appreciative of each others costumes, cheered when people walked in, and were generally just an awesome group of people.  I bonded with the other Daeneri on the difficulty of finding good fabric for the top, and together the 20 of us (with assorted dragons and eggs) decided we could take Westeros on our own, screw everyone else.  ;)

Overall I'm extremely happy with the way both costumes turned out.  I'm waiting for the second season of Game Of Thrones (which starts April first!) before I decide if my Daenerys costume will be making a re-appearance at DragonCon 2012.  I've been avoiding spoilers and screenshots in the run up to season two, but I fully anticipate that at least one of Dany's costumes will catch my eye.  I'll wait to nail down my DragonCon 2012 lineup until I've seen what second season has to offer.

So that's it for costumes I sewed in 2011!  Next up in the 2011 review will be disability aids and home decor -- a much shorter list, so hopefully I'll be able to get it written and posted soon.

(Photographs primarily by me and MB, with additional DragonCon shots from Courtarro, dunemanic, uubergeek, and Lindsay Gordon, and DragonCon video by Zennie62.  Game Of Thrones screenshots copyright HBO.)

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011 In Review -- Part 2: Dresses

Moving right along with the "what I sewed in 2011" theme, next up is dresses.  It's funny, I started the last post feeling like I had sewn piles and piles of skirts last year, when in fact I only finished four.  On the other hand, I felt like I didn't spend much time on dresses last year, but when I started looking through my closet and the photos I took in the last 12 months, I realized I actually finished three dresses in 2011, and heavily modified one purchased dress.

Part of the disconnect there is that for years, I sewed mostly costumes and gowns.  I always ended the year with a gown/cocktail dress for the semi-formal Christmas party MB's office throws every year (for instance: 2008, 2009).  But this year, his office changed plans for the party and ended up making it casual (I wore the blue satin skirt from the last post), so my sketch for the gown I wanted to make this year has gone unmade.  Without that bookend to my year, it felt like I didn't do all that much dressmaking.

The other part of it is that while I did sew or modify four day dresses in 2011, as of now only one of them is in rotation in my closet.  But I'll explain that as I get to each dress.

The first dress I sewed in 2011 was actually part of my fall 2010 sewing list that I didn't quite get to before the end of the year.  I'd wanted a 1960s-ish wiggle dress for awhile, something that looked like wool without the itchiness that would necessitate a lining and add bulk.  When I found a synthetic brushed flannel in this awesome gray-brown, the whole project came together.

I started with a muslin pattern I made years ago (possibly originally based on McCall's 5232? honestly can't remember now) of a princess line dress that I know fits me -- and with my 28J bra size, getting a princess seamed dress to fit smoothly is no easy feat.  I folded the full skirt of the muslin in from the hipline downwards, since I knew I wanted it fitted, and then fiddled with the seams to get the fit right once I could try it on.

Once I had the fit perfected -- tight and wiggly and very Joany -- I added a band of the same fabric to the underbust.  I found some buttons that matched the fabric beautifully and played around with the placement (since they're non-functional) until I found the most flattering location.  I put a looooong invisible zipper at center back, quite nearly the whole length of the dress, so that it would open up enough to easily get into and out of.  I also played with the hem length quite a bit, eventually going with a couple of inches above my knees, a bit shorter than I usually do, but it felt like it worked for this dress.  I experimented with a few inches below the knee too, but it ended up looking too much like a costume rather than like a nod to the 60s.

I unfortunately didn't have a single real photo of this dress on me, nor do I have a dressform to photograph it on (but that's a topic I'll get to in the next few weeks here), so I figured out the timer on my camera and took a couple of shots in front of my front door (one of the few bits of blank wall in my house with a flat surface nearby; I have a feeling we're going to get to know this bit of wall real well on this blog, lol).  You guys will have to forgive my photography and photo-editing skills, just as a general rule.

I love the way this dress looks on me.  I feel like I stepped out of MadMen, but the length still makes it feel modern.  I wore it a lot in the first half of the year, but as with so many other things, my hip joints decided that wiggle dresses are right out, and I had to retire this dress from daily wear.  I'm holding on to it in the hopes that my hip joints will be able to handle this sort of fitted dress again someday, but for now it languishes at the back of my closet.  On the bright side, knowing that I could no longer wear this without pain helped quite a lot when I set out to make the houndstooth pencil skirt mentioned in the last post.

The second dress I made in 2011 was another of my pre-Paris sewing projects.  I really liked the idea of a black jersey dress for travel, the sort of dress you can wad up and throw in your suitcase, then pull it out, give it a shake, throw it on with heels and some accessories and look amazing.  I looked around at pictures online of travel dresses to get a basic idea of shapes and styles, and then dove in without any other guidance.

I started with a black light-weight cotton-poly jersey, more silky than tshirty but still stretchy, that I found at JoAnn's.  It doesn't wrinkle at all, no matter what I do to it, so it's perfect for this sort of dress.  I cut it into a really basic tank dress shape to start out with, no closures, just pull over my head.  It was rather baggy to start out with, especially with just the side seams for shaping, so I added a strip of fabric at the underbust, which I turned into a drawstring casing.  I put a bit of ribbon through it so I could cinch in the underbust, then did a little shirring at the shoulders.

Somewhere along the way, I'm not quite sure when or how, but the shoulder-to-underbust length got a bit too short.  If I tied the underbust tie nice and tight, I could make it stretch downwards and fit, but it naturally didn't want to hang in quite the right place.  I did end up wearing it once in Paris, layered with a jean jacket and scarf, but I wasn't thrilled with it and haven't found myself reaching for it from the back of my closet.  Over the summer I pulled it out and took my seam ripper to the underbust portion.  So now it's back to baggy, but I still feel like there's a kernel of something good in there.  For now, it's in back in my sewing stash, but I'd like to take another swing at it in 2012.

Apparently the third time was the charm when it came to dressmaking in 2011.  The third dress was a sundress I made shortly after getting back from Paris (though I seem to remember delusions of grandeur about somehow finishing it before the trip).  For the last few years I've really wanted a soft cotton dress in a black woven fabric with little red flowers.  I looked for months and months for fabric that matched what I imagined, looking locally, on my trip to the LA fabric district, and online, but couldn't find anything.

Then one day I found myself in the quilting cotton section --  home of cheap, stiff, badly printed cotton that really isn't suitable for dressmaking, for the most part.  But as I was looking at a black and white polka-dot fabric that consisted of really nothing but a black print on one side of white fabric, somehow inspiration struck.  What if I dyed it?  I made my first foray into dyeing purchased fabric in 2010 (for my Hit Girl skirt) and absolutely loved the results.

So I bought a couple of yards of the black-with-white-polka-dots quilting cotton and a packet of red dye (I love the iDye products but I can't say for sure if I used it for this project, as my local JoAnn's tends to have a pretty limited selection of colors) and threw it all in my washing machine.

The results were a wonderfully customized fabric that was bright orangey-red on one side and black with red polka-dots on the other side.  The dye also seemed to have improved the drape of the fabric, even more than just washing it would have.  If I remember correctly, I dyed the fabric before the Paris trip but didn't get around to sewing it until some time after we got back.

When I finally got back to this dress, I decided to use Vogue 8648 as a jumping off point.  I wanted to do the full-skirt option, but when I started laying out the fabric, I realized I was a bit short on the yardage.  Since I was worried that I wouldn't be able to replicate the exact dye shade I had achieved the first time around, I decided to just "make it work" as they say.  I made a muslin of the bodice, adjusting the princess seam over the bust to the curve that I know works for me, and shortening the underbust to waist length (a tad more than I should have, turns out), then cut out all the little bodice pieces, trying to waste as little fabric as possible.  I narrowed the skirt to 3/4 of a circle and shortened it to just barely knee-length, to try to get as much out of the yardage I had.

I love the way this dress turned out, though of course I can see all the small faults.  The skirt is just a touch longer in the center front and back than on the sides, which really only becomes apparent when the black petticoat I usually wear with this slips down a bit and shows at the sides but not in the front.  I don't think anyone else has ever noticed, but in some photos it's a bit more obvious:

I used hem tape for the first time with this dress, since I was trying to get every last inch out of the fabric.  I really liked hem tape, and have used it a few times since, but the idea of having to pick that all out is what's stopped me from fixing the length issues.  Like I said, I usually wear a net petticoat with this, but occasionally I'll layer it with my old muslin peasant skirt instead, and the skirt still has a nice amount of loft.

I would definitely like to make this pattern again, and have a white cotton sundress idea bouncing around that it might be perfect for.  The straight-skirt view is probably not a great idea for me, but there are a lot of skirt variations that would work well with the bodice.  If I made it again, I wouldn't shorten the bodice pieces quite so much, and I would of course buy enough fabric this time, but otherwise I wouldn't change much.

Later in the summer, I finally broke down and bought my first dress from ModCloth.  As a general rule I really like the ModCloth styles, but I've been a bit leery of their construction and fabric quality, and of course nothing has fit me off the rack for nearly 20 years now.  But I saw that they were having a sale, and their Brunch At My Place dress jumped out and yelled "buy me!"  It had just the sort of 60s shift feeling I'd been longing for, and I loved the lace fabric.  It was on sale, they had a few left in my size, so I gave in and bought it.

Of course, shift dresses aren't a great shape on me -- without structured waist definition, I can look a bit like a lumpy sack of potatoes, as my grandma (whose figure I inherited) has always said.  So when the dress arrived, I wasn't surprised that it looked kind of meh on me.  But sewing skills to the rescue!  The fabric is dark enough that I was able to put in two long, thin elliptical darts without losing the basic line of the dress.  I pinned and fussed until I figured out where I wanted to put the darts, running from my bust point to my hipline, and taking out a total of about 6" from the waistline.

Thankfully ModCloth had cut the lace on the grain (thank you ModCloth!) so I was able to use the geometric nature of the lace to perfectly line up the darts.  I repeated the darts on the lining as well, which is made from a thin jersey material that thankfully doesn't fray, so I was able to leave the seams unfinished inside.  Once I was happy with the darts, I chopped a couple of inches off the bottom and rehemmed it, to give it a more 60s mod feel on my 5'1" frame.

While I was in there chopping up the dress, I also took the ties off the sleeve ends, turned under an inch or so, and threaded elastic through the casing I had just made.  The sleeves are much less fussy that way, and stay at whatever elevation I push them to.

I wore this dress quite a lot last fall, usually with opaque black sweater tights.  When tights started to become an issue for my hips in early December, I cut the top off that pair and turned them into stockings (which I'll have a separate post about soon), which I wear with garter clips to keep them up.  I haven't worn this dress with my tights-turned-stockings yet, and I'm a bit worried it's too short to comfortably wear with garters, so this may become a warm weather dress, at least until I get some better/shorter garters.

So for all that, the black-with-red-polka-dots sundress is the only one I still wear with any frequency.  Thankfully in southern California, even January offers a few days when it's warm enough to wear a sundress, but I would like to get some of these others back into my rotation, if I can.

Next post, I'll tackle the costumes I made in 2011!

(Model: me.  Photographer: me, plus my handy dandy timer.  Makeup from Faerie Organic, lipstick from Afterglow in Courage, nail polish from No Miss in Miami Red, shoes from Gabriella Rocha. Special co-star: my front door.)

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