I want to share the first part of Brigit’s banquet garb with you, along with a cautionary tale of last minute installation of zips … Eventually this gown will have an overdress made of red velvet, but for now it’ll work as a stand-alone garment with accessories.
Originally I hoped to make this item in time for an IC party, but the date was changed and I mistakenly believed I had the right pattern size to fit me. A word to the wise – check your pattern sizes when in a hurry …
This, and more details of the “Snow White and the Huntsman” inspired dress can be found below.
For more kit walk-throughs and tutorials, go to Tutorials.
I apologise for the lack of “in progress” photos I have of this dress. When I started making it I was in a major flap about getting it made in time for the aforementioned party and wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be getting photos taken whilst I was hunched over the sewing machine.
Long story short the week before the party (the date having been moved ahead of Halloween to allow people to attend) I thought I was in pretty good shape to just put the dress together and do a few finishing touches afterwards if they needed them. I was smugly calm and collected as I went through my stash of cloth and checked I had enough of the cream brocade cloth I had been given by a friend’s mother during her stash busting exercise. It’s a gorgeous rich creamy colour, which I thought would go well with the red velvet a couple of friends had given me when I started the character, and I’d been saving it especially for this dress. I already had the pattern (or so I thought) and interfacing and a concealed zip which could be liberated from another project, so I thought putting it together would be a breeze. (I laugh at myself now …) All I needed was some buttons and more white thread and I would be all set. So off I popped to the local fabric shop, bought the few bits I needed and continued on my merry way. I didn’t need anything crazily fancy, the pattern instructions seemed simple enough, I had found some beautiful delicate golden buttons, and I had a week. I was on a roll, the autumnal sunshine was shining (I like autumn sunshine, it has a rich golden quality to it) and I was making pumpkin soup with crispy chorizo (which is delicious by the way).
Lesson number one – check your pattern
But then disaster struck! The pattern, that had been carefully hoarded through a house move and kept carefully for that day it would be made, was the wrong size. I’d bought it back when I’d started learning to sew costumes and was still learning how to read the packets and size accordingly. I had a size – but it was not my size – and it wasn’t until I was cutting the tissue pieces that I got a feeling something was wrong – the largest pattern piece was the smallest of the size I should have bought. So, it was a quick dash online to order the pattern in the hope that it would arrive in time.
The day was not entirely wasted, as I worked on making a pair of stockings to be worn under the gown. Adapting a pattern of stockings I currently had (to save having to make a pattern to fit me perfectly) using a tutorial I’d found online, I made a pair of white seamed stockings for a jersey/spandex material I had in my stash and some elastic. I intend to make another pair at somepoint using the tutorial I found, but this is a “some point” project.
Lesson number two – check your cloth and give yourself plenty of time
The pattern wasn’t shipped until Tuesday, but luckily didn’t get taken back to the depot, so I only got around to cutting the tissue pattern pieces out on the Wednesday in amongst other activities and dinner. I told myself not to stress, that I had enough time. However, I forgot how long it can take to prepare pattern pieces and the cloth for cutting. Late Wednesday night I had made some significant progress, though I was beginning to try to tell myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t finish the dress in time for the party that Friday … (of course, I was also telling myself that it totally did matter and that I could do without sleep)
Thursday came round and I was left cutting the last of my pattern pieces. It was at this point I realised that the light marking I recalled the cloth having from storage and some mysterious accident was not as pale as I had thought, but was able to cut the cloth such that most of the marks fall around a seam or in the drape of the skirt. Things were beginning to get a bit tense as I almost ran out of cloth, but I succeeding in getting all the pieces cut with a bit of creative positioning and marked up the backs with the markings on the patterns. Interfacing was cut and applied to all the pieces ahead of the steps described in the instructions to give me a head start. Now this, this was a cunning plan! I developed an almost paranoid obsession with counting pieces of cloth and checking the markings that night … I didn’t have enough cloth to cut another round of facings or sleeves for example …
I had begun piecing the front and side panels together with the front yoke, pressing the seams open as I worked to try and prevent any fiddly ironing the next day. I was beginning to doubt I’d be finished in time, but a part of me kept reasoning that I didn’t need sleep … or neighbours …
So, picture this – Friday afternoon after work I am met with the scene of a dress in pieces – the back panels pinned to the yoke, the sleeves and facings still to be sewn and buttons and button loops to add, along with the zip to install (which means I have to turn to my trusty book by Sarai Mitnik of Coletterie) with a t-minus alarm going off in my head. And I had doubts. Serious doubts.
But I stubbornly pushed on and sewed like a demon.
I thought I could just pin the facings up into the inner of the sleeve at a pinch, and sew buttons or catch up the hem in the car on the way there, you know just so the dress looked good even if it wasn’t finished … but curse you sudden and inevitable betrayal. It was the zip that failed me.
Or rather, I failed at the zip.
Lesson number three – deadlines are not zip friendly
For starters the zip was a little short for the dress, which isn’t really a problem except when following an instruction talking about only sewing to a particular point before installing the zip, which led to some confused scratching of the head whilst I tried to figure out what was going on whilst my deadling loomed. I should really learn to read instructions too, because then I wouldn’t find myself ripping out part of a seam to turn the zip the right way round which of course questioning why I had thought that making a dress in a week was a good idea.
Eventually I decided to just put the whole thing aside and sulked at it for a good five minutes, before going and putting on some different kit and helping my long suffering OH put things in the car to go set dress the venue. I was grumpy at myself for a good hour I think, but when I eventually came back to the heap that was my dress, I faced with a calmer attitude, which I think is better for zips.
The book, and video on the blog, have a logical step by step process on installing zips, which I eventually did after a long Saturday a month or so later. True, it took a while to install (turns out the cloth I was using was quite thick when turned at a seam, which is sort of important when it comes to closing a zip …) but once I’d sewn it below the yoke at the back (rather than at the top of that seam) the whole thing closed beautifully and began to turn the shapeless monster into a dress – kinda like when the faeries are making the blue and pink gown for Sleeping Beauty in the 1959 Disney film.
It needed a few more hooks and eyes than the pattern called for, to help give the shape at the shoulders that is required for the dress to fit, but a few changes like that aren’t a bad thing.
Lesson number four – sometimes you just have to hand sew
I sewed up the gap in the back seam and turned the gown the right way round, having sorted out the sleeve facings and buttons (see above) on a different day whilst sat watching something on TV. All that was left to do was sew the bottom hem. I was wary of cutting the bottom of the dress off as the hem would sit differently if I was in boots, walking boots or shoes, so I thought if I rolled the hem it wouldn’t cause too much both to just sew.
I need to learn to stop “just sewing” things.
I machine-stitched a 5/8” seam along the bottom of the hem to give me a rough guide when turning the hem and pinned a section in place. But three layers of cotton brocade is a lot of cloth and my sewing machine was having none of it. And so I resigned myself to many many evenings of hand sewing the hem of the dress whilst watching umpteen episodes of Star Trek or the Last Kingdom or whatever films I was using as sewing distraction.
A slight deviation from the pattern was the addition of a second set of “eyes” further along the back yoke of the dress from the centre seam. I should have made a mock up of this dress and fitted it properly in the first place, but the ease (which helps the dress fit a body) is so much that with the stiff cloth there was a lot of gape around the neckline of the dress. When I tried it on I found at whilst the shoulders fit perfectly, the back was really loose. This might be needed when the gown is worn with the overgown and boned bodice that the pattern has, however at this time I’m preparing to wear the gown on its own with the shawl. So, to avoid having to unpick the seam and facing and cut away the excess cloth, I decided to add another set of eyes to “hook” the back across from the centre seam and catch in the loose cloth. This makes the gown fitted across the bust and back with a sort of pleat in the yoke falling away to the fullness of the skirt. Sure, it’s not an elegant solution, but it works.
Lesson number five – everything turns out right in the end
This dress has been a lesson in starting something too late and rushing it, some bits are a little crooked, but overall I am pleased with how this gown looks. I prefer the unfussy neckline (which the pattern instructions urge to trim in ribbon or a ruched band of cloth) and the delicate buttons work well with the seam binding loops I had used (instead of using cloth from the dress) to save time. I have added a ribbon loop to the zip to help when dressing myself in the field (because putting nice clothes on is hard enough in a tent without then having to find someone willing to zip you up!) along with the additional hook and eyes, but here is Brigit’s banquet dress (part 1) in all its glory.