Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fantasy Empire Dress

I've already posted about the "one week wedding dress, OW" and how the first dress wouldn't fit, so I had to make another. When Bride's World was coming around, I decided that I already had a beautiful dress almost finished, and limited time, so I finished the "first" green dress and this is what came of it. (Thank you Liz, you are a lovely model).

Due to the fabrics I used, I can't market this as an historic gown, but it sure is pretty (and for sale).

The fabric has to be pressed before every single wear, and it doesn't like being stuffed in a garment bag.

The green is a polyester sari fabric in a graduated green (goes from bright grass green to spring green) with gold *stars*and a beautiful gold & green border design. (When I purchased the fabric for the original dress, it was on a 100% silk label, which is the only reason I got it, but I'm glad I did as it's lovely... I pretty much knew it was polyester, but the color was perfect and time was short).
The lace is 100% cotton with little primroses & leaves embroidered in a diamond pattern over hexagonal netting. It's very pretty and very forgiving.
The bodice lining is 100% cotton quilting fabric.
The trim is 100% cotton gold braid.
The flower is a silk yellow orchid, that is easily changed for something else (a tassel, a different flower, beads, etc.), but the lace panel needs something to weight it down.

This dress went through a lot of style changes. Mostly due to the fact that I had very little lace left over from the first dress. I kept the scraps that were too small to mail to the "OW" bride, and that's what I had to work with (this lace is no longer available).
-The top was already sewn together, but I did let out the side seams to better fit the Liz doll (t-shirt, duck tape, cardboard, stuffed with plastic grocery bags and finally covered with fabric to make it look good. I may post on how to make a really good duck tape dress form later). We knew the Liz doll was bigger than the real Liz, so the back didn't quite close, and the front was very tight on the doll.
-The skirt was already sewn together, and just needed to be attached to the top. The design issues were in the sleeves and the lace overlay on the skirt. I had very little lace, and no more green material... maybe enough for a clutch purse.
-Not pictured (and not finished) are the glove/sleeves. They are the same green sari fabric, no lace. They go from mid-arm to wrist, and do not attach to anything, they just magically stay on your arms... it's kinda cool.

I looked at 3 different fashion eras for inspiration.
-The early 1800's, which was the inspiration for the "OW" dress, and the base for the pattern.
-Ancient Greece and Rome, which heavily influenced the Empire style of the early 1800's.
-1910's tea and evening gowns, mostly for the glitz that I wanted in this dress.

Most of this was sewn together already, but going way, way back to April here's the process:
-I designed the dress using 3 different historic patterns and a lot of mistakes.
-Cut the fabric for this dress a bit haphazardly (the OW took better advantage of the fabric patterns). Made sure the bottom design stayed on the bottom of the skirt to proved an all-around border, and removed the need to hem.
-Flat-lined the lace to the top and sewed the bodice together.
-Sewed the skirt using welted seams, so it's very clean, no raw edges. There is a gathering effect in this skirt that is not in the OW gown. I wanted a cleaner look in the OW dress, so instead of gathering the extra fabric, I made darts. The gathers in this dress are very nice on someone's body, but not so nice on the hanger.
-Sewed the bodice lining to the bodice around the neck and back only. Left the sleeves and the bottom open for the sleeves & skirt. (in the OW dress I made drawstring channels so I knew it would fit the bride, in this one it's a fixed dress).
-Took my time arranging the sleeves & lace overlay on the skirt.
-Sewed the gold trim on the lace edges.
-Sewed the lace overlay to the green skirt, sewed them all into the dress.
-Sewed the sleeves into the armhole & hand-finished the armhole.
-Added gold trim to everything.
-Sewed on hooks & eyes.
-Added the flower at the last minute to weight down the front lace panel (it has a tendency to curve a little).

One of my favorite things about this dress is the asymmetry in the lace overlay on the skirt.
The other thing I really enjoy is that the gold trim alternates direction as it goes around the collar, under-bust, front and back overlays. It helps your eye move up & down the dress, instead of making you spin in circles.
Although the bodice sits on the shoulders it does not restrict arm movement, and you can dance & generally move around without flashing the room. I wouldn't try tying my shoes in a room full of gentlemen, but that's what slip-ons were made for.
The back of the lace overlay is cut in an M shape and is very elegant when you move.

I'd like to do more of these fantasy dresses, this was fun, frustrating and very rewarding when I finished it. Now if I could just find some beautiful lady to buy and wear it, my artwork would be complete.