Dress Decision 2016

After polling all my coworkers, some key friends, and the fine folks following me on this blog and over at Instagram (@stephani.miller), I have decided on the design I will sew for my friend’s afternoon, outdoor/barn, September wedding. *trumpetssound*

Here’s the winner:


The indigo (I’ve decided it’s indigo, not royal or cornflower; maybe I’m wrong) silk shantung in the Cashmerette Upton dress, pleated skirt with V neck, not the scoop neck I was originally thinking of. A coworker pointed out to me that scoop necks seem a bit more casual, and I would usually choose the V neck anyway. But for the other Upton dresses that are to come, I will most likely make the scoop neck version.

Anyway, I’m going to use the shattered lace printing effect that I love so much, so I’ll try to blog about that process here. I’m expecting the Jacquard Lumiere and Textile Paints I ordered to arrive early next week. I love Jacquard’s textile paints and dyes! They’re so easy to use. I’ve selected some lace scraps and will try out the printing process on other fabric scraps once the paints arrive to make sure I like the effect.

To print the shantung for the dress, I plan to either outline the pattern shapes on the fabric first, or just go ahead and cut the fabric before printing so I don’t waste paint and can be more strategic in the print placement and composition.

The fabric may get a vinegar/water bath before printing just to super-extra-fix the dye job.

Time to clean off my dining room table so I can use it for the printing! But even before that, I need to muslin the Upton’s bodice to make sure of my size and any adjustments.

What to make for a friend’s wedding??

What to make for a friend’s wedding??

I just realized it’s August. Funny how that happens. The months roll by, you think you have enough time for all the projects on your plate, and BOOM! It’s all gone.

This finally hit me today because in just a bit over a month, a friend of mine is getting married and I can’t decide what to make to wear. I’ve got a 2-year-old UFO that’s all underlined and pleated and ready to be sewn together that I could finish. The fabric is a beautiful mulberry-colored metallic jacquard I picked up from the Haberman Fabrics booth at American Sewing Expo three or four years ago. The pattern is from an issue of BurdaStyle magazine from 2011. I still love the fabric, I still love the dress, and as it’s ready for assembly it would be easy to finish. But I’m not sure it hits the right note for an early September wedding and reception in a rustic barn in Connecticut at 3 p.m.

I could change plans pretty easily at this point and instead make the Cashmerette Upton dress with the full pleated skirt option. If past experience with Cashmerette’s patterns carries through to this one, most of my pattern alterations are already included in the pattern’s draft. I’d have to do a muslin, of course, and I’d have to pick a fabric. I have lots in my stash to choose from, but half my stash is now at my parents’ house 8 hours away, as I’m prepping for a move. What I do have on-hand is mostly casual, or intended for historical costume, or fancier but not enough yardage.

Here’s what I have that could make a just-fancy-enough-but-not-too-fancy Upton for my friend’s wedding:

A beautiful fuchsia jacquard-weave linen, which I’ve already planned to make into this dress anyway. I’ve got a solid 4 yards of this. The color looks a little hot in this photo, but it’s not far off the real color. There’s a large Art Nouveau-ish design woven into the fabric, and the linen has a beautiful hand, stiff body, and full drape, plus that lovely linen luminescence. I’d wash this by dunking it a few times in warm water and letting it air dry before pressing to preserve some of its crispness and the fiber’s natural glow.


A silk shantung that started out periwinkle, but which I dyed to what I’ll call royal purple. Or maybe cornflower. It came out a tad splotchy in areas, but one more spin through the wash cleared most of that up. Still, the subtle sheen of shantung was diminished by the hot dye bath and washing it afterward. It definitely has a sand-washed appearance now. I have 3 yards of this 59-inch-wide fabric, which should be JUST enough for an Upton dress. I’d like to try a bit of painting on this one to disguise any remaining splotches, with black and gold paints. It would be semi-fancy, original, and just challenging and creative enough to keep my attention on it.


Then there’s the 7+ yards of rose-gold silk dupioni that I bought for a Regency gown, but then decided it would be too stiff even after washing. It is very highly slubbed and medium weight. It would probably look great after a gentle wash with baby shampoo. Despite the texture and pretty color and nice sheen, it would be a rather plain dress. So I’d probably do some painting on it to give the dress more interest.


What do you do when you’re faced with several good options and can’t decide which would be best? If there wasn’t a deadline involved I’d say: I’ll make them all and it doesn’t matter which one comes first. But since this is sewing for a goal, a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding, deciding is kind of important.

Here’s what I do when I can’t decide: sketch. I either free-hand draw the design, then color it in to get the full effect, or I use the pattern flats. Since the Upton is a very simple design and the flats are already nicely proportioned for my kind of figure, I decided to use them as the basis for my sketches.

Here’s option 1, from the linen jacquard:

Sketch 3-A

Here’s option 2, from the royal/cornflower shantung. I would apply a painted design that I call “shattered lace,” which is done by dabbing fabric paint or spraying liquid dye onto the fabric through scraps of lace. I love this technique because it’s so interesting. I’d use black and gold and scatter the patterns around the fabric randomly.

Sketch 1

And option 3, which is hard to get an accurate sketch for because the color is hard to reproduce with marker (I did some color saturation adjustment). For this option, I’d also apply a shattered lace effect, but in gold and bronze color paints, and probably only concentrated around the dress’s hemline. I tried to mimic the dupioni texture with metallic gold pen, but the color adjustment reduced its effect.

Sketch 2-ab copy

I really like all of these options, and making a decision is going to be tough. All the colors would look good with my complexion, I think. The linen is a fancy fabric, despite being made from a humble fiber, and it’s in one of my favorite colors. And it would require no additional embellishment.

The royal/cornflower shantung offers a real creative opportunity and could be a very unique, beautiful dress.

But the rose-gold dupioni also offers creativity, although it would be a more subtle paint-job. And the fabric is a bit fancier because of its sheen, maybe too fancy for the wedding time.

I’m leaning towards the royal/cornflower shantung, because I like to make things hard on myself, apparently. But it wouldn’t take much time to accomplish the painting. However, I have a lot of projects on my plate at the moment: I’m helping another friend with her wedding dress (for October), I’m supposed to be whipping up my fitting muslin for the Chanel jacket to contribute to a project at work (in September), and I’m trying to get some blouses made AND pack my belongings.

What would you do? Which would you wear to a 3 p.m. early September (read: potentially hot) wedding in a barn?

I know there aren’t a lot of followers of this blog out there, and it’s not often I ask for opinions because I usually have pretty firm ones of my own–but if you would like to share yours, please do! Help me out, folks!

Rosé in the Evenings Caftan

One of the things I love as much as I love sewing is good wine. And I’ve been going crazy on rosé the past two summers. It has a flavor profile similar to many reds, but has the lightness, acidity, and crispness of a white. It’s perfect for a hot summer evening. Not that there are too many of those in Connecticut. So it just seemed appropriate that I turn some rosé-hued ombré yardage, which I dip-dyed by hand, into something perfect for a summer evening. Even if I just spend it inside my non-balcony-or-patio-having apartment.


What’s easier and lighter and more perfect for summer than a caftan? Nothing, that’s what. And I’ve established my love of caftans previously. So I made what I’m calling my Rosé in the Evenings caftan.


The fabric is a rayon challis from Dharma Trading and of course the fuchsia dye also came from Dharma. Dip-dyeing is pretty easy, actually. In fact, it’s almost disappointing how quickly it can be accomplished. All that build-up for what amounts to a 5-minute process. Depending on your choice of color and fabric. But for rayon challis, it was fast. I dipped the fabric so that both selvage edges would get the most color and the center would take on only the palest of pink tinges.


I dyed the yardage last summer and started making a self-drafted caftan right away. But other projects beckoned and I set this one aside until earlier this summer. Because no one needs a caftan in winter. Not in Connecticut anyway. Using a couple tutorials found on Pinterest, I folded the fabric in half on its crossgrain, cut the neckline (a bit too deep), and marked the side seams. Getting those side seams properly marked isn’t quite as simple as it might seem. There’s quite a bit of fabric to wrangle and it takes a lot of pinning along the fabric’s width to make sure nothing shifts out of alignment while marking, and then you have to pin that seamline like nobody’s business to make sure it doesn’t shift while sewing. I got as far as half finishing the neck binding last summer, but finished it this summer.


I left the fuzzy selvages in place, because it gives the effect of fringe and means no finishing. There’s a simple machine-rolled hem at the bottom edges.


It’s a tad shorter than I’d prefer, and that neckline is way too low for public decency. That’s okay. I don’t ever intend to wear this thing in public. It’s strictly an at-home piece in which to lounge while sipping rosé.

Certainly not the most complicated of projects, but sometimes simplicity is what you want. This blog has been a bit neglected for a few months, not because I haven’t been working on stuff, but because sometimes it’s hard to force myself to turn on the laptop at home after a full day of staring at and editing words at work. But I’m starting to pull together a more professional-looking work wardrobe, and I’ll be blogging about those projects in the coming months.

The first one will be a series of bow blouses! Ugh, buttons and buttonholes; not my favorite things to sew. But not everything can be a pullover. Plus, working with gorgeous fabrics makes the thought of buttons recede into the background.

Oh yeah, and that Chanel-style jacket I once blogged about? Yeah, that’s been postponed for a long time, but I have to get back on it. It wasn’t really on my up-and-coming to-do list when my boss announced the Chanel Jacket Club at work, but I figured, why not, I want to make one (someday), why not now? Well, no one managed to get beyond a muslin, and most in the group didn’t even get that far. We’ve decided to go with a different pattern, which is nice, because we know the pattern’s designer and she’s going to come to our office to help fit our muslins. On video. That’ll be nice. And now that I have my custom dress form, I think fitting will be a lot easier on my own, too. It’s still not something I really think I want to do NOW, when I have so many more everyday, easier-to-mix-and-match projects I want to do. But whatevs. I can roll. And I do want to make my Chanel-style jacket. I’ve got all the materials. I just need to get on it, so that should happen within the next month.

Fingers crossed!


My fancy-schmancy new dress form

My fancy-schmancy new dress form

I have a pretty cool dress form, and I’m not really bragging–I’m just totally jazzed about it. I got to go down to Washington, DC–my old stomping grounds–to this great little sewing studio/school called Bits of Thread in Adams Morgan.

At this studio, the owner and her partner have developed a really cool process for creating custom dress forms that pretty much 100% replicate your ACTUAL body. That includes your posture, your body proportions, and all your circumferences from neck to knee–and all your lumps ‘n bumps. I’ve only had it since February and already it’s been 5 times more useful than my standard professional dress form (which I never really found much use for, except as a display piece).


My custom dress form is a DittoForm. It’s made by scanning your body with a 3D imaging camera and then it’s machine-carved from foam. It is WAY cool. There’s an article all about it in the June/July 2016 issue of Threads magazine, so go check that out!

What’s so great about this custom dress form service is that it’s much more affordable, low-effort, and much faster than getting a custom professional dress form made. It isn’t perfect, but it’s so much closer to perfect than anything I’ve had before.


Yep. That’s my body. Gloriously imperfect and damned hard to fit.


I’ve done the Duct Tape dress form thing, and my experience with it sucked. It always titled on its curtain-rod pole and Christmas-tree stand base. Plus it expanded a bit in some places when filled with foam, and collapsed in others. And it wasn’t pinnable, or sturdy, or easy to move around despite being very lightweight. *Sadhorns*

I’ve owned a set of Fabulous Fit fitting system pads to make my other dress form resemble me, and my brain just froze every time I tried to start putting the pads in the right place. I know lots of other sewers have had great success with that system–it just was too much for me, because my shape is vastly different from a standard dress form: shorter, squatter, rounder, and asymmetrical. I’m not even sure the FF pads in one set would be enough.

I wanted a really low-effort, relatively affordable way to get a very close copy of my body, and DittoForm is it. It came out of the box, and I was a little spooked by how… ahem… ACCURATE it is. Like, I-don’t-want-to-leave-it-unclothed-in-my-living-room-when-company-comes-over accurate. (And that’s actually a possibility because my apartment is mostly a big open space, my sewing room is small and awkwardly sized, and the whole thing basically gets turned into a sewing studio when I’m in the throes of creation on more than one project at a time. So both dress forms live in my living room most of the time.)


Super-realistic shape and proportions. You can even see a bit of my asymmetry here in the way the form’s right shoulder (on the left of the photo) is a bit squarer than the left shoulder, which slopes a bit more; that’s my scoliosis showing.


Anyway, I’m looking forward to actually using a dress form now, when before it was this big thing sitting in the corner taunting me with its un-usefulness. Yay!

The best laid plans…

LOL! Yeah, so about those plans to avoid impulse sewing and focus on anything but historical costuming. Totally didn’t work out. I caved at the first opportunity and have spent the past three months at least focused on creating an 18th century ensemble for a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to see an exhibition of 18th century paintings by Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun. And I didn’t even get that ensemble totally finished!

Sigh. Well, over the years, I’ve learned the fastest way to get me to do exactly the opposite of what I know I should do is to make a plan to do what I know I should do (get the logic there?).

In any case, the unfinished 18th century ensemble is put away for now, waiting for some essential fixes. You can read all about it on my other blog, Belle Mode Belle Histoire, if you’re curious. If not, know that I really really really WILL be starting real-life, modern sewing projects very soon. Because I need clothes to wear to work.

In fact, I have a fourth True Bias Sutton Blouse all cut out and waiting for me on my work table. It’s been there since January. And I have a slew of other blouse and pants patterns I want to tackle before summer really gets underway. And I have a cocktail dress to finish so I can wear it to a friend’s wedding in September (that will make 2 full years since it was cut out and basted to its underlining–that’s how long it’s been sitting in my admittedly small UFO pile).

So, back to it. It will begin this weekend. What did I say just three paragraphs ago about making a plan…? No, no, this time I WILL stick to it. I have no more reasons to take up a historical costume project for several months. Stay tuned.

Don’t laugh–I’m serious!

Impulse sewing, planned sewing, and New Year’s resolutions

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I’m an impulse sewer. I have lists and lists and sub-lists, and addendum lists, of projects that I’ve been wanting to start, with the fabric waiting patiently in my stash, but I usually don’t get to the big ones or the ones that have been in planning for a long time. Why is this? Is it because I don’t really want them? Don’t want to do the work? They don’t fit my everyday, practical life? Well, in some cases the last one is true. (A lot of the things I’ve planned to sew have a distinctly “professional” flavor, and honestly, I spend most of my days at work in jean leggings, creative tops, and sometimes blazers; it is after all a creative, casual environment.) But in most cases, I’d wear the garments happily. Is it the work? Maybe. Many of them will take longer to suss out fitting details at least.

In looking back over my sewing habits during 2015, I find that most of what I’ve sewn has been the result of impulse–an “I want that in my closet NOW” feeling. And that’s fine to a certain point, but I feel like most of what I sew should be things that I’ve been planning, and purchasing fabric for, and actually do want in my closet, even though thinking about them doesn’t give me a rush of excitement.

Nothing can easily beat that rush of starting a project one week and wearing it the next, but there is a deeper satisfaction that comes from completing a carefully planned and carefully sewn project. And in 2016, I want to feel more of that deep satisfaction. Some of those impulse projects turned out well and are garments that I will wear the heck out of and be sad when they wear out. And they certainly beef up my wardrobe quickly. But a couple didn’t work out so great. Some of them have been historical costumes and have limited use.

I’ve been feeling for about a year that the beautiful fabrics in my stash need to be seen and worn: the gorgeous, quality woolens I’ve picked up here and there; the stunning silks I’ve had stashed away for years. They all have projects loosely planned for them. I suppose I’ve also been afraid of cutting into them and of the possibility of failure. But that’s the whole point of this blog, isn’t it? Plough through the fear, or shove it to one side and tell it to get the hell out of the way, because I’m ready to grab my scissors (or rotary cutter) and go to town on that fabric.

I’m not very big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I feel the need for a couple, in sewing and in other areas of my life. So, here’s my sewing resolution for 2016: sew less based on impulse, and more based on planning. Tick a few of those long-awaited projects off my list finally. I guess that Facebook quiz that took my name and told me the word that would guide me through 2016 was right: Change. It can be tough, but it can be very good and lead to better things. In this case, I hope this little change, this shift in mindset, will lead to greater satisfaction and a more useful wardrobe. And isn’t that one of the major reasons we sew?

Yes; yes it is. 😉

Happy New Year! (and may you stick to your resolutions, whatever they are)

Dirndling–the real thing

Well, October is gone, and I’ve done quite a bit of sewing since finishing this particular project, but somehow I never got back to posting details about the finished dirndl.

In the few weeks since sewing the first and second dirndl muslin, I was sewing up a storm trying to get it completed in time for my office group Halloween costume on Oct. 30. (We were all Edna Mode from The Incredibles.) See?? A plain black dirndl is so versatile.

I decided not to use fusible interfacing with my black linen, as I couldn’t find black interfacing and I didn’t want anything to dilute the color of the outer fabric. Instead, I chose black cotton duck as an interlining. I sewed a few samples of various ways of applying it, and also a few without it to feel the difference it would make to the garment’s structure. Hands down, the cotton duck interlining was the best option. So I had to cut and sew 3 versions of the bodice: outer, interlining, and lining. (the photos here are kind of blown-out because to get a good view I had to adjust the images’ brightness and mid-tones, etc.)

The dirndl bodice interior is cotton canvas: firm, heavy, and sturdy. It really helps the bodice keep its shape.

The dirndl bodice interior is cotton duck: firm, heavy, and sturdy. It really helps the bodice keep its shape.

I chose a silk twill in black with a purple stripe for the bodice lining; unfortunately the fabric was too narrow to accommodate the skirt pieces, so I had to use a different fabric for the skirt lining. The pattern didn’t call for a skirt lining, but if I’m going to wear this in fall/winter, I’ll be wearing tights, and without a silky layer in between, the tights and linen would stick together. I chose a polyester-blend jacquard lining fabric in gray tones from my stash.

One lining for the bodice (silk twill) and another for the skirt (some kind of poly/rayon jacquard).

One lining for the bodice (silk twill) and another for the skirt (some kind of poly/rayon jacquard).

From the numerous dirndl images pinned to my Dirndl Pinterest board, I’ve found that one of the common details in simpler dirndls is piping at the neckline and armholes. It gives a nice finished-looking edge and adds a really crisp, professional-quality detail. Some of the black linen yardage, combined with some narrow cord from my stash, became piping for the dirndl.

Piping at the neck and armscye edges stabilizes the edges and adds a nice dimensional detail.

Piping at the neck and armscye edges stabilizes the edges and adds a nice dimensional detail.

Unfortunately I didn’t really think out how the piping would affect the shoulder seam, and I had some trouble getting it all tucked under the lining in a neat, clean way; if I used piping again, I’d have to change the construction sequence a bit and apply the lining entirely by hand, wrong sides together.

From the lining side, you can see all kinds of messiness caused by the addition of piping BEFORE sewing the shoulder seams.

From the lining side, you can see all kinds of messiness caused by the addition of piping BEFORE sewing the shoulder seams.


But from the right side, it looks okay…Not ideal, but passable.

Live and learn! EVERY single garment I make provides a lesson in some way. Which brings me to the next issue I ran into with this project…

What should I discover once the skirt front and back were sewn together but that the two cuts of linen I purchased–from the same store, of the same type/weight, but purchased a few months apart–are two different shades of black. Of COURSE they are. Le sigh. The front skirt section is a brown-black while the back skirt and bodice are a blue-black. Different dyelots. I should have expected this. Learn from my mistakes, people!

It's difficult to see the color difference in these photos--or any photos, really--but in real life, it's obvious. If you're looking for it. The bodice and back skirt are from one dyelot. The skirt front from a different one that's a brown-black. Oh well.

It’s difficult to see the color difference in these photos–or any photos, really–but in real life, it’s obvious. If you’re looking for it. The bodice and back skirt are from one dyelot. The skirt front from a different one that’s a brown-black. Oh well.

If I was going to wear this as a festive dirndl with an apron, the difference wouldn’t be a problem. I’m still considering it not that big a deal because the color difference was only obvious once the two different dyelots were sewn together and viewed in the weird light (tinged with lime green) of my sewing room. Fortunately, when I wore the dress to work (with other sewing people who really notice things like this), I was told that if I hadn’t mentioned the color variation, it wouldn’t have been noticed at all. But it is visible at the side seam. Oh well.

Now, dirndl dress patterns don’t include pockets–but I really like a pocket in a full skirt. So I added some on-seam pockets, taken from the Sewaholic Cambie dress pattern (thanks, Cambie!). The pockets are inserted into the skirt side seams, and they live between the outer skirt and the lining.

Oh how I love pockets in a skirt!

Oh how I love pockets in a skirt!

The pattern calls for an invisible zipper, but I chose to use a regular zipper because they’re stronger, and the multiple, somewhat thick layers of the bodice would be too much for an invisible zipper. A centered application with little flanges covering the zipper looks fine and is the more usual closure used on RTW dirndls. This closure change necessitated a change in how the lining was applied at center front, but it wasn’t a big hassle.

Zipper installation was a bit different from the pattern directions because I used a standard zipper instead of an invisible zipper. My installs of this type are usually a bit pucker, but it's stronger than an invisible zip.

Zipper installation was a bit different from the pattern directions because I used a standard zipper instead of an invisible zipper. My installs of this type are usually a bit puckery, but it’s stronger than an invisible zip.

I even dangled a pretty silver charm from the zipper pull. Overall, I’m really happy with how the dirndl turned out. I still have to make some longer-sleeved blouses to go with it, but all in good time!

I actually like this blouse with the dirndl, but it's not good for winter.

I actually like this blouse with the dirndl, but it’s not good for winter.

Here’s my review of BurdaStyle 7443 on PatternReview.