Night-blooming Garden Dress

My Upton dress party dress project is thisclose to finished! I installed the zipper and finished the back seams last night. All that’s left is two hems, hand stitching the lining’s waistline down, and adding a hook and eye to the top of the zipper opening. Here’s a preview of the finished dress, which I’ve dubbed the Night-blooming Garden Dress.


The color rendering in my sewing room is strange because the walls are lime-juice green.


Upton Dress muslin

Considering that most of my major pattern changes are already incorporated into the draft, I shouldn’t be so surprised that only one muslin for the Cashmerette Upton dress bodice was necessary. I made a few small tweaks to muslin #1, but nothing that required a fresh mock-up.

Before sewing up the bodice muslin, I made a few size modifications to the pattern at the side seams, grading out from a 14 at the shoulders and bust to a 16 at the upper waist. Initially, based on the pattern measurements compared to my own, I used the size 16 for the back waistband, but for the front waistband I graded out from a 16 where it joins the bodice to a 20 where it joins the skirt, because I’ve got some tummy that I wasn’t sure the size 18 would fully accommodate. But I saw immediately that all this excess needed to come right back out when I put the bodice on and zipped it up. I pinned the excess at the waistband and it turned out to shrink it back down to a straight 16. Even with a more snug fit through the waistband, it felt comfortable when I sat; if you have any fleshy bits in your torso you know sitting causes that flesh to expand. So I ended up using a straight 16 waistband. There’s just enough ease for comfort.

The short, torpedo-shaped waist dart with its curved legs was problematic for me because my bust is set very high and its fullness is evenly distributed from top to bottom. This waist dart shape nicely scoops in the bodice at the torso under the bust, but it ends too abruptly for my shape. This would probably work best for someone whose bust is low-set and is fuller on the lower half. For my shape, I needed to extend the dart and create a more gradual taper toward the point, while retaining the arced dart leg shapes. Below you can see the original waist dart shape (the shortest one) and the two extended versions I tried before deciding on the tallest one. Yes, that puts the dart point very close to my actual bust point, but for a garment with minimal ease, that works ok.


When I made the Appleton knit wrap dress, I didn’t do any length adjustments, and the dress’s waist hit me just above my natural waist, which was perfect. It was pretty much the same for this pattern. Jenny, the pattern designer, described Upton’s lengthwise fit as “the top edge of the waistband sits at the high waist.” The dress may be designed to be a tad short-waisted on a person with an average torso length, to rest above tummy fluff. My torso is short and my waist is pretty clearly defined, even with my fluff. I wanted the waistband to rest closer to my natural waist, which it did without lengthening the pattern anywhere. However, I did need to add about 1/4 inch length to the front bodice waist to make the waistline level, because mine dips a bit in front, while it tilts up in back. The pattern’s included swayback alteration was still a teensy bit too long for me, so I took it up an additional 1/4 inch at center-back, tapering it to nothing at the side seams.

One other area of fit concern was across my shoulder blades. I have a very erect posture (thank you scoliosis, childhood horse riding lessons, and yoga), and many bodices bag out at my upper back. Even though I’m using the V-neck back bodice sections for this dress, I needed to take a bit of volume out of the upper shoulder and center-back areas. I took a few tiny darts out of the back neckline to remove some of that bagginess. I’ll have to do this to the scoop-neck version, too.

All in all, this was an extremely easy dress bodice to fit! The built-in customized cup sizes, swayback alteration, and shortened torso made getting the fit right faster than any other bodice I’ve fitted.

I’ve cut all the dress sections from fabric, and now I’m working on printing them. More on that later!

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!

Failure is an option, it’s just not a very good one (sewing recap)

Well, I finally found a good way to start off my newly focused sewing blog. So here it is:

I purchased two button-front shirts and a knit maxi skirt in June, and it felt like a failure. But it was necessary to refresh my spring/summer wardrobe just a little because I realized that no matter how much I might want it to be the reverse, I simply can’t sew fast enough to make everything that I want to make for this season. And boy is there a lot. My dining room table has been COVERED until recently with freshly washed and pressed fabric just waiting to be cut and sewn; the table is still half-covered.

I know I have to spread it out over weeks and months and focus on sewing the simple things for everyday summer wear. But I have such high ambitions and I want to sew so much, and there are many reasons why I’ve given up clothes shopping (for the most part; I won’t spend my time sewing undies and jeans—yet). Finding something I like enough and that fits well enough to buy in the store has always been a job and a half, which only serves to reinforce my desire to sew more clothes. But I’ve learned recently that when things at work or in other areas of my life are sucking my mental and emotional energy, there’s just not much left over for sewing. I go into a funk for a week or two, sewing and projects sit or only minimal progress is made on them. And then I come out of it, and get to work again.

But this feeling of failure because I had to BUY some clothes … it was surprising. So to remind myself of what I actually have accomplished in the way of creating a home-sewn* wardrobe, I decided to post a round-up of the garments I’ve sewn in the past three years, since I really started sewing seriously again. That should help dispel this sense of failure.

 First up, the popular Sewaholic Cambie dress. I made this in 2012. It’s cute, the pattern’s well-drafted, and I didn’t have to make too many fitting changes since Sewaholic’s creator drafts patterns for a pear shape, and bust measurements on her sizing chart go up to my bust measurement. I made it out of deep purple cotton Swiss dot and lined it with pale pink cotton batiste. It’s a bit fluffy for my current taste, due to the full gathered skirt, but I think I can re-do it by re-cutting the skirt into the A-line option. I may do it eventually. But it’s a fun dress to wear, regardless. If you want to read my review of the pattern, it’s here, on

My fluffy purple Sewaholic Cambie dress.

My fluffy purple Sewaholic Cambie dress.

 I have a thing for dresses, so most of what you’ll see here will be dresses. They’re so easy to throw on in the morning and they’re an outfit all on their own but accessorizing them can turn the look into something completely different. Next up is an emerald green, tightly fitted sheath dress from the Sew Chic Beatrice dress pattern. This thing is over-fitted and the bodice fit is way off. I didn’t fully understand my proportions and how to make a pattern fit them until very recently, despite my years of sewing experience. I made this in 2014, so the fact that it’s so poorly fitting and what I sew now is much better fitting says something. I only wore this dress while filming some sewing tutorials. It looks good enough when I’m standing, but sitting is uncomfortable because I took someone’s suggestion to peg the skirt a bit, which looks good, but unfortunately doesn’t accommodate how my lower body spreads when I sit. Oh well. But I really like the idea of this dress, the color, the fabric I used, and I like the pattern. I just have to completely re-do it from scratch. And I will; I even bought more of the same fabric I used for this one so that I can have the dress I really wanted–with a better fit. Again, click here for my review of the pattern.

My Sew Chic Beatrice dress is actually ill fitting, despite the fact that it looks pretty good from a distance.

My Sew Chic Beatrice dress is actually ill fitting, despite the fact that it looks pretty good from a distance.

 One of the more recent tops I’ve made, this is Simplicity 1896, a kimono-style tunic with bag sleeves. I’d been hoarding this gorgeous purple hand-painted silk crepe de Chine for a couple years since I purchased it (for $$$) at a sewing expo. This tunic was the perfect thing to turn it into. I love this fabric; its so beautiful and yummy and wearing it is a lovely experience. (I have a serious weakness for anything silk.) This was one instance where I was afraid to cut into the fabric, but once I did I was thrilled and I’m so glad I didn’t let that fear of ruining it keep me from using it forever. My review here.

A hand-painted, silk crepe de Chine kimono tunic, Simplicity 1896. This is one of my favorite tops, and I will be making lots more eventually.

A hand-painted, silk crepe de Chine kimono tunic, Simplicity 1896. This is one of my very favorites, and I will be making more from this pattern, eventually.

 Next up, a series of maxi dresses that I made last summer (2014), all from the same pattern: New Look 6774, a mix-and-match pattern (choose the bodice option, choose the skirt option, etc.). Next to silk, rayon challis is my second-favorite fabric to sew and wear. Especially for summer dresses and skirts. My stash contains as much rayon challis as silk, because it’s available in really beautiful prints these days, and it is so comfortable to wear and easy to sew. It makes really lovely summer dresses and skirts. I think I’ve maxed out (heh!) on this particular maxi dress pattern, although I really liked it when I first used it. As you can see from the images, it really emphasizes my full bust, which is very full and doesn’t really need any additional emphasis. So this pattern is being retired. In fact, I remade one of the maxis that I made from this pattern into another pattern. Here are the three maxis I’ve made from New Look 6774 (and here’s my review):

New Look 6774, which I called the Peacock Nebula dress. I hand-dyed the rayon twill fabric myself using the ice-dye process, and I'm fascinated by ice-dyeing now.

New Look 6774, which I called the Peacock Nebula dress. I hand-dyed the rayon twill fabric myself using the ice-dye process, and I’m fascinated by ice-dyeing now.

My last New Look 6774. It's time to retire this pattern. Too much boobage!

My last New Look 6774. It’s time to retire this pattern. Too much boobage!

Another New Look 6774, this time in printed rayon challis. So comfy to wear!

Another New Look 6774, this time in printed rayon challis. So comfy to wear.

Then I remade the Peacock Nebula rayon dress. Just removed the New Look 6774 bodice, cut down the skirt to natural waist level, and added a new bodice, made from leftovers of the fabric and the bodice from New Look 6373, a jumpsuit pattern. It has a pretty neckline flounce. I didn’t do any fitting on this dress; I just wanted it to be fast and easy. That was probably a mistake as it’s very gapey and far too loose through the back bodice (due to my flat upper back and erect posture). Too bad, but I’d have to wear it with a  cardigan in the office anyway. Here it is (review here):

It still has its Peacock Nebula thing going on, but the bodice gives more coverage now and isn't as strangely droopy as it was as NL 6774.

It still has its Peacock Nebula thing going on, but the bodice gives more coverage now and isn’t as strangely droopy as it was as NL 6774.

Whew, just two more for this post. Okay, next is a circle skirt that I drafted to my measurements in 2014 and made from a drapery fabric that I found in a home décor fabric shop. It’s cotton; but beyond that I have no idea what the weave is supposed to be. It stretched like hell on the bias, even after I let it hang for 1 week before hemming the skirt. It drapes like a challis, but it has a slightly brushed, flannelly feeling wrong side. The print is pretty, but old fashioned; I fell in love with the fall colors. This looks killer with cognac boots in fall.

The circle skirt of doom, which continued to stretch on the bias AFTER hemming, so I had recut and sew the hem. Shown with one of my Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tees.

The circle skirt of doom, which continued to stretch on the bias AFTER hemming, so I had recut and sew the hem. Shown with one of my Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tees.

I don’t make many skirts; they fit my curves oddly and tend to shift around as I walk and they don’t sit securely at a place on my waist that I want to draw a lot of attention to. But it’s nice to have some on hand. I really love this tropical print rayon challis sateen–so called because it has a superb glossy finish on its right side due to longer yarn floats than a typical challis. This pleated maxi was self-drafted to my measurements this summer (2015). I usually wear it with a sequined tank and a navy or white cardigan, but it doesn’t look too bad with a striped tee.

A self-drafted pleated maxi skirt in lovely rayon challis sateen. Skirts are problematic for me, but sometimes they're the best dressing option.

A self-drafted pleated maxi skirt in lovely rayon challis sateen. Skirts are problematic for me, but sometimes they’re the best dressing option.

Well, that’s a brief update on some of the sewing I’ve done in the past few years. There’s a lot more, but there’s more to say about each of those others, so they’ll get separate posts. This is just to get me started!

* I prefer the phrase “home-sewn” to both “hand-made” and “me-made” for a few reasons. 1) They are sewn at home; this does not make them inferior. 2) ALL clothing, even those purchased in stores, is hand-made. People make them, not robots. These people have hands and they use a sewing machine to make the garments, just like I do at home. And most often clothing is made by people living and working in conditions Westerners would acknowledge as deplorable and abusive if we allowed ourselves to be aware of them—and for what most Westerners would call a pittance in pay. 3) “me-made” just isn’t grammatical; I’m an editor, and these things matter. Plus it just sounds awkward and cutesy in a contrived way. **

** To anyone reading this that gets their undies in a bunch because I’ve just cast aspersions on a phrase you like to use because it sounds cute or something—this is no reflection on you. This is my personal preference, and these are my opinions, and it’s my blog, and I’m allowed to say whatever the hell I want.




New name, new focus, a new start

Just a few of the projects I've sewn in the past couple of years that I'll be posting more about soon.

Just a few of the projects I’ve sewn in the past couple of years that I’ll be posting more about soon.

For some reason it’s taken me a long time to really decide how I wanted to approach this here blog. It’s had a few different names, but none of them really stuck. And I think that’s because I didn’t really know why I was blogging, aside from having some kind of digital record of my sewing and the thought processes surrounding the projects. First I tried to combine my historical and everyday (from here on out referred to as “real-life” or “RL”) sewing. But it seemed at cross-purposes. Very different types of sewing, very different approaches to fitting, different sewing methods, and vastly different results.

I wanted to separate and consolidate the two sewing types. So after a long while neglecting my blog–although not my sewing–I created another blog, Belle Mode Belle Histoire, where all my historical sewing will be recorded. Periodically, anyway. I can’t even promise myself that I’ll update it regularly, because after working on a computer all day at the office, and the hard work that is sewing, often the last thing I want to do is then sit in front of a computer and rehash things. Maybe I’m not really well suited to blogging. But dammit I’m gonna try.

Because I want to share, and yes, I want to show off a little bit; but I also want to connect to the sewing community through my own space, rather than a larger group site (although they have great value, and I participate actively on them).

So where was I? Oh yeah. Separating my sewing blogs. The historical stuff has a home. The RL sewing needed a home. I decided to keep the original blog, but rename and restyle it. And it took a while. Because a blog’s name should in some way reflect the intentions and purpose of its content, shouldn’t it? I think so anyway.

So I thought about what I really want to say, to other sewers and to myself. And that boiled down to: don’t be afraid. Be fearless. Fear holds you back. Sidestepping the fear, while it seems really hard, is actually pretty easy. What fear? The fear of cutting that gorgeous, expensive fabric; of making mistakes; of being less than perfect. Those are pretty common and understandable things to be afraid of.

But look. That gorgeous expensive fabric isn’t doing any good sitting in a stash. Unless it’s just waiting for the right project–I have some stuff like that. But if you know what you want to make, then don’t hold back. Make it! Then you can WEAR that gorgeous expensive fabric and see it and pet it and look fabulous in it. I love silk. I buy a lot of it. And I want to wear it. So there’s no point in letting it just sit in my stash. Given the right conditions, it will actually rot there. It’s better to make it into something.

Making mistakes? We all make ’em. Mistakes are an important part of the learning process. And that’s all we’re really doing in this life, in my opinion: learning–if at all possible, constantly. Many mistakes can be corrected. And then you’ll a) know how to avoid the mistake in future and b) know how to fix it if you make the same mistake again anyway. I’ve made lots of mistakes, some of them multiple times. And it teaches me something every time. Usually the lesson is: pay attention, dammit.

Being less than perfect? Well, perfect doesn’t exist anyway. Do you know anyone who is truly perfect? Any item that on close inspection doesn’t reveal small flaws? Perfection is a unicorn: a myth. It’s an admirable thing to strive for–within limits. We’re human, not unicorns–therefore nothing about us is perfect, and the things we make will always have some kind of imperfection about them, even if it’s just the fact that they won’t last forever. So, strive for almost perfect. Or even just good enough. Lowering the bar of expectations slightly can actually be a good thing, because then when that “perfect dress” turns out to be not quite perfect, you’ll still be satisfied and happy to wear it. I’ve made plenty of awesome things that I love to wear, but none of them are truly perfect, even if they might look like it at first.

So, my sewing motto has become: Be fearless and just cut the damn fabric. (But make a damn muslin first!) Get out of your own way and make something you’ll love and be proud of. See, I’m a tough love kind of person.

That covers the blog change. Frequency of posting may be sporadic. I have a lot of stuff I can post about at the moment, since for the past year and a half I’ve been concentrating on sewing garments for real life, rather than buying RTW. There’s nothing I really want to buy in the stores anyway, and 98 percent of it won’t fit correctly either. Sewing isn’t less expensive, but it is more satisfying, and you get a much more unique and personalized wardrobe out of it. This doesn’t mean I haven’t bought anything at all; I’ve bought a few things. Things I wouldn’t sew, at least not yet. I can’t sew more than one thing a week, if that. And that takes up most of my free time. Occasionally I need to get out of the house, you know?

So the first order of business will be to post about each of my projects from the past year or so.

A few more fun little projects I made. Knits. I'd never really sewn them before. But now I'm having fun and I'm not quite so afraid of them anymore.

A few more fun little projects I made. Knits. I’d never really sewn them before. But now I’m having fun and I’m not quite so afraid of them anymore.

Bad, bad blogger

That’s me. I am a very bad blogger. Not that anyone’s been keeping track. I originally started this blog to encourage and incentivize my own sewing. It worked! But shortly after starting, I made a big change in my life. I left one job and started another–and not just that: I relocated to an entirely different state. No big deal, right? People relocate for work all the time.

Here’s the thing, though. My new job involves sewing. Reading about sewing, writing about sewing, actually sewing. I no longer need this blog as an incentive for my sewing. And because my days are now sewing-focused, I no longer have the energy to write about my sewing experiences regularly. That’s why it’s been over a year since I last posted here. Again, not that anyone is keeping track except myself.

But I do want to post again. Maybe not more than once a month, but I do want to keep this blog up. And I have been sewing for myself quite a bit.

So, from here on out, my goal is to post about a sewing project once a month, regardless of the project’s progress or state of completion.

I’ve been working on so many different things, but about half have been everyday clothes and half have been historical costume. Since moving to Connecticut from Virginia, I’ve gotten involved with a Jane Austen group, and the group is beginning to organize more Regency-living type events, rather than just book discussions and movie viewings. (Interestingly, a few months ago, a Regency Society started up in Virginia–I miss everything good!) And I think I’ve established here before that I love playing dress-up and will take just about any excuse to do so. So I’m working on a Regency wardrobe. Slowly, but surely.

I’m also working my way through a LOOOONG list of dresses and tops for everyday wear. Again, slowly.

Anyway, that’s the plan. One post a month. Starting….NOW