Oh Caftan, my Caftan….

A fabulous vintage image from the late '60s or early '70s of a rockin' caftan! (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/43136108908514827/)

A fabulous vintage image from the late ’60s or early ’70s of a rockin’ caftan! (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/43136108908514827/)

Caftans… they’re just awesome. They’re like the ultimate maxi dress, but even simpler to make and more elegant. And far more fabulous… and yet also more than a bit kitschy. It’s like Elizabeth Taylor and Mrs. Roper got together for a pajama party and their loungewear got freaky while they were painting each others’ toenails. Or something.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1974, in a gorgeous metallic caftan.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1974, in a gorgeous metallic caftan.

The indomitable Mrs. Roper, she of sitcom Three's Company, was always fabulously attired in a crazy caftan or muumuu.

The indomitable Mrs. Roper, she of sitcom Three’s Company, was always fabulously attired in a crazy caftan or muumuu.

Can you imagine Elizabeth Taylor and Mrs. Roper in the same room? Hmm. Maybe not, but their caftans could definitely party together.

One of my ambitious plans this summer was to sew a couple caftans for at-home loungewear or fabulous summer party wear. Yeah… that went bust. Like I even attend fabulous summer parties. Maybe one per summer. But I still like sewing things occasionally for my imaginary life.

I bought some beautiful rayon challis (because it’s awesome; it’s the best summer fabric, even better than linen), found an amazing early ’70s caftan pattern, and …. nothing. Other projects took the front seat, while my caftan fabrics waited patiently, all washed and ironed and folded on my dining room table.

The perfect vintage 1970s caftan pattern. I think the company is British. Anyway, they called this a

The perfect vintage 1970s caftan pattern. I think the company is British. Anyway, they called this a “leisure dress”. How could I NOT buy it?

Then August rolled around, I realized the summer was almost GONE, and nary a caftan had I sewn. And an outdoor event for which a caftan would be a perfect outfit presented itself: a local land preservation organization’s sunset wine tasting fundraiser, to be held at the top of the highest hill in town with gorgeous views of the distant mountains. I mean, if I can’t wear a fabulous caftan to a Wine Tasting. Fundraiser. Outdoors. in the EVENING–when can I?

So I got to work on one. I chose a dark teal-green bamboo-printed challis. It took about a day, all told, to cut the large pieces, pin and baste the side seams, finish the neck and the sleeve/bottom hems, and then make the belt.

The finished caftan without the belt is quite elegant, just hinting at the shape underneath.

The finished caftan without the belt is quite elegant, just hinting at the shape underneath.

It was fabulous from the start, but I wanted a little more … oomph. So I got some beautiful seed beads and randomly sewed them atop parts of the fabric print around the neckline and onto the belt. Perfection!

Gorgeous iridescent peacock blue/green beads give a little shine and sparkle to the neckline in random patterns, and on the belt, following the pattern of the jacquard weave.

Gorgeous iridescent peacock blue/green beads give a little shine and sparkle to the neckline in random patterns, and on the belt, following the pattern of the jacquard weave.

The caftan looks amazing without the belt, but I wore it with the belt for the fundraiser. And it was so comfortable and easy to wear and strangely elegant. Just like I knew it would be. I had a fabulous time at the fundraiser, first volunteering and then drinking wine with a friend, in my fabulous caftan.

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Yeah, so there was prosciutto as well as wine at the party...How decadent am I in my caftan?

Yeah, so there was prosciutto as well as wine at the party…How decadent am I in my caftan?

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I love it. I want more, but the next one (or two) will have to wait until next summer. After all, how many caftans does one woman need? It’s not as if I am Elizabeth Taylor or Mrs. Roper. But maybe one day!

Here’s my review of the pattern on PatternReview: http://sewing.patternreview.com/review/pattern/115345

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New Project: Heidi #2

The front bodice piece of my new Heidi!

I recently cut out and began marking the pieces for my next BurdaStyle Heidi. For this second version, I’m using a Joel Dewberry fabric: Orchid Mulberry. I love the base color–it’s just so yummy. Like jam!

To add a little more pizazz to this version of the dress, I’m considering beading a pickstitch along the pocket edges. Nothing fancy, maybe a small colored wood bead, or plastic/glass seed bead. I don’t want to do too much, which I think would just detract from the beauty of the fabric’s design and the dress’s features.

The front skirt pieces.

I’ll begin sewing it soon. The poly skirt lining still needs cutting out but as that’s one of the last piece attached to the dress, it can wait a little while.

Recent Projects: Heidi #1

The Pattern:

BurdaStyle Heidi Dress, #6016. I first heard about BurdaStyle’s Heidi dress pattern from the A Dress A Day blog. Erin, A Dress A Day’s blogger, is absolutely obsessed with this pattern, and immediately I could see why. It’s a fantastic pattern! Look at the skirt seaming—those cute little waistline darts—the sort of keyhole scoop neckline! It really is lovely, and would look amazing in so many different fabrics: cotton for sundresses, light-weight wool for office wear, shantung or dupioni or satin for fancier occasions.

I really took my time on my Heidi #1. I wanted to be sure it was wearable, perfectly fitted, and would last. It took me months to finish this dress, for a variety of reasons, but  mostly because I didn’t want to screw it up!

Amy Butler Lotus Morning Glory in Linen

 The Fabric:

Likewise, when I came across Amy Butler’s Morning Glory fabric design, I also fell in love. It’s so pretty, and modern, and fun! When I finally decided to invest and order some yardage, I couldn’t find the color I originally wanted (can’t remember what it was now), so I settled on the second-best colorway, called linen. It reminds me of a blue sky studded with puffy cream clouds—as viewed from underneath a blossom-laden trellis perhaps. I just love that the blossoms are taupe with those pops of red and touches of mustard. The bodice is lined in a light-weight muslin for breathability, with the skirt lining in poly.

Heidi #1's interior: a cotton muslin bodice lining keeps it breathable and cool for summer, and poly skirt lining allows it to glide smoothly over tights for cooler months.

About this Dress:

For the pattern, I shortened the bodice by about 1 inch to accommodate my short torso, and it turned out very well. I had to take up the shoulder seams substantially to get the fit right—like almost 2 inches, possibly a bit more, from the normal size 46 shoulder seam. For easier walking, I added a walking vent on the right side (opposite side from the zipper opening). That’s the only thing this pattern really lacks.

The new side vent.

For my next version, I’ve raised the neckline by 1/2 inch for a little extra modesty. I’m well-endowed, and I don’t want to always have to wear a camisole or something to cover the girls. I’ve worn my #1 Heidi by now, and for my next versions I’m going to lower the waistline by 1/2 inch. I think I may have raised it a little too high for the first one, because I usually do have to. But the Heidi’s waistline is already situated a little above the natural waistline. So I overdid it. But whatever; it still works. Also, I’ve lowered the back neckline and trimmed down the shoulders by two sizes so I won’t have to take them up as much as I did in my #1. 

I’ve already cut out Heidi #2! In a gorgeous mulberry colored, orchid-print Joel Dewberry fabric. Totally stolen from A Dress A Day’s very same Heidi using this fabric. But my mouth started watering the moment I saw the material made up with this pattern. And I had to have it!

Isn't it delicious?!

Recent Projects: Maxi Dress

The Pattern: New Look #6980, Design-Your-Look Easy dress pattern. Made view C with the crossover bodice.

The Fabric: A few years ago, I purchased yards and yards (well, probably only 4) of a beautiful tropical-print rayon in shades of vibrant turquoise and magenta pink that I planned to make a dress from—someday. 

About this Dress: I’ve always loved the boho maxi dresses that come around just about every summer, but have never found one that perfectly suited my taste, either in terms of design features or colors or patterns.

But all of a sudden this past summer, I got the urge to make a maxi dress. This could have been because summer 2010 was blazingly hot in the DC area. I remembered I had this rayon in my stash, pulled it out and looked it over, and was struck all over again by the saturated hues and how cheerful and simple and unusual the pattern was (compared to many tropical/Hawaiian prints I’ve seen, that is). Plus—the drape and flow of that wonderful rayon! But I didn’t have a maxi dress pattern that combined both the simplicity of design and construction I was interested in. So I searched online and turned up this New Look pattern and found it at my local Hancock’s. I had in mind to whip it up and wear it to a cook-out the next weekend. Unfortunately, I ended up not going to the cook-out, but I did manage to whip up this dress in less than a week—a record for me! 

It’s not by any  means well-finished, but it’s sturdy. And boy does that rayon feel amazing draping itself around me as I walk! I didn’t make any real changes to the pattern, but I did add self-fabric ties to cinch the wide straps. One of the views shows fabric loops sewed down around the straps, in the same way required by the grey linen dress I made from New Look 6774, but I was looking for something a little quicker. I may replace the simple self-fabric tubes that I just tied around the straps with the pattern’s fabric loops. Or I may not!

The dress looks killer with my wedge-heel gladiator sandals and a white twill jacket.

Past Projects: Grey Sundress

The grey linen sundress!

A grey sundress. Isn’t the concept kind of an oxymoron? I suppose. But I love this charcoal-dark grey, especially with the sheen of linen. And I love that it’s a completely atypical and sophisticated color for summer. Plus, I look really good in grey; it tones down my coloring (pink cheeks, brassy hair).

The Fabric: Charcoal grey 100% medium-weight linen

The Pattern: I used New Look 6774, Design-Your-Look Dress pattern with interchangeable skirt, bodice, and strap options. I used the crossover bodice with cinched shoulder straps (view H) and the knee-length skirt option.

About this Dress: The only true alteration I made in the pattern was to take a small dart along the front neckline of the pattern muslin to prevent gaping in the finished bodice neckline. I used a size 14 pattern for the bodice front but a size 18 pattern for the bodice back, midriff pieces, and skirt, thinking that it would accommodate my fitting issues. The bodice back sizing worked, but the dress turned out way too billowy through the skirt, especially considering the body of the fabric. The little gathers in the skirt front and back combine with the linen fabrication to make a very floaty garment, which feels wonderful on hot days, but wrinkles horribly and ends up looking poufy. I have yet to remove the skirt so that it can be taken in.

Not the most flattering silhouette in the end. But light and airy for hot hot summers!

I didn’t sew the zipper according to the instructions. It didn’t make any sense to me to create a lap of fabric over the zipper, so I just centered it. So much easiser, especially with linen.

If  I make this dress again, it will be in a material that doesn’t wrinkle so badly.

All in all, I like the finished garment, but it does have a lot of skirt volume. Since choosing this pattern and wearing the dress a few times, my perceptions of the benefits of empire-waisted dresses for the curvy-figured has shifted significantly. I still like the ease and casual flavor of empire-waisted sundresses, but for real figure flattery, my shape does best with dresses that emphasize my natural waistline.

Live and learn!

Past Projects: Strapless Cotton Dot Sundress

Back in the spring of 2009, I decided to make a serious attempt at making some everyday dresses, since they’re an easy wardrobe option and since finding cute, well-fitting, and unique dresses off the rack is almost impossible.

The idea was that having lots of custom-made, perfectly fitting dresses would make getting ready for work in the morning much easier, especially in the summer, when every outfit has to be weighed against the potential for sweating through it during my commute.

I didn’t get very far that summer in terms of starting projects. I’m really good at planning the projects–and really good at buying the patterns and materials–but I’m a bit slower at putting the garments together. In fact, I completed only two. But that’s really because I wanted to make sure they were constructed well and fit well, and I hadn’t had much practice at fitting and making normal everyday garments–I had much more experience fitting Renaissance garb. It’s a lot easier to make a garment that shapes the body than it is one that fits the body’s natural shape.

Anyway, I’m very happy with the two dresses I completed in 2009, and thought I’d share them here, since they’re my first non-Renaissance projects in years and since they both involved a considerable amount of learning. They’re not perfect, by any means. But probably nothing I’ll ever sew will achieve perfection. That said, they’re good enough to merit mention here.

So I’ll start with my very first dress: the teal dot strapless sundress.

The Pattern

Vogue Easy Options #7848—strapless A-line, princess-seamed knee-length cotton dress with grosgrain ribbon trim (fully lined, boned bodice)

The Fabric

Outer: Light blue-teal quilting cotton with darker teal, olive, and lighter blue overlapping dots—they look a little like bubbles in pond water to me.

Lining: light-weight bleached muslin

I wanted to start with something fun, cute, and sassy. This is a simple, cute, and easy-to-make Vogue pattern, although it did stretch my skills at the time. But it proved to be the perfect way to start my dress-making project.

I originally cut out a size 16, according to my measurements, but because pattern manufacturers INSIST (apparently) on vanity sizing, I had to cut it down to a 14 after test-fitting the muslin, which then became the lining.

The pattern doesn’t call for a full lining, only a bodice lining, which is boned. But because the cotton was lightweight, I wanted to make sure the effect wasn’t transparent, as I hate wearing separate half-slips with dresses and skirts. So I fully lined the body of the dress with the muslin, then attached the boned bodice lining per the directions.

I machine-stitched the zipper instead of using a hand finish (baby steps). But I did hand-sew a blind hem—or what was supposed to be a blind hem, and turned out to be not-quite-blind in some areas. But that’s okay. It was the first time I attempted a blind hem, and I’m happy enough with the results. The only person who’ll know it’s not a perfect blind hem is me—or another knowledgeable sewer who gets a close look.

I machine-stitched the lining hem, because it’s the lining and only muslin, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on details that just aren’t that significant, especially for a dress that’s just for casual wear.

After the construction was complete, I thought the dress was missing something. The shape is good, the fit is good, I love the material, but it just needed something. So I found some 1-inch-wide teal grosgrain ribbon and played with placement on the dress bodice. I ended up stitching one length at the neckline, just below the edge, so you can see a bit of the dress fabric above the top edge of the ribbon. Then it looked a bit top-heavy, or my eye was drawn too much to the top. So, since waist definition is rarely a bad thing, I sewed another length of the grosgrain at the natural waistline.

I really like the finished effect. The beauty of a princess-line dress is that it helps smooth  over the waist area and creates a wonderfully uninterrupted, sleek line. But for this particular dress, the fabric’s design needed a bit of breaking up, and the ribbon was the perfect solution.

I haven’t actually worn this dress out of the house yet (and it’s now 2011) because it’s maybe a bit too sassy for everyday wear, even in a very casual office environment, but I’ve put together some great outfits based on it, and this summer I WILL WEAR IT.