Sunday, 24 February 2013

Plan B (part 1)

This week I had to face facts. More specifically, the fact that there was no way the 1920s dance dress I’m making would be done, in its original form, for my original deadline of next Sunday. It might just have been possible if I’d been prepared to take a lot of shortcuts. Unfortunately, I’ve been so pleased with the results of what I’ve done so far, that I soon realized that I’m not prepared to take those short cuts, and water down my original idea.

Equally unfortunately, I still need a 1920s style dance dress for a performance next Sunday.

I decided that the only solution was to make another 1920s style dance dress!

This isn’t quite as mad as it sounds (honestly). I still hope that eventually the original dress will be truly stunning, and at least in some ways, a reflection of the beautiful dresses made at that time. However I suspect that a lot of the detail would be wasted on a dress which will be seen under stage lighting, moving, and from some distance away. So for a week today, I need something reasonably quick and simple, which will look effective in the context of a stage show.

I was a stuck for ideas, until I noticed an ill-considered fabric purchase folded up in my sewing room.

I had seen this in my local fabric shop, and fell in love with the burnt orange colour. It handled nicely, didn’t seem to crease much, and I thought it would be perfect for a dress I want to make. Plus, it was quite ridiculously cheap. It was only when I got it home that I realised why it was so cheap; it was riddled with weaving faults. This rather blurred photo shows what I mean; the warp threads are bunched together in several places, leaving gaps.

Weaving faults

Remembering that life is too short to waste precious sewing time on bad fabric, I put it to one side to use for future toiles. However looking at it again, I was reminded of a dress I’d seen in the V&A last year. I’d even mentioned it in my first post about making a 1920s dance dress.

1925 Voisin dance dress

It’s not a fabric I’d want to use to make a dress which will require a lot of time in experimentation and pattern fitting, and which will be seen close to. However for a costume, it will be fine.

I used the pattern I’d already drafted, and managed to cut it out avoiding the worst of the fabric flaws. This time I overlocked the seams. In the original dress the neck and arm holes are finished with bias binding, and I used a purchased satin binding to do this. There is no facing on the dress, but the binding is quite stiff, which provides some stability. I will have to think how to provide this when I come to bind the original satin dress, as I will be binding it with the same soft fabric.

Binding the neckline was easy, but the sleeves were harder, due to their shape. Whereas a modern armscye has a smooth curve at the side seam, this dress almost has a point. My pattern, scaled up from “Patterns of Fashion”, shows the sharp angle where the front and back pieces meet.

The pattern, front and back

I sewed most of the binding on by machine, but did the bottom of the armscyes by hand. This, and sewing down the other edge of the binding by hand, proved that the fabric is a nightmare to work with. It frays like mad if you so much as breathe on it. It snags the sewing thread for no good reason. And merely wrapping it around my finger to slip-stitch the binding in place caused more of the warp threads to bunch up.

So at present I have what is in effect a bright orange gym-slip. Next I will add the sash and the streamers.

The basic dress, with the bound edges

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Of flat chests, fringe and fabric paint (again)

It’s a rare day at Tulip Mansions when I find myself wishing that my chest was even flatter than it already is, but that's the effect that 1920s fashions have on you. The 1923-5 evening dress on which I’m basing my dress really is a straight- up-and-down shift with absolutely no darts or shaping. In fact in the notes accompanying the pattern, Janet Arnold mentions that inside there is a small label with the word “devant”, as without this it would be very hard to tell the front from the back.

Really such a dress should be worn over a long corselet such as this one.

1920s corselet

There is a pattern for just such a garment in “Corsets and Crinolines”, and it has been made up to great effect by Jo, of Bridges on the Body. I tried various other options for flattening things out a bit, but wasn’t really happy with any of them. So, it will just have to be worn over normal, twenty-first century underclothes.

I made the first toile of the top part of the dress only, as I suspected (rightly) that the shoulder straps would be too far apart. A pleat down the centre front and back fixed the problem, and I used the new dimensions to make a second, full length toile.

The final toile

I eventually decided to make the dress with the satin crepe fabric satin side out, and when I was checking some of the details in “Patterns of Fashion”, I noticed that the original dress is made from crepe-backed satin. Sticking with the period theme, I constructed the dress with French seams, rather than using my overlocker.

As well as making up the basic dress, I’ve been working on the beaded fringe for the sides. I’m making the fringe on lengths of closely woven cotton tape rather than directly onto the dress, both to give it more stability and for ease of working. The first few strands took forever, particularly as I struggled to get the strands the same length, but I’ve got a lot faster now.

Mid gold and dark gold fringe

The top, pale gold, row of fringe will be trickier, as it will have a curved top edge but a straight bottom edge. I haven’t quite decided how to do this, but I’ve got a few ideas.

One thing which I have decided upon (finally) is which fabric paints to use. The first ones I tried were Pebeo Setasilk paints. In silk painting you flood colour into an area marked off with outliner. Therefore the paints are very thin and runny, so don’t stiffen the fabric, but you do need a good outliner technique (which I clearly didn’t have).

Next I tried Pebeo Setacolour and Textil L&B paints. Both of these were much thicker, and could be painted directly onto the fabric following an outline drawn in pencil. The colours didn’t spread, but the Textil paint in particular left the fabric very stiff.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but when I was in my local fabric shop I noticed that they sold yet another brand, Dylon. Initially I just bought one colour, to try it out, and soon realised that I’d found the perfect paint. It spreads very little (more on that later) and doesn’t stiffen the fabric much. Best of all, it needs very little ironing to set the colour, so I don’t have to worry about damaging my fabric.

I decided to go for my original, Egyptian-inspired palette, stretched my fabric over a large frame, and drew out eight of the dress panels. Because I’m painting on satin, the horizontal edges of shapes can end up a tiny bit fuzzy; the paint travels up the long floated warp threads. Most of this will be covered by the beading. However on the turquoise bars on the two panels at the bottom left I decided to play safe, and use outliner. Rather than pipe it from a bottle I painted it on using a fine brush, taking care to keep on or just outside the pencil line. The end result was perfect, crisp shapes.

Six panels completed, two just started

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A new skirt for L’s dress

A few weeks ago I was asked by L if I could have a look at a dance dress for her. The dress was from Egypt and was made from orange lycra, with very small gold dots printed on it to give a shimmering effect. Unfortunately for some reason the gold had come off from a large patch in the centre of the skirt front, and it was very noticeable.

The mark on the skirt

The dress was L's first professional costume, and she so she wanted to keep it if at all possible, but it was unwearable in that state.

The skirt had originally been straight, with a slit up the left front. When I first saw the dress, most of skirt part had been cut off with a view to attaching a new skirt of some sort. A small amount of the slit still remained.

The cut-down dress

It seemed to me that the best thing would be to attach a circle skirt in a light, floaty fabric. My first thought was to use cationic chiffon, which is a very fine, almost sheer, silky fabric, usually woven in two colours to give a shot effect. However it is so fine that there would definitely need to be another layer of fabric underneath.

Shot chiffon with a dark red warp and a yellow weft

In my stash I had some fine orange georgette with a slight crinkle. (Stash reduction, yeah!) The colour was far too bright on its own, but I took it and the dress to one of my local fabric shops, and tried layering it with different chiffons until I got a good match.

The georgette and the chiffon, showing the different colour effects

I made the skirt as a basic circle, open at the front seam and going up into the remainder of the slit, which I opened on both sides. L felt that the slit in the dress part was a little too wide, so I filled in the top part with some more of the two fabrics. I had had to remove one of the bead tassels when I sewed the skirt on, so I re-attached this at the top of the slit.

Detail of the top of the slit

The two circles were hand hemmed, and should move beautifully when the dress is worn. Finally I used the beads which had trimmed the slit of the original dress to finish off the join between the skirt and the original dress.

The completed dress

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Decisions, decisions

I've been doing various experiments this week, most of which have left me with more questions than answers.

First up was filling in the design I marked with outliner last week. This didn't leave any questions. The thickness and general unevenness of my outlining is painfully obvious.

The painted sample

It's clear that I'm going to have to use a finer nib when applying the outliner, or at the very least, apply it to the outer edge of the area I want to paint. Even though applying beads along the original pencil lines fills some of the void, it's not enough.

Beading doesn't hide the gaps

The sample also made me wonder about my colour choices. Although the red, blue and green are very appropriate for an Egyptian design, I wonder if they are too bold against the cream fabric and the gold beads.

Inspired by the long fringing on the pink dress in the Palazzo Mocenigo, I want to use several shades of gold beading on the dress, and this also affects the palette I might use.

Light, medium and dark gold beads

Another problem I'd discovered was that the hot iron needed to set the fabric paints has caused the fabric to pucker slightly, possibly due to the stretch element in the thread. So, I did samples of some of the fabric paints I have, and experimented with various iron temperatures to find a compromise between saving the fabric and setting the colour.

First colour sample

I have always intended to use the satin crepe fabric matte side up, but also experimented with painting the fabric on both the satin and the crepe side, to see what effect was achieved by the paint soaking through from the 'wrong' side. Unfortunately, the colours look so lustrous on the shiny side that I'm now wondering whether to risk another tussle with satin, and make the dress that side out instead.

Satin or matte?

Still pondering possible colour schemes, I went through my bookcase looking for ideas. In Art Deco Fashion I found this jacket covered in Egyptian motifs. This in turn led to experiments with a few more fabric paints, some of which are a thicker texture, so may not require outlining. (The colour at the bottom left should have been metallic, but has now clearly separated beyond repair.)

Purples and another blue, full strength and diluted

All in all, I'm now spoiled for choice.