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

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