Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frocktails Dress - The Sydney Edition

After the roaring success of Frocktails in Melbourne last year, this year we went interstate, and the lovely Kat organised for us to repeat the experience in Sydney.

The dress that I made for and wore to the Sydney Frocktails has been stewing in my mind for about a year now. I tried on the below dress in the Rachel Gilbert Store and sadly (but not surprisingly) I didn't fit. Ever since then I have been planing to use this inspiration to make a similarly fabulous dress...

Obviously the design itself is fairly simple; a shift dress with a centre front and centre back seam, with the left and right halves made from different fabrics; ruched chiffon for one half and sequins for the other.

The design is about where it's simplicity stops... anyone that follows me on instagram will know that the construction process was incredibly time consuming... (and apparently I'm a glutton for hand-sewing punishment when it comes to frocktails dresses)

I used my basic block pattern that I'd converted into a dress for my 2 metre challenge dress, but altered the neckline to suit.

Both halves of the dress are underlined in a drill fabric, with the chiffon hand ruched and stitched onto the underlining fabric (which I had stitched the darts into first). This was a very time consuming process, I definitely lost count of how long it took, but it was surprisingly relaxing to do.

After some trial and error of the best way to go about it, I decided that the best way was pins, pins, pins and more pins. I found it was quicker and more accurate to spend the time pinning each little tuck and then going through doing the stitches once it was all pinned. I also found it useful to pin the underlining flat onto my ironing board to hold everything flat and still while I was pinning.

Progress was slow and steady but I felt very accomplished once I'd finished the two pieces. I didn't cut the chiffon out until after I had ruched it on, at which point I cut out a rough seam allowance around the edge of the piece.

Overall with the construction I used a lot of techniques I learnt from the Couture dress craftsy course, like basting my stitching lines and basting the seams before stitching them properly. Unpicking my lines of basting was tricky though, apparently my stitching lines were extremely accurate and went almost exactly over nearly all of my basting.

For the sequined half and joining the two halves together I was glad to have hand basted the seams first, as it stopped any slippage. Sewing the sequins wasn't too bad, again I adopted the ethos of slow and steady. I did break one needle, and when cutting the sequined fabric made sure to wear glasses to protect my eyes (tip from Mel from her experience sewing sequins).

As is seems to be my ilk these days, and certainly fitting for a dress with so much hand sewing, I hand picked the zip into the centre back seam. And as shown in the picture above, it's barely visible. Definitely the best zip insertion method to choose for a dress like this, as the only other kind that wouldn't leave top stitching would be an invisible zip, which I'd be concerned about the ruching and sequins getting caught in the zip (and also the zip breaking, because, y'know, invisible zips suck)

Once the dress was in one piece, it was a massive mess on the inside (big seam allowances, lines of hand stiching, all sorts. So first I finished the arm and neck holes by hand basting the seam allowances down, then I hand basted all the rest of the seam allowances down to make it all sit nice and flat inside the dress.


Lastly, I added a lining. The lining served two very important purposes; firstly to make the dress look pretty and neat on the inside, and secondly because the sequins are horrifically scratchy, so covering up the sequins in the seam allowances was definitely essential.

I hand stitched the lining into the dress (are you seeing a theme here?). I pressed back the seam allowances, and did tiny careful stitches right at the edge of the fabric on the arm and neck holes, making sure that the lining was just on the inside of the dress so wouldn't be visible when wearing.


Along the zip opening I again pressed back the seam allowances and did little prick stitches about 5mm away from the edge along the zip. I did this rather than stitches at the edge of the lining to hold the lining flat and away from the zip to reduce the chances of it getting caught in the zip when opening or closing the dress.


The last step was the hem, which I bagged to allow for movement when wearing the dress and reduce strain on the lining.

The lining transformed the dress from incredibly uncomfortable to a dress that was a pleasure to wear. As I told the girls on the night, the combination of the lining and comfortable amount of ease in this dress means that if I wriggle while wearing it, it's like the dress is stroking me. So comfy!


And so ends a long description, of an even longer process, and now I'll be on the hunt for more opportunities to wear this dress...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Helen dress

The namesake of this dress is the fantastic and beautiful Helen, aka Funkbunny, who very generously gifted me this fabric. If you hear us referring to the "Ballan Collection" we are affectionately referring to our almost matching dresses.

A motto I like to live by is "you never know unless you ask" - that if you don't tell people stuff they'll never know. Importantly, asking doesn't mean expecting, no is a perfectly acceptable answer, it just means putting it out there. This theory extends quite well into my current work, which is all about making sure your wishes are known, but it turns out it extends well into sewing too (and also chocolate).

At social sewing a while back Helen was cutting out a lovely dress from this fabric and I expressed that if she needed a home for any leftovers then I could volunteer. It turned out, she had some fabric left over after cutting out her dress, and she generously offered the left overs to me. I gratefully accepted, planning on making a fabulous pencil skirt from the stunning sateen (wow too many adjectives in that sentence, but nevermind).


When laying out the fabric ready to cut out the skirt, I discovered that there was quite a lot more than I realised, so made the decision to make a dress instead of a skirt. I decided to do this by simply adding a bodice to the skirt pieces I was already planning on cutting out. I did this due to a combination of being lazy and not being sure if I quite had enough fabric to eliminate the waist seam. The bodice is my standard self drafted bodice, with the neckline changed to be a boatneck.

I didn't bother lining the dress, and finished the neck and armholes with some red bias tape. Part of the reason was again laziness, but also not knowing what to line the dress and still retain the stretch in the sateen. Anyone have any great tips on that?


Overall I'm pretty happy with this dress. It's a nice pop of colour for me to wear to work. However I do have some reservations about it and how flattering it is. Maybe the existence of the waist seam is causing that effect, and wearing it with a thin belt (which I don't have) would solve that problem, we'll see I guess. However, I'm a cold creature and so far have worn it with a jumper over the top anyway it's not a deal breaker for me as that way it is fine.

Thank you again to Helen for the generous fabric gift!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Will you share your Canadian(ish) knowledge with me?

I am excited to share with you that the boy and I are visiting Canada (and a little bit of the US) in a couple months time!

We will be flying into Toronto, and a week later flying out of Montreal to Seattle, and a week later again flying home from Vancouver. Not the longest of trips but hopefully long enough as it's all our annual leave balances will allow.

The reason I am sharing this information here right now is that we were hoping those of you that known those areas would be willing to share some of your knowledge with us. We still need to decide how long we will stay in each city, where we will be staying, exactly how we will travel between areas and what we will do. We have some ideas and will do more research, but personal recommendations (and anti-recommendations) are often better...

So... Any recommendations for Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Seattle or Vancouver? In particular "can't miss" activities, and the best areas to stay.

Thanks in advance!
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