Saturday, June 04, 2016

She Said Yes To The Dress!

Two weekends ago, I drove down to North Carolina to meet up with my two older sisters, my niece D (who's getting married next June), her twin sister S, and her future sister and mother-in-law. The wedding venue and bridesmaid dresses had already been selected and we were set to visit three bridal salons in two days to help pick out a bridal gown. This was the first time any of the females in my immediate family had gone to a bridal establishment to purchase a dress. My eldest sister bought her white lace dress from regular retail. The other sister, the mother of the bride, collaborated 20-some years ago on a design that had the bride and I hand-applying beads and sequins to individual cut pieces of lace that our late mother then sewed into her dream dress.

The MOTB and her family live in New Jersey so a visit once a year is how I saw the girls and their older brother grow up. However, I had been following the bride's Pinterest board since the engagement and had seen every dress and wedding detail she pinned so I already knew her style. She had a clear idea of what she wanted; the majority of the dresses were sleeveless, fit and flare or trumpet-skirted, all-over lace dresses with sweetheart necklines, and either a keyhole or open back, sometimes with lace layered over the opening.

NY Bride & Groom of Raleigh (actually in Garner, NC)
The first place, NY Bride & Groom of Raleigh, located in a small shopping center did not look impressive from the outside. However, inside was a glamorous white and gray salon with rows of racks holding about 300 dresses from twelve brands, all under $3,000. Appointments were not needed at this salon, photos were welcome, and we were free to walk around and see every dress. We arrived at opening time and everyone immediately went around grabbing dresses that were brought back to a small private room with seating for all and a staging area with a mini-platform and full-length mirror.

D tried on the first dress, selected by her mother. It was a lace dress with a sequined v-neckline and a gorgeous champagne gold lining that looked amazing on her skin, however it had an illusion back that did not match her skin color and wrinkled when she moved, giving the appearance of droopy pantyhose. A disadvantage of this shop was that even though my niece is slim, most of the sample dresses that appealed to her weren't available in her size and had to be forcibly coaxed on and then would fit like sausage casings at the hip (and my niece doesn't really have hips!), which I'm sure made it very hard for her to judge. However, during this time, she did discover that she preferred a v-neckline, she no longer wanted cap sleeves, and she definitely wanted a low and open back. After she tried on the initial eight or so dresses chosen, I wanted to be sure that we saw everything that was available so I went up each and every row with what the bride said she wanted in mind: all-over lace or beading, sweetheart or v-neck, sleeveless but with substantial straps, fit and flare shape, and an open back or keyhole detail. You would think that vague description would mean I came back with more than just two other dresses but no. The majority of the dresses there were strapless, ball gowns, or a combination of both!

The crew at NY Bride & Groom of Raleigh (bride is at center)

We ended up with two final contenders, a champagne-colored fit & flare with a v-neck bead encrusted bodice by Kenneth Winston's Private Label by G with an illusion back and an embroidered and crystal beaded v-neck Maggie Sottero fit & flare with a sheer embroidered back that I chose in that last dash around the store. I later realized that its dangling crystal beading reminded me of Eliza Doolittle's own twinkly white gown in My Fair Lady. This was a reference that was lost on my crew...all those women looking for a fancy white gown and nobody got it? What!

Both dresses were brought to the store's wonderfully large 360 degree mirrored area for real contemplation and D still could not make up her mind. I think everyone would have been fine with either dress had they had open backs. However, each dress would have needed to be extensively altered to achieve that result.

Maggi Bridal fitting room in pink.
The next place we visited after a much needed lunch, Maggi Bridal, was appointment-only and possessed a smaller dress selection. There were only five dresses that fit the description we were seeking and there was one, with a silvery-gray lining that was a favorite of both the bride and groom's mothers. We had seen all the dresses D had selected with Laura, the store owner, when we arrived, when D mentioned one they had discussed on the phone when the appointment was made. D tried on the dress, a brand new Alfred Angelo design, which is best described as an all-over lace gown with re-embroidered lace medallions, sweetheart neckline, sheer straps, keyhole back, fit and flare style with a chapel train. I immediately recognized it as looking as close to the ones she had pinned as you could possibly get.

The final stop - Maggi Bridal in Raleigh!
Once D was in the dress; which was unadorned compared to the ones from earlier, the consultant added an elbow-length crystal trimmed veil and an Art Deco-inspired beaded belt to the lace dress, and long story short, that dress became “the one.” Discussing the possibility of adding a different color lining, D plainly said "This is the dress, but..." It took a minute for her to realize what she had just said and then she started crying. Well, we all started crying...which strangely didn't last long because a detailed discussion about the possible alterations that could be made to that simple belt broke out between the mothers even though the bride could not have cared less. She had her dress...and all was right in the world.

Here's a tease of "the one!"
Now, no this dress wasn't perfect either, they are still going to alter the back in order to open up the keyhole and bring it down lower on her back. I'm extremely happy that she got exactly what she went in there to get and that we didn't cause our bride to cry in frustration or sadness. Funny, how much you start to expect after you've watched more than a few episodes of TLC's Say Yes to the Dress*.

I am so happy I got to experience this with her. I didn't mention above but I was the family member helping wrangle her into that first group of dresses with their too tight fit and multitudes of tiny buttons on delicate net, and making the decision of whether she should step into the dress or put it on over the head. Oh how many times we made the wrong first choice on that last one! If that sweaty and awkward time does not cement a lasting aunt/niece bond then I don't know what else would! In fact, I am also consulting on her save-the-dates, wedding invitations, and other printed paper goods. For me, having been lost in retail for the last two years, doing something this close to what I did for a living is breathing life back into me.

In addition, I will be making the dress I will wear to the wedding and I decided that it was time to SEW SILK for the first time, so stay tuned.

* Please, watch this show to know what NOT to do!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Twist Yet Again Top - Irmchen (Burdastyle)

Pattern: "Let's Twist Again..." pattern by Irmchen, available at Burdastyle, FREE!

Pattern Description: Loose, asymmetrical top with twisted side draping and over-long sleeves.

Pattern Sizing: German size 42, according to directions.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it? YES!

Were the instructions easy to follow? So easy, they weren't even provided!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? It has a simple shape, yet when made up it is unusual and was an extremely easy and fast sew.This will be my second time making this pattern.

Fabric Used: 2 yards of 60" Shitake Brown/Heather Gray half-inch striped jersey knit (50% cotton, 25% poly, 25% rayon) from Girl Charlee, which was on sale for $1.50 a yard!

Ignore my belly in this picture, please.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: As before, I added length to the sleeves when I cut it out while also adding a bit of width because the original top's sleeves were a bit tight at the wrists. I cut both the pattern and fabric out a little larger than the pattern piece and chose to sew a 1/2" seam allowances.

I sewed a small narrow zig-zag while slightly stretching the fabric. I then went over that stitching a second time for strength. The sleeve hems were folded over 1/4" twice and slip stitched. I did the same for the neckline and for this version, I chose to attach the optional hem band included with the pattern.

Multiple pins guarantee matched stripes.
The other side: ta da!
Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes! This item is so quick to make, the only thing that took time was the hand stitching. I may not add the hem band to any others because I think it brings attention to my expanding waistline more than I'd like. However, the best thing is that the pattern is still free after all this time.

Conclusion: I now have another version of this top that will go with some other items in my wardrobe. I love how it is a t-shirt to just grab and put on and an interesting top. The first one I made was from a knit that had some Lycra content while this one is a basic cotton knit. If I make this again, I will probably choose another beefy stretch knit as this feels a bit flimsy for this style. But I still like this version and how could I not, the price of this top (not including tape and printer paper costs), was under $4.00!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Stacked Triangle Wrap Skirt - Simplicity 1163

Pattern: Simplicity 1163 (2015)

Pattern Description: Misses' knit skirt with option of asymmetric faux wrap, flat front, or pleated front drape with length variations.

Pattern Sizing: Size R5 (14-16-18-20-22) I chose a size 18 reflecting my new measurements.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it? Most definitely.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, very much.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I always love a simple knit pattern. The front drape gives it some interest and the near-flat pull-on waistband makes it sleek and easy to wear.

Fabric Used: 60" Black Triangle Square Print on Off White 10 oz. weight Ponte de Roma (45% Rayon/50% Poly/5% Spandex) from Girl Charlee and 2 inch black Dritz soft waistband elastic.

Check out this side seam! Can you even see it?

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: I cut out a size 18 and the finished measurements stated the hip would be 43" which is an inch larger than my hips. That would be fine but it felt much looser than that and more importantly, it was too wide to attach evenly to the shorter waistband. Perhaps, it wouldn't be a problem with a stretchier knit, but this ponte could only go so far. Therefore, the waistband could barely get over my hips, so I reduced the seam allowance to 1/2" on the waistband. I then increased the side seam allowances of the skirt to 1 inch. Luckily, meeting halfway worked out and with a bit of stretching I was able to make the two match.

Once I had the elastic in the waistband, I tried on the skirt and could see that it was more a-line than I expected. That was my fault because it is illustrated in the drawing above. I debated slimming it down but decided against it.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, it is a very simple pattern that produces a great skirt with interest.

Conclusion: I love the waistband, which practically lays flat on me. It would be flatter on someone that has a smaller difference between their waist and hip numbers. I also like that the a-line shape adds a little swing to the skirt which makes it pretty sassy.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Mod Stripe Dress - McCall's 6886

Pattern: McCall's 6886 (2014)

Pattern Description: Close-fitting, pullover dress with neckline and sleeve length variations.

Pattern Sizing: E5 (14-16-18-20-22) I cut a size 14 tapering down to a size 18 at the hips.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it? Yes, after my alterations and changes, it does.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, very much. If alteration had not been needed, it would have been a very quick sew.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Fabric Used: 60" jade and mustard striped ponte de roma (80% polyester/15% rayon/ 5% Spandex) from Mood Fabrics, item # 107912.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: Well, for starters, I made sure to use my correct measurements and to choose my size according to the pattern's finished garment measurements. Even then, changes had to be made.

I found the neckline to be a bit too wide and the depth far too long, about an inch too deep. Therefore, I had to reduce the length from shoulder line to underarm.

I've seen the versions online and noticed that the dress fit so many different body types and sizes; however, the extreme curve of my back did not work with the line of the dress. My first thought was to create a false seam down the back of the dress by folding it down the center and sewing a curved seam to alter the dress. However, I chose to create two side darts instead. There was some try and error as to how long the darts should be. in the end there was still some extra length above the waist but nothing I couldn't live with. I just need to remember to remove it from the pattern.

When I basted the dress it was hard to imagine the final fit and there were drag lines at the underarm area that I hoped I could remove. I decided to attach the sleeves flat. This way I could see if the drag lines disappear when the shoulder seam no longer hung down and it would also make it easier to enlarge or decrease the side seams easily, if needed.

What this showed was that the dress was still too large in the bodice at the front, the back fit perfectly. I undid ALL of the basting, pulled out the pattern again and recut the bodice to a size 14, including the armscye. Once the sleeves were reattached, the majority of the drag lines had been removed.

It was easy to hem the sleeves and skirt with a simple zig-zag line of stitching in order to preserve the stretch.

However, the fold over and stitch method was not ideal for the neckline and I decided to create a neck band, which would also raise the scoop neckline to where I would feel more comfortable. I chose to cut the neckline band at 26" for a 30" neckline.

The neck  band's three layers were difficult for my machine, I had to use the manual control to slowly topstitch the neckline but it did result in an almost perfect neckband. I then steamed the band to shrink it in tighter for a more secure fit.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I would now since I have altered the pattern. I would love to try out the v-neck option with short sleeves next. For me it was not the easy TNT pattern that others swear it to be but it was fairly simple to alter. So I would recommend trying it as it may work out easier for someone else.

I believe that the back shoulders are too wide because of those irritating diagonal wrinkles. I also believe the armscye is too high because the upper arms seem to be twisting under the arm towards the front. Also, as seen in the picture below, the back waist is too long and a more extensive sway back reduction is needed.

Conclusion: I like the dress, but its not perfect. I already had to make a lot of changes to make it to this point but there will have to be more in its future if I ever want it to be a TNT pattern.I would love to be able to whip up a knit dress whenever I wanted but the time is not now or at least not with this pattern. Sigh...