Another gown

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Well, another Opera Ball has come and gone, and while I swore last year that I would not be making another gown, somehow I did. And I actually kind of enjoyed it, and I actually kind of like the finished dress. I attribute most of my success this year to using an actual gown pattern, instead of haphazardly lengthening a short dress pattern. Getting the proportions of a gown right is more difficult than just extending a skirt, and letting the experts figure it out is definitely the way to start.

Image from Pattern Review

I used Butterick 5710, a blatant copy of that most famous bridesmaid’s dress, made out of navy peachskin from JoAnn. The fabric was actually perfect for this dress – not too shiny, substantial but not stiff, and inexpensive. I raised the neckline by 1.5″, but otherwise made the dress straight from the envelope, omitting my usual petite adjustment because the pattern doesn’t provide guidance for where to shorten or lengthen in the bodice. That was a mistake. Because the dress is close fitting in the back, it will fit the curve at the small of your back no matter what. This means that if the bodice is too long you will end up with a big hunchback over the shoulders. I was able to do a quick fix by pulling the shoulder seam up an inch pull the shoulders up by an inch, but if I make this again I will try to figure out the adjustment under the bust.

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With the side view you can see a little of the hunchback problem… I don’t think it was quite so noticeable in real life. I hope not, anyway. These relatively minor issues aside, it was a fantastic gown for opera ball and I loved wearing it! It was great to have my shoulders covered, the cut is flattering but actually there is quite a bit of ease everywhere, and I LOVED having a train. It felt so special and swishy, but it didn’t get in my way at all as we were running all over City Hall. I didn’t even have to lift up my dress when going up stairs!

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The last important feature is the drape. I have only recently come around to cowls and draping, and while this one is a little on the big side it did make the dress feel special. I love the layered v-neck underneath, and because of the two layers this drape did double duty as a handy phone pocket. All told this gown is very much a success, and it makes me want to make another for next year!

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My belated ball gown

I can’t believe Opera Ball was almost a month ago! I got my dress finished in time, but didn’t get a photo taken that night. It was just too crazy! I should have though, on the grand staircase of the majestic San Francisco City Hall where the event was held. That week was pretty insane. I work in education, not events, so my workload was totally unrelated to the ball and we had a couple issues pop up at the end of the week. Dealing with that while being pulled in the other direction for my added event responsibilities left me little time to care about how I actually looked. Besides, I was just scurrying around checking attendees in, folding napkins, checking place cards and seating charts, trying in vain to get people to sit down for dinner, cleaning up volunteer meals, schlepping boxes back to the office at 2am, and so on. It’s hard work!

I ended up making Vogue 1176, an OOP Michael Kors pattern. I added a gathered skirt with big pockets to store my phone, badge, and keys, and these pockets were the envy of every one of my coworkers. Seriously, you could see the look of longing appear on their faces as they noticed me whipping my phone out! The dress served its purpose, but I don’t feel very sophisticated. I think the combination of the too-short skirt, the wide straps, and, well, maybe the pockets too make it feel a little frumpy.

I also had some trouble making this dress. First, I ran out of fabric! I had bought four yards, which seemed like an infinite amount. I usually make a dress using no more than two yards of fabric, since I’m short and on the smaller side, and I really didn’t think that a long, full skirt would take that much extra fabric. I wanted the skirt to be cut in an A-line shape with gathering at the top, so that it would have a pretty full skirt by my shoes to keep them hidden. That was absolutely not going to happen, and this skirt not only isn’t full enough to not show my shoes, but it’s also too short. I didn’t want to step on it, but I think it needs another couple inches at least.

Then the bodice… it was fun to put together, and for a 100% polyester fabric it was pressing pretty well. But then I tried it on and realized it was really big. Too big to just take in at the side seams. Everyone always talks about the extra ease in McCall, Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity patterns, and I’m always skeptical because I tend to sew Simplicity and Burda and I have never, ever had a problem with excess ease in a Simplicity pattern. I might become a believer when it comes to Vogue, though. I had to take it in three whole inches at the waist, and could easily take in another inch, and also took it in about one inch at the bust. The alterations were distributed through the side and back seams, but I couldn’t really take it in on the front due to the design and you can tell. It’s pretty baggy under the bust. I feel like the fit is acceptable, but it was problematic and I don’t really care about making another version to figure out all that was wrong.

I still love the color (more gray, less deep purple than the photos show) and the draped detail of the bodice, and I think I’m going to cut the skirt to knee-length to make it into a cocktail dress that I think will be much more successful.