Sometimes a project seems like a really good idea in your head. Then the reality turns out a little different.
After last year’s ball, I came to the conclusion that I really needed another ball gown. Not needed as in “I really want another dress.’ but needed as in
(1) Whoever thought trains on a dress were a good idea was wrong. Very, very wrong.
(2) Floor length skirts are totally the wrong length for dancing.
(3) No foundation garment on the planet was going to make the bodice fit right. Major alterations were necessary.
So, with that, I determined I would make a new gown.
Sometimes something is such a good idea in my head, but when things get underway they go sideways fast. It all started so innocently, there was no reason to suspect here there be dragons.
My usual mode of sewing is to set up a forty-eight hour marathon and just sit down and get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. I have been told that is not the ideal way to do things, that I should (that word alone should have clued me off!) take my time and do things carefully and deliberately. So I planned two weeks for the project. But before that, I needed to design the new dress and for that I needed a period piece for inspiration.
Design and Inspiration
A jaunt over to the online MET museum produced this beauty:
Given that I already had a drawer full of gold satin and gold organza, it seemed like the perfect piece to launch from.
I certainly would not be able to copy the dress exactly, although the main ideas would definitely find their way into my new gown. But for that to happen, I needed to redraft some of the pattern. Since I’d planned to do that to make the bodice fit properly, that wasn’t a real problem. Still it was new territory as I usually just eyeball things give them a go. But determined to do things ‘right’ this time, I made the new patterns and even worked out on graph paper how to do the sleeve embellishments and how to take the best advantage of the ivory and gold beaded sari I had to use as an overskirt.
Awesome, great, this doing it ‘right’ thing might just have something going for it.
Too good to be true
Out came the cutting board and the sewing pins and I actually pinned the pattern down. So what, big deal, right? Yeah, well, I rarely pin, I usually use weights, or books, or a solid pair of scissors, whatever’s in reach. But doing it right this time…
I picked up the best sewing scissors I have (inherited from my mother)–and they would not cut the fabric. They chewed and frayed the edges like a dog with a bone. It took three attempts to find a pair of scissors just to cut out the pattern. I should have known at this point it was an omen.
Pattern finally cut and scissor blisters tended, I started doing all the prep work on the pieces: sewing gathering stitches, stay stitches and sewing in interfacing. I’m happily chugging along and ~~CLUNK~~. No matter what you’re doing, that is a bad sound. A really bad one. In this case, it was the sound of a sewing machine seizing up with an enormous knot of thread bound up in the works. I need to see if there’s a good regency era curse to describe a sewing machine that has just had its timing knocked silly.
A week later I get the machine back from the repair shop.
Now I’m down to a week for sewing, but that’s all right, still plenty of time to ‘do it right’.
Now it gets complicated
Time to start on the bodice.
First the sleeves and all the fiddly embellishing on them. A dozen buttons, gathering, pleats, lace–good grief, what didn’t these silly things require? But still, they came together and actually looked like they were supposed to.
The streak of bad luck had ended.
Moments into making the bodice I discovered the lining that I’d cut from spare sari bits was not going to work. No way no how. That meant a mad scramble for satin scraps, just enough for the lining. Only eighteen pieces on this stupid bodice, not including the sleeves which were another ten. *headthump*
Since I was going to do this ‘right’ I pinned every seam even though I very rarely pin things. I quickly remembered why. Every stinking, bloody seam in the bodice had to have parts picked out and resewn in spots where the slippery satin decided not to behave. It just slid along the pins instead of staying where it belonged. *face palm*.
Basting in the sleeves like my grandmother used to didn’t work any better. More picking and restitching. Breath deep, just breathe deep.
Surely it would get better now. Sewing the skirt was always easier. Except when it wasn’t.
The stupid satin would not, could not come together in a neat seam on the first try. But there were just three of them, so not too bad. On to the overskirt. That would need fiddly French seams (like blue jeans) to keep from fraying, but that wouldn’t be too bad.
It wasn’t, but only because this devious project has something worse in mind for me. Far worse. I went to put the two skirts together in a nightmare moment of catastrophic fails. I still don’t know how, but I managed to cut the sari wrong, so it was angled three inches longer in front that in back. Without the gory details, there was no way of saving it.
Holy sewing needles Batman! What am I going to do? I’m down to the forty eight hour mark and I have to effectively redesign the dress! Ran back to the inspiration piece for help. Maybe it was being in the familiar forty-eight hour time mark that did it, but the creative juices started flowing. I’d take the organza lining and turn it into an overskirt, find some trim to finish out the bottom of both skirts and the waist. It was doable.
The home stretch
A fevered trip to the fabric store with dress scraps in hand produced six inquiries as to whether I was making a Beauty and the Beast ‘Belle’ costume–which is why it’s now called the Belle dress–and six yards of three different trims for skirts, sleeves and waist.
I ditch the pins this time. Trims go on like their supposed to, held steadfastly in place with my fingers–which I managed not to catch in the sewing machine. Yeah! Something’s going right. What matter that it takes four tries to get the skirts sewn to the bodice–blast it, I pinned it, that must have been the problem! Toss the pins and I’m golden.
We’re leaving tomorrow for the dance weekend and all I have to do is sew in the hooks on the back of the dress.
Two hours before we are to leave, I try on the dress for the first time. Yeah, really, the first time. I know, I hear you yelling at me. You already know what I’m about to say.
Murphy strikes again.
Something is horribly wrong, the dress is pulling and puckering and looking beyond horrible.
Foul, foul, filth and foul! At least I have my old ball gown…
A tiny light bulb goes off in the back of my very frazzled brain. Something like this happened before…
I dash upstairs and frantically look for my other gown and stare at the back hooks. Yes! I forgot the extra-large hooks had to be double sewn! A mad dash to the sewing box for needle and thread. An hour left and the last hook is sewn down again!
I’m holding my breath as I hook up the back of the dress. If it doesn’t work this time, I’m packing the old gown and the sewing box and we’re out the door.
And now, once I have resigned to the inevitable crash and burn of this project–what happens?
It fits. Exactly as it is supposed to. Just like it looked in my head. Whoda thunk it?
Perhaps, just perhaps, doing it ‘right’ is highly over-rated.