Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sewing on...

Two weeks ago I was working overtime on a sewing project. My wonderful and beautiful niece Hannah asked if I could make her a prom dress. I thought, "Well, she knows what she is getting herself into. I made dresses for her dance concert when she was a freshman, and that was craaazy and last minute (due to my own busy schedule and procrastination, I might add)." Still, I tried so hard to make sure I had enough time. We had to decide on a dress style, choose and order swatches and fabric, and then wait for it all to get here. I got the chiffon a week before prom and the underlining fabric three days before. Yeah. It was another last minute scramble.

But there were a few things I could do without fabric. I measured her, made a body block and made sure it fit, put it on my mannequin, and planned the structure. I went to Joanne's and bought thread, an invisible zipper, special machine needles for light fabric, beads, sequins, and other embellishments. And then when the chiffon arrived, I cut out the skirt and belt (I just used some white fabric from my stash to back it) and started hand beading. That probably took like 15 hours. I'm just telling it like it is. And honestly, it drives some people crazy, but I really like hand sewing. It is fun. I made up the pattern as I went. I used 3 types of sequins, 3-4 colors of beads and occasional pearls. Not real ones.

I took a picture of the process. Now you know why awesome beaded embellishment costs so much. If it is hand sewn, it takes a LOT of time. If you paid someone only 3 dollars an hour, it would still cost you $45 for 30 inches of beading. This doesn't include materials (which are cheap) or a margin of profit for your finished product. You get the idea.
So, after the underlining came I was able to cut out and sew up all three layers of skirt. Chiffon is sheer. The poly underlining wasn't too opaque either. You can see in the picture to the right that two layers was not sufficient. (You can see my mannequin through the dress.) Three layers it was.                                    
I should mention that I didn't use a pattern for this dress, although I did use pieces of a pattern for the skirt portion. I altered it to fit the dress I designed. But because I wasn't using a pattern there were some times I had to sit and problem solve. You know, I had to figure out the shape of the under structure, where to put darts, how to drape and gather different sections, what should be interfaced, under-sewn, and tacked down. The times when I stressed the most all had to do with fit. I had one fitting with Hannah, but I could have used at least one more. Of course, it would have had to happen at 3:00am, and that wasn't possible. For her, at least.  

Above is a picture I took of the dress on the day of Prom. I was just showing Hannah that I hadn't gotten around to the beading at the neckline that we had planned, but it was still modest. I was having a terrible time with the zipper. It was easy to install, but it kept breaking and getting stuck. And even though I let the dress hang for a while, the hemline kept stretching. So hemming was difficult. On all three layers. The chiffon actually wasn't that hard to work with, but that poly underlining was a pain. It was static-filled and slippery and shifty. But it was cheap, and I have worked with cheap-o fabrics since I was 12 years old, so I figured it out.

Still, when Hannah came to pick up her dress, I was so worried because the zipper was stuck, yet again, at the waist. I tried to cut out the extra fabric at the stress point, etc. but it was not happening. THANKFULLY Hannah was able to get it on regardless. It was a little prom miracle. But the dress didn't look fantastic from behind. And I was sad to have spent all that time on zippers and hems instead of beading the neckline. I ended up letting Hannah borrow one of my necklaces.

Below are some pictures I stole from Facebook. They are kind of tiny, but you can see how it turned out. I was so happy that it was wearable, you have no idea. And that color looked so great on her, and the fit was pretty good. I couldn't believe I had pulled it off! And yet, I was also tortured by the stuff that either didn't get finished or seemed a little funky. The belt didn't meet all the way in the back, I didn't bead the neckline, the fabric around the zipper was slightly puckered (but seriously, how do you NOT have that with the disproportion of the weight of the fabric and the zipper?) and I would have liked to play around with the sleeves a little bit more. I think when I get the dress back I will re-hem it, re-zipper it, add beading, fix the belt, and re-shape the sleeves. When I create something, I am seriously irked until it is done the way I want it to be done. But at least it wasn't crazy ugly, ill-fitting, or shabby looking.

And look at that girl. You could put a potato sack on her and she would still shine. 

In other news, I made some mermaid tales for two of my other nieces right before the prom dress. They are actually made so that you can swim with them. Of course, I made their mom promise that they would NEVER swim unattended because I am so afraid they will drown. So far, so good. It helps that the fin is an actual swimming flipper. In addition, I made the tails in two parts so that if they felt like they were getting in trouble, they could kick off the bottom part and hike the top part up to kick their legs. I am terrified of kids drowning. But they sure look cute in those mermaid tales. And FYI, those two tales probably took me a combined total of 4 hours to make. 

I know this is a long post, but really, this should give you an idea of how long it takes me to design and sew. I am not super fast. I could never be on Project Runway, nor would I want to be. (I actually have had nightmares about involuntary Project Runway participation.) I could probably get faster if I sewed more often, but I have a life and I don't have fashion world aspirations. Don't get me wrong, I like to sew, but I probably won't sew you anything unless you are related to me or I like you a WHOLE lot. It takes TIME. And I probably could have made a simpler dress that took less time, but I want to like the finished product. If I am going to make something, I am going to try to make it the best that I can.

PS I need to thank the amazing Dan Hixon and mention his role in all this. Without his help, that dress would have been less than half finished on the due date. I told him I would really need his help that week, and he made meals, ran to the store for me, took care of the kids, put them to bed, etc. so that I could work. I am so blessed to have such a helpful best friend/husband/knight in shining armor.