formalwear

Rock Your Orange

by Joni on June 14, 2014 · 9 comments

in 1950s,Dresses

Ever since I learned how to sew I’ve wanted to attend Zoobilation, our local zoo’s black-tie fundraiser. (I’d always look at the photos from the event in the newspaper and notice how many women were wearing indistinguishable black cocktail dresses. As a person who sews vintage, I’ve always thought I could do better than that.) This year my husband finally scored tickets and I immediately began dreaming up my outfit. The theme this year was ‘Rock Your Orange’ in honor of the brand new orangutan exhibit our zoo has just opened. As it happens I look terrible in orange, so I decided to make a blue dress and accessorize it with orange.

I had a dickens of a time finding the right fabric (thank goodness for generous return policies) but I finally found a cobalt blue taffeta at JoAnn’s that I liked. It’s got just enough sheen to be formal but not tacky, and the heavier weight gives it a nice swish. (Ten dollars a yard but I bought it with a coupon, of course!) Surprisingly I didn’t have a pattern I wanted to use already in my stash, but I’ve been eyeing Retro Butterick 6018, circa 1952, ever since it came out. I actually think the pattern illustrations are kind of ‘meh’ but the pattern has really nice lines, especially View ‘A’ with the dramatic wide lapels and pointy sleeve cuffs. Incidentally, the line drawings are kind of misleading -

There is, in fact, a center seam in both the skirt front and skirt back, making the skirt eight pieces instead of six. On the front of the dress the center skirt seam lines up with that seam/faux button opening on the bodice, a touch I really appreciate, I should probably drop Butterick a line and see if they want to fix the misleading illustration.

Anyway, the construction of the dress itself was pretty uneventful until it came time to attach the skirt and the bodice. I found that the skirt side back panels were about 3/4″ too wide, meaning they wouldn’t match up flush with the bodice (and the skirt seams are supposed to match up with the bodice darts, naturally). At first I tried easing it in but that looked horrible. So then I undid the top 6″ or so of those skirt seams and re-did them with an adjusted seam allowance so everything would fit together nicely. Fortunately I had serged the raw edges of the pattern pieces individually before assembling (normally I sew and then serge) or I would have had a ravelly nightmare on my hands. It only took an extra hour or so, I just wish the pattern had worked right on the first try. This was also my first time doing covered buttons – I thought they’d be a fiddly nightmare but I got a kit from Hobby Lobby but they were really easy and – dare I say it – fun.

Enough talking: Pictures! I look a little weird here because I’m looking down at my 9 year old son who was holding the camera (I do have a neck, I promise). At least it’s not my usual bathroom mirror selfie.

With the husband. He got an orange tie and a new dress shirt with French cuffs for the occasion (mmm, I love French cuffs). Like anyone was looking at HIM.

I accessorized with a Malco Modes crinoline in a shade of orange that’s even more obnoxious than it looks here. (Obnoxious being a compliment when it’s coming from me.) Funny how their picture shows a petticoat that’s nearly ankle length and on me it comes just past my knees. I think I must have freakishly long legs or something. Also, my shoes don’t show up in any of the pictures but they are like my favorite shoes ever: Nina Crystah pumps, don’t they just scream 1950s? (Best part is I got them on eBay for just $15!) I couldn’t find any blue or orange shoes that I liked, so I went with an iridescent metallic which picked up the gaudy hues of my ensemble. And the low heel was practical for all the walking we had to do.

My dress was a huge hit among the thousands of well-dressed people at the zoo! I got a ton of compliments. Probably my favorite five words in the English language are “Thank you; I made it.” One lady even said my dress was the best outfit of the night! Here are some candids so you can see it in action. With an actual orangutan (he was sprawled out lazily on the ground but seemed interested in my crazy orange petticoat):

Roller coaster selfie (oh yeah, we rode the zoo coaster in our fancy clothes. It was awesome.) Also, you can see here that I really don’t know how to apply false eyelashes. I probably should have practiced more.

And this is my husband’s favorite shot of the night. We took a break on the playground that is very explicitly intended for kids age 5 and under, but it was an adults-only event. :) Tons of restaurants from around Indianapolis had booths set up with small portions of food and drinks (all of which was included in the cost of admission). Even the famous St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail. I think I was eating a fancy bread pudding here – we looked at the map later and realized we tried something like 30 samples! Yum! Also you can see here that I accessorized my hair with an orange silk flower the size of a grapefruit, because why on earth not?!

All in all, I am VERY pleased with how my dress came out – it’s exactly what I was picturing when I first found out about the orange theme. I’m already plotting to wear it again to other events – maybe I can drag the hubby to the symphony? And I’m glad I’ve only got about another five years before I get to start making prom dresses for my girls.

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Glitz, glamour and silly headpieces, that’s what! My home town Stockholm, Sweden, is blessed with a great burlesque club, Fräulein Frauke Presents, housed in one of the city’s classic dance palaces with quite the bad reputation back in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. Their annual New Year’s masquerade is the perfect  opportunity to break your sequin seaweed and your frivolous mask-making abilities.

New Year's Eve, photo by John Paul Bichard.

I bought this red sequin seaweed for last year’s celebrations, actually, but it got delayed at my local post office and I’ve been sitting on it since. The plans for the dress have changed during the year, for the better I think, and instead of a complicated, slinky number with a high slit and back cut-out, I made… a dressing gown. Sort of. I drew inspiration from a simple, but very glamorous and slightly quirky evening gown that Katharine Hepburn wore in the 1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, the one that has the entire back panel of the skirt ripped off in a memorable scene. I translated the inspiration into a long gown with an a-line skirt, containing all the width I could squeeze out of 3 yards of fabric, and a surplice bodice, buttoned at the side, with elbow-length sleeves and a modest v-neck. I really like that combination of the rather casual, simple cut with the inherently festive fabric. It’s a dress that looks comfortable, and feels easy to wear.

The entire garment is flatlined with red cotton poplin, to protect the skin from the somewhat scratchy sequin fabric and counteract a slight transparency, since the base material is a synthetic tulle with very little stretch. I put it together with french seams throughout, for further protection against scratchy sequins on the inside of it, and finished the hem and edges with poplin bias strips on the inside. I also spent a lot of time cutting tiny 2 mm sequins in half, to clear at least some of the seam allowances of the extra bulk. The end result is a very heavy, but, yes, quite comfortable evening gown that I really think I will get a lot of use out of. It’s formal enough for white tie events at a pinch, what with the full length, but also frivolous enough for black tie and just plain parties, and I also think it turned out quite flattering.

Cutting a thousand little sequins in half to clear the seam allowances = major pain in the behind.

I also made the pearl… thing. It’s a masquerade, after all, of course you want a mask of some sort, and I didn’t feel like repeating last year’s sequin glove mask, especially since this year’s theme was the roaring 20′s, which really isn’t my decade, normally. I toyed with the idea of simply draping a few strings of pearls across the eyes, but that seemed a little too easy, and the project grew into this, after having a closer look at showy Art Deco headpieces, the Ballets Russes and Russian kokoshniks. It’s all based on a plain plastic headband with teeth, my favourite notions shop turned out to have an old lot of vintage glass pearls in stock, and the  rest is steel wire, lots of pearl string and thousands of knots, topped off with two enormous artificial peonies.

Pearl headdress in progress, from the very beginning to close to finished.

And it was fun. All of it, including New Year’s Eve. Hope you all had a great New Year’s too, have yourselves a happy new year!

More on both projects over at the Fashion in Shrouds, for once.

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Hello everyone!

I don’t have a finished garment to show for this post, but am taking the opportunity of giving a heads-up to anyone who might be interested in following my next big sewing adventure.

Because I’m married to a member of the Canadian Military (yup – we have one!) I have the opportunity to attend a rather large and fabulous military Ball each year in Toronto (the aptly named Toronto Garrison Ball).  I’ve gone a few times so far, and am planning to ‘go big or go home’ for the next one at the end of March, 2014.

The reason some of you may be interested in this is because I’m going to be recreating an iconic piece of vintage couture: Charles James’ “Tree” gown!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - "Tree"

Certain fortuitous events have put me in a particularly good position to be able to reproduce this amazing gown by one of my favourite designers of all time.  I’m really excited about this!!  And also pretty scared!!

The reason I’m posting about this here & now is that I intend to keep a sort of dress journal about the process of constructing my own “Tree” and I thought some of you might be interested in following along with some or all of my progress.  To see my full introduction post, wherein I explain how it is that I happened upon being able to properly reproduce this dress, pop over to my blog!  I hope you’ll stop by at some point – I’m sure to need some of your wisdom and advice at various points along the way!

 

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