Miss R’s Floral Graduation Dress

A few months ago I was asked to help a good friend shop for her daughter’s prom/graduation, as she didn’t feel she knew quite where to start navigating the maze of promdom.  I suggested we go on a reconnaissance mission, push the boundaries on all pre-conceived notions of likes/dislikes and appropriate/inappropriate and see where we ended up.  Everything can be duplicated, regardless of the RTW price tag, I assured her.

So we went shopping.  And Miss R tried on everything from red sequin Vegas showgirl gowns to pink sherbet blinged out cotton candy dresses, to mom-approved middle-aged dowdy navy blue gowns that made her look old, and, well, dowdy.  At the end of the day, she settled on a navy beaded full length blouson dress for her prom and something made from this skirt, purchased at a steep discount by moi a few weeks after our reconnaissance escapade, for her graduation ceremony.floral skirt

The RTW beaded gown was hemmed and happily worn a couple of weeks ago.  The floral dress, however, required a bit more time and effort.  The end result was lovely, imho.  I found some stretch cotton for the bodice, and shortened the RTW skirt.  It was a few sizes too small for the client, so I used it all up making it a lovely knee-length pleated skirt.R's dress

The inside of the bodice has a boned corselette.


It’s lined in washed muslin – perhaps not the greatest choice, but comfortable in hot summer weather.

bodice interior

I kept all the petticoats and the lining from the original RTW skirt.


The bodice has a deep V back, hence the necessity for a built-in corselette.  Here’s a couple of pics from one of the last fittings.

Some pulling and drag lines in the bodice.  So frustrating trying to eliminate them because the stretch cotton kept losing it’s shape and stretching itself out, and, of course, the snugger and tighter the better.  Between you and me, I wasn’t 100% happy with the fit of this bodice when it was all said and done.  The fabric was so lightweight and because it was stretch I didn’t (felt I couldn’t) underline it.  My mistake, in retrospect.  *sigh*  It fit beautifully before this set of pictures, just skimming the body instead of straining across it.  Ah well.  Always lessons and ‘should haves’ to take away from each project I make.  :/

In the meantime, here’s a couple of pictures of DD1’s prom dress.  It was RTW (I know, bad seamstress mom), but she fell so head-over-heels in love with it and it was impossible to find a similar fabric to make the skirt, so I caved and bought it.  I did need to alter the shoulders (forward/sloped shoulder) on the top to get the bodice to sit correctly, and some reinforcement was added through the bust.  I have to say I was surprised at the amount of reinforcement required in the bust area to keep it from collapsing on DD1.  Some US manufacturers/designers must be getting the message that most women are not B cups these days and are making busts bigger.  The skirt is huge.  HUGE.  Five layers of petticoats huge, with horsehair braid in the hem. Dressing up is such fun, isn’t it?

But I DID make the dress

Well, the bandage dress is finished, and I thought I’d share what I came up with for the bandage bodice, just in case any of you anywhere out there in sewing land would like to have something that looks kinda-sorta-almost like a Leger bandage dress, but without the $4,000 price tag. After doing some research on the Leger bandage dresses, it became very clear that they are a closely guarded copyrighted design, and it would be impossible to even find the fabric (rayon-lycra) in strips in order to stitch them together.Sherri Hill 50014

I had initially thought I would do a Sherri Hill take on the bodice, since I’d become quite familiar with her designs while trying on prom dresses with DD1 earlier this year.  Her elastic dresses are strips of elastic stitched in overlapping layers to a woven bodice. Something like this dress (which DD1 tried on and thought was a too h-u-g-e, albeit fun, dress).

I proceeded along the Sherri Hill lines, did a fitting for an underlining of power net mesh (which was easily pulled over the client’s head), and stitched the elastic, in the round, to make the bodice.

bodice fail

But at the fitting, it was impossible for her to pull it on, all elasticated, over her head.  The elastic also didn’t fit as tight and flat under the bust as hoped once she’d got it on. So, as I had initially suggested a zipper was required, which was not what she wanted, we had a discussion about adding a zipper.  I wasn’t sure what I would do for the zip, as there would be a tremendous amount of strain on any closure.  A lot of unpicking of triple stretch stitches ensued.  In the process, I discovered that the fuzzy nylon that covered the elastic snagged, pulled and warped like crazy if I wasn’t super careful.

Once it was all unpicked, I had an incredible brainwave.

I ditched the power mesh underlining and stitched the elastic together along the length, slightly overlapping each strip, and shaping each layer on my dress form.  The ends of the short pieces are all bound with bemberg lining to keep them tidy.  The bodice is snug and shaped.

It worked a treat.

But how to make that tight elasticated bodice close up?  Stitch the bottom row of elastic closed for a secure base.

zip closure

Add hook and eye closures, and an invisible zip to close over it all as neatly as possible.  Hopefully the hooks/eyes will keep the nylon invisible zip from splitting apart.

Here’s the inside back.

final bodice

Here’s the inside front, where you can see the rows of elastic stitched together and the ends bound with bemberg remnants.

front interior

The skirt was gathered and attached to a length of elastic, which was then attached to the bodice. This picture is from before I re-thought the bodice construction.


And, to date, I have no pictures of the finished dress on the client.  Hopefully she’ll remember to send me one and I’ll add it to this post.  I was surprised that the dress looked as nice as it did when it was all done, considering the poor quality of the materials.  The bodice was as snug as desired and the skirt hung gracefully to the floor.


I’m wearing Bellville Sassoon

I thought I’d do a little story-telling around this dress for the fun of it, since I’ve posted pictures of it twice, and a couple of you commented on it in the last post. This gratuitous second posting of this picture is my second sized-up version of the dress, since my first version didn’t fit anymore.grad gownI think the first post mentioning this gown was here, from my high school graduation.  I do not have this pattern anymore, and I can’t tell you the number of it because an internet search was completely fruitless.  But I can tell you that it’s a Bellville Sassoon Vogue pattern, and I graduated from high school in 1987. I vaguely remember the pattern envelope:  a model wearing the dress in the exact colour I made it up in, and a shorter drawing in black, I think.  Anyways…

This dress was one of the reasons that I continued sewing.  I knew I was going to make my prom dress, and I was given cart blanche for colour, fabric and design.  Woo HOO!!!  That is dream news to a 17 year old.  I remember my mom driving clear across the city of Edmonton for what seemed like hours to a little European fabric store – no Fabricland fabric for this! – and choosing the teal moiré taffeta for the gown.   And I remember choking as my mom laid out more than $200 for it.  Eeep!!!  Ah, well, in typical teen prom dress la-la land, who cared?  Not me!  I had the makings of a fabulous dress.

So I went started in on it, and not knowing how to even dot the “i” in the word “fit” at that point in my sewing adventure, blithely cut out my standard size 12.  Then I sewed it up with 1 inch seam allowances, knowing it may be a bit small, but it fit perfectly.  I learned a lot from sewing this dress:  boning, lining, underlining, ruching, petticoats… it was a complete high to sew it up.  And then I tried it on and realized that the skirt was going to be too short if I did the recommended 2 1/2” hem.  So I learned from my mom how to do a French hand-rolled hem.  I think that’s what she called it.  Anyways, the taffeta was very unkind to my fingers by the end of that hem.  I don’t know how wide the bottom of that skirt is, but I remember cutting 3 – or was it 4? – complete 1/2 circles of 60” taffeta for that darn skirt.  I was in prom dress heaven!!!  And I wanted the rhinestones or whatever they were on the CF bow at the neckline, so I sewed a bracelet around that lovely bow and I had a perfect dress!  YAY!

After the prom was said and done, I happened to be wandering through our one and only Holt Renfrew (the only Canadian store close to the likes of Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman) and stopped dead when I saw my prom dress.  Actually, more than one.  In the exact colour and detail as the pattern.  Imagine my shock!  So I inspected the dress from top to tail and discovered that the quality of the taffeta I had used was superior (in my mind, anyways) to the one’s in the store, and that I had paid $200 for a dress that was selling for $1299.

Who wouldn’t continue sewing after that?friends grad accoutrements

P.S.  My BFF’s dress was peach satin with alençon lace, and her brother was my date. His shirt, cummerbund and bow tie were all me-made.  Looking back it’s a miracle any of it fit because I didn’t know anything about doing muslins or fitting people properly!