Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Two Dresses in One Day*

I'm not particularly a whiz when it comes to let's crank it out and get it done today sewing. I tend to do things in stages. First, there's the picking out the fabric, letting it marinate in the bedroom closet stage. Then there's the "Oh, what could I do with this" part, which could actually be amount to several scenes in my own female version of Groundhog Day. The only variation of this part would be the mounds of clothes on my bed as I read patterns which be appropriate for a particular fabric. That goes for several months, even years. Actually my hair style might change besides the clothes atop my bedcovers.

So it was with great alacrity that I bought fabric and sewed it up in one day. Not only that, I made two dresses. So it was perhaps fours or so from the time the fabric was plopped into my Vogue Fabrics bag to the time I finished the rolled hem on my second dress. So what's my secret?

Elasticized fabric panels. But it's the nice stuff, nothing like the spools of the scratchy cheap cotton stuff you see parked by the Hancock's cash register. The panels I bought looks couture - it's rayon but it's got a silky metallic sheen and interesting pattern...butterflies fluttering all over. There isn't a spot of gingham print or Daisy Kingdom to be found anywhere on it. Thank goodness, which makes my dresses wearable to a wine tasting, wedding reception or a fancy-schmancy fund-raiser dinner. And the price is unbeatable. My source (who works both at Voge and the local Hancocks) tells me these Tres Chic dress panels are only a couple dollars more than their ugly counterparts (about $15 a piece).

It's funny that I even encountered these panels. I wasn't looking for love in the right places on my Sunday visit to Vogue Fabrics. I was coming off my volunteer stint at a street fair, feeling hot, ready to cool off inside. I wandered aimlessly: remmants, sale items, pattern section, silks, nothing new for these tired brown eyes. Oh yawn, wasn't it for a time for siesta? Then I saw this jumble of what looked like pricey taffeta or something or other on the counter. What was this? There was more of the same on hangers propped on shelves behind the counter.

Without making you fall asleep at your laptop, no sooner did I find out these were rapidly disappearing dress (or skirt, you pick) panels cuter than Snow White, I had to have these, especially since the olive green colorway was gone, completely sold out. So I snapped up the last of the brown/black combo, and another of the black/burgundy. I wasn't planning on buy anything at all when I entered the store, not even a needle or a button or a Burda World of Fashion Magazine. But I melted faster than a Hershey's chocolate bar on a car hood, and pulled out my Discover card so I could get these fabrics home pronto.

But I couldn't take a nap once I got home. I felt too guilty about my impulse purchase. I felt like I had to justify what I Just Done. So I did the only thing I could do: turned the "On" button on my surge protector that connects the Viking Husqvarna to the electrical outlet. And I sewed. Bed-time would have to wait.

I tackled the darker of the two panels first. I had this idea that I could make the dress reversible, but I realized it wasn't intended to be that way. Besides, the poufy pleats at the bust would be uncomfortable worn against the skin. That was after I did the rolled hem and straight-stitched the overlap connecting the two sides (I actually figured out that the hem-finishing should come last. More on that later). I finished that dress by using the faux serger stitch on my machine, trimming the edge, folding that over, and tacking that down with a straight stitch. Done! I wasn't too wild about my rolled hem which looked a little ragged because I had to force two pieces together that didn't match up.

The second dress went better. First, I "serged" ( I say this because I'm not using a serger) the back seam. Then I finished the bodice (serge, cut, top stitch). Finally, I did the rolled hem, making the width of stitch smaller (2.5 wide as opposed to the normal 4.o). That hem looks a little better. Done! Three, easier-than-slicing onions steps! I couldn't believe how fast I was. I thought perhaps my unknownst to me a twin (the one that feels guilty) had stepped in and masterminded all this stitch-witchery.

Here are some things I learned:

* Really Focus on the Hem. A rolled hem is easy if you have the proper foot. Starting it as a bit harder since you have to feed the fabric into the foot, and hold it with your fingers like you're about to sneeze until you're done so that it continues to furl inside the foot while you're sewing, if that makes any sense. If you blow it, you can always cut it off and start anew. I might do that with dress no. 1.

* The bodice can look a bit plain if you're not used to sleeveless dresses. I thought about putting in straps (matching or contrasting bra straps are $2 at Vogue) or some black elastic ruffle normally used in underwear to jazz it up, but I couldn't find the latter at Vogue (the trims section is a bit lacking at this store. This is where a trip to New York City or the Internet comes in handy). I'm certain there are other ways to make the dress more festive. Right now, I'll just wear the dress with a knitted bolero jacket and a pretty necklace.

* No fiddling with making the hem even! I normally spend a couple of hours just on this part alone. I put the dress on my mannequin, pin, pin and pin at knee-length where I should cut. However, with this, there was none of that. Absolutely zilch! I don't worry about it being lower or higher than a Gulf of Mexico levy; I can simply adjust at the bodice while I'm wearing the dress. You know all that tugging up you do when you're wearing a strapless dress. That's my instant hemline adjustment on these dresses.

* One dress is not enough! Especially when you can whip this up as quickly as I did. If you're interested at all in these pancake-mix-quick dresses, I'd call Vogue Fabrics and ask for the silk room. Tell 'em that you're interested in the elasticized dress panels. As I said earlier, the burgundy's the only one left. If you don't want to make a dress, you could make a skirt, but it's going to be pretty high-waisted, which isn't flattering for all body types. A dress is more universally flattering. If you think one panel won't be enough, buy two and that should be plenty. You just have one more seam to stitch! You can still finish it in time to go out to the supper club tonight.
* Hamlet helps me model the burgundy version. I'll upload pictures of the other soon.

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