Friday, September 28, 2012

... Infinite Dress

OK, so it's been a while, but things are basically getting back to normal. I had the baby (whaaat? I know!) and we're getting used to being parents and everything, and I 'm slowing getting back to making non-baby things again (albiet with a baby slung around my torso, which adds a delightfully challenging level of difficulty to pretty much everything). So, what kind of things? Well, lately I've been working on a custom project: bridesmaids dresses for a good friend of mine.

My friend is getting married in November and was interested "infinite" or convertible dresses for her attendants. Have you seen these? They're basically knit dresses with circle skirts and really (really) long straps that you can wrap around yourself in a theoretically infinite number of ways to create different styles: halter, strapless, one-shoulder, cap sleeve, etc. For a wedding party, the upside to this is that everyone is in the same color and fabric, but can wrap the dress in the style that is particularly flattering to each person. I told my friend I'd give it a whirl and see what I could come up with.

Test Dress - fabric was too heavy!

One back option
For the basics of making this dress, I am hugely indebted to a tutorial on the Sew Like My Mom blog, which gives guidance on what measurements to take and how to put the dress together. What I found was that the dress was pretty simple - four pieces in all, sewn together on one seam. The edges are all raw (meaning that you have to use a nice heavy knit fabric that won't roll up on the cut edge, unless you want to have to finish the edges, which would be a huge pain in the behind). It really couldn't be easier.

Winning fabric!
By far the most complicated and time-consuming parts of this dress are a) finding suitable fabric, and b) cutting out the pieces. Since there aren't a ton of fabric stores near me, I ended up ordering lots and lots of swatches online. I made a test dress for my friend out of a "slinky" fabric which was 90% lycra and 10% acetate, but found that that fabric was way too heavy and stretchy, which resulted in the dress being way too big (did I mention my friend lives in NJ? This meant a lot of sending measurements and test dresses back and forth until we got the fit right). For her actual bridesmaids dresses, we went with a lycra/spandex blend in a deep merlot color that had a nice weight to it and a little bit of shine. Needing a specific kind of fabric definitely limited our color choices, which is tough for someone planning a wedding, but we luckily found something that my friend really liked.

Cutting out the straps requires a very clean floor
So the other difficult part of this project was cutting out the pieces, particularly the straps. Since all the edges are raw, you want to be really careful about making nice, straight cuts. The straps are so long (about 100") - longer than my usual cutting surface - so I had to lay the fabric out on the kitchen floor (after swiffering the heck out of it). I still wasn't happy with the straightness of the cuts, so I ended up doing a rough cut with shears, then going back with a rotary cutter and straight edge to make sure the width of the straps was uniform and the edges really clean. Time-consuming, but worth it!
Trying out different styles

I dig this cap-sleeve option
So after making a bunch of these dresses, what tips would I give? When you take your measurements, measure your waist at its narrowest point, because the waistband of the dress will pretty much migrate to that spot anyway. Be really aware of the stretchiness of your fabric: if it's really stretchy, you'll want to take and inch or two off your waist measurement. I would definitely make sure you have a really sharp pair of shears (or rotary cutter) before you cut out your pieces. Baste everything together before you sew the seams - it's really easy to catch in the different layers when you're stitching.

Hopefully after the big day my friend will let me use some of the pics of her wedding party so you can see the full effect!