Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Betsey Johnson-Inspired Floral Explosion Dress

How many types of flowers can you spot on this dress?
But...it's so comfy!
I really meant to have this done on Thursday so that I could post it on Friday. Then I promised myself that I would finish it on Friday. And I swore it would be up on Sunday. But alas, hand-sewing and fit issues got the better of me, and what I thought would be a few-hours-to-completion dress turned into a two-movies-worth-of-hand-sewing dress. This is partly due to my appalling hand-sewing skills, and partly due to Walnut's interference. I swear, he knew that I was in a hurry and insisting on sleeping so cutely and peacefully on either the fabric or the patterns at every step, depending on what I needed.

When I saw this, I knew I'd found my inspiration.
But let me back up a little bit. One of my favorite sewing blogs is Sew Weekly, where the fabulous Mena issues a new sewing challenge every week. Past themes have been UFOs (unfinished objects, something I dearly need to work on), summer dresses, black-and-white Ascot outfits, ugly patterns, and movie-inspired outfits; the point is to be sewing weekly. Well, I decided that I needed more structure to my sewing so I decided to try last week's challenge: since it was Independence Day, sew something inspired by an American designer. At first I was going to do something related to Jason Wu, since after all, he's Asian and so am I...but honestly, I just wasn't inspired. So I looked through the list of American designers, trying to see if I recognized any of the names. In the end, I just started clicking on random names. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon Betsey Johnson, who, according to Wikipedia, is "best known for her feminine and whimsical designs. Many of her designs are considered 'over the top' and embellished." A lot of what I saw was very vintage-looking, lots of colorful florals, and definitely whimsical.

My sheet supplier, Shayna, had also given me a lovely colorful thrifted floral sheet that had bows and lace, which is pretty much spot on for a Betsey-Johnson inspired design. I ended up using McCall's 5800, a retro-looking pattern, with a few modifications to make my dress. This turned out to be a mistake. I assumed that since a previous size 8 McCall's had worked out beautifully, this one would be a piece of cake. I didn't bother making a muslin, nor was I especially critical when trying on the pinned-together pattern pieces before assembling the dress. As it turns out, I am not...well-endowed...enough to fill out the top. I ended up making several spur of the moment corrections, and while it ended up mostly working, it's not my best fitting work.

The fabric itself is a poly-cotton blend with some eyelet lace sewn to the edge. I decided to use this as the hem of the skirt, thereby keeping the integrity of the original material, maintaining a Betsey Johnson-esque embellishment, and saving myself from hemming! Three birds with one stone! I need to give myself a bird-killing prize! Um. Right. Back to business. The lining is from another thrifted white poly-cotton blend sheet. Since I had two sheet's worth of fabric to gather at the waist, I decided to cut down the width of the skirt -- this is actually two-thirds of what they recommended. I can't even imagine how thick the waist would be if I did as the pattern said!

My emergency SBA hack consisted of gathering the straps at the front and back to reduce the amount of extra fabric flapping open. This ended up working really well since it gave me a place to put my other embellishments, a rose lace trim from WholePort's Creativity Expo. This company has amazing trims and laces and things, and they so kindly sent a free one-yard sample to me last week! It was the perfect shade of dusky rose to match the fabric, so I used it around the waist and on the front straps at the gathered spots. I couldn't believe how perfectly it matched!

Click to see my hideously uneven stitches.
One of the reasons why it took so long to put this dress together was that I hand-sewed the lining down by stitching in the ditch. Trying to maneuver aound yards of skirt while not tangling the thread was ridiculous. Then, because I apparently hadn't had enough, I also put in a hand-picked zipper per Tasia the Sewaholic's instructions. Mine doesn't look nearly as neat as hers, but it was definitely a good learning experience! I think what I mainly learned was that I don't like hand-sewing, unfortunately. While it is a cool effect, I don't know if I like it enough for it to be worth the time. Invisible zippers are much easier to put in, at least at my current sewing level.

Given how much time this project took, I don't know if I'm up for another Sew Weekly challenge. It's tricky because not only do I need to find the inspiration that fits the challenge, then I need to go get fabric and notions and a pattern. I have a decent-sized stash, but not a big enough one that I can always find what I have in mind. So in the future, I think I'll definitely try to participate in Sew Weekly by sewing something every week, but it may not always fit the challenge.


  1. Beautiful dress and it looks fabulous on you.

  2. Love this dress! I'm a sew weekly fan too! It looks great on you.
    Thanks for sharing.
    PS visiting from tea rose home

  3. Cindy! This dress is just so feminine and sweet! Good work!

  4. You did such an exquisite job with this dress!

    Have you heard anything from WholePort about the results of the Creativity Expo? It looks like you are definitely in the top 10. Wishing you the best of luck!

    New follower,
    Jenn/Rook No. 17

  5. @Jenn Erickson I haven't heard who the winners of the contest are...I did get a $2 off my next purchase coupon code from them, though! Thanks for following me!

  6. Nice dress, your necklace is beautiful!!!


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