Thursday, October 13, 2011

Adventures in Fitting a Strapless Dress

Call me crazy, but I was looking back over my lists of resolutions and techniques, and decided to get a move on several items at once. Namely, make a strapless dress with boning that could potentially be converted into a halter dress, with a pleated skirt. And because I'm too cheap to buy an actual pattern, as well as eager for a challenge, I decided to draft my own pattern. Oh, and I've also never worn a strapless dress before, so I have no clue what a good fit is supposed to feel like. That sounds like a recipe for success, right?

I started with the bodice for New Look 6723, which I've made up twice before. I thought the fit was excellent, and I figured that a princess-seamed bodice would be easier to modify and adjust than one with darts. According to the pattern envelope for Simplicity 4070, a strapless version would simply involve cutting off the top portion of the bodice, right before the curve of the princess seam got too extreme. This, by the say, is foreshadowing for later. I should've known that it wasn't going to be that easy.

After doing some research online (which consisted of going to other sewist's blogs and hoping for snapshots of strapless dress bodice patterns so I could see what it was supposed to resemble), I took my pattern pieces and proceeded to make my adjustments. This was done very scientifically by holding the tissue up to my chest and using a highlighter to mark where I thought I wanted the neckline to be. I even made it a sweetheart neckline. Then I took the marked up tissue and used it to draw a new pattern onto some cheap wrapping paper. Easy, right?

Check out my ghetto green highlighter markings!

Comparison of my new pattern pieces with the originals.

I was so pleased with my new awesome pattern that I immediately cut it out in my fashion fabric. Nope, didn't make a muslin. Didn't even try to cut out the lining first. Needless to say, when I sewed it up, it didn't fit. What was perfect fit for a dress with straps was waaaay too loose for a strapless bodice. Plus, since I wasn't going to be wearing my normal bras with this dress, it was definitely too big in the bust area. Unfortunately, attempts to correct this by taking in the princess seams resulting in weird puckering and bulging. Undaunted, I made corrections to my pattern pieces and cut out a lining. AND ATTACHED IT. Weird bulges and all. I'm not really sure what I was thinking. Maybe that they would magically disappear?

Gaah! Weird bumps!

Look, Tim Gunn, I made it work!
When I tried it all on, I realized that there was some massive gaping going on up top to go along with the bulges. Remembering the amazing Marisa Lynch and her safety pin fixes for excess fabric, I gathered the top portion. Still too big. I pinched in a little of it and stitched that, kind of like a really bad dart. It changed the look of the sweetheart neckline, but good enough! I added in all the boning and patted myself on the back.

Pleating isn't as hard as I thought.
For the pleated skirt, I measured the skirts I had made before and chose the one that best fit onto the remainder of my fabric. Then it was just a matter of pleating, pinning, sewing, and pressing until it was the correct measurement at the waist. Unfortunately, after all of that, I realized that I didn't really like the look of pleats with that top. Pleats make me think schoolgirl, while a strapless bustier top looks...well, you know. Doesn't go together. Sigh.
Sexy's like a bad anime stereotype in a dress!

I decided to treat the whole ordeal as a kind of wearable muslin experiment type thing. After all, my real strapless dress is going to be a knock-off of Anthropologie's Cirque A Line dress. At least now I have a more or less working strapless bodice pattern, and I realized that inserting boning is the least of my worries when it comes to strapless dresses. Oh, and I also learned to think before I sew. Actually, I'm not sure I really learned that, since my mom has said this to me on multiple occasions, and yet here I go again!
I am quite pleased with how the inside looks, though. The grosgrain waist stay is so pretty; I'm getting better at hand-picking my zippers. And did I mention that I put in pockets? Even if I would never dream of resting my hands in a dress that depended on a ribbon to stay up.
I still need to figure out how I'm going to attach the halter strap. Or if I should even attach one (I like how it looks without, but honestly I would just be really nervous wearing it without any insurance, even though the waist stay and boning really help). I'm just using a darker purple wide bias tape to make the halter. I have the same color as a tie belt to tie it all together color-wise (no pun intended). So should I go for the traditional angling up from the top of the princess seam, or the loop coming from the middle? The former is more helpful for preventing wardrobe malfunctions, but I kind of prefer the look of the latter.
Look at my drawing on the computer skills!


  1. I've been following your blog for a while, and think it's awesome. :D

    When I read this particular post, I remembered something I had read about making a duct tape dummy...

    Might come in handy for you, especially when making stuff that's more fitted.

  2. @Grace Thank you for your comment! I think my problem wasn't so much not having a dress form, it was more that I just started sewing without checking to see if the pieces fit my body. I have entertained the idea of a duct tape dress form, but from what I've read, they deform easily.