Monday, October 17, 2011

Late Sew Weekly: The Sound of Flying Daggers Dress

Last week's Sew Weekly challenge was to come up with an outfit inspired by a musical. As soon as I read the description, I knew I was going to make something from curtains, just like Maria did in The Sound of Music. I mean, I already make dresses from bedsheets; curtains aren't much of a stretch and it's still reusing and recycling. Also, The Sound of Music is the very first musical I remember watching. I have vivid memories of lying in bed in the second or third grade singing "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" while wondering what the heck a roue or cad was. I thought Rolf was so handsome and was absolutely devastated when he turned out to be a Nazi.

At the time, Liesl's gazebo dress and Maria's laendler-dancing dress were, to my mind, the epitome of perfection. Twenty some-odd years later, I don't think I like pink enough to try making the gazebo dress, although Edelweiss Patterns has a lovely version of it. I still love the laendler dress (that scene is my favorite in the whole movie), but I'm waiting for the perfect bedsheet to recreate it. So that left the idea of curtain dresses as my inspiration.

I found the perfect pair of curtains at the thrift store -- light and gauzy, 100% cotton, and no imperfection or weird stains. There was a tear at the very top where one would string the curtain onto the curtain rod, but that didn't bother me since I wouldn't be using that part anyway.
The light green bamboo pattern reminded me of Zhang Yimou's 2004 beautiful martial arts film, The House of Flying Daggers. If you've seen the movie (which I actually wouldn't recommend, as it's so artsy that it loses its momentum, characters, and plot), you know there's a bunch of epic fighting in a bamboo's all warriors leaping out of nowhere, flying through the bamboo, throwing flying daggers. Well, it just so happens that I carved a linoleum block a month ago of a leaping cat. So it was only a matter of stewing a couple nights as I lay in bed (but not singing "Sixteen Going On Seventeen") to arrive at the idea of printing cat ninjas leaping around the bamboo on my dress.
Cheerfulest ninjas ever.

I'd been wanting to use Tanit-Isis' birthday dress pattern ever since I saw it a month or so ago, as I'm always on the lookout for free patterns. This seemed the perfect time to test it, since it looks as if it would work best with a lighter fabric. Also, it gave me the push I needed to try shirring, which I vowed to do as part of Check the Technique. I had heard that shirring is difficult on Brother machines, and indeed my first attempt was nearly disastrous (always practice on scrap fabric before the real thing!). The elastic was all loopy and didn't gather at all. Before I went so far as to adjust the tension on my bobbin case, I decided to try what one commenter suggested and just wind my thread tighter. Well, that worked beautifully and now I am over my fear of shirring! When I finished, I just sat and admired my lovely shirred lines.
Okay, so they're not exactly parallel.

The dress went together smoothly, and Tanit-Isis' directions were quite clear. However, I don't know what I was expecting, but I think in my head I thought that as soon as I put on the dress I would magically, mysteriously, suddenly look like her -- poised and gorgeous with awesome hair. Big surprise: I didn't. The dress had some weird bagging in the chest area; there was so much fabric hanging down that I looked like those grandmas whose breasts have lost all the collagen and are now sagging down to their waists. To fix this travesty, I ended up putting an extra two lines of shirring over the original ones, curving up in the underbust area to gather up some of the excess fabric.

While better, this fix still wasn't enough, so I also put in a very tight gather on each shoulder. This ended up being the trick to get it lying the way I wanted it to. Even though this detail makes it a little different from Tanit-Isis' original dress, I think I still achieved the overall look, and I confess that I kind of like these little "embellishments."

So with both The Sound of Music and The House of Flying Daggers as inspiration for this dress, it only follows that I portmanteau the titles to get...The Sound of Flying Daggers. Which sounds a lot fiercer than it actually is. Anyway, I figured that I might as well bring out my old wooden katana for the pictures.

The kawaii ninja nekos belie the seriousness of my expression.

Back view. The V looks like it should be lower, but then I don't want it to slip off my shoulders, nor do I want to add a tie across the top.

Fabric: Thrifted cotton curtains ($6)
Notions: Elastic thread  (and fabric paint and a lino block? Do those even count as notions? Why are they even called notions anyway?!)
Hours: Four? But a lot of that was printing. And trying to figure out shirring.
Techniques used: Fabric printing, shirring
Will you make this again? Probably not, since I don't foresee needing two of this type of dress in my wardrobe.
Total cost: If I factor in the cost of the lino block and paint and elastic thread (the latter two were already in my stash), probably about $8.
Final thoughts: I can't complain about a free pattern, and I quite like how light and comfy this dress is. It's been a while since I made a non-form-fitting dress, and this is perfect for lounging in while I rewatch either movie. It's also loose enough to move freely should I need to fight, but not so drapy that it would get caught in something or hamper my movements.

Sidenote: Why is it that dresses made from curtains are all green? By all, I mean the ones in The Sound of Music and Scarlett's in Gone With the Wind. And mine, now, too. Not that my dress is in any way on par with the sumptuous luxury of Ellen Robillard's portieres.


  1. Anna and I tried to smock our dress, but it was disastrous for the both of us. We spent a good amount of hours trying to get both of our sewing machines to take our elastic thread. So now we have a dress that's 80% done...except for the smocking. I was going to borrow another machine and see if that would resolve the issue.

  2. It looks lovely! I love the shoulder-smocking and especially the leaping ninja cats! (And I don't even want to admit how many times I watched Sound of Music as a kid)

    And I, too, just may have added a few extra rows of smocking to mine to get the bust to fit right...

  3. The ninja cats are my favorite. I never would have thought of stamping on fabric that has a print already.

  4. I absolutely love the addition of the flying ninja cats! And, I like how you kept them to the bottom area of the skirt and didn't overdo it (a mistake I'm sure I would have made). I agree with Natalie's comment above, too: stamping on patterned fabric is something I wouldn't think to do on a garment, but now I may have to start looking at things a little differently!

  5. I love the stamped kitties! The dress is gorgeous anyways but that is such a cool addition.

  6. Too cute! That cat stamp that you carved is amazing.

  7. Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments! I don't know that I would have thought to add the cat stamps if the fabric didn't already remind me of the movie...and I just happened to have the perfect stamp already carved. Lino carving is pretty simple once you get the hang of it; give it a try!

    Melissa, how did the smocking go wrong? Did it refuse to gather?

  8. The stamped cats totally make this dress! What kind of ink did you use? Have you washed it yet to see if the impression changed?

    1. I used the Tulip brand fabric paint that I got at Joann's. It's a little too tacky for my taste, and it dries quickly, but it holds up really well. I've only washed it a couple times, both times handwashed in cold water, but the cats remain unchanged. No fading yet!

  9. On my to-do list for this week is to finish a dress that I am making out of curtains--and it's green! It's a sheer floral with a green sheet for the lining.

    It's not my first curtain dress, though. I used yellow sheer florals before, and I've used an off-white sheer with leaves, topped with a tapestry curtain bodice.

    I'm also working on finishing a pair of pajamas made from a sheet. Because people know I'll take old sheets, I haven't bought any of these curtains and sheets.


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