Monday, May 6, 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly: Flora and Fauna


While I like my feminine dresses as much as the next lady, never before have I sewn a frock that deserves so much to be called a confection. Between the chiffon overlay, the beading, the embroidery, and the lacy pink satin slip, this is definitely more frou-frou than anything I've ever sewn before!

I tried to follow American Duchess' 1920s makeup tutorial, but I don't think it worked so well...mostly because the idea of wearing that much eyeliner freaked me out. I don't usually wear any makeup, so when I came out of the bathroom, I think Mr. Cation was kind of shocked. 
Extremely anachronistic Nine West silver stilettos, because I don't own any other light-colored shoes. These are actually from my wedding, and this is the first time I've worn them since then! The feather clip on my head sash is also from my wedding, originally purchased at Claire's, and then my necklace is from Forever 21. Hello, "flapper" look from the mall!
I love the way the bottom hem turned out, even if I accidentally broke three needles on beads while doing it. I was not wearing eye protection because it didn't occur to me, since, you know, I wasn't actually working with steel boning, and one needle tip actually flew up and hit my cheek. Yikes!

I used to think that 1920s fashions were the most unflattering styles ever, what with the straight bodices with little to no shaping and the dropped waists. But just like 19-teens era fashion, Downton Abbey has won me over and I just had to make an evening dress that would be appropriate for a party in West Egg. Besides, the Great Gatsby movie's coming out this week!

To get the shapeless gamine look, I wore a sports bra underneath the slip. 

I actually used to hate The Great Gatsby as a novel, too, but a second reading, a decade after high school English class, really helps me to appreciate it a lot better. Something about not having to finish it, along with homework for other AP classes, and write an essay at the end...

It was so bright outside that the embroidery and beading got kind of lost. Here's a better picture of what it looks like in person. Much pinker than the outdoor photos!

I originally wanted to make an 1840s-ish gown for this HSF challenge, but decided that between Elaine's wedding preparations and the AP Exams, I should probably hold off on such a complicated project. I turned instead to this embroidered and beaded crinkle chiffon, which was originally purchased with the intention of making a Titanic evening dress when I was still in the middle of Season 1 of Downton Abbey. That never happened, but thanks to the progression of time in the Downton world, this is still appropriate for an evening dinner party there!

I decided that the sash tied at the side was totally a thing. For example, these extant gowns

To start with, and to ease myself into slippery fraytastic fabric sewing, I made a pink satin slip to go under the very sheer chiffon. Thanks to Lauren, the American Duchess, for the very easy tutorial!

1920s slips are not flattering, but I did my best to pretty it up. I was inspired by these two extant slips, which are much more elaborate, of course. I figured that it was okay since the slip would be mostly hidden.

To make the overdress, I started by looking at the 1923-25 evening dress in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion. It's got no shaping (side seams go straight down, no darts) and is essentially a giant tank-top. I went with that general shape (but graded down for my size) for the bodice, but I was afraid that a straight-down side seam for the entire dress would be more unflattering than necessary. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples (from both sewing patterns and extant gowns) of straight bodices with fuller skirts, either through the use of godets or gathered rectangles. I didn't want to deal with either of those options because of the fussiness of my fabric, so I opted for a fraction of a circle-ish skirt, like these sewing patterns or this dress. I put together the front and back bodice and skirt pieces, then sewed them together at the shoulder and sides by machine, and finally hand-overcast the seam allowances to make them as unobtrusive as possible. The worst part by far, though, was trying to finish the armscyes and neckline with self-fabric bias binding; crinkle chiffon is the worst fabric ever, and yet I persist in using it for some reason. Even with all of Andrea's tips, I couldn't get it to behave! Between the crinkles, the general chiffon shiftiness, and the beads on the fabric, I ended up with the wiggliest bindings ever. To camouflage some of the worst of it on the neckline, I added a couple rows of extremely ugly beading. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking.

You can see how crinkly the chiffon is here. Also my hand finished seam allowance, which almost turned into a rolled hem due to the lightness of the chiffon.
It's like I was drunk when I sewed on the beads, except I totally wasn't. 

Summary:
HSF Challenge #9: Flora and Fauna...I've got the flora thing going on in the embroidery, and I guess the feather clip can be the fauna? I didn't make the clip, though.


Fabric: For the slip and sash, 2 yards of dusty-rose polyester satin; for the overdress, 3.5 yards of 45" wide polyester crinkle chiffon in cream, embroidered and beaded with a floral pattern. I didn't include these in my stashbusting pledge pile, but both have been in the stash since Oonaballoona and I ripped off the FIDM scholarship store, so I'm pretty pleased to have used it.
Notions: Cream-colored 1/2" polyester ribbon for the slip straps, cream-colored lace from last year's Vintage Fashion Expo,  almost 300 silver bugle beads for the overdress neckline (which I've saved for six years...thereby rewarding my penchant for never throwing away any craft supply ever)
Techniques used: French seams on the slip, hand-overcast stitch on the overdress
Hours: About thirty? I don't even know anymore, I've been working on it so long. I managed to watch a good chunk of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, all of North and South, and listen to a whole bunch of Radiolab podcasts.
Will you make it again? Extremely unlikely. I'm pleased with the overall experience and dress, but I'm not in need of more 1920s evening dresses!
Total cost: Thanks to the FIDM's mistake and the LA Fabric District's prices, less than $15!
First worn: Just for pictures, but hopefully to see the movie when it comes out
Final thoughts: When I was walking out of the apartment to take pictures, I felt super glamorous, and as a bonus the whole thing is remarkably comfortable. I am incredibly pleased with this dress and how successfully I was able to get the general look of the era, despite the anachronistic materials and accessories! As for those who might turn up their noses at the polyester and less-than-stellar beading, well, all I can say is, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." In this case, that would be the advantage of beading lessons and a large enough pocketbook for authentic materials?

And because B&W automatically equals old-timey...I did my best to channel my inner Anna May Wong, despite the failings of my make-up application:




81 comments:

  1. Your dress is very cool! It's very pretty, but I know what you mean about that era of silhouettes- it's very androgynous without shaping and with such long waists. It makes me wonder if all we do with fashion is recycle shapes from previous eras... Either way, the dress looks pretty great on you, and it looks super vintage and real to the era!

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    1. I'm so glad other people agree on the androgynous-ness. Androgynity? Anyway, I think movies coming out helps with the whole recycling of fashion...

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  2. Awesomeness! And that beaded necklines so does not look like a drunkpants mcgee application- it looks rad! Fab work :D

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    1. I suppose a truly drunken application would have ended up with them not on the neckline at all, but I had imagined perfectly parallel lines of beads...oh well! It gives it character :)

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  3. WOW! It is absolutly FABULOUS! I love it!

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  4. I love it and I think you look gorgeous! That's a beautiful silhouette on you. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to work with the beading. Good job for re-using your wedding shoes and accessories too. All of my wedding/bridesmaid shoes are been one-timers!

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    1. That beading was what attracted me to the fabric, but by the end I was cursing myself for choosing it! I was pretty excited to break out the wedding accessories again, though!

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  5. Fabulous! Adorable! Superlatives all round!

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    1. Awww, thanks! I love that you used the word "superlative," too!

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  6. *have been* one-timers (cough cough)

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  7. I love it! What a wonderfully charming dress. You really pull off the look perfectly :-)

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    1. That means so much coming from you, Lauren! And you did so much to contribute to my look for the photos!

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  8. I love this style! And the dress looks totally amazing on you. Well done!

    As for the Great Gatsby - I didn't ever "do" it in school, but I read it recently. Nice read, but I couldn't see what all the big fuss was about. The film might be fun to see. Loads of lovely styles and cool cars!

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    1. Heh, it's not my favorite book ever, but the rereading helped me to see it wasn't nearly as awful as I remembered. I'm really just excited to see the film for the eye candy!

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  9. That's a very flattering silhouette on you. I love the embroidery and beads on the chiffon! I was so much drooling over that, that it didn't occur to me to think about if it's a synthetic chiffon or not. The touch of pink of the slip dress gives it an extra pretty touch. You look as if you've just time travelled from that age.

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    1. That's so sweet of you to say! I knew that I had to have a colored slip if I wanted to avoid the bridal look :)

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  10. this is soooo beautiful you are so talented. Love following you you are a real inspiration

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  11. Miss Cation! This dress is gorgeous! I always was suspicious of flapper dresses since they are very much straight up and down but I think you may have converted me :D

    http://allthefabric.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. I was pretty suspicious too, but I'm glad that I was able to make it work! It's still not my favorite era, but it's no longer my least favorite.

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  12. I totally understand about the second reading. I actually liked Gatsby when I had to read it in high school, along with several other novels, but there are others that I'd really like to revisit sometime to see if I think better of them when I'm not reading them for homework purposes. Jane Eyre in particular--I'm ashamed to say that I avoided Jane Austen for several years after because I kept mixing her up with Charlotte Bronte!

    Lovely dress! Especially all that beading work at the top--it's quite gorgeous.

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    1. I think what helped me love the Janes (Eyre and Austen) was that I read them of my own volition, in college. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have loved them so much if I'd been forced in high school! I didn't read Charlotte for a while because I had bad memories of Emily's novel...we had an awful English teacher for Wuthering Heights, and that colored the whole era for me. A second reading last year helped, but I still get way too fed up with how silly Catherine and Heathcliff are!

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  13. wow! You look fantastic. Are you going to wear this to the movie? If so, then you're going to be a knockout. If only Leo were there in person!

    Don't fret about the neck binding - the dress is so busy and has so much going on that you can't even notice it.

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    1. I'm certainly planning on wearing it to the movie! If I had finished it in time, I could've tried crashing the Hollywood premiere :)

      I was freaked out about the binding until I realized that nobody was going to be staring at my armpits, where the wonkiest bits are!

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  14. I just had to pop over from my reader to tell you this dress actually looks pretty darn great on you! I'm not usually crazy about this silhouette on most (for obvious reasons you already know), but I second what's already been said by others--it works on you. :)

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    1. Thank you! I think the 1920s silhouette is pretty difficult to pull off, and even though I got the general shape right, it still looks odd to the modern eye. My husband isn't a fan of the shapeless look, even though it's period-accurate.

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  15. Beautiful! Your dress makes you look like you stepped right of the 1920's. I love the 1920's flapper dress look.

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    1. Thanks! I felt pretty awesome while wearing the whole ensemble...even if passerbys were wondering!

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  16. And what a confection it is!!! A true stunner. You captured the era perfectly. Really nice, detailed work.

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    1. As long as I don't give people cavities from the confectionery ;)

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  17. It's lovely and you wear the style so well! It took me years to fully appreciate '20s styles. I think it was the fact that I wished I had the curves to wear the pretty corset styles of earlier time periods. I've finally come to terms that Twenties styles look good on me, and I really like them now.

    I think you did a really nice job on the makeup - it's not too over the top accurate (that would look strange to our modern eyes). And you gotta love mall accessories for costuming! =)

    ~ Brooke

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    1. Knowing our similar shapes, I can imagine how stunning you would look in a beaded 20s dress! Have you ever made any? And yes, mall accessories are the best!

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    2. I've yet to make myself something really '20s. There is one dress I have on my list to make - probably a lace dress because I don't know that I have a place to wear something fancy and beaded. I have a few RTW things (like this outfit I put together) that have a Twenties vibe.

      ~ Brooke

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  18. Oh. My. Goodness. This is truly a stunning confection!! This style is magnificent on you, and I love the soft pink color that comes through - the sash ties it all together beautifully!

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    1. Thanks, Meg! I was a little dubious about using a lining-weight satin on the outside, but I agree that it's necessary to tie things all together.

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  19. Ooooohhhhhhhhh... you really do look like you stepped out of time in this confection (really there is no other word for this beauty.) I think on you the flapper fashion is so very elegant - it accentuates how tall and svelte you are.

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    1. The height is all camera angles ;) Thanks for your kind words, though! I may need to stay away from such frosting-y frocks for a while, though...I've got the sewing equivalent of dental caries.

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  20. It's beautiful! The style looks great on you.

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  21. Whoa! The dress turned out amazing, I love all the little details. It really is quite the confection...

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    1. Thank you for appreciating the details! They're like the sprinkles on the frosting...

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  22. Love this! I've been obsessed with 1920s fashion forever and I love what you did.

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    1. Aww, I'm glad it passed muster with a 1920s aficionado!

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  23. Amazing!

    I love the flowy hem. :)

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    1. Confession: the hem was only that flowy because I'm crap at my machine's rolled hem foot, so it got all stretched out at the bias parts. Happy accident, though!

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  24. Your dress is stunning! I'm gearing up to make my own 20s dress and I've been going back and forth over all the different options and trying to figure out what would look best on me. Thanks for all the links as well! Great job!

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    1. I'm glad all my links are helpful! I did so many hours of research trying to figure out what I wanted too, so I know the feeling!

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  25. love how the dress came out! this style really works for you, and i love the makeup you did. so pretty!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! It definitely felt weird using that much eyeliner (I felt like I was going to stab myself in the eye), so I'm glad it worked out as well as it did.

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  26. Stunning! The 1920's are my favourite fashion era! I love how the pink lining takes it from looking like a wedding dress to be a very stylish 'gal-about-town' dress!!

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    1. Hehe, yes, I definitely wanted to avoid the wedding look! I wasn't a huge fan of the 1920s fashions before I started this project, but looking at all the gorgeous extant gowns has really helped bring me around.

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  27. Wow, you look gorgeous. I don't know how you have made a 1920's shape look glamorous and feminine! The fabrics are so pretty, but it is the elegant silhouette that is commanding my admiration - that fluttery hem and the side bow are perfect

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    1. I think the pink+lace+beads really helps with the femininity, but you're right, the general silhouette isn't usually what comes to mind when one thinks about the most feminine era. I'm glad it all worked out though!

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  28. Beautiful dress! You pull off the 1920s look excellently.

    Teachers get stressed about APs too? I never knew!

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    1. Thank you! And yes, teachers get stressed about making sure their students are adequately prepped...a lot of teachers do extra review sessions and stuff, and in some places (not my school, thankfully), pay is tied to how well your students do.

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  29. I love love love it, have always wanted to make a 'flapper' dress and never got around to it. You are an inspiration!

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    1. You are so kind! Flapper dresses are actually quite easy if you're not going for an evening gown...the shapes are so nice and basic, although finding the right fabric can be a challenge.

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  30. Beautiful! I love the soft colors for this type of dress - very Mary Tyler Moore as Miss Dorothy. I really want to make a 20's era dress, but I just know it won't look good on me and I will feel like I'm totally in costume. They're so pretty, though!

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    1. I had to look up that role of MTM's, but wow, those are some pretty costumes! I think you could totally pull off the 1920s look, although I don't know what to do about the costume feel...I felt pretty costume-y when I was wearing my getup :)

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  31. A confection indeed - you look wonderful. I have the same issue with Thomas Hardy - after analysing every line of Tess of the D'urbervilles in English Lit I got to the stage where I couldn't care less about the ending. I should probably revisit but the memory of the homework assignment about milking cows still brings me out in a cold sweat!

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    1. Ooof, those analyze-every-line classes bug me to no end! If I hadn't had so many teachers like that, who knows, I might have enjoyed more of the classic novels!

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  32. It's a lovely dress and it suits you very well. Love it!

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  33. This is beautiful! It looks awesome on you! That's a hard silhouette to wear, but you're totally rocking it, and your hair, makeup, and accessories look great!

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  34. Dear lord this is lovely, and it suits you so well! I don't love this period or this shape but goodness if you aren't making it work! I adore this, well done.

    strugglesewsastraightseam.wordpress.com

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  35. You are awesome! I can't believe I missed this post until tonight - Thank You Kathleen for pointing me this way!!
    You've nailed it, I love your choice of sugarcoated evil fabric - it's totally worth it!
    And I especially love that you will wear it to see the movie ;)
    Lovely work!

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  36. I love this, it is so beautiful on you! I say make more in diffent fabrics and wear them more often!! That's how great it looks on you!

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  37. I am so in awe of how beautiful this turned out!!!

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  38. I'm not a huge fan of 1920s fashions either, due to the dropped waist and boxy styles, but I must say that you've certainly shown how to do it beautifully! The fabrics and colours and trim and everything are beautiful, and the way you've worked the shape looks so lovely on you, I am so impressed! As always, you're amazing.

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  39. You are fab and your dress beats out anything in the movie...

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  40. Oh my, your 20s inspired dress is just gorgeous!! Looks very flattering on you, as well, you have the 'shape' for it! I would totally wear this out to take the cat for a walk, if I was you. Don't save it for special occasions. :)

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