Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Most Extra Lab Garment Ever

Apparently, when you take a non-elective class with the fashion department at Canada College, you are usually required to sew a "lab garment," aka something quick and easy to meet the requirements for lab hours and total number of garments sewn. This was the first time that I've had to do this, because somehow all my previous classes have been electives. The syllabus for my tailoring class said our lab garment should be something that goes with our coat, to make it into a complete outfit, but our professor said it could be anything. Most people made simple tops, some people made dresses from nice, well-behaved cottons, still others made easy gathered skirts from rectangles of fabric. I decided to be extra and make a 1920s-inspired evening gown to go with my coat. Also I was going to draft it myself. And I was going to use velvet. And I was going to add five yards of beaded trim that could only be sewn on by hand. And just to make things extra interesting, I wasn't going to bother making a mock-up; I was just going to just assume my draft was fine and try it on the week it was due, after all the work was finished and everything was pretty much irreversible. Maybe it's just as well my actual tailored coat was so simple.

In my quest to only sew my stash or secondhand fabrics, I already knew I was going to use this wine-colored stretch velvet leftover from costuming An Actor's Nightmare. I also had this lovely dark brown beaded and sequinned trim that I got seven years ago at the FIDM scholarship store, back when I still lived in The City of Culver City. I'd been saving it for a suitably glamorous project, and there was definitely no way I was going to do my own beading for a 1920s-esque evening gown, so it was the perfect time to use it.

I've used the armscye shapes from this dress before for my Anna May Wong dress

For my pattern, I started by looking at the shapes of pattern pieces from period publications, as well as the ones from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2, and then sketching out similar shapes in my size as best as I could based on my measurements. Then I just made a V-neck in front and cut the back piece down the middle and folded some of it back to make the very low-cut V. For the skirt, I was pretty limited by what I could fit onto the remaining yardage, so they were just four vaguely A-line pieces, with more fullness on the back pieces. Because of the shapes of my remnants, I had to cut it with the nap going up instead of down, but I actually like how it looks richer and more luxurious that way.

You can see how tricky it was to fit my pattern pieces onto my remnants. I originally planned to have the deeper V on the front and the back to be cut on the fold with a scoop neck, but I couldn't fit that onto my fabric. I actually like my final arrangement better, since it allowed for fun back details. Also, laying out shifty fabric with both a cat and a toddler around is an exercise in patience.  

After attaching the pieces at the center front and shoulders, I cut facing pieces out of the stretchy black net remnants from my Ursula skirt, then proceeded to brace myself for many, many hours of hand-sewing on the beaded trim and tacking down the facings. Thankfully, Disney+ had just come out so I went through The Princess and the Frog, Cinderella, Sleeping BeautyThe Little Mermaid, and Mulan while sewing. I sewed the trim on the top first, then attached the skirt and added the waist trim and and skirt front trim. The hem is left raw, since with my limited fabric I didn't want to lose any length (that also gave me the excuse to not have to figure out how to hem the velvet without sacrificing its slinky movement...pretty sure I would've had to do more hand stitching to avoid a visible hem line).

Blurry nighttime shot of my facings pinned into place. 

Because the deep V of the back meant that the straps would try to fall off my shoulders, I wanted to add a T-shaped decorative something to help hold everything in place, like in this vintage dress. Fortunately, I was able to find these brownish necklaces at Joann's that were a perfect match for the beaded trim, so I rigged up two of them to make the back detail. Of course, the cut of the back and slit in the center front of the skirt meant that I had to wear this over a slip. I had grand plans to try making a bias-cut slip from some cotton sateen, but of course didn't have time. Instead, while thrifting for my school's drama production, I found a brown slip that matched nicely and was a good length. I do need to adjust the strap placement a bit, but otherwise it was a perfectly fortuitous find.

Oops, the tag on the slip is showing and it looks like it may have gotten twisted around a little bit, but you get the picture. 
A closer look at the beaded necklace detail on the back, and you can see where my invisible hand-picked facing isn't really that invisible around the armscye...

Pattern: Loosely based on vintage garment shapes, but drafted for my measurements
Fabric: Weirdly shaped remnants of wine-colored 4-way stretch velvet that was originally 58" wide and 5 yards long, but had large sections cut out of it for a 1930s-ish evening gown; bits of black stretch net for the facings
Notions: 5 yards of 1.5" wide brown beaded and sequined trim
Total cost: Since the fabrics were all purchased for other projects, I'm counting them as essentially free. The trim was $1/yard, the necklaces were $15, and the slip was $8, so the whole fancy outfit was less than $30!
Would you make this again? Well, I do have a lot of beaded trim in champagne that I bought at the same time...but I think I would probably make a different look. As it is, I've realized that the shoulder straps are, sadly, a little bit too long for me. It's fine and wearable now, but it would be perfect if I could just pinch out half an inch at the shoulder seams. *cue tears* because of course all my trim is already sewn down. I doubt I'll ever bother with fixing it on this dress, but at least now I know if I ever want to use this draft again as a basis for another 1920s dress.
First worn: Again, just to class for pictures, but I'm hoping that now that we're entering the Roaring Twenties again, my life will suddenly, miraculously be filled with Gatsby-themed events to which I can wear this. *insert laugh-crying emoji here*
Final thoughts: I really seem to have a thing for making fancy dresses that I have nowhere to wear to, don't I? It's hard when I really like making pretty things but my life is really more about milk spills and cleaning up poop and putting away chemicals. But if I'm ever invited to a 1920s weekend extravaganza that requires multiple fancy dresses, I'll be all set!

Although when I think about it, I started making my fancy gentleman pirate outfit three years before I had an event to wear it to, or my Galadriel gown four years before reworking the sleeves for the LOTR symphony, so maybe in 2024 I'll wear this to the Costume College Gala or something...


  1. I'm very glad it's 2020, if only because I am hoping this dress style will make a resurgence. This is deceptively simple, so well designed and STUNNING on you. It's like medieval jewelry with some connecting velvet.

    I think the dress will find the event, like the wand finds the wizard. I don't think you will have to wait until 2024 to wear it. And you will not have to worry about your beads swinging the wrong way; you're already accessorized.

    1. I think jewelry-with-connecting-fabric is a spot-on description of a lot of 1920s evening gowns! Here's to hoping I find somewhere to wear this this year!

  2. It's so elegant! The necklaces at the back was a clever fix. I hope you have some glamorous events to wear it to this decade.

    1. Thank you! I was very pleased with myself re: the necklaces! :D

  3. This is stunning. Perhaps you could wear it to the Gatsby Summer Afternoon in Oakland (California) in September. https://artdecosociety.squarespace.com/adsc-events/2020/9/13/gatsby-summer-afternoon

    1. Thank you! Alas, this is most definitely an evening gown and not an afternoon dress, but maybe that's just an excuse to make an afternoon dress... hmmm...


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