Dressing for a Canadian Spring

Especially pertinent this year, amiright!?

Anyway, a few years ago I came up with a method to help with the end-of-winter-everything-is-grey/brown-and-gross blahs.  As soon as March arrives I start wanting colours, pretty colours!  Spring fashions start arriving in the stores at that time, but there’s no way you can wear them without contracting hypothermia because it’s likely still below zero temps and there’s still snow on the ground (and at least one more good winter storm on the way during March, even when it’s not a polar vortex year).  The stuff in stores doesn’t matter to me much since I mostly don’t buy clothes anymore – it just makes me laugh to see spring and summer dresses in shop windows when there’s still lots of snow on the ground, lol.

Spring/summer patterns and fabrics start coming out at this time too.  It does make sense since it usually takes more time (and often planning) for spring/summer sewing than buying clothes, but I want something spring-y to wear in March/April!

My solution? Sewing clothes for “Canadian” spring.  Basically, this means making winter-weight clothes in spring colours!  I kind of can’t believe that no clothing line/brand has hit on this idea for Canada and other “climates of extremes”.

I also try to include making pieces that are transitional, such as fully winter colour clothes that are neutral enough to be combined with spring-coloured pieces and clothes that may not be heavy enough for deep winter weather, but work for that period transitioning between cold and mild (ie April – most years, not so much this one).

I don’t have a huge Canadian Spring wardrobe yet as I find the necessary materials tricky to source.  I like best to use woollens, and acquiring them in pretty spring colours doesn’t happen too often for me as I exist in a constant state of “I’m not really supposed to buy fabric” and only pick up pieces as I happen across them and feel I can’t live without them.

So, I’m adding to this segment of my wardrobe bit by bit each year and thought I’d show you the types of pieces I’ve got so far.

It really all started with these two skirts:


This lavender one and the yellow skirt below are both made from wool pieces I picked up at Goodwill or Value Village.  There was just enough of each for an A-line skirt.

The decoration around the pockets came from a combination of two tutorial on the Colette Patterns blogThis technique mashed up with this design idea.

This skirt is lined with a mauve silk jacquard I had in the stash and was never going to use for a garment because I wasn’t keen on the jacquard pattern.



Both of these skirts were made using this cute 70s pattern:

Simplicity 8241 front

The lavender skirt is view 2, minus the front slit, and I think the yellow skirt is view 1, also minus front slit and waist tabs.  I chose a different route for visual interest on this one:


The buttons are these funky vintage dome buttons I found sometime at the Sunday St Lawrence Antique Market in downtown Toronto.  They remind me of beehives!


Below is probably one of the most luxurious pieces of everyday wear I own.  It’s made of wool satin.  I got it for a great deal somewhere online back in 2008.  It was purchased to make this.  I had to take the 3 yd piece, but only needed about 1/2 yd/m for the stays.  So there was lots left over for a pretty dress!

You can tell that I was still into the swirly rouleaux trimming when I made this ;o)  Hmmm….I should try it again sometime, it’s a pretty cool technique, isn’t it?

The pattern is a combination of franken-patterning (bodice and sleeves come from 2 vintage patterns) and my own “drafting” (the skirt is a big rectangle box pleated into the waist).  Actually, the waistband was my own doing as well.  The idea came from a dress I made at least 7 years ago now (and still wear!) from a 1950s pattern. I made the bodice too short for me and in a desperate scramble made a waistband piece from some contrasting fabric.  One of the best sewing mistakes I ever made!  I loved how it turned out and have been making dresses based on the idea ever since (like, at least 6 – and I still make at least one every year!)


The bodice is lined with pink cotton and the skirt is lined with nude-coloured rayon bemberg lining (I couldn’t find either pink or ivory, boo).  This is a technique I’ve started employing the last couple of years and I really like it.  I’m pretty inconsistent with how I line things, it totally depends on what I feel is right for that garment.  In cases where I want to line the whole garment, but know I will be wearing it a lot (or exclusively) with tights, I really like this split materials idea.  I dislike the feeling of bemberg lining on my bare skin, especially around the torso, and much prefer the feeling of cotton (or silk! yum!).  I find the cotton so much cozier and comfier.  However, I need the skirt to be slippery over tights.  Thus, cotton for the bodice, bemberg for the skirt was the ideal solution! It doesn’t always look the tidiest on the inside since the fabrics are often mismatched (for me, anyway, as I try to use stash stuff as much as possible) but it’s the lining, so I don’t care! (most of the time)


The dress below is lined the same way as the pink one above.  I did a little better and more fun on the fabrics, though.  The skirt is lined with solid light green bemberg and the bodice with a cute little green on white cotton print.

This dress is made from a wool blend of some kind.  I found it at Fabricland on one of their ‘designer ends’ tables, so it was invariably labelled “100% unknown fibres”.  There’s definitely wool in there, though.  It’s warm, it presses and steams well, and smells like wool when wet.


Oh shoot, I should’ve photographed it with a belt, I usually wear it with a white one that really sets off the fun button on the collar tab.


This one comes from another cute 70s pattern:

Style 3994

(Incidentally, this is also the pattern I used for my Fall for Cotton dress)

The dress below is for more of the “spring is a real possibility” phase of this transitional time.  It’s made from stretch cotton sateen and I really should have pressed it before photographing it.

Anyway, it’s unlined and until June will be worn with a cardigan and until May (or, who knows, maybe June this year) with tights.  To wear it with tights I wear a half-slip underneath it.  I’m really into the idea of wearing slips rather than lining everything.  I still only have one, but wear it ALL THE TIME through fall/winter/early spring.  Wearing slips instead of lining everything saves both resources/money and time: win-win! Oh, and this also enables me to wear some warmer weather dresses and skirts during cooler times as it adds a little bit of warmth and makes them wearable over tights!

Oh – and this dress is another version of the “waistband fix” idea I mentioned above.


Oh dear, so rumpled-looking.  I swear this is really pretty when worn, I get lots of compliments on it.  And it looks super smart with a black belt and accessories!


I call this my “Chanel” skirt.  Something about the black + cream + stripes makes me think Chanel-ish for some reason. As opposed to the coral dress above, this is a mainly winter skirt that can segue into the transition to spring.

This skirt is made of a wool fabric called “Viyella” (although it was a random thrift-store find, it had a Viyella label affixed to it). I did a little research into the name and believe it was a popular fabric in the early 20th century for warm wool undergarments.  It’s pretty soft to the touch and supposedly washable.  I might have been willing to put that to the test, but the grosgrain ribbons that make up the stripes would shrink like crazy, being cotton/rayon. Trust me to make a washable wool garment unwashable!


You can’t see it, but I lined this skirt with some leftover ivory satin lining.  The lining has some body to it, though it’s not kasha lining (satin face, flannel back) which adds substance to the skirt, and makes it super slippy on the inside! (I don’t know what it’s fibre content is, adding to the unwashability).


These two dresses are last year’s additions.

This one is made from a medium weight cotton something (I found it in a drapery section) trimmed with ivory cotton bias binding. It’s unlined and I often wear it with a little cardigan over top, my full-ish half slip under it and the ubiquitous tights.


There’s a little hook and thread loop to fasten the waist trim over the zipper!


I used Burdastyle magazine pattern 108 from the Oct 2012 issue for it:

108B 1012 B

Below is my first Macaron from (I hardly need say) Colette Patterns.  To be honest, I wasn’t in love with this dress when I first finished it, but it’s steadily growing on me. It’s made from a green/blue windowpane check that I think is one of those raw silk suiting type fabrics.  Maybe mixed with linen?  Maybe not.  I found it *somewhere* years and years ago.  The blue contrast is a remnant piece of wool (gabardine, maybe?) left over from a suit I made in 2009 to wear to my MA thesis defense (I need to find occasion to wear that suit again – it has piped welt pockets!).  I lined the bodice of this with blue cotton (leftover from some experimental dyeing of a thrift store bedsheet). I left the skirt unlined and wear the half slip with it.



I think I need to make some summer Macarons!

And here’s what I’m hoping to add this year:


This is Vogue 1317 by some guy designer named Ralph Rucci. Upon closer inspection of the pattern I discovered that the front is actually vented and there are pockets in the side front seams.  I’m going to eliminate both of those and alter the pattern to have just a normal side front seam.  As much as I love pockets, adding bulk right over that area on a style that’s kind of fitted through the hips is just not going to look good on me.  The design of the pattern also eats up just a little more fabric than I’ve got, so doing this will also mean I have enough fabric for it. (I initially considered doing the tie and back waistband in a contrast colour, which I think could look great, but for this one I just prefer monochrome).

My fabric is this wool blend from a store in Toronto.  Hey, they have a FB page!  Although it’s a blend, it really smells wool-y, so I think there may be only a little of something else.


So that’s the bulk of my “Canadian Spring” wardrobe, which gets interspersed with more wintry clothes until the temp gets above about 10C when it’s interspersed with more spring-y clothes, lol.

How have you adapted your sewing to the needs of your climate – if you need to?

p.s Thank you so much for all the lovely comments and compliments on my Tree gown.  I loved sharing it with people who can appreciate the monstrous amount of work it took, lol.  And I have to say I was a little surprised at just how much love the cape got!  Photos from our “photoshoot” are hopefully coming soon!

Jimminy Crispies! There’s a Charles James Gown in my living room!!

It’s finished! It’s finished!  Okay – so, technically it was finished almost 3 weeks ago.  Since I had another Garrison Ball gown to finish afterwards (for a friend), I’m pretty behind on blogging about this.  Oh well.

Before I get to the final reveal I’m going to take you through the bodice finishing, I’m really happy with how cleanly it turned out.

Oh, and if this is your first time seeing this project, you can go here for a list of the in-progress posts – if you’re interested.

I had one image of the bodice interior to go by, and tried to get it as close as I could (though I do wish I’d had pink silk satin, how pretty would that have been!)

Interior of James Tree

First off was setting in the bodice lining.  I did this by simply pressing under the 1/4″ seam allowance along the top edge and basting it to the bodice foundation with prick stitches.


A close-up of the stitching:


I bound the lower edges with a self-fabric bias strip.


I put in the bodice lining before inserting the zipper as I wanted to get the upper edge allowance of the dress fabric sewn down first – there’s a photo of that done below.

To get the correct zipper placement, I tried the dress on and had a friend pin me up the back and directly mark the line of the pins (thanks again, Sarah!).  I then basted along the marked line with some extra silk thread:


Sewing the zipper into this was a B***H.  Well, the upper end was fine, but towards the bottom, with all that pleated fabric from the upper skirt portion….ugh.  Here I am in the middle of it:


To get the spacing of the stitches even, I marked them out on the right side.  I’m not normally this anal with hand-picked zippers, but I sure as heck was gonna be with this one!


Here’s the zipper all done.  Perhaps not as 100% perfect as I might have liked, but I think it was about the best I was going to get considering all that bulk towards the bottom.  Giving it a press did help a bit.


Here’s the mostly-finished bodice interior.  I folded the back edges of the lining over the zipper tape to enclose it and hand-sewed it with small whip stitches.  I left the edges of the dress fabric raw, as on the original, and found that the catch/hem stitch I used (as elsewhere) did a great job of keeping everything neat and clean.


The final touch was adding a waist stay.  I did cross stitches at the centre front to anchor the stay, then made short chainstitch lengths at the side and side back and attached them to the upper edge of the stay.  This is what’s in the original and I think it’s a great idea – gives the stay greater flexibility and allows it to be really snug.  If you look closely at the hook side of the stay, you’ll see there are 2 sets.  The horseshoe shaped ones are the before-dinner hooks, the bars are the after-dinner hooks! lol


So, without further ado – drumroll, please – here is my finished version of Charles James’ Tree Gown! I kinda can’t believe it, it looks how it’s supposed to!!





And I made a matching/co-ordinating evening cape to go with it!

As soon as I saw this image I was in love and knew I had to re-create it:

Amazing design, vintage Edwardian cashmere cape! - 1912

Here’s my version, funnily enough I think it gives the dress an almost 1930s vibe.


Little bit of a funny story with this evening cape: when I first finished it, had it on the dressform by itself and took a few steps back to have a good look at it, well….after about a minute I had to admit to myself that it looked kinda like a superhero cape. I think it’s this particular silver + pink combination.  I did the “blink. blink.” thing for a moment or two and decided “well, so be it”.  I do feel rather like a sewing superhero for making it all the way through that dress, so I’m ok with a superhero cape to go with it.  Of course, that didn’t stop me being relieved that it looks a lot less like a superhero cape when it’s over the dress, lol.


The only photo I could find of the cape was the one above, so I had to guess how the back looked and how it fastened.  This is what I came up with:


This brings my Tree journey almost to the end.  The Garrison Ball was actually last weekend and a friend in Toronto graciously agreed to do a little photoshoot with myself and the friend who’s dress I also made.  I don’t have those yet, but will post the best of them once I do so you can see the whole look I put together!


Tree Progress: Bodice and Upper Skirt Covering – aka: Very Scary Part!

Draping is not something I have a lot of experience with.  So choosing a style to reproduce where one of the main features is a lot of draped tucks to create a very sculptural look was not a decision that was good for my stress levels.  This part was far more intimidating than any of the hard-core foundation work that came before.  I think a lot of my trepidation came from when I was working on my wedding dress.  I spent at least 3 months trying to make a one-shoulder draped and ruched bodice work and just couldn’t.  Ultimately I scrapped it and went for a much simpler design – ironically, it was taken from another Charles James gown!  Aha…ha….ha.

I was scared to start this, so I put it off as long as possible.  As part of procrastinating against the inevitable I decided to do a really nice finish to the upper edge of the bodice that would never been seen once it was finished.  Unfortunately, I only remembered to take pictures after the dress was back on Maddy and ready for muslining the bodice covering.  Putting the dress on Maddy and taking it off her again had got to the point of being pretty labour-intensive, so exterior photo of this only. Sorry!  There was only a 1/4″ seam allowance for the bodic upper edge; what I decided to do was sew a length of narrow double fold bias tape around it, turn it to the inside and hand-stitch it to the bodice foundation interior.  This did have the practical advantage of adding more substance to that edge so it would hold-up better when it came time to fold all the pleated fabric of the bodice covering over it.  At least it seems logical to me that it would.

NB: the shoulder straps are not sewn to the bodice front here, just pinned.  And no, you’re not seeing that wrong, they are not showing identical fabrics…..


Speaking of which, another part I decided to do before delving into draping was make the shoulder strap foundations.  Each strap has 4 layers: silk taffeta, horsehair canvas, heavy interfacing and plain cotton.  I needed them to be very sturdy for how they would be covered (a neat discovery I made and describe below)


Once put together I decided to shape them a little.  I don’t know if this really helped so much but, it was neat to do and it contributed to procrastination.


When my other hand wasn’t holding a camera to take this pic, it was holding the iron and steaming the shoulder strap like this.  Too bad I forgot they weren’t symmetrical and made 2 of the same side.  Bugger.  But since they’ll be completely covered, it doesn’t really matter… right?


Well, I could put it off no longer.  I couldn’t think of anything else I could on the dress before the draping.  Eep.

Using the photo below as a primary guide (to the point of doing my best to count out exactly how many tucks there were, and of which type) I cut out a 60″ square of muslin, turned it on the bias and got tucking and pinning.

News Photo: Evening dress Tree 1957 Silk taffeta by Charles…

Guess what?  It was much easier going than I expected (who knew!?) and after some finagling this is what I got:




Hey, hey!  Not too shabby! Since I was going to use this piece as my general pattern piece I cut off around the underarms and back with a generous, if not totally even, allowance.




When I cut out the fabric I gave it a little extra allowance just to be on the even safer side.  So far, so good.  But I still needed to give myself until the next day before doing it “for realises”.

Again, it took a few re-starts and some more finagling, but I got there:



Whew!  Now I just needed to sew it all on!!!  You can see in the photo above some of the monstrous amount of pinning I did after the initial draping.  Because the bodice foundation is only one layer it would have been very difficult to do the stitching with the dress still on Maddy and not end up sewing the dress to her.  So I pinned the be-jeesus out of it and took it off the dress form to stitch.

This is what it looked like with all the pins in – it took every last one of my good silk pins! (and I’ve been coming across the occasional pin since that fell out during this process)


I should have tried to take a shot of just how I stitched the tucks down, but it may not have worked too well.  I’ll try and describe.  Basically, I basting stitched between the bodice foundation and the underside of each pleat/tuck.  I tried to not take too many stitches in the dress fabric since I wanted it to retain a smooth, free-flowing (?) look, not look too tight or over-worked.  Here’s how it looked from the underside:


Yes, the right-hand back is differently stitched……


I tried out a slightly different method on that side wondering if it might be better…


It wasn’t, it resulted in the tucks being less secured and not keeping their creases.  I ended up going back and re-stitching this side.  Ah, well.




Next it was time to cover the shoulder straps.  I was really tickled when I figured this out.  Initially I thought they were covered by a similar pleating/tucking method to the bodice.  But when I examined the interior photo of the original I noticed there were no seams on the underside of the straps or stitching to indicate such a method.  Then I realized it was so much simpler and easier and more effective than that – the straps are covered by a length of self-fabric bias wrapped around the straps!  So easy, but so clever!  I had figured this out before assembling the strap foundations, so that’s how I knew I needed to make them really sturdy – they would be under pressured from necessarily tautly wrapping the bias around them.  Actual implementation was a bit fiddlier than I’d anticipated, but not too bad and the result was great!  The upper strap shows the right side and the lower strap the underside.  Oh – I had sewn the straps to the bodice back before binding/finishing the upper edge of the bodice foundation.


So here’s how it looked so far. I was very pleased, and even more relieved!



Much better!



After tackling the bodice successfully, I was much less scared of covering the skirt.  I also decided to divide it into 2 pieces, an upper and a lower, to make things easier on myself.  I don’t know if this was done on the original, but I think it’s plausible.  This is how the upper skirt turned out (well, pre-stitching):




I did muslin it first, but appear to have forgotten to photograph it.  I may or may not have been just too excited at how well this was progressing to remember ;o)

So here’s the whole thing at this point:




Eeee!  It looks like it’s actually really coming together, eh?  Even more relief!!

The lower skirt piece is a swag of fabric in the shape of a rectangle with a narrow triangle sewn to each side, gathered at the sides, seamed up the back and loosely draped over the foundation and just tacked here and there to it.


Sorry for lack of more process shots of this part, but you’ll see how it works in the next post – the big reveal!


Tree Progress: SKIRT FLOUNCES!!!! (or – where one’s vanity can lead)

You guys, I think this was probably the most fun part of the whole project!  Huge, multi-layered tulle and silk flounces?  YES PLEASE.

I did not have any pattern pieces or measurements for the flounces so I had to wing it.  All I knew was that there was supposed to be a lot of fabric in these, so with “a lot” I went!  My math went something like this: guestimating that the circumference of the petticoat flare was in and around 2m (just over 2 yards) I figured 4x fullness should be pretty good.  So, each flounce layer is 8m (about 9 yds) in circumference.  Whee!

I knew there were supposed to be six layers of tulle flounces from the exhibition catalogue Tim Long gave me, and I also knew I wanted to try and re-create the effect from a couple of original examples:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - "Tree"

This version is at the MET Museum

News Photo: Evening dress Tree 1957 Silk taffeta by Charles…

This version is at the Chicago History Museum (and is the one I’m directly reproducing)

I had quite a bit of fun picking and playing with colours of tulle at Fabricland and finally settled on this arrangement.  Left to right = inner to outer layers:


I pieced each layer separately, then laid them on top of each other, in order, and machine basted them all together around the top.  This is the effect of the colours layered, pretty nifty, eh?


I used my indispensable ruffler foot to gather/pleat up the tulle into this:


I had decided to cut the layers of tulle all one length and deal with height change afterwards, it seemed easiest that way.  Just cutting, seaming and keeping track of all that tulle was fussy enough, but trying to figure out cutting and keeping track of pieces of differing sizes?  *ouch* my brain hurts thinking about it.

Instead, I pinned the gathered flounces to the dress along the basted stitching line, raised Maddy (the dressform) up so that nothing was dragging on the ground, measured an equal distance up from the ground all the way round using the back length of the flounces as a guide since they were cut to the longest length needed.  I pinned along the equal measurement all around and cut along the pinned line, like so:


And, voila! (hee hee hee, I love my tulle flounces so much!)




Here’s a (not awesome) close-up of the stitching.  I used the same type of hem/catch stitching as I did to affix the buttress petticoat to the innermost skirt layer at the waist.


Next up was the yoke to which the dress skirt flounce would be attached.  In the photo below, the left side is the centre front and the right side is the centre back.  This shows the yoke’s orientation on the dress, with the front low and the back high.


I made a little mistake when cutting the yoke pieces by not taking into account that I had added to the hip measurements of the original pattern and that this would have a trickle-down effect for the yoke.  But it was fairly easily remedied by adding in a little wedge-shaped piece at the back:


For the skirt flounce I did cut the pieces according to the height change around the upper edge.  I did this with the dress fabric, the white broadcloth interlining and the silver taffeta lining.  I figured out the cutting by dividing the lower edge of the yoke into six (the number of panels/fabric widths that would make up the flounce), pinning it to the dress along its stitching line and measuring the length at each point.  Once cut, I had to re-seam parts of the dress fabric layer about three times because I kept getting the order wrong. Ugh.  Once I finally got that all sorted I sewed the three layers together at the hem first then machine basted them together along the top edge:


I put the ruffler foot into action again to get this (yum):


I left in the pins dividing the yoke lower edge into six and matched them up with the six panels of the flounce to get the placement of flounce on yoke correct – also because I knew the ruffling of the flounce would not end up being the exact measurement of the yoke lower edge. Oh, and I bound the upper edge of the flounce with bias binding after I ruffled it because the pink silk was fraying like mad.


I sewed the flounce to the yoke with that same hem/catch stitch used before:



Check it out, big, gorgeous skirt flounce!




Now, you may be able to just make out in the photo above that the yoke is not actually sewn along the basted stitching line, but rather below it.  This is where the vanity in the post title comes in, lol.  So, I’ve not only been making this dress, but another ballgown for a friend who’s also attending and with whom (and her bf) my husband will be seated at dinner and spending much of the night.  This friend is a few inches taller than me and wearing shoes with about a 3″ heel.  I had initially intended to wear a pair of silver peep-toe pumps I already had that are cute and super comfy, even they’re getting a bit beat-up.  However, they only have about a 2″ heel.  This means that I would have looked even shorter than usual next to my friend and I just couldn’t have that.  So – I bought a new pair of silver pumps with a 4″ heel.  Yeah!  Silly reason for new shoes? Yes.  Worth it? Totally!  These are the new shoes:


They have the added bonus of being almost the exact colour of the taffeta lining the skirt flounce.  They are also beautiful (!), seem to be very sturdy and well made, and are pretty comfortable for their height.  So I call them a big win!

So, anyway.  Since I changed shoes after I’d made the flounces – but before I’d sewed them onto the dress, thankfully – it meant their placement had to be lowered.  Another slight inaccuracy compared with the original, but oh well, I can live with it. ;o)

Next up is the scariest part (for me) of this project: the draped and tucked bodice and upper skirt overlays – eep!


Tree Progress: Petticoat Flare

After the “buttresses” the petticoat flare was the most revelatory aspect for me of Tree’s foundation.  With support from the buttresses this piece really creates the base shape for the dress skirt and I found it a really interesting piece of dressmaking.

I didn’t take as many construction photos of this layer as I perhaps should have, but for such an odd-looking piece I think it’s actually pretty straight-forward once you see it made up and on the form.


The hem of this piece is deeply faced (both inside as well as out!) with the dress fabric in case the underside of the dress should be exposed during movement (like dancing!)


the lines of basting stitches on the white taffeta denote placement lines for the tulle flounces (the lower line) and the yoke to which the dress fabric flounce will be mounted (the upper line)


I did remember to take a couple of photos of the underside of the petticoat flare to show some of the construction.  You can see where horsehair canvas was used, some of how the pieces were put together and placement of the horsehair braid at the hem.  It feel kind of like traditional tailoring-meets-frou-frou-dressmaking!


Here’s a (possibly superfluous) detail of the horsehair braid, showing the string at the upper end pulled to flatten the braid down around the curve of the hem.  The pins you see the undersides of are holding the outer dress fabric facing, this underside also got covered by an identical facing.


In the photos of the finished petticoat flare above you can see that it collapsed inwards at the centre back.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to do that or not but I didn’t like it.  I also knew that the weight of the tulle flounces + the dress fabric flounce (mostly the latter) would likely cause it to collapse even more. In this photo of Tim’s reproduction for the Chicago History Museum exhibition you can just make out that there is a bit of a dip in the back, but less than on mine.


So I decided to make my most significant departure from what I knew of the original construction and add a cane hoop inside the petticoat flare.


I wasn’t thrilled at having to do this since it altered the dress from what I understood as the original construction, but I had to do something.  Not having been able to examine the original dress, I don’t know if the current material equivalents of what was used in the original dress may have been different and stiffer/more substantial than the ones I used or if there was anything else going on that I don’t know about.  In any case, I consoled myself with thinking that adding the cane was something Charles James might plausibly do.

It’s tricky to see in the photo below, but the hoop, encased in leftover plastic boning casing I had on hand (I knew there was a reason I hung onto that!), is stitched at the upper edge of the dress fabric facing.  You also get a little sneak peak of tulle flounces (SO MUCH FUN, just you wait and see!)


This is the result of adding the cane hoop and I’m pretty happy with it.


Fortunately, it doesn’t alter the shape of the petticoat flare very much, just adds support and actually makes the lines cleaner.  It does cause the front of the piece to stick out a little more than probably intended, but not more than I can live with or will be mostly masked by the layers that go on top.


And it gives a nice full backside! lol


So what do you think of my cheat? Acceptable?  I do wish I’d had the leisure to ask on this before going ahead with my solution but time has been tight, and time blogging is time not sewing!  Would you have done something different?  If so, do tell.  I can’t/won’t change it now but would still be interested in your thoughts!

Next up: flounces!  Fun, floofy flounces!!

Tree Progress: Buttress Petticoat!

For me, the buttress petticoat is really one of the most fun and illuminating aspects of the structural design of this gown – and Charles James’ approach to couture overall.

This was also one of the trickier bits to get right … so far (I’m still terrified of the bodice and upper skirt pleated draping to come!)

This is one of the buttresses below with all layers quilted together – with pink silk thread, of course!


These are the layers that comprise each buttress, from top to bottom: plain cotton, cotton crinoline/heavy woven non-fusible interfacing, stiff synthetic crinoline, another layer of plain cotton.  My buttresses have 4 layers as opposed to the 3 layers recorded for the original only because I mistakenly cut pieces out of the synthetic crinoline as well (oops) and didn’t want to waste the pieces.  In the end I don’t think it hurts having a little extra substance and stiffness in there.


Silly me didn’t take a photo of the right side of the buttress all bound, but oh well, you get the idea.  I used some wide bias tape to bind the upper edge of the buttresses.


And added narrow binding to the lower edge, which you can just make out in the photo below.  I stitched down the lower edge so as to form a casing for boning.  The original is apparently boned with cane/reed but I was concerned it might snap when I sat down (the ball includes dinner – it’s going to be really interesting to see how that works out with this dress and whether it will actually fit under a table).  In this photo of the original dress you can see that the left-hand buttress looks like the bone inside may be broken.

News Photo: Evening dress Tree 1957 Silk taffeta by Charles…

Wishing to avoid that I used plastic boning.  I also noticed when sitting down that even when I just perched on a chair (I think perching will be my only sitting option in this dress) the upper part of the buttress would get crushed and not totally pop out again when I got up.  So I added the additional piece of boning you see here.


The actual ‘petticoat’ parts of this foundation layer are cut of pink quilting cotton on the bias.



Here is the shape of the cut-outs since I also forgot to take photos before mounting the buttresses:


At first I pinned them right on the proper seam lines, but then realized that because I had to widen the pattern a little through the hips that made the buttresses seem too far apart compared with the original.


So I re-positioned them using the seam lines as more of a guide placing the buttresses closer together and voila


As you may expect, the buttresses are handsewn to the petticoat and I actually decided to sew through all layers to really anchor them.  I’m not sure if this is what was done on the original, but in the photo above it does look like this may have been the case.  The stitching here isn’t really noteworthy and it’s less than beautiful.  I don’t care, those suckers are stuck on there good and solid!

Below is some prettier stitching.  This is the close-up photo I mentioned in my last post showing the catch/hemming stitch I used on both the innermost foundation and the buttress petticoat.  I did take care to sew the buttress petticoat to the innermost petticoat only, leaving the bottom part of the bodice foundation free.  I didn’t want to run the risk of causing any pulling there that might affect the hang of the skirt or lower bodice portion.


Next up is the petticoat flare, when the shape of the dress really starts to emerge!

“Tree” Progress: Bodice and Inner Petticoat Foundation

This isn’t the most exciting progress post there will be for this dress, but you have to start somewhere, right?  And while I’m currently much farther along on the dress than this, I think it’s preferable to keep the posts shorter and be able to publish them sooner rather than doing a single massive one that will take ages to put together.  I think these are also more digestible ‘bites’ of the process. ;o)

So, this is the very first layer of the actual dress that I cut and put together, where it all starts – the silk taffeta bodice foundation.

I think the photos show what’s going on pretty well, so I won’t write a lot about this step, except to confess that I’m still fine-tuning the shoulder straps and figuring out their exact placement.

And to say that I think this is quite a pretty design on its own that I’d consider using as an outer bodice sometime in the future (probably several years from now so I’ve had enough distance from this dress, lol).




Next comes the innermost petticoat.  The photo below shows how the three layers are arranged with the silk taffeta on the outside.


Here is one of the petticoat back pieces all put together, ready for seaming.  I worked the three layers as one and finished the edges with seam binding.  I don’t know how, or even if, the edges of the original(s) were finished, but I really like cleanly finished edges if possible, especially since the horsehair canvas is particularly fray-y.  These layers together create a really stable and sturdy result without a lot of bulk.  This will definitely be a technique I’ll keep in mind for any future projects that require a comparable degree of structure.


Here is the same piece from the underside, just for overkill.


Here is the innermost petticoat put together with the ruffle of dress fabric sewn to the hem and mounted to the bodice foundation.




I did leave the upper edge of this skirt layer raw so as to not create any additional bulk at the waist – ’cause no one ever wants that!  I hand-stitched it to the bodice foundation with this type of hemming stitch:

I have a close-up photo of this stitching with the next step of construction in the next post.

I didn’t have a pattern piece for the bottom ruffle/flounce so made an educated guess on it.  I cut it from 2 widths of the dress fabric (which is 54″/140cm wide) and with an angled upper edge so that the hem would be level all around.  Then I just gathered it and machine stitched it to the bottom edge of the petticoat.

So, a short and sweet post today; next up – the buttress petticoat! (I just love being able to use the word ‘buttress’ in reference to a dress!)