Garrison Ballgown 2015


Yes, it’s that time of year again! Or it was, a couple of weeks ago.

This year’s ensemble was nothing like last year’s mammoth undertaking. With a tentative PhD thesis defense date set, there was no way I could devote that much time this year.

However, I may actually love this year’s ensemble as much as last year’s, and I certainly enjoyed wearing it a lot more! lol (this year’s was much more user-friendly!)

To make things easier for myself I used sewing patterns I already had, and just did a bit of frankenpatterning. I combined two 1950s patterns for the dress and used one other for the bolero.

I took the dress bodice from this pattern:

McCalls 9881c

And used the skirt portion of this pattern. Changes I made to this part: lengthening the skirt to be floor-length, eliminating the button-up front and making a seam + opening at centre back instead and I added a little extra fullness to the side front and side back pieces, because POUFFY:

Advance 6961 front

Once the drafting/frankenpatterning was done, the mock-up came together so well and so easily it was almost wearable itself! However, as not-bad as this ($1/m) fabric ended up looking, I had a GORGEOUS shot silk taffeta in mind for this and there’s really just no comparison.



You may notice that the side pouffiness of the skirt is not even between both sides in the above photos. That’s because I was doing a little experimenting with my crinoline.

I made a new crinoline for this ensemble that ended up being a whole mini-project of its own. I don’t have photos of every step in its progression, but enough for you to get the idea. I knew from the beginning that I’d want some extra oomph underneath the skirt side gathers to fill them out nicely. So I tried adding an extra piece of gathered, softer crin fabric to one side and it did the trick. They look like this:

2015-03-13 09.26.17c

I also, initially, started with a single-layer crinoline, but decided it didn’t have as much fullness as I wanted. It made the dress skirt look like this:

2015-02-27 13.12.31c

(yes, that’s the “spontaneous” spencer with it, I was working on them at the same time. I think they actually look kinda cute together, what do you think? lol)

(here’s another view of them together. heehee):

2015-02-27 13.12.02c

Anyway. To get more fullness I added a second layer to the lower two sections and that gave me the added fullness I wanted. The crinoline photo farther up is with the two layers. Here’s a gratuitous (superfluous?) photo showing the separate layers:

2015-03-13 09.27.54c

And here’s a photo of the actual dress showing the difference between having the extra piece under the side and not. It’s not super-dramatic, but I think it adds just that little bit extra which takes it from nice to really having presence. Or is it just me?

2015-02-19 08.29.11c

As you can see, I decided to accent this (amazing coloured) fabric with black. Oh, and the bit of blue you can see peeking out the bottom is some thin (almost sheer) but crisp cotton I found at Value Village to use as underlining to give the silk taffeta just a little more volume. Probably the most perfectly timed find I’ve made there yet, as I was just about to order some silk organza around the time I came across this. Even though the organza was well-priced at $6.99/m (USD), I got the whole piece of cotton (enough to underline the whole dress and make facings, and the bolero as well) for $6-7 (CAD) – can’t really beat that!

The neckline piping is from some silk dupioni scraps I had, the shoulder straps are from a piece of vintage/antique silk velvet ribbon I had to which I also added some dupioni piping along the edges (not that you can see it in these photos).

2015-03-19 15.21.26c

I got a 10yd bolt of wide vintage rayon velvet ribbon (it’s SO soft!) for the sash and back tails. I folded the ribbon in half for the waist sash (full width was way too much on short-waisted me) but left it full width for the tails. Initially I tried to find satin-back velvet ribbon, but couldn’t find width + length I needed. Instead, I doubled this up and whip-stitched the edges to make a de facto double-sided velvet ribbon.

2015-03-19 15.22.33c

It has a hand-picked zipper in the back, which I initially, intentionally avoided. I wanted a really clean line down the back so tried and invisible zip first. I know they’re not as strong as regular zips, but I made the bodice with a little bit of easy and added a stay at the waist to take the stress there. However, just after I got the zipper in (one of the last things I did – even though I know you should add an invisible zip before finishing the seam) and tried the dress on – the zipper first separated on me, and then broke completely when I tried to fix it/get out of the dress. I was decidedly NOT impressed. I got the zipper from Fabricland and don’t know if I just got a bad one or if the quality of their supplier has fallen. I fear it may be the latter and will not be buying another one from them in a hurry. Ultimately, I used a regular zip I had in my stash in a well-matching colour and all was fine. With the waist sash and tails you don’t see much of the zipper and it’s not like it looks terrible or anything, so I’m good with it.

For the matching/co-ordinating bolero I used this pattern and just modified it a little to have 3/4 length sleeves and meeting centre front edges:

Marian Martin 9390c

I had a devil of a time deciding whether to make it of the silk, accented with black velvet, or black velvet accented with the silk. I played around with the fabrics to try and help myself:

2015-03-21 11.13.42c

I even posted this on fb to get some advice but the opinions were nearly evenly split between the two. In the end I decided to do both by making it reversible!

Even on the evening of the ball I couldn’t decide which I liked better, so I just kept switching it around during the event, lol.

I didn’t do a whole photoshoot like last year, but got enough snaps to show how it all came together.








Dramatic Carolyn is dramatic.




I didn’t get the constant compliments and attention I did last year, but still plenty and I just loved wearing this so much! It was comfortable, it fit under the table at dinner so I was actually able to pull my chair in properly (unlike last year – that is NOT a sitting dress), it was so much lighter, it took a fraction of the time to make, and I spent so much less money on supplies and accessories (approx. $120 this year vs approx. $700 last year when all was said and done).

ETA: This dress has one more feature that makes me love it all the more – I added POCKETS into the side seams! That’s right, folks, it’s a ballgown with pockets!!

Of all the formal gowns I’ve made in recent years, this is the one I’m most looking forward to wearing again (and again and again!).

11 thoughts on “Garrison Ballgown 2015

    • I love the reversible bolero too. I’m so glad I that idea came to me. And it was such a great conversation piece with people at the ball, lol.


  1. This is a stunning dress! I love the piping detail. You look incredible in the outside photo. Bravo on the cost! It certainly looks much more expensive.


    • Oh, you know what – I forgot to factor in the cost of the silk taffeta and black velvet fabric since they came from stash and weren’t bought specifically for this project. But I got the silk for a great price, about $10/m and I got 6m; I don’t remember how much the black velvet cost, but it would only have been in the $5-for-the-piece range, if that. So, all told, still under $200, which I think is not too shabby. The specific costs for this year’s ensemble were for the crinoline fabric, the underlining cotton, horsehair for the dress hem, and the black velvet ribbon.


  2. The dress is absolutely gorgeous! I like it better than the one you posted in the link. My favorite shot was the one with the bolero in black — I thought it added contrast and looked beautiful. All the time you took in the details, like the piping was well worth it. I used to make formals every year for my daughter when she was in college and now I really miss it. I tell her that we should have a mother/daughter night out (maybe to a Michael Buble or Adele concert?) just so we can dress up and have some fun making formals again. She’s actually 8 months pregnant now so it might be a while!


    • A dressy mother-daughter night out sounds wonderful, even if you have to wait for it a bit! I wouldn’t want to make dresses like this ALL the time, but I really enjoy and appreciate having reason to about once a year.


  3. As impressed and enamored as I was (and am) with your Tree gown, OH MY WORD. This ensemble is just stunning!! The simple lines are so classic and chic, and the color is gorgeous, especially with your hair. You did an absolutely exquisite job, yet again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s