Here’s my inspiration picture for this project – Kelly Rowland at the X-Factor auditions in Manchester a few weeks ago. Note the woman in the background admiring the back view …Kelly is wearing a fabulous bold print dress featuring a fitted sleeveless bodice with an semi-ellipse cut out at the chest and what looks like a short circle skirt. Unfortunately I don’t know the designer.
I love this dress – I mean, I absolutely LOVE it. Luckily I have a bold print of my own with which to make my version….
Step forward, hideous permanently pleated polyester!
This skirt is a real corker. £4.50 from Scope in Whitby, size UK 16, 100% polyester. It’s in permanent pleats which are sewn closed to about 6″ from the waistband. When I put this on for the before pictures, it didn’t look as big as a 16, which was slightly worrying as I was going to need a lot of material.
First thing was to open it up and see how much material there really was. This didn’t take long with a pair of scissors and a seam ripper, but as with this project, the material between the pleats had been cut away to reduce bulk, leaving much less useable area. I also had to tackle those permanent pleats. My goodness, they were difficult to get rid of… finally settled on having the iron that bit too hot and using buckets of steam to get a reasonable, but not perfect, result.
Not to be deterred, I began drafting a pattern for the bodice. I’m going to try to explain what I did here, which means this is going to be a very long post. If you’re not interested in this stuff and just want to see how the dress turned out, go ahead and scroll down to the bottom.
1. I have my own custom bodice block (or “sloper”) which I made myself using a vintage fitting shell pattern. It took a lot of hours to get this right but I am really pleased with the results. I can now draft up anything I like as quick as a flash, compared to before when I was using standard blocks and making the fitting adjustments every time. My block looks significantly different to the original block because I’m tall, long waisted, fairly square shouldered and my waist is surprisingly big compared to my bust and hip measurements. The fitting shell I used is Advance 8350.
This is roughly what my front bodice block looks like.
2. Here’s what I did next. I drew a horizontal line across the chest at the level I wanted the bottom of the cut out to be, and drew in the cut out shape itself (marked in red below left). The horizontal line is actually level with the bottom of the armscye. Note that the red arc is a quarter-ellipse, that is, it meets the red and blue lines at a right angle. I cut along the red lines. Then I closed both darts in the front bodice, opening a big short dart vertically above the bust point.
3. Next step was to shape the dart into a seam, courtesy of the red lines marked below left, not forgetting that the length of the two red lines must be equal. Then, I drew on seam allowances to turn the pieces into pattern pieces.
4. I drafted the back of the bodice. The block is shown below left. I joined the dart points with a straight line (red line) then shaped both sides (green lines). I cut along the green lines and added seam allowances to create my back pattern pieces (below right). There is a long zip up the centre back which is not marked here.
5. I made a toile. This was essential as the pattern had several flaws which would have resulted in an unwearable garment, which I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t cut a toile. The ‘before’ toile is below. The neckline is too high and too tight (green and yellow pins). The armholes don’t show off enough toned upper arm like Kelly does (white pins). Finally, the hole gaped. It really gaped a lot. I needed to shorten the straight edge by 2cm (1cm on each side) shown roughly by the blue pins. I also wanted to shorten the curved edge by 1cm on each side, but this was difficult to pin on the toile.
6. I made the following adjustments to the pattern. First, I shortened the straight edge on the side front piece by increasing the size of what would have been the dart, before it was shaped into a seam. I could have taken this amount off the centre front piece, but that would have ruined the vertical style lines I wanted. Second, I took about 1cm off the length of the curved side of the cutout by angling the horizontal line. These two anti-gape adjustments are shown by the red lines below. I also lowered the neckline and adjusted the armholes as per the green lines below. I recut my pattern pieces including these adjustments. There weren’t any adjustments to the back bodice other than the corresponding armhole and neckline adjustments.
6. Finally, I made another toile, just to check the adjustments worked. Success! I went ahead and drafted front and back armhole facings and a back neck facing. Front neck facing was not needed – you’ll see why below.
Still with me? Good.
In terms of construction… I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: how is she going to make a structured bodice like that out of light drapey polyester?! Well, the answer is, I interfaced the lot! I used medium weight fusible on the front pieces, but I ran out and had to use soft fusible on the back pieces. It’s worth noting that I managed to cut all the bodice pieces from the original skirt front, keeping the original skirt back to make the new skirt.
Here are the two upper front pieces right sides together.
I sewed the neckline and the curved cutout seams first, clipped, trimmed as close as I dared, and turned it the right way out. I wanted to do it this way to make sure the cut out curve was as stable as possible. The assembly of the rest of the bodice posed few problems. The curve around the bust point on the side front by now was quite tight and a little tricky. But I think it looks OK.
Here are a couple of in-progress shots of the bodice with the facings attached….
Unfortunately, there was never going to be enough material left to make a circle skirt. I was kind of annoyed about this because I wanted to match Kelly’s style as closely as possible. You can’t win them all I suppose. I ended up cutting a long rectangle from the original skirt back, preserving as much of the material as possible. I kept the original hem intact to save on material too!
I quickly overlocked the edges of the rectangle, gathered the top edge and attached to the bodice to make a quick dirndl-esque thing. It’s not ideal but it does its job. Finally, it was ready to wear!
I styled this with a black tuxedo jacket, nude shoes and a co-ordinating chunky necklace, a’ la Kelly. For my very quick and easy updo, I used this tutorial.
Here’s me, feeling positively bootylicious, pretending to be a movie star at one of my favourite cocktail bars, Beach Blanket Babylon :-)