Tuesday 15 March 2016

Polkadotted Twirling Dress

I can't think of a better name for this. It's a dress, it's covered in polkadots, and it's impossible to put it on and not start twirling, so polkadotted twirling dress it shall be.
This dress is made of 5.5 metres of vintage nylon chiffon-like fabric. I don't know the date that it's from, but it's probably from the 1950s looking at the print and the type of fabric. It's semi-sheer, has finished selvedges and is very vibrant in colour, but not the most breathable fabric.

The dress is self-drafted for a number of reasons. I wanted to use as much of the fabric as I could (only two very small offcuts didn't make it into the final product), and the finished selvedge meant I'd need a pattern that had straight edged skirt pieces. In addition, the width of the fabric wouldn't work for every pattern, so I decided I should just come up with something myself. It still took me about four years to both come up with how to use this fabric and have the courage to cut in to it. I haven't seen vintage nylon fabric any other time, and I doubt I'd be able to find much again, let alone something as glorious as this print, so I didn't want to wreck it.

In the end the width and amount of the fabric meant a very full maxi dress was the only choice. Because the fabric frays like crazy - not exactly a surprise for a nylon chiffon - I wanted to use the selvedges where I could. For all the other seams, I decided to cover them in bias binding. The larger polkadots were a obvious choice to have at the bottom of the skirt. The fabric was fairly wide, so works for an empire line to floor maxi skirt. I cut off about 50cm to be the bodice, and used the rest of it for the skirt.

Now I'm pretty small, and have a very narrow ribcage, so reducing the five metres I had for the skirt in so that it fitted me was fun. I briefly thought about gathering it, but that wasn't going to work with this fairly delicate fabric, so lots of pleats was the only other option. I've honestly forgotten how many pleats were involved, but from memory it was a bit over 60. In fact when I'd done the pleats it was still slightly too wide, so at each side I pleated the pleats in a further inch each. There's a lot of thread ends I still haven't brought myself to do something about!

The bodice is incredibly simple but effective. It is two strips of the fabric, slightly overlapped at the front, and folded over the shoulders to meet at the centre back. They're overlapped at the sides and hand stitched together to form simple sleeves. The effect gives it a simple V front and back, with hints of 1930s and 1970s styles. Given how big the skirt is I wanted the top to be as simple as possible. The bias binding just gives it that little bit of a finished look.

I decided to use blue bias binding rather than red to match the polkadots. I wanted a satin bias binding but couldn't find one in the darker shade of blue. Still I decided I preferred the sheen to the colour matching, so went for the royal blue shade. As it's only visible as a finishing for the bodice and is meant to be noticeable I felt the different colour was fine. Fortunately I already had a red zipper in my giant stash of zips.

When I started sewing I was using a size 9 needle, but the stitches were a bit loose. I had a look at my machine's instruction manual ,and it actually suggested using a blue-tipped needle to sew very sheer fabrics. I was a bit unsure, but it worked fantastically well. Because the fabric is delicate I of course was careful putting it through the machine, but didn't have any problems with it catching or tearing which I'd been scared would happen.

I have to be honest that I'm not completely sure when I'd wear this dress. It's very light, but it's so big that it's far too easy to step on. I think it's something that Florence Welch would love to wear, but it's not necessarily practical for most peoples' day-to-day lives. And as someone who's pretty good at tripping over and getting myster bruises. I don't know that a dress with five metres of skirt to tread on is something I should really be trusted with.

But the fabric was too beautiful to resist. And the twirly factor of this dress is so much fun, too. I think half my photos had to be discarded because they were fuzzy, but I just had to play with its movement. So I will find reasons to wear it, and just make sure to bundle it up in my arms when I walk so I don't tread on it or tear it.


  1. That's amazing! So dramatic, I love how you've made the most of that fabric :-)

    1. Thanks! I'm really happy I was able to do the fabric justice.

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