Saturday 30 April 2016

In Season Silk Comp: Boulanger Tea Dress

Another Tessuti competition, another entry. This time their In Season Silk Competition. Where the last competition was to make a version of their Kate Top, this time it was a make anything at all using one of two beautiful silk crepe de chines. Lucky for me (maybe not so much for my wallet) I work less than 10 minutes walk from Tessuti's Surry Hills store, so the day after the competition was announced on Instagram I walked over in my lunch hour to get my fabric. There were two fabric choices, I decided on 'Autumn Cluster', In Season Two. I chose it because I thought the floral print had more versatility on what to do.

It took me a long time to chose exactly what I wanted to make. Being a crepe de chine the fabric is soft and floaty, so a soft and floaty dress was what I needed. The colours are very autumnal, and also very 1930s, so I thought the 30s would be a good inspiration. I love Art Deco styles, so this fabric seemed perfect for something with that inspiration. But even with a chosen garment and time period it still took forever to choose exactly what to make. Pinterest was both a help and hindrance in deciding what to make. I have a Pinterest board of Art Deco gowns and they were all very inspiring, but a little too much - every time I had a look I wanted to choose a different dress as inspiration. But details like fairly open backs with some detail at the top and relatively simple skirts kept standing out.

This dress is my version of my favourite pattern, McCall 9043. It dates from 1936 and is designed by Louise Boulanger, a less well-known name but one of the most creative designers of the Art Deco period. As with a lot of spectacular 1930s dresses and patterns the back and shoulders are the focus. The open back was easy enough, just requiring the back pieces to be cut so they finish just past the shoulder blades. With the addition of the connecting strap at the base of the neck and the curved centre pieces at the lower back I was able to replicate the pattern.

The shoulders were harder to work out. I only had the picture of the final dress to go on, no idea of what the different pattern pieces were. They're curved so obviously part of a circle, and they fold back in around the front to join at the top of the shoulders. Finally I realised - it's a quarter circle! I tested with a scrap of fabric just to see if it would work and it did, so now I had a full plan for my dress.

Once I knew that I could design the shape of the dress it wasn't too difficult to make it. I drew up each pattern piece needed and set about making it. Where the original was a floor length gown I decided to shorten it to tea length so that I'd be more likely to have times to wear it. The contrasting fabric is just a soft polyester from Lincraft, but it was the right weight and colour.

The bodice is completely self-lined, but the skirt is unlined because I didn't want anything to affect the flow of the skirt. As the fabric is a light silk it does fray, so I covered the skirt seams in bias binding. The zipper is inserted by hand, and the lower edge of the bodice lining was also done by hand stitching in to the bottom of the contrast band. The sleeves have a rolled hem so they can flow as freely as possible, and the skirt has a 1cm hem.

The construction of the dress was relatively smooth. I did have to change what needle I used, though. Initially I used a size 9 needle as it's designed for delicate fabrics, and it worked alright for the silk bodice. But when I was stitching the silk to the contrast fabric the stitches were looking uneven and the thread broke three times. I dug out my machine's manual and it suggested using a blue tipped needle for fine fabrics if a small size didn't work. Once I swapped the needle over it all went much more smoothly.

 Because it took me so long to decide exactly what to make I didn't end up leaving myself a lot of time to actually sew this dress. The competition was announced back at the start of March, I cut into the fabric last weekend. Still, deadlines are a great motivator. I was also a little worried I woudn't be able to get good photos, because I don't have time in the mornings before work and by the time I get home it's dark and morning rain was predicted for today, but luckily the rain had cleared away early.

There are a few little things that aren't quite perfect, like the invisible zipper that is slightly visible, and where the contrast band meets the back bodice corners it doesn't sit quite flat, but they are only very minor. And I even have some fabric left over, so I can maybe make a small top or a matching 1930s capelet.

 Anyway, I have to say I'm extremely happy with the finished product. I hope you all like it as much as I do!

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