Monday, December 10, 2012

Fashion Feature: “English Lavender”

~Taming the Purple Monster~

Introducing the latest frock in Tom’s Closet—christened “English Lavender” after the sweet-smelling herb (although “Klära” also came to mind, as it reminds me a wee bit of the illustrations in a children’s book based on everyone’s favorite Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker.)

The original bodice design
It all began with 2.5+ yards of deep-lavender poly-rayon gabardine— the last of the bolt— purchased at Hancock Fabrics in August of 2010. Like most fabrics I buy, this one had to marinate in the Stash for a while before I could use it. Yeah, that’s it. :-P (Actually, it takes me a while to decide which of the dozen different designs floating around in my head would look best made up from my fabrics.) Fast-forward to July of 2011. Our family had just seen Disney’s Rapunzel, and I fell for her adorable little frock. While my gabardine wasn’t the same pinky-purple-almost-plum-and-mauve as Rapunzel’s, it’s definitely a better color on me. Long story short, I based my design on New Look 6206, drafting my own custom-fitted princess-seamed bodice (since commercial ones hit me too high) with a sweetheart neckline, and using my own drafted patterns for the puffed upper- and fitted lower sleeves. (BTW, I should mention here that my fabric was 60” wide.)
I’ll spare you a detailed account of all the brick walls Mom and I hit trying to make this dress a reality. Between fitting issues, feeling like a 40-year-old in a 6-year-old’s Disney Princess costume (even though I gave up the “Rapunzel” idea fairly early in the construction process), and the vintage zipper I’d worked so hard to install breaking when I went to try on the dress for the umpteenth time…Tom was not a happy monkey. The dress (such as it was), all the pieces pertaining to it, and every last scrap of gabardine were tied up in a plastic grocery sack and chucked into a dark corner under the big cutting table (and then that night I slipped on the ice and tweaked my hip just in time for my own birthday. Oy). Suffice it to say that I learned the hard way NOT to use my fashion fabric for tinkering, experimenting or otherwise noodling with patterns I’ve never used before. Especially if the fabric/color goes out of production. Which this one did. :-P Is it any wonder this dress earned such epithets as:

~The Purple Monster

…when I didn’t just call it “that infernal dress!!!”?

However, the story has a happy ending, for all that. In May of 2012 I finally felt calm enough to look at the thing again, and the creative juices started flowing once more. Gownzilla still had several tricks up its as yet uninstalled sleeves, but by God’s aid and Mom’s faithful assistance (I love my Mommy! ), I was able to convert it into the dress pictured at the top of this page. The original pointed waist proved to be too confusing—sewing it in didn’t work, and folding and top-stitching was too fiddly—so we chopped off the point and made it an Empire waist instead. The skirt looked dreadful with it, however, so we took it (the skirt) apart, trimmed the slanted tops of the two front panels (originally to be sewn to the pointed bodice) and used only three panels in the skirt. 
The 3-panel skirt

The fourth one we used to make new lower sleeves, as the ones I’d cut out were too short and ended up too tight when pulled up to the correct height. Of course, pulling the skirt from natural waist to the Empire line made it shorter, especially since the former front panels ended up shorter still once we trimmed the tops. 
No, the pic isn't crooked--it's the hem!

It was still below-knee-length, but too short for the style it had developed into, especially for a cooler-weather dress. So I took every large scrap I had left (including the too-short original lower sleeves and linings), trimmed them into strips about 4” tall (ish) and sewed them together into a ruffle. 
Original lower sleeves and linings, folded to be cut

Measuring and marking a large scrap

Ta-da! Ruffle-strips!
I’m too old for fluffy gathered ruffles, but I love the look of what I call “micro-pleated” ones seen in this pseudo-Victorian/Steampunk costume. There wasn’t enough fabric make tiny knife-pleats all round the ruffle, so after some noodling (and snarking and growling), I was able to make “clusters” of three ¼” pleats with a 1” space between clusters. There is a cluster of six pleats in the center-back, and a 4” box-pleat flanked by four pleats on each side, in center-front.
1st attempt--straight micro-pleats

What might have been but for a bit more fabric!

Final solution--three-and-one

Overall effect

I’m not sure I’d do this sort of thing again, as pressing all those little pleats turned out to be more difficult and fiddly than I expected. Some of them disappeared entirely at the bottom, while others hang at a slightly drunken angle…but from a distance it gives the right effect.

As I said, the “Rapunzel” idea faded pretty quickly once I realized how impractical a near-faithful reproduction would be for Real Life. Pretty, yes. Relatively simple, yes. But with the pink ribbons and pink-and-blue embroidery on “purple” fabric…it seemed a bit Easter-eggish. However, a solid-colored dress always seems rather plain to me—a blank canvass for some (modest) embellishment. In the end I used this amazing vintage lace (still on its original card!) purchased at a yard sale this past Summer.
Looks like Irish Crochet roses--perfect!
A better view of Gorgeous Lace

 And what do you know? There was enough not only to fill in the neckline (which felt a bit low for a Spring/Fall dress) and accent the sleeves, but also to go round the “waist” seam and the skirt where it met the ruffle. And there’s a good yard or more left over! It that a God-thing, or what? :-D
Photo courtesy of Bro, Peter
 What I’m Wearing:
Shoes: Bone “Granny” Boots—thrifted*
Stockings: White Sweater-tights—hand-me-down from Mom
Dress: “English Lavender”—made by me
Necklace: “Wild Irish Rose”—Wild Rose Designs and Laurie Sarah Designs
Hairstyle: Variation on Regency Updo (which unfortunately doesn't show up very well)

*These shoes—I love them, but they’re size 9s, which is two sizes too big. I thought they’d work out, but they just don’t fit me right. So I’m in the process of offering them for sale in a Virtual Garage Sale…once I figure out how to do that….

This picture was taken on November 11th, “English Lavender”’s debut at church…which, ironically, was also the first day of The Migraine From The PIT, which lasted over two weeks straight, followed by a week of neck pain from stiff muscles and a strained spinal cord. OY! I always knew this dress was a sweet little headache, but really!
But its second wearing on December 8th—our church’s annual Christmas Dinner—was more pleasant, and waaaaay less painful! The only differences this time were my hair and shoes. I did “Swedish” braids (having run out of time for anything more elegant—silly Tom!) with side-curls, and switched out the granny-boots for my more comfortable White “Kid” Slippers (which, sadly, I don’t have a photo of). And of course, I wore my trusty Wild Irish Rose necklace, this time set with an Amethyst cabochon:
...which is so dark it looks black. Need a lavender cab for this frock!

The dress still has some issues to iron out (if possible)—mainly that the sleeves need to be moved inwards. Between broad shoulders and a long upper chest area, I tend to look a bit top-heavy in this frock. But my seam-ripper isn’t allowed anywhere near it until Summertime, when it’ll be too hot to wear the dress anyway. :-P Eventually, I may top-stitch the remaining lace into a V-shape on the bodice-front, to connect the neck and “waist” visually. And Lord willing I can afford it, I fancy some 3/8” velvet ribbon to cover all the lace-edges. Won’t that be elegant?! :-D
On the whole, though, I’m fairly pleased with how it turned out. It’s quickly becoming my “party frock”!

Until next time, Gentle Readers,
God bless


  1. Ooh, what a lovely dress!! Trying not to covet here...thou shalt not covet everything pretty and purple, and all that. ;D

    1. LOL!

      Tell you what--If I ever get tired of this frock, you have first dibs. IF.... ;-)


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