Monday, September 8, 2008

Favorite Housedress, Replicated

Here’s the original ‘favorite housedress’ again (well-loved, much worn, and falling apart), and my recreation using blues from my stash: Well, mostly blues. The dark tones in the brown batik are really more purple than blue, and the waterlily fabric used for the bottom border is black/green/purple, no blue at all. But it’s sufficiently floral it’s a good companion for the hydrangea print up near the top. The new dress is about 2 inches narrower than the original; it looks so much wider ‘cause the fabric is years of washes away from being as soft and drapey as the inspiration garment, but that’s okay.

Fabric choice was mostly influenced by desire to make inroads into the stash. I chose and paired the blue and brown batiks because I have several yards of each and wanted to see how well they play together. I think they go together very well. These two will make a return appearance together in a future garment, for sure:

This was quite easy to make. Cut the basic fabric blocks on Saturday afternoon, stitched it all up on Sunday, easy peasy. Could have done the whole thing in one day, but I don’t know that my sewing stamina would have been up to it.

I measured the original dress color block dimensions plus a little extra for seams, shaping, to get the overall block sizes needed. The fabric piecing is identical on front and back, so just do it all twice and you’re set. I traced the outline of the neck/arm/shoulder shaping onto a piece of freezer paper – including marking where the first fabric block seam goes), then narrowed the shoulders, lowered the neckline just a bit, and tidied up the lines to make smooth curves, added ¼” for edge seam.

Each side (front, back) is essentially three sections: the long fabric piece on left, the pieced section that matches it on the right, and a border piece that goes across the whole width at the bottom. The top of the border piece is straight across the straight edges of the top right-left sections, curved slightly at the hem.

I started by stitching the pieced righthand pieces –as rectangles, no side or shoulder shaping done yet. Pressed seams down and top-stitched to control inside raw edges (serging would work, but I don’t own a serger). Then I put the right section with the left fabric, stitched the center seam, pressed to left, and top-stitched.

Pressed everything well one more time, folded on center seam, spread out nice and smooth on my worktable, and lay the shoulder pattern on top, matching the block seam line.

Then I lay out the original dress on top to trace the general outline of the rest of the dress from underarm down.

Cut the neck/arm line and outside edges, then added the bottom panel pieces to both front and back, trimmed sides to continue outside line, and trimmed bottom edge to curve up slightly toward sides. I stitched up the sides using a French seam to enclose raw edges, leaving 12” open at the bottom of the side seams to be slits (the original doesn’t have any, but I like them). Turned back edges of slits and bottom hem, and the bottom part was done.

Stay-stitched around all the neck-arm curves, using a basting stitch for about six inches up the front from the underarm seam. That enabled me to gather up that short piece of armhole just a bit, thus preventing gaposis on the side of the upper bust. The original had a very handy short strip of ¼” elastic sown into the lower front armhole edge hem, to accomplish the same thing with a lot more work. Plus, I don’t have any ¼” elastic lying around (that I could find, although I think there is some somewhere around here. One of these weekends I should postpone sewing long enough to clean out the projects closet!).

Stitched up shoulder seams, then finished neck and arm edges with narrow bias tape. My first try at that – mostly because I wanted to use my new bias tape maker. Initial results looked a little wavey and not right, but a good press on the tailor’s ham with my super-duper new iron and it shaped up beautifully! My track record with first attempts at new sewing techniques isn’t all that great, so I’m thrilled the bias tape finish turned out so well. Was a bit of a pain to do, required a monster pinning job (I usually try to avoid pinning whenever possible, but here it was a good idea) but worth it. Will definitely do again.

My favorite detail: the original plan was to cut the back neckline a little higher than the front but I completely spaced on doing that, oops, so they’re identical now. Since the high-bust ease I put into the armhole is subtle, I needed some way to tell front from back at a glance. So I made this fake tag and edge-stitched it into place at the inside center back.

Cute, huh? I’m gonna put one in everything I make from now on, just for the fun of it.

Am wearing the dress right now, and rate it a great success. No drape to it yet, the fabric has all only been washed-dried once, to pre-shrink, so it may be years before it’s as soft as the original, but I’m going to enjoy it a lot in the meantime, anyway.

I already have plans to make a shorter version – maybe an inch or so above the knee, and maybe with a different shoulder treatment – for midday wear on steamy days. And with a different color family. Reds and pinks, maybe…

Stay tuned.

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