Friday, November 17, 2023

Homecoming dress

I'm playing catch-up with all these posts sitting on my dashboard!  This one was from homecoming night in early October. Jenna and Kate got together with some friends to attend the dance and Emily drove home from the Uni to take photos with me of everyone dressed up. She also had corsage orders to deliver to the local high school students - her newest small business - so it was a busy and fun weekend.

I did not sew Jenna's blue dress, incidentally - this was bought, primarily because I was in Singapore until a few days before homecoming, and decided the less sewing I needed to do, the better. We successfully found something online that Jenna liked, so that was a win. Kate had something specific in mind that she wanted, so we agreed to custom-make that based on a design she had in her head.

I just have two things to say about this dress, process-wise.

The first is that it is sometimes frustrating for me as a dressmaker to know what fabrics are needed for a particular design to work but be unable to find those fabrics to buy, and have to end up making do. In this case, Kate requested sparkly fabrics, and a cut that was drapey and flowy. Now, this is a completely feasible combination, provided we lived in a world where we could customize exact fabric along with the fit and design of made-to-measure tailoring. Unfortunately, the fabric is sometimes the one thing you don't have control of, because stores stock what they will, when they will. On this occasion, therefore, we had to choose between drapey or sparkly, but not both. I count ourselves lucky that Kate at least chose black, for which there were more options of fabric bolts than any other color (except blue, maybe), and that homecoming was close enough to Halloween that the stores carried adequate cosplay materials of the sparkly variety; Emily, with her dreams of a forest-green prom dress in the middle of May, was not quite so fortunate.

Long story short, we compromised: plain chiffon sleeves which were flowy but not shimmery, and a bodice and skirt that were sparkly but a bit boxier than we saw in our mind.

The second is those sleeves. A long time ago, Emily had needed a formal concert gown and asked for sleeves similar to these: chiffon (translation: visible seams), over-the-shoulder raglan-cut, but without elastic (translation: invisible darting, pleating and/or some other shaping magic). I'd made muslin after muslin, consulted with my friend Jen, returned to first principles, even used a store-bought dress with close-enough sleeves as a reference - essentially pulled every drafting trick I was aware of, but under the time crunch, I simply wasn't able to deliver. We eventually conceded and I gave her classic set-in sleeves. The dress was still beautiful, and she still gets compliments on it whenever she wears it at concerts, but it's never stopped bugging me not having been able to Make That Dang Sleeve.

And then this fall, wouldn't you know it - Kate asked for That There Dang Sleeve. Black. Chiffon. Time crunch (trip to Singapore in imminent future) and all. Did I roll my eyes? I did. Did I break out in cold sweat? You bet I did. But even I could recognize a second chance when I saw it. And somehow this time it all came together. Yes, there were multiple muslins, and yes, elastic was allowed this time around, but I remember looking at the final draft and thinking, "Huh. This is not the monster I remembered fighting back then." I guess my mind was clearer now. Or I didn't care about failing, having done it so spectacularly once before. I didn't finish the dress before getting on the plane, but I did adjust the final muslin to the point where I had the peace of mind that this dress was going to work. I laid and cut out all the pieces in the expensive, sparkly fabric, labeled everything, left myself copious notes, and flew to Singapore. And when I got back to the US 10 days later, it was almost like working with a craft kit: thread and notions all purchased and set out, diagrammed instructions to follow, and all those pre-cut pieces ready to assemble. I'd never sewn a dress like this - it was loads of fun and came together in a couple of days with such ease that one could almost forget the tracing and fiddling and wasted practice yardage, and the remeasuring and redrafting of the weeks prior. If only all custom garments were made this way! 

Here's the front of the dress,

and the back, which has a strap tied into a bow.

and three sisters together again - a homecoming in the purest sense of the word, no?


  1. I love that three sisters photo so much!

    Beautiful dress. I can’t imagine making sleeves like that work without elastic. Maybe if there was ribbon or something in place of elastic…

  2. What a lovely (and interesting) story!... and a gorgeous dress!!

  3. Beautiful dress and girls!

  4. I remember years back when I first started following you, your children were still babies! Look at them now all grown up. Where have all the years gone? Beautiful dresses and beautiful children. I was always astonished by your creations back then, and now is no different. You are still one of my favorite blogs to follow. I look forward to your creations and appreciate you sharing.

  5. I don't check in here often enough! What beautiful, grown-up, accomplished young women, and what a fun and pretty dress!


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