The Making of a Party Dress

The making of a party dress.

In February I turned 50. My family threw me a terrific party–the best birthday party of my life! But months before the party took shape, I decided I wanted a magical dress to wear to celebrate the turning of a new decade.

I had a vision. Not a terribly original vision, but it was mine. And I couldn’t find a pattern for it. But I found fabrics (on sale around the winter holidays, natch!), and Kirsten reassured me about the amounts to order. Here’s what I purchased: Silk noil, silk crepe de chine, half a million yards of black tulle, and the fabric that started it all– Zodiac embroidered tulle

So, I did what any self-respecting barely-intermediate sewing-ista (honestly, what word do we use? Sewer looks gross on the page, and do we like sewist? IDK!) would do: I mashed up what I (mostly) knew how to make.

With the guidance of dress doula Sarah of Hartford Stitch, I cropped and took in the bodice of Grainline Studio’s Uniform Tunic and drafted a circle skirt with help from this website (Sarah promised me she’d make a more detailed tutorial, which I’ll be sure to share when she’s got it ready.) There was machine sewing. There was serging. There was hand basting. There was installing an invisible zipper. There was hand stitching. There may still be hemming of the silk underskirt that didn’t get finished before party time, but let’s not talk about that.

This dress stretched my skills. I made mistakes that I won’t (knock wood) make again. I learned techniques I can’t wait to use over and over. This dress was pretty much what I wanted it to be. I felt like a magical creature in it, and I may have sat down way more than necessary just to feel the swoosh of all that tulle (7 layers) as I did.

Maybe you’ve heard of frosting sewing? Well, this was my first bit of frosting. I can’t wait to try my hand at it again!

Stitching with the Ladies of Gee’s Bend

Earlier this year, I got a hankering to sew a quilt top by hand. I’ve always pieced by machine and quilted by hand in the past, and I wanted to slow down the top-making process.

Quilt block

This urge coincided with special guest artists at  Fiber College : three of the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

I spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon at the world’s prettiest camp ground drawing out fabric from my stash, ripping off strips, stitching them together by hand as I listened to the murmur of sewing machines punctuated by laughter and conversation (Gale posted photos and a short video from the day). “Doing it your way” was the theme–pick the fabrics that speak to you, let them cozy up next to fabrics that you might not normally put together, but that tell you they want to be together.

Anyone expecting to be instructed exactly how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt was probably let down by the afternoon. But anyone who really listened, who bent her will to the fabric, realized she had, in fact, learned how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt: stitch what makes you happy.

Every now and again, I add another strip to the block. I’m not sure if I’m going to make one large lap-quilt-sized block or make several more about this size and stitch them together. I’m using stash fabric, old cotton shirts, sheets, and the cutest contribution from Amy Lou–the denim-patch fabric includes apples and the saying “I like you” on it.Sajou box


When I open my Sajou sewing box, a beautiful gift from Sara years ago, I see treasures like Cal’s business card, a reminder of watching her sew on a vintage Singer; a thimble from Clementine placed sweetly on my cottage cot pillow; the embroidery knife I purchased in Paris with Sara after we spent hours in the gorgeous Sajou shop pawing over all the pretty things. I love that hand stitching drenches me in sweet thoughts of friends, of places like Maine, Paris, my porch. I love that each fabric reminds me of someone or some moment in time. That’s how stitching this quilt makes me happy.

I’d love to read about a project that’s making you happy–what are you doing your way?


I decided recently that my life would be simplified immensely if I wore a uniform. Not a polyester fast-food restaurant uniform, but one of my own making. Hence two of the same blouse. It has everything I like in a blouse: comfortable fit, Peter Pan collar, slightly puffed sleeves, pretty details. It looks just as nice with jeans as with a skirt. I can wear it to do everything except work out and garden, although I have done a wee bit of gardening in the white version. Risky, I know.

Dresses feel like uniforms to me. Diane von Furstenberg* was onto something with her iconic wrap dress**. Slip it on and go, and look fabulous to boot.  I plan to do some sewing this weekend to see if I've found the dress I want to add to my little collection of vintage frocks-turned-uniforms. Stay tuned to see my results.

And just because I like a little interaction in the comments, will you tell me what your uniform or go-to outfit is?

*Dudes, she has her own comic book.  Seriously.  Also? If you go to the site, you get to hear Lauren Bacall speak one of her most famous lines.

**This is the one I want to own someday.  When I have a spare $300 to spend on one frock.  I know it will be worth every penny!

Red Uptown Bag


I love a snow day.  I've spent mine alternating between sewing a Madison Bag owed out as a prize for a Ravelry group prize and doing work for school.  The sewing has been the fun part, by far.  This is the fourth Uptown bag I've made, and I think I need another one for myself.  Or maybe I'll churn out a few for Christmas '09 gifts.  Yes, I am thinking that far ahead.

What have you been crafting?

Flirty Apron Swap and a Political Interlude

I’m off to the post office to send this apron to my swap partner.  I enjoyed sewing this; I used the pattern from Bend the Rules Sewing, adding a towel loop as well.

After my errand, I’ll be canning tomatoes.  I’ll be thinking about how articulate Eve Ensler is, too.  If you’re alarmed by the Republican VP candidate, you might want to take a look at Ensler’s thoughts on her.  If you love the self-proclaimed pitbull with lipstick, maybe Ensler’s piece will help you understand why some of us don’t care for her.  I’m usually not a terribly politically-minded person, and I don’t like to use my blog to talk politics, but this woman has been keeping me up at night, and this election may be the most important one in my lifetime.  I know Obama is running against McCain, not Palin, but she’s the one who seems to be energizing her party.  She’s the one really alarming me, and Ensler has explained why better than I’m able.

Midsummer Night’s Apron

I’ve been working away on an apron for a swap-bot Shakespeare swap.  My partner wanted an apron, and I thought I could push the theme a little…I used a vintage pillowcase with a lovely crocheted edging, cut it in half and then cut it to the length I wanted.  From there, I used Amy Karol’s Bend the Rules Sewing for instructions on making the waistband and ties.  Last night at SnB, I embellished the pocket with some yo-yos and embroidery; they’re meant to represent Titania’s bower.  I thought the pillowcase refashion kept with the theme of sleep and dreams.  I have a stack of these vintage pillowcases, and I can get two aprons from each, so I’ll be making more!

Sewing Soon

Img_1222Among the many other outdoor chores completed last weekend, Neal rigged a clothesline for me.  It’s a breezy day, so I’ve got the line filled with fabric and t-shirts. 

Soon I’ll take to my sewing machine to get Baby Meadow’s quilt made, as well as a cover for my laptop.  I’ve got big plans for an assembly-line of tote bags as well…prizes for my contest, and early Christmas crafting!

Coastering or See What I Made, Cookie?

Img_1032I joined Ibby Bee’s Coaster Swap.  I decided to do a Project Spectrum theme and dug around my fabric stash (yes, I have one of those, too) for red fabrics. These were simple to make and satisfying.  I even made a second set for a hostess gift for a weekend dinner party.Img_1033   I used an antique linen napkin with red trim for the backs.  The front of the second set is fabric from Provence; coasters are a perfect project to use just a little of my precious  French fabric, yet still let the fabric have a nice impact.
I’ll be making many more of these, I predict!