Monday, March 27, 2006

Attaching Chiffon Underskirt

I am now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with finishing this dress! HOWEVER, this post has taken me especially long to do because the photo upload on Blogger is slow and/or not working. Does anyone else have the same trouble???

It's now time to attach the underskirt to the inner bodysuit of the dress. To do this, I will first put the dress on the dress form and pin up the skirt to reveal the bodysuit. Then I will pin the underskirt to the bodysuit and determine if the hemline is correct by dropping the top of the dress.

I want about around 2 inches past the dress hemline - this is in order to trim it when I even the hem out, and to leave it a little longer than the dress. I will then sew the underskirt onto the bodysuit using a zigzag elastic stitch. The fabric will pucker , but will stretch flat when worn or on the dress form. I was a little concerned about the seam showing through, but it looks quite flat, and once there are rhinestones on, it will not be noticeable at all.

The next step is to even out the chiffon layers hemline. I will use the chalk marker for this task.

I bought this from Joann's online with a coupon and I really have not used it that much except for these long dresses. It comes in very handy with a huge circle skirt! After cutting, I'm left with about and inch overhang.

The next step came with some bumps. I was going to finish the chiffon with a fishline hem. It involves doing a rolled edge on the serger with actual fishline - this gives it a stiffer and fuller hem. After changing my mind a dozen times, I decided against using the fishline, in favor of just a rolled edge. With this many layers, I felt that the end result would be too 'poufy' if I used fishline.

I'm very satisfied with the result. After ironing the chiffon and hem, I ended up with a nice floaty hem, just like a rolled hem (which I am still completely incapable of doing on polyester chiffon !!!)
I needed to finish off the sleeves so I quickly did this using encased elastic overlocked on the edge and then zigzag stitched on top.

To avoid the sleeve riding up when dancing, it is common to have an elastic loop around the index finger, so I inserted string elastic in a loop, tied the ends so they would not pull out after sewn. And voila, the dress is almost done. The last step is to create the floats, which will hang off the neck and go across the arms towards the back.

And then - THE RHINESTONES....

Monday, March 20, 2006

Making the Chiffon Underskirt for Black Standard Dress

The chiffon has been hanging for about a week, and it is now time to make the underskirt for the black dress (as pictured right). It will consist of a skirt, made out of the same material as the dress, and 3 layers of the chiffon attached to it. The underskirt will be sewn to the built in bodysuit and then the chiffon length will be adjusted accordingly. First, I sewed the chiffon pieces together to form 3 skirts. To do this, I used a chain stitch with a 2 thread overlock on my serger. The reason for this is:

  • Chiffon can fray easily, with a combination stitch, you have extra reinforcement
  • A 2 thread overlock, as opposed to a 3, reduces bulk since chiffon is such a lightweight fabric.
It is very easy for chiffon to pucker, especially with 2 different stitches, so it takes some testing and tension adjustment to not have that happen. Another thing I do is use a BRAND NEW serger needle. The slightest blunt needles can cause the serger to skip stitches, especially with chiffon.
After I have sewn the chiffon pieces together, I press them and attach them to the skirt. I stagger the chiffon seams ever so slightly at the side seam so as not to create a huge lump on either side. Just make sure that the outer chiffon skirt (the one that shows) meets with the side seam of the skirt (looks neater and more professional).
The worst thing that can happen to a ballroom dancer is get their heel caught in their dress in competition. To reduce the chance of that happening, I finish the underskirt with a cover stitch where the chiffon attaches to the skirt. This contains all of the chiffon seam allowance in a nice enclosed stitch underneath. Obviously the bottom of the skirt is still uneven! After I attach the skirt to the bodysuit on the dressform, I will adjust the hem to make it even.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hollywood Glam

I have always loved old movies. Lately, I have been renting dancing movies from the 30's and 40's for fashion inspiration in making ballroom dresses. Movies with the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and the ever beautiful, Rita Hayworth. Yes, not only was Rita Hayworth a beautiful movie star, she could dance. According to Fred Astaire, she was one of the most gifted natural dancers he'd ever danced with. Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Dolores Cansino. In 1941, she was teamed with Fred in You'll Never Get Rich, and their dancing together not only helped revive his flagging onscreen career but made her into a star. A year later she teamed with Fred again in You Were Never Lovelier, another smash hit.
The evening dresses in those days were beautiful and you don't have to look far to see how much influence they have had on today's fashion, just look at this years Oscar dresses - Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba are two examples. Although I'm not sure what the heck Charlize Theron was thinking!
Not only were the dresses in those days stunning, but they flowed beautifully in the dancing scenes. I look at these dresses and wonder, how were they made? What fabrics did they use? Can I make my dresses just as glamorous yet functional for dancesport?
Lately, I've seen dancesport outfits that are so bright and gaudy, they make me cringe. Although I realize bright colors help get dancers noticed on the dancefloor, does one have to look like a peacock? I think that a well made elegant dress, that fits the dancer well and is functional works much better. If a dancer feels confident and good in what they are wearing, you can't go wrong!
Luckily, nowadays there is a lot more choice in terms of functional fabrics that stretch. One can use sheer illusion for areas where they used tulle, and stretch satin or lycra for bodices. Instead of using tulle for the skirt, one can use more drapey chiffon or georgette. Or you can make an allover dress of lycra with a slight sheen. Whatever the case, I hope some of these dresses inspire you as much as they inspire me. And if you get a chance, rent You Were Never Lovelier.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Cutting chiffon

You guessed it, I decided to go with the chiffon! I decided to make an underskirt for the black dress with 3 layers of chiffon. To make them as full as possible, I will be making them full circles. This means I will be cutting 6 half circles of chiffon. Materials required:

1. Chiffon - at least 5 yards, 60 inches wide.
2. Dressmakers curve - to make a half circle pattern (I used a Kwik Sew pattern piece (Kwik Sew 2601) and added to it to make it the desired length)
3. Pins (notice my new handy dandy wrist magnet pin holder :)
4. Scissors
5. Plenty of time and a vodka martini handy - this is a painstaking process.
I would have to say that the most difficult part of working with chiffon is cutting it. It is like trying to cut Jello. It slides all over the place.

I have tried cutting it on carpet, but for large pieces, I cut on our dining room table. The great thing about our table is that we never eat off of it, so it is basically my cutting table. Another great thing is that it is rectangular, so what I like to do is line the chiffon up with the edges to get a cut that is on grain, or close to it. I think that some people use weights on the pattern piece to stop it from shifting. I have not tried that. I will fiddle for about 15 minutes, getting the chiffon as much in line as I can before I cut. I try to hold the pattern down with my left hand as I cut or chiffon will tend to pucker and you end up with all of these angled cuts! To cut out the 6 half circles took about 2 hours.
After cutting all of the pieces (ahhh, martini) I set them on a clothes hanger. Before I knew about cutting chiffon, I read somewhere that after you cut it, it WILL go 'off-grain'. What this means is that all that careful cutting you did goes completely out the window because the fabric will shift after a couple of days, or minutes! What you end up with is an uneven bottom. What was suggested was to hang the chiffon for at least a week and attach clothes pegs to the bottom for a bit of weight. Since clothes pegs have kind of gone the way of the steam train, I used big paper holder clips at the bottom and leave it to hang for a few days. Then I use the pattern piece again and recut if there has been any shifting. When I sew the pieces together, I also check the hemline again when it is on the dress form.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Black Dress inspired from Dancing With the Stars

I've posted what I have done so far with the black dress. I think it is looking very much like the dress Tatum wore on Dancing with the Stars, however, I am going to be making this a Standard dress, not American Smooth.
"In the international style, dancers are in the closed position, pressed close together — this is classic ballroom dance, taught all over the world.
The American style, however, allows dancers to open up — they can separate and use as much of the floor as they like — and is more theatrical, similar to the dances performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers."
International generally uses more layers of skirt, whereas with smooth, you can sometimes use just one layer and/or a slit. More elaborate floats (drapey chiffon attached to various points) are used with International style as well.
Therefore, I will be making an underskirt of 3 layers of chiffon. Also, I am going to be using purple Swarovski crystals instead of green. I have tons left over from an earlier dress disaster. YES, you can pick rhinestones off of a dress! (With a little help from a hairdryer :) It warms the glue and usually you can be successful picking them off without losing the foil backing. )
So far, the outer dress is done, with a built in bodysuit. All of the edges are sewn with elastic to give as much stretch as possible. I added invisible straps to the shoulders so the full weight of the dress is not just resting on the neck. I had about 4 yards of black crepey lycra so I used my master ballroom dress pattern (created from a finished ballroom dress that belonged to Sue) and altered the neckline and added sleeves.

I created full sleeves initially. Once I had it on the dress form, I attached my fake arms, and then I cut around the top of the sleeves to get the right look. I then inserted elastic along the top of the cut sleeve to give the dropped sleeve look.
The bottom of the dress is sewn with 1/2 inch horsehair braid serged to the wrong side of the fabric. The hem is not finished, I will turn this up again and sew with an zigzag elastic stitch on my regular machine.

I am going to make the straps (where the straps attach at the back) detachable to make it easier to put the dress on. I tried hooks and eyes but they are not stable, so I will be replacing with snaps. It is not that tight that there is any danger of the snaps unsnapping at a crucial moment.

I am going to do this first, then cut the chiffon for the underskirt. I really wanted to use georgette but my selection of fabrics is limited due to the fact that the only store in close proximity is Joann's - which any fashionista will tell you sucks major wind. I can always order online, which seems to have become my method of choice.
I'm still torn. Georgette will give more flow, but will make the dress considerably heavier.
Will have to think about that.