the ‘black tie requested’ dress

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Well, it’s been an adventure getting here.

A persistent streak of wadders led to everyone’s least favorite task — deadline sewing. Nothing to fuel the creativity like a ticking clock!

The deadline in this case was my dear friend’s wedding this month. Like lots of others who sew, I’ve lost my taste for buying clothes, and after enough time spent at the sewing machine, I’ve lost my taste for sewing frosting.

So what do you do when faced with the words “black tie requested” on a wedding invitation? Buy a formal dress that costs a lot and doesn’t really fit? Or spend hours working on a formal garment I won’t often wear?

Well, if you’re me, you think, “I’ll make separates that are somehow formal enough for this wedding but that can still be worn in other settings! And I will make them from stash fabric and it will not be stressful in any way!”

Needless to say, that didn’t work out.

My plans were grand — a chiffon half-circle maxi skirt, lined in rayon challis! (“Hey, I can wear it with a cute tee on dinner dates,” I said.) A silk gauze blouse, lined in silk habotai! (“Wear it with a pencil skirt and cardigan to work,” I rationalized.)

It all ended in rage, a really unflattering skirt, a half-finished top, and coatings of cornstarch on every surface in the apartment after an attempt to tame all that slippery fabric with homemade fabric starch.

So I gave up and went with unadulterated frosting.

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Necessity, hardly the mother of invention in this case, drove me back to the arms of Simplicity 1873. This blog is now 75% Simplicity 1873, but I couldn’t help it; I had ten days until the wedding and I had to go with what works. I swear to you, I will be sewing new patterns soon.

I did switch up the neckline a bit, raising the front by about an inch and scooping out the back:

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The lace is a cotton-nylon blend from Fabric.com — I actually used the same lace, in ivory, for my wedding dress. It’s very soft against the skin, so I’ll have to make something with sheer sleeves from the remaining fabric.

It’s underlined with a silk dupioni that’s been lurking in my stash. I feel bad saying this, but I’ve always thought of dupioni as an old-lady fabric. I mean, for a really smartly dressed old lady. Like, Nancy Reagan in an impeccably tailored silk suit. But although Nance generally looks incredibly put-together, she and I are not exactly style soulmates.

So, I washed my dupioni, and that took away much of the sheen and almost all of the stiffness. It still has body, but it feels very comfortable — and it’s light as air.

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The bodice is lined in wine-colored silk crepe de chine. I could have lined the whole thing, I suppose, but I’m hoarding this fabric for a blouse, and I couldn’t bear the thought of lining silk dupioni in polyester.

Also, that pop of red on the inside feels so racy!

Oh, look at that adorable patch pocket inside the front bodice! No, friends. That’s not a pocket. That’s the spot where I snipped through the lining while trimming the neck seam allowance.

Although … think of all the things you could put in a pocket like that.

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For the bodice, I traced the stitching lines on the right side of the dupioni, then laid the lace over it to baste the pieces together. On other underlined pieces, I’ve had problems with the top layer bagging slightly over the underlining, so I tried to very gently stretch the lace (it has some mechanical stretch) as I pinned it down, to make sure it would lie flat on the silk.

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I had very virtuous plans to slipstitch the lining to the dress at the armholes, but when I realized how the stitches disappeared into the lace/dupioni, I just topstitched it all the way around. Same with the hem, which you can’t even see under the lace.

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I did think about trying to match the thread on each side of the lining, but then I realized the red threads from the lining were showing through to the black. Yes, I could have adjusted my tension, but … I just switched to black thread. And after taking the photo below, I covered up the red stitches with a black Sharpie. That’s class.

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For the skirt, I wanted the dupioni layer to be slim (especially since I didn’t have much of it) and the lace to be flowy and full, perhaps with knife pleats all the way around. I had just enough dupioni to use the Pastille skirt pattern from the Colette Sewing Handbook, which I’ve made up before.  But the “flowy and full” lace layer turned out to be more like “puffy and frumpy,”  so I stuck to the sleeker Pastille for the back of the lace overlay and put a pair of deep pleats on each side of the front.

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Guys, mixing two patterns seemed like a great idea, but it very nearly failed. Nothing lines up, which I should have anticipated. Worse, the Pastille skirt front was way wider than the bodice front and the skirt back was narrower, even though the waist circumference on both patterns was about the same. That left me struggling to figure out how to make it all work — and my super-elegant solution was to leave the side seams off by close to an inch. It was two days before the wedding, though, so I swallowed hard and forged ahead. Thank God the black lace hides a multitude of sins. TIM GUNN, LOOK AWAY.

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I’m already convincing myself of all the many uses for a black cocktail dress — Christmas parties, work parties, New Year’s Eve parties, that other wedding I’m going to next month… All the same, this is what my mind is telling me:

Don’t worry. The Moneta is next.

P.S. Almost all the fabric in this dress is a year old, which qualifies this for the Summer Stashbust at The Quirky Peach! Boom! Only a month left.


Pattern: Hacked bodice from Simplicity 1873. Pleated rectangle skirt.
Fabric: 1.5 yards of 45″ wide black silk dupioni from Fabric.com, about $33. Less than 1.5 yards of 62″ wide cotton/nylon-blend lace from Fabric.com, about $14. Half a yard of 45″ wide silk crepe de chine from Mood Fabrics for bodice lining, about $9.

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6 thoughts on “the ‘black tie requested’ dress

  1. Hahaha – that pocket! Is actually a great idea, for formal dresses – where are you supposed to put anything when you dance? 😉 I really think it turned out so well – the black lace is beautiful! Way to stashbust!

  2. Pingback: the this-was-once-a-licorice dress | root branch bole

  3. Pingback: summer stashbust 2014 | root branch bole

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