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Making a Blue Taffeta Dress

18 Apr

This is a post is over eight months in the making, how crazy is that? I started on this project in August and eventually lost interest. When I pulled it out two months ago to resume progress I was horrified by the construction, messy topstitching, and mismatched seams. Some seams were an inch off from lining up – an inch! I guess my standards have changed a lot in the past months.

I wasn’t really sure what to do, I liked the design but I wasn’t sure I liked it enough to rip out all the seams and remake it. And I definitely didn’t want to finish it in it’s current condition….so I put it away and hoped I’d never see it again. But a few weeks ago it was calling to me, so I decided it was time for it to have a makeover.

This post will be a little odd because of that – a mix of old and new progress pictures, explanations of what was done wrong, how I should have done it better, and stuff like that.

This project was inspired by some Lucas Cranach paintings – after flipping through a gallery I wanted to make something “With a lot of sleeve puffs”. Then after seeing “The Three Musketeers” I had a very strong desire to make something with a fantastic hood like this.

I wanted to make it off of materials I had around, so I decided on off white chiffon (lined with satin), and six yards of blue stretch taffeta.

My basic design looked like this:

DSC_1611I’ll start with making the skirt, because that was the first thing I did.

These pieces are cut out so wobbly, it kills me, ahh!

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And once those are sewn together and gathered…

DSC_9562As lovely as that is, i’m placing it aside for now and moving on to the terrors of the bodice.

The bodice pattern is really, really weird since there is a puff embedded in the strap. It took me several mock ups and a lot of playing around to get the shape I wanted. Once I did I turned my mock up into a paper pattern which was used to cut out the stretch taffeta and blue cotton (for lining).

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The front section was supposed to be gathered chiffon, I used white cotton as a base and gathered the chiffon over top, then I sealed the edges with brightly colored bias tape.

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I sewed boning into the lining of the bodice, then pinned the lining and top layers together.

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Once everything was turned right side out I top stitched very poorly around everything – this was right when I got my industrial machine and hadn’t quite figured out the proper settings for everything, because of this I was using a 1.7 mm stitch – now for top stitching I use a 3.5.

Because the stitches were so tight I had no hope of ripping this part of and redoing it.

I sewed the shoulder straps together and pinned the first of the puffs into place.

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Que more terrible top stitching.

I pinned the side seams and tried it on – it was pretty vulgar so I added a ruffle for modesty. Which required even more awful top stitching.

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Back to work on the sleeves! Lot’s mot puffs and bad top stitching. Yay.

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DSC_1545Then they were sewn on to the bodice and the side seams were done up. I must have done this without pins since they were so uneven. The seam attaching them to the bodice wavered from 1″ to .25″ depending on the spot, and the side seams were almost an inch off in some places. None of the white puffs lined up properly, it was pretty awful.

I also ripped out four unnecessary layers of topstitching at the wrists – i’m not sure what they were there for, but they weren’t doing any good.

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In addition to ripping off the sleeves, my bodice repairs included adding embroidered eyelets to the back (instead of a zipper) and hundreds of tiny 2mm decorative pearls. I sewed the pearls around the neckline and used them to create the look of lacing on the front of the bodice.

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I also added elastic to the edges of the neckline so the ruffles would cling to my body and offer a little more modesty.

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Now lets go back to the skirt! The first time I made the skirt I attempted to sew the chiffon panels and the taffeta e panels onto the bodice, then sew them together…which is really dumb and i’m not sure why I chose to do that, but that’s why I have this photo.

I also chose to sew the taffeta and chiffon panels together by machine, not realizing that stretch taffeta, you know, stretches. The taffeta panels ended up several inches longer then the chiffon one.

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I also had no friggen clue how to gather taffeta. I tried doing it by hand, with a machine, using elastic, nothing worked and this was my end result.

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And at the time I said, “Yup, that’s fine” and sewed it on to the bodice.

On take two I ripped out the cringe worthy gathering and uneven panels. I laid them out flat, pinned them, and hand stitched them together from underneath, so the thread was invisible on top. Then I did two rows of gathering – the proper way to gather taffeta.

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Is that not a million times better? Then I sewed it onto the bodice.

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On the left is what it looked like before, on right is the much improved after.

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The final thing to work on was the hood! My first hood was a tragic terrible mistake and needed the most improvements out of everything.

This is the hood pattern – it took me ages to draft and i’m still quite proud of it.

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In my first hood I used plastic boning in the brim as a support, and free handed the gathers in the chiffon. Which meant the whole thing ended up horribly uneven. On top of that the thing was really heavy – it had almost two yards of taffeta and double that amount of chiffon in it. Way too much for a flimsy piece of plastic boning to support.

Speaking of the uneven hood – look at this pathetic piece of gathered lining.

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The lining wasn’t salvageable. I ended up taking apart a petticoat made from the same fabric, just so I could remake this hood. Then I dissembled the taffeta layer and used that as a pattern for the lining.

I cut a strip of buckram and then sewed the chiffon onto it by hand – this way there was no chance for anything to be even slightly uneven!

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The hood was reassembled – this time taking great care to get everything perfect. All the topstitching was done by hand, and I made matching bias tape to finish the edges. Instead of gathering the edges, I pleated them, which looked much nicer and did a better job of getting the shape I wanted. The bottom edges of the hood have little loops made from bias tape – these are what attach the hood to the dress. The dress has button sewn just inside the neckline.

Then I inserted a strip of hooping wire that I pre bend to the required shape. There was no was this hood was going to be unsupported.

I really wish I had a better photo of how awful this hood was. In most photos I very carefully placed it on my head and took dozens of pictures to get it to look right – if I moved the whole thing would collapse, but you can’t tell that from these staged images.

Anyway, before (take a look at that skirt gathering, too!)

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After!

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All the dress needed was a hem to finish it off, so I did that, and it’s done! I wasn’t wearing heels in these pictures so the hem looks a little wonky.

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So that’s that! I’m not sure if it was worth all the effort I put into it, but I’m happy I did. There are still problems I can’t change, a lot of ugly top stitching, uneven ruffles, and puckery sleeves. But I did the best I could with what I had.

Now I just have to find a place to photograph it!

Do you have any projects you’ve saved from wreckage? Is this a common thing?

Thanks for reading!

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23 responses to “Making a Blue Taffeta Dress

  1. lirpaalyssastar

    April 18, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    So stunning! I love the choice of blue! I love your designs!

     
  2. Sonia

    April 18, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Your end result is truly stunning.. Thank you for sharing all your troubles along the way, it makes the end result all the more impressive!

     
  3. Asura (@AsuraO)

    April 18, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    This is beautiful! Is there any way you could show us how you drafted that hood? i love the shape of it!

     
  4. Ann

    April 19, 2014 at 7:38 am

    I love the play by play. It must be so rewarding to see how much your skills have improved, your problem solving and then your ability to see past the disaster (your words, not mine) a way in which to correct and improve upon your design. Your perseverance it to be applauded The end product is magnificent. This must be part of your portfolio as I shows so much of your dedication to your art. I am in awe.

     
  5. MalteseLizzieMcGee

    April 19, 2014 at 8:54 am

    I think this dress was worth salvaging, because the end result is gorgeous.
    I had a few projects that went this way. I made a dress based on one from Tim burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which required a tulle skirt. I made the mistake of trying to sew six layers of gathered tulle to the bodice and zip. It wouldn’t close, and looked like a pancake tutu. It was definitley not what I wanted.
    So I buried it in a cupboard and ignored it. As my sewing skills improved, I wondered about fixing it up. It wasn’t hard to fix: I removed the tulle skirt, and made it into a separate piece from the main dress. The rest of the dress way easy.

     
  6. hsamablog

    April 19, 2014 at 9:12 am

    O my god that Hoodie is lovely ❤
    now i need a costume with hood ❤

     
  7. Debbie

    April 19, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Young lady found your blog totally by a accident I was looking up the dress for Queen Elza and found you!!! The Elza dress you made is beautiful so is this recent dress with the hood!! You are truly an aertist

     
  8. hexxwhat

    April 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    That dress is just gorgeous. I am in such love with it. All of your original dresses are always so immaculate. Would you be terribly bothered if I used that hood pattern in one of my future projects?
    Also do you think you’d be willing to do a tutorial on how you use boning? I took four years worth of sewing class and boning is still the bane of my career.

     
  9. Axkato

    April 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Wow, I’ve been watching your blog for some time now, and let me tell you do such a wonderful time, you have a great skill and I admire every piece that you make, without mention that you do everything really fast, love that patterns you make, and the whole silhouette ~ ♥ Greetings from Mexico :]

     
  10. Kay Souza

    April 19, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Angela, such remarkable outfits you make! And how creatively you conceive the different pieces and put them all together! So enjoy your fine work!

     
  11. Charity

    April 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    I love the hood on this one… it was worth fixing up.

     
  12. Tante Bet

    April 22, 2014 at 6:21 am

    You are so talented!

     
  13. Julia Andersen

    April 23, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I’m glad you went to the effort to fix it – it’s beautiful!

     
  14. Sachi

    April 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Wow even the things you think look awful are better than anything I’ve ever made. I wish I could see like that

     
  15. Emma

    May 14, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I feel like it would look beautiful in a photoshoot at a cathedral. I just discovered your blog and I love it! Wish I could sew as well as you! Wow!

     
    • Angela Clayton

      May 20, 2015 at 9:14 am

      That is very kind of you to say, thank you! 🙂 I wish we had such locations near to where I live, that would be awesome!

       
  16. mcgeew

    May 21, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Do you make professionally? I live in England and your gowns would be gorgeous for my photo shoots!

     
  17. Amanda hibbs

    September 11, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I love the finished product. I bought patterns to use or alter for cosplays and colonial reinactments and renfairs (perks of growing up in fredburg va you have everything from otakon to the Maryland renfair to civil war reinactments to colonial Williamsburg not to far away) but seeiing an actual finished product from a pattern made from scratch is awesome!!!! I’m still struggling to get the hang of my begainner sewing machine to make a quilt -.-. Love the makeup too make you look no older than 13 (even though you are most likely 18. I look forward to reading up on your other works for ideas

     
  18. Sarah Ewell

    September 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I was wondering if you ever sold any of your finished pieces. I have been trying to contact you via email and tumblr but have had no success. Thanks!

     
  19. Sarah Ewell

    September 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Not sure where my original comment went. But I was wondering if you ever sold any of your older dresses! Thanks!

     
  20. Michelle Harber

    May 12, 2017 at 3:02 am

    I think your dress is beautiful!!! It is hard to find lovely patterns that are unique. I am not skilled at drafting patterns but wondered whether you would be happy to sell the pattern pieces as a pattern with instructions? I would love to make this dress.

     
  21. Theo

    September 23, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Hello There, You are an amazing seamstress, just one or two questions; how many skirt pieces are there and what shape are they?
    Hope you can answer, its a beautiful dress.

     
  22. Diena Cameron

    October 12, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Sarah Ewell, maybe try tagging her “@ doxiequeen1”, maybe that will get her to respond.
    @doxiequeen1, just wanted to say that your dress is STUNNING ! Nothing short of pure talent. Especially for someone so young, that kind of talent usually comes with age, how lucky you are !

     

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