I have often felt that the fairy godmother is a very appealing character in any traditional story. What could be better than appearing in a puff of smoke and granting someone's dearest wish of the moment with a wave of one's wand? Sounds like winning the lottery.... Well frankly, I have often wondered why fairy godmothers don't appear earlier in the story and provide a sound education or an introduction to an excellent work opportunity so the principal character does not fall into quite such dire straits in the first place, but granting an importunate wish makes a better story :) So, when my younger daughter was home for a weekend not so very long ago, and telling me how she was planning to buy a formal dress on the internet to wear to a University ball, I dropped a few pointed hints about the poor quality and ill fitting nature of such dresses and my kind daughter acted like a fairy godmother and allowed me to make her a ball dress, which was my dearest wish of the moment. We spent a delightful weekend looking through patterns, and my fabric collection, and came up with a plan involving a visit to a fabric shop and at least two weekends of intense sewing. What could be more fun?
I was under a fair bit of time pressure, as the fitting of the dress had to be completed in competition with two short visits before the ball.
Naturally, no pattern perfectly fit the inner vision of the dress, but we decided on a modification of a Gertie pattern B5882
We did hit a snag here. Neither of us had realised from the pattern envelope that the bust detail on this pattern is a peculiarly placed shelf that starts at the bust line, rather than supporting the entire bust. On reading Gertie's blog in retrospect, this is apparently a deliberate design detail to minimize the appearance of a large bust, (which is not an issue for my daughter) whilst simultaneously focussing the entire attention of the dress at the bust line by not only framing the bust but having this section of the dress in a contrast fabric. Hmmm.
Our thinking was that it would be much more practical and visually appealing to have this section act as a built in bra, and orginally, we thought this section would look best in the same fabric as the remainder of the dress.
I am very grateful to Tantis-Isis for posting about her alteration of this region when she wrote about her lovely version of this pattern, and essentially followed the same technique, but increasing the cut out section of the front bodice further to fall just outside the bust and enlarging slightly the inner overlap to fit., then hand basting the inner sections to the main bodice. The bust construction is the feature of the dress, and I am quite happy with how it turned out, but it did require some fiddling. I have lightenend this photo so that hopefully you can see the details on the black insert sections.
In these photographs the understrap is flipped down so that you can see the inner details. In wear we preferred to flip this section upwards so that the inner cups are peeking out rather than prominent. The twist in the strap was then held in place with a little handstitching.
I did make a toile of the bodice, which my daughter rather fancied as a summer top, but unfortunately I forgot to photograph it. I found it very useful to practice the construction of the overlapping front bodice pieces, (ie, I did this 3 times for practice) and adapted these slightly in the actual dress by adding a layer of bamboo quilt wadding as slight padding and to increase the shell effect of the topstitching. This is very pretty, and again I used handstitching to hold the little curl of the topmost section in place where the inner cups are folded to give a soft edge at the centre front cross over.
I reinforced the seam at the insert with woven selvage, and like some other reviewers at pattern review, cut the integrated strap/bust undersupport on the cross grain, rather than on the bias, to improve the structural support of the dress. This was particularly necessary as my daughter wanted a long dress to wear to the ball, and the skirt length is increased to just above the ankle. I also increased the boning in the bodice, and used a grosgrain waist stay to provide additional support.
I was also wrestling with my fabric limitations. When we visited Lincraft, where I never expect to find anything even remotely appealing, there were actually some lovely cotton sateens. Not having considered anything less than silk due to my fabric snob notions, the fabric that my daughter fancied was a great find, especially as she insisted on paying for the fabric and she is a University student with a part time job. Unfortunately we had calculated that we needed about 5 metres of fabric for her full length dress and there were just over 3 metres left on the bolt, so she bought plain black poly satin for the bodice and strap and trusted in my fabric wrestling skills for the other adaptations that might be necessary. I was very nervous.
To cut a long story short, to fit the dress to the fabric, I narrowed the skirt, reduced the seam allowances, pieced two sections near the hemline and shortened the dress to just above the ankle. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in the integrated bust support and strap from the main fabric. My brief was to make the skirt as full as possible.
Here is the photo I sent to my daughter to demonstrate my obedience to the brief. She was very happy with me :)
I made the skinniest hem that you can imagine, using bias binding, and supported the hem with horsehair braid for true dancing swishiness.
Obligiatory back view
Here are some official ball photos.
I haven't yet explained to her boyfriend that he is fair game for my blog, so he is anonymous here at the moment.
My daughter was very happy with her dress and reported many compliments on her attire.