Friday, April 18, 2014

Charleston: Flapper dress walkthrough

I was thinking about the first flapper dress that I made; it's pretty, but doesn't scream Twenties when I look at it. I really wanted something that looked like a period costume, with a modern twist. I really wanted to avoid adding more fabric to my stash (it looks like a hamster nest of hoarded fabric at this point!). Luckily I had some black satin that was ideal for this project, and had just enough to make this dress.
Went a bit overboard with the detail, but it looks so pretty.

I started by drafting a simple pattern. Flapper dresses are supposed to be quite shapeless, so I ended up with a trapezoid piece for the pattern. But I didn't want to keep it simple. I wanted a hem with a lot of movement, so decided to make a pleated hem. I altered the pattern by adding a dropped waist, and made the bust a bit curved, like a tank top. I also added bust darts to give it more shape. 
When I cut out the bodice, it looked like this
 Shiny tank top! 
 Next step was creating the waistband and decoration on the bust. First I printed an art deco border pattern, and traced it on to a piece of interfacing. The interfacing for the waistband was just a rectangle, but the bustline pattern had to be altered a little because of the curves. 
 Here's a moe detailed picture. Once I was pleased with it, I ironed it on to the satin.
 Next I painted the waistband and neckline silver. This just involved mixing acrylic paint with fabric medium, and carefully painting the area. I used masking tape to make the edge nice and smooth.
I also had to figure out the pleated hem. I had a limited amount of fabric, so the pleats aren't very deep. To make the hem more interesting, I made it spiky: I was inspired by one of Cyd Charisse's dresses in 'Singin' in the Rain'. Ironing the pleats was not fun: poly satin and irons do not get along, and I actually burnt one piece of fabric. I used a pressing cloth and a piece of card to make the pleats look sharp, and ironed on a low heat. 

 The next step was beading. This was very time consuming. I spent two weeks sewing little black beads on over the silver waistband, skirt, and neckline, bead by bead. I learnt a few important things about beading:

  • Add only two or three beads to you stitch; more than that and the thread is pulled out of shape, and your design looks wonky
  • Knot the thread multiple times to make it secure
  • If you've painted the fabric, you need a very sharp thin needle; a thimble is also handy.
  • Keep cats away. They see the moving thread and they want to play with it, and they will destroy all your hard work.

 Ta da, finished neckline!
 Lastly I added a side zip and bias tape for the straps, and the dress was done.
And then the photoshoot came:

These photos were taken in Valletta near Fort St Elmo. It was incredibly chilly: there was a breeze blowing through the streets, and satin, nylon and feathers aren't the best protection from the elements. I cobbled together a cigarette holder from a chopstick and some paper, and burnt the tip to make it look more authentic (don't smoke, and probably shouldn't after all the asthma attacks I had last year thanks to an allergy to chicken feathers. It did stop, but I'd rather not risk getting it again). 

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