Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunset Dress

It's summer! And as you can probably tell from the setting of my most recent blog posts, I'm enjoying it.

I love summer sunsets. The quality of the light in the late, late afternoon, when the sun has mellowed out from its bleached, midday glare but is still powerful enough to drench everything in a rich, coppery glow, has this beautiful, latent energy that reminds me why I look forward to summer so much.

That was the inspiration for this dress.

My fabric
I remember being hesitant about buying this piece, because I have an automatic (and, I know, undeserved) bias against orange fabric. I don't really find orange a pretty color, and I can't imagine that as a color family it goes well with my skin tone, and it just seems a counterintuitive choice. And yet I keep finding myself drawn to orange textiles.Orange is a very rich color, especially when mixed with other shades, like gold or magenta, when it can take on the natural, luminescent gradient of the sunset.

As you can see along the fraying edge, this gentle tangerine color is created by weaving orange threads in one direction and yellow threads in the other.
This specific fabric is an orange chiffon. It's delicate, but resilient at the same time. The threads are interlocked so loosely that the fabric had the tendency to snag or leave visible holes if I had to remove a seam, but by gently massaging it I was able to pull the threads back into place and it looked as good as new.

The fabric is composed of two different colored threads running opposite directions, which give the textile a beautiful multi-hued sheen. Depending on the angle at which you view it, it can appear fiery dark orange or shiny yellow. It makes the color (and the slight sine of the textile) very dynamic.

The orange chiffon with the lining fabric under it
After buying this fabric, the design of the dress fell miraculously into place. I was driving home with about three new textiles to add to my stash, none of which I had a very good idea what I would do with, and discontent with having beautiful unassigned fabric, so I dreamed up an ideal garment to go along with my orange chiffon.

It was distinctly different than the style of garment I usually go for. In dresses, I tend to gravitate towards natural or high waistlines and skirts that end decidedly above the knee. In this case, I wanted something a little more relaxed, with lots of draping to show off the subtleties of the fabric. I pictured a drop-waist (whoa) three-quarter length (are you feeling ok?) sundress (what have you done with Anelise and who is writing this blog?).

The top would have a cowl neckline to show off the drape of the fabric and short, fluttery sleeves. It would be loose through the chest and waist and then snug at the hips. And the skirt would be a square skirt--also known as a handkerchief skirt--with the short sections resting at the knee and the long sections extending to mid-calf (check out my tutorial on how to draft a square skirt pattern).

A square skirt. Picture courtesy of
The pattern is literally a square with a hole cut in the middle for your waist.
Sounds convenient to have everything figured out so precisely, right?

Wrong. Beyond very limited alterations and fusings, I have no pattern-drafting experience, so have very little power to implement my own organic visions.

So what did I do?

I Frankenpatterned.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen mostly ladies, I can even offer you a  patched-together design sketch of my final garment. The top is taken from the pattern sketch of Simplicity 1716; the skirt was taken from Vogue 2968
I was very lucky to find a top pattern that almost exactly matched what I was shooting for!

Cowl neck, flutter sleeves and all. 

Unfortunately, this pattern is designed for stretch knits only :P
(If you've managed to escape how I feel about stretch fabrics up to this point, see here where I stubbornly insisted on repurposing a for-knits-only pattern for woven silk. Or my post entitled "I Knew I Hated Stretchy Fabric".)

Welp, there was only one thing to do. I resolutely marched to the sewing room, rummaged through my mom's obsolete stash of toddler-themed cotton, and found some woven fabric for a "muslin".

I figured I would make the top pattern about 4 sizes too big (a size 12), which would leave a bunch of extra ease to make sure I could get it over my body even without the benefits of stretch. If the top was still ludicrously too big, I could cut it down when I made the final dress. Making a muslin would also give me the opportunity to test out skirt lengths.

So this test garment was actually turning out not to be the ugliest muslin I had ever made in my life! I managed to find some fabrics that were pretty supple and draped fairly well, so as to give me a decent idea of what the fit of the final dress would be like. And looking at them side by side

there was some thematic continuity!

That's when I sewed the right side of the skirt to the wrong side of the shirt, which means I had to try it on with the waist seam on the outside, and the skirt inside out. And also I only bothered to sew one sleeve onto the muslin. So here's the final product!

Well, that's why they call it a rough draft :D

My muslin did help me with the fit of the garment. I realized that the shirt was so loosely cut that I probably could have cut a size 8 to begin with and still have it fit correctly; as it was, I cut my pattern down to a size ten because the shoulders were a little too big and worked from there. I was also able to confirm the length of the square skirt. 

When I went to make the final garment, I made the top first. I took it in near the bottom so it was snug and sort of caught around my hips (to let the shirt drape across the chest without having to bear the weight of the skirt). I then trimmed the shirt so that it ended 5/8 inch beneath my hipline, so that when I sewed on the square skirt the waist seam was at just the right place.

I hemmed the fabric with my go-to hemming-on-chiffon technique, which produces a very thin rolled hem that does not interfere with the drape of the fabric. See here for a tutorial.

I made a slip according to a pattern in my mom's stash


I bought some fabric in downtown L.A. It was supposed to be silk charmeuse, but I think the store vendor scammed me because silk doesn't melt when burned. :P

The gold looked really nice under the orange chiffon. The contrast helped maintain the liveliness of the fabric.
The final slip.
The final dress; so you can see clearly the design.
I'm going to post a tutorial later this week about how to make a square skirt and how to predict how long it's going to be, so stay posted!

In the meantime, I'm going to try and find a sunset party on the beach where I can wear my dress!

*P.S. Guess what?! You can now follow the blog (and other random sewing- and cooking-related snippets) on Facebook and Twitter! Go check it out! And Happy Summer!


  1. This is so beautiful! I'm really impressed at your franken-patterning.

  2. Thank you! Definitely a technique that I will be employing again ;)

  3. It's a lovely, ethereal-looking dress, Anelise, and very well done. I hope you're over your orange-phobia, because you look great in it.

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad it turned out well. This is the second time I have gone with (against?) my gut and made a dress with orange fabric, and I've been really pleased both times.

  4. It looks so cute, I absolutely love that colour!