Sunday, April 23, 2017

Brass Rat

It's been a loooong time since I've blogged. I'm still sewing, but since I'm now busy with school and living in a small (and messy!) dorm room, I mostly make clothes over the summer and when I go home for break. And I'm still blogging over at the MIT admissions blogs (you should really check out my post about the Costume Design class I'm taking right now!).

But recently, I made something so important that I really have to share it.

A life-sized sketch of myself wearing a bird costume!

Just kidding, that was my costume design homework for this weekend.

I made my first-ever formal gown!!!

What was the special occasion?

Ring delivery!

Ring delivery is a celebration held for the sophomore class where we all, after months of anguishing over the appropriate bezel size and antiqued finish, received our class ring...the brass rat.

It's called a brass rat because the front always has an image of our mascot, a beaver, and they were presumably once made out of brass.
The brass rat isn't just any class ring--it's one of the most recognizable rings out there. It's a beacon of kinship between alumni, who have been known to strike up conversations with complete strangers because they recognized the rat from feet away. It's an enduring symbol of class pride and school spirit. It's even a pop culture icon.

Tony Stark aka Iron Man representing his Alma Mater. See, it's literally famous!

And for the newest group of sophomores, who just received their rings last Tuesday, it's a a reminder that we're halfway through our time at the Institute...which is both pride-inspiring and terrifying. As ridiculous as all the hullabaloo over a ring named after a rodent may seem (I've been regularly teased by my parents for the past month), it's actually a really big deal for undergrads here. It's validation for getting through two years of a pretty intense school, a celebration of our time here so far, and a toast to everything we hope to accomplish over the next two years and into the rest of our lives.

In other words, it was exciting enough that I spent a week making a dress to go with my ring!

Photo credit goes to Yida for putting up with me and taking photos of my outfit :)
I spent Spring break at home in LA, which means I had some time to squeeze in a sewing project. But the week before spring break, I spent, as usual, a week at college--which meant a software design exam, an algorithms pset, a research project on 16th-century fashion trends, and a little bit of staying up too late to watch the Great British Bake Off with friends. So when I got home, I had spent next to no time thinking about how or with what material I wanted to make my epic evening gown. Time to raid the stash!

Can you believe I found this perfect combination of fabric and patterns? I think the ring delivery gods were smiling :)

Simplicity 8257, misses' evening dress

The pattern is a (relatively) new Simplicity release. I really like the shape of the band in the back, and the train and the slit give the skirt a little bit of interest.

I also like this pattern because it gave me a chance to use this beautiful lace. I bought this in the garment district in New York--wow, it must have been three years ago. I intended to make a prom dress with it, and then ended up not going to prom. I think I found a much more worthy event for it. ;)

The fabric for the skirt
The skirt is made out of silk dupioni. I got this at Joanns! They actually have really nice dupioni and if you wait until you get a good sale or coupon it's pretty inexpensive. The "belt" on the dress is the lace overlaid on this forest green silk crepe.

Notice the actually construction of the dress is pretty simple--just a princess seam with a bodice and a belt. Even before I got started, my imagination was filled with visions of everything I could make with my remaining fraction of a week after I whipped up my dress. A new shirt for spring, a tasteful matching bolero, another not-so-tasteful pair of crazy pants. It took me less than two hours to whip up a muslin.

I forgot to wear a crazy hat, so I added one in retroactively.
...and then, of course, it took the entire rest of the week to make the actual dress. To the point that I almost had to decide between finishing the hem and catching my plane back to Boston. Turns out, finishing takes forever!!!

Part of the band with the seam allowance stripped. 
When you're working with lace, you have to cut all of the beads out of the seam allowance before sewing it to eliminate bulk and to avoid breaking your needles. Even for the tiny little bodice, I spent hours measuring seam allowances and snipping threads and replacing broken needles and re-securing the loose beads after the fact! (Seriously. I got through 2 seasons of GBBO and then had to start over. But at least I don't have a soggy bottom.)

An action shot of me removing some beads. 

The bodice. 
I made my own bias tape for the sleeves and neckline using some of the skirt material. My mom is a sewing wizard who has every sewing gadget under the sun, so I was able to use her really nifty bias tape maker.

The back closure is secured with both an invisible zipper (in the belt/skirt part) and a set of self-buttons and loops all wedding-dress style which I used for the lace. (My mom also has a self-button making machine and a special hook for turning out tiny fabric tubes. Literally, everything under the sun. I'm a really spoiled seamstress.)

I did a lot of prep work on the skirt too. Since silk dupioni frays like mad, I decided to fray-check the skirt pieces to keep them from unraveling while I worked. The dress isn't lined, so I underlined part of the skirt to give the torso area some more body and I'm glad I did. Just those took an entire evening, but it was worth it; the checked edges held up a lot better.

The underlining
I also finished all the skirt seams (not pictured above) because

I was going to Hong-Kong finish the seams, and then I thought about how long it would take and decided just to fold over the seam allowance and stitch it down.

As per the pattern, the seams around the belt are hidden with a small piece of lining, which I hand-stitched in and didn't take a picture of :/

One great thing about the pattern is the fit. I made a size-10 muslin. I took it out a smidge in the upper abdomen, and aside from that, it fit like a dream. It's pretty rare that I don't have to do some sort of adjustment. Also, thanks to the number of vertical seams, it's really easy to adjust. My final version is a tiny bit on the loose side, and taking it in would take literally 10 minutes and an iron.

I didn't have time to do a proper photo shoot before heading to the airport, so these selfies will have to suffice :)

Then as I was walking through LAX, I saw this little girl's T-shirt.


...fortunately, no one made a connection, but I almost wore my hair in a side braid before thinking better of it ;)

I was pretty concerned that the train wouldn't survive the evening, and I was fully prepared to amputate it after the event if need be. But it actually held up pretty well! There are a few shiny marks where you can see where people's heels stepped on it, but I'm super happy with the state it's in!

So there it is! My first (and maybe my last) floor-length dress.

Don't I have some good-looking friends? :) 
If you're interested in reading more about ring delivery, check out my post on the MIT Admissions blog! In the admissions blogging circle, we have a practice called "snacks and shame" where we meet up every week to check in, eat food, and give each other shame encouragement to blog regularly. I could definitely use a hearty dose of shame over on this blog. I have a ton of garments in my backlog! Once school is over, I'll get around to blogging them. :)

In the meantime, I'll be here in Boston enjoying my brass rat ;)


  1. Wow that dress is fantastic! it is beautiful and what a great color on you. Hope you get to wear it again. Congrats on the milestone and receiving your ring!

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