This is the costume I promised to sew for a local high school's play. I spent a few hours yesterday working on the underskirt (the striped skirt) and finished the rest of the costume today. All in all, it took me about ten hours to complete. I gotta tell ya, it isn't perfect, but I kept in mind what the costume coordinator told me when I mentioned the thread they sent didn't match ... something about it doesn't matter when it will be seen ten feet away under bright lights.
The dress is for a student that I've never met. The only connection I have with that high school is a co-worker's children go there. In fact, that's the only reason I was sewing this costume to begin with. Her son is active in theater and a year ago she had mentioned they are always looking for help sewing costumes.
So what did I do? I said "oh, that would be fun, I might be interested in helping" when the correct response should have been "oh, I hope you find some people that are able to help you out."
The entire process was bit frustrating for me. It didn't help that I had been sick and hadn't looked at the pattern and fabric as soon as I received them. That meant I didn't realize I had a questions until a few weeks after everyone else had begun their sewing projects.
They sent me this pattern to work with - Simplicity 4092 - along with a photograph of what they wanted the costume to look like.
The instructions provided were a bit vague - railroad the skirt and add a collar so it looks like the picture. No note as to which piece of fabric to use for what, where to put the enclosed trim, what the collar was supposed to look like, or even how wide to make the sleeves.
I have yet to develop the mind-reading skill that would come in really handy in situations like this so I had no choice but to ask for more direction. In their defense I had been unable to attend the costume meeting that was held previously and that might have provided all of the answers, but still, more information would have been helpful. After getting most of these questions answered, I set aside as much time as I could to get down to business.
It's a good thing I asked for clarification on what fabric to use where, because the stomacher was supposed to be striped (I would have cut it from the plum color) and the sleeves needed to be "wide, like a bathrobe".
The stripes on the stomacher are about 1/2 the size of the stripes on the skirt. They look the same at the waistline because the underskirt is gathered tightly to a waistband. To achieve the narrow stripes, the fabric was pleated and then fused in place with steam a seam before cutting out the stomacher.
The underskirt was a piece of cake. It was cut railroaded the entire length of the striped fabric with one selvage edge gathered into a grosgrain ribbon waistband.
Now you know there was no way I would have been able to gather heavy home-decor fabric using the two rows of long stitches method. So I used the zig-zag over dental floss method. It works great with heavy fabrics and produces a nice even gather. It's easy to do and I find it quicker than sewing two rows of stitches.
Just secure the floss on one end with a pin. Set your machine to a wide zig-zag stitch - it needs to be wide enough so the floss is not caught in the stitches.
Sew the entire length to be gathered then gently pull the floss to create the gathers. I say pull gently because, depending on the type of floss you use, you could shred it as you pull and then you would have to start over.
The bodice is boned and consists of three layers. The outer fabric, a lining and interfacing. I used a home dec fabric for both the lining and the interfacing. M serger is still not working so I used a zig-zag stitch to secure all three layers of each piece together before sewing all of the seams. This acted as my basting as well as my seam finish.
I was instructed to cut a strip of fabric 3-1/2" wide out of velvet for the collar and face it with the plum fabric. I did just as instructed and then realized, when sewing it to the neckline, that you can't sew a straight piece of fabric to a curve...it won't lay properly. So I had to recut the strips longer and add some very slight gathers to the back edge so it would look right.
The instructions on the costume pattern call for purchased bias tape to finish the neck edge. Ugh - ugly. I made my own 1" bias tape - using my handy-dandy bias tape maker - out of the lining fabric. Much prettier. I also finished the corner where the stomacher meets the neckline differently than what the pattern instructions called for. I finished the stomacher edge first, then sewed the neck edge and bias facing to the stomacher.
I had to create my own pattern for the sleeves as the only instruction I received was to make them "wider, like a bathrobe." I assumed that meant like the sleeves on a kimono style bathrobe, so I pulled out an old bathrobe pattern to use for the desired width. The sleeve pattern provided is in two pieces and includes a flounce. To make sure the armhole fit and the length remained the same, I laid the three pattern pieces over the bathrobe sleeve pattern and measured the length. I then cut out the sleeve wide like the robe, but fitted at the armhole.
The sleeve is lined also as I didn't think the plum fabric had enough body to support the velvet cuff. The velvet cuff is a 10" strip of velvet folded in half, wrong sides together, sewn to the bottom of the sleeve, and turned up over the right side of the sleeve.
The last step was to gather and sew the overskirt to the bodice and sew in the zipper. Yikes, the zipper was a bear to put in. Trying to sew through all of those fabric layers while maneuvering a completed - and heavy - costume through my machine was not fun.
But, as my mother says, "All's well that ends well". The costume, while not perfect, looks pretty darn good. It wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as I had anticipated. And I didn't damage my machine sewing through multiple layers of home dec fabric. Shoot, I might even make one of these for myself.
But, the next time someone mentions that they are always looking for help sewing costumes I will remember that the correct response is "oh, I hope you find some people that are able to help you out."