It has been a bit of a dream of mine for a while now to attend a ball wearing a dress I’ve made myself.
Now that we have established that, we can return to the beginning. In Autumn I was a costume designer for the Cambridge Greek Play, a play (or plays, in our case) performed once every three years, entirely by students, entirely in Ancient Greek (alumni include Tom Hiddleston). In the finale of Lysistrata (this year’s comedy) the cast members were dressed in over-the-top, sparkly, enormous pink ballgowns. So obviously, when the run was over, I nabbed a few of the dresses that were destined for the rubbish bin. Including…
Isn’t she…beautiful? I’ll be the first to admit that this dress gives me a pretty good waist (although I couldn’t actually breathe. Details), but the colour is far, far more shocking pink than this photo could ever do justice, it is pancaking my boobs, there are weird beads and sequins all round the neckline and waist, oh and did I mention it’s enormous and there’s metres and metres of this eye-wateringly pink organza:
Not a good look. But fortunately, the satin layer underneath all that organza was a far more palatable shade of pink. It was still colourful and bold, but a bit duskier, more like a rose pink. It was far more my colour. I decided to try and squeeze all the pattern pieces for Pauline Alice’s Seda dress (the most gorgeous dress in my pattern collection) out of that slightly less horrifyingly pink layer.
The first and longest step was dismantling the dress. Hours and hours of seam ripping in front of the TV went into this dress’ destruction. I was left with three flat pieces of rose-pink fabric that had made up the underskirt. I was also left with too much pink organza, some more satin and lining fabric in the wrong shade of pink, a reasonable quantity of boning, and a small pot of beads and sequins.
There were a lot of firsts in this dress. I attempted my first ever full bust adjustment (not entirely sure how I got this far without ever doing one), and it went quite well! It may not have been the best idea to do my first FBA on a strapless bodice, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well the bodice fit me. As you can see in the picture below, my bust apex is way to far out, meaning the darts are angled in the wrong direction, but, hey, nobody’s perfect. I’ll know for next time!
It was also the first time I had lined a dress. I used the lining fabric from the original ballgown, which is very pink and not the best quality, but it was free and, well, there. Lining a dress has slightly intimidated me for while now, but I found the lining process straightforward and I love how clean the neckline and sleeve hems look. It also feels lovely and smooth against the body. Why haven’t I done this before?
And finally, this project saw me using boning for the first time. The Seda dress pattern does not include boning – it has some elastic in the sleeves which helps the dress stay up. But, given that I have a larger bust, I knew that I wanted some extra support in the bodice. Luckily, Pauline has a blog post detailing how to add boning to the Seda bodice, which was very helpful. I re-used the boning from the original dress, which was sew-in boning, so I didn’t need to create any boning channels. I’ll confess, sewing the boning directly onto the dress lining was very nerve-wracking, but I got there in the end, and I’m very glad I went to the trouble of adding this extra step, as the dress has no problems staying up by itself!
After completing all those firsts, adding on the skirt and putting in a zip, I had another first: my first cocktail dress:
I adore this pattern! The neckline is just gorgeous and it’s the right balance between elegant (the off-the-shoulder sleeves) and playful (the dropped-waist effect created by the skirt yoke and gathered skirt). When I originally fell in love with the Seda dress pattern, it was the other view (view B) that I really wanted to make, with the longer sleeves, bodice yoke panels and simple gathered skirt. I wasn’t that keen about view A. And though another Seda dress (view B!) is very high on my t0-sew list, I’m glad I took a little bit of a plunge and made a dress that I wouldn’t have considered my style, because I’m so happy with how the finished dress looks. I’m already planning another version of this Seda dress, in black, because I just can’t get enough of how lovely this neckline is!
I’m very proud to say that I have now achieved my dream of going to a ball in a dress I’ve made myself. I wore it, on its maiden voyage, to my college Spring Ball, and it owes itself really well to a night of dancing. I was complimented on my dress by many of my friends and acquaintances, and a few complete strangers even tapped me on the shoulder to tell me they loved my dress! This hasn’t happened to me before, when I’ve been wearing one of my shop-bought dresses, so I was absolutely thrilled that it did happen when I was wearing a handmade dress, especially at a large black-tie event when there were hundreds of gorgeous dresses floating around the place.
This is definitely the most challenging project I’ve completed so far, with lots of techniques I’ve not done before, so I was really quite proud of myself, dancing (and eating) the night away in my very own pink Seda transformation. And the best part? Because I recycled the main fabric, lining fabric and boning from the original ballgown, this whole project cost me the price of an invisible zip (that’s about £1.50, folks).
And do you know what? £1.50 for a ball dress isn’t half bad.