Thursday, May 28, 2015

40! Birthday wishes and velvet dresses

I turned 40 today.

It was a good day, mainly spent frantically sewing a velvet dress interspersed with birthday wishes, parcels & flowers. There is an Andy Kehoe resin print on it's way, from my parents, a beautiful ceramic bowl from a friend and a poem and Hazelnut trees from my partner.
Beautiful, lovely and thank you. xxx

Elisalex dress from By Hand London
Fabric: Crushed velvet from the stash c.1996. Blue base and burgundy pile, probably synthetic.
Alterations: Heck yes
Overall Comments: I like the silhouette and I'm glad I stuck with it through the alterations. Once the fit is established it is an easy sew and I will make it again.

THE SEWING DETAILS: lots and lots of them
I love velvet and when I was younger I bought a lot of it, in purples and blues, many shades of red wine and some green but I didn't actually sew much of the woven velvet. I decided that for dinner on my fortieth I would make a dress out of some of that vintage? (18-20 year old fabric). After some deliberation I firmly told myself that drafting a dress from scratch was going to take too long, my skills were too rusty and the lack of a fitting buddy tipped me over to buying a pattern. I chose the Elisalex dress from By Hand London.

Elisalex seems to have been made up almost by every sewing blogger I follow, flattering a wide range of figures in a variety of fabrics... a quick toile and then on to the velvet was how I saw the project. Hah!

In my 20's when I sewed the most I was a very standard Australian size 10 (with a slightly smaller bust and waist). I'm now size 14 with a C+ bra cup. I didn't really think how much a being out side of the standard would affect the pattern fitting (!!!) which is silly really, considering my experience in dress making.

The first Elisalex toile (size UK 16) was an awful fit. Baggy sleeves, shoulder slipping off, big wrinkles under the arms. I almost stopped there. I rang my mother for advice.
Probably the only photo of my first toile i'm willing to share
I made 4-5 toiles in all. After the first one I concentrated on the bodice and sleeves and I did a FBA, sway back adjustment and some fine tuned fitting around the princess seams over the bust.

The sleeves; first off when I saw the sleeve pattern piece I was surprised. In my pattern making training (admittedly some time ago) fitted sleeves had a higher sleeve head. Ah well I thought, I've seen plenty of Elisalex's out there, they look fine.

Elisalex sleeve in comparison to my industry fitted bodice block

I took my mum's advice and fitted the bodice as well as I could, then I inserted the sleeve only in the underarm from notch to notch. When I tried it on, the gap showed me how much the sleeve head was missing. After much discussion with my mum (who had been sent lots of toile photo's) I drafted an entirely new sleeve, which took a few adjustments to get right. I added a dart below the elbow, raised the sleeve head and some width in the bicep area.

Elisalex sleeve
Sewing buddy, about to be evicted
Sewing buddy retreats to a safe place

After all the toile-ing I made up a final toile with the skirt and lining, which due to the double layer of fabric was a bit too firm. By this stage though I was getting close to my deadline, and I decided just to go ahead and make some final adjustments by eye.

I'm pretty happy with the result. I didn't quite finish he garment in time for dinner, but it was wearable by then (the bodice lining wasn't stitched in but all the hems were done). Next time I sew velvet I will take my time (yes dear, you were right) as something must have gone a little skew in the cutting and I ended up having to lower the back neckline by 3cm and the front neckline wasn't as nice as the toile. The crushed-ness of the velvet is very forgiving of any speed sewing stuff ups.

40th Birthday Dress


  1. Gorgeous! and I love how it looks with the cowboy boots...
    (damn, I need to jazz up my wardrobe)
    :-) Chris

  2. Thanks Chris. Pairing with the boots was more luck than planning.