Oh. Boy. Guys. This latest project was a little overly ambitious and almost made me quit sewing altogether. Let’s delve, shall we?
A few years ago, I was making a vintage pattern purchase on Etsy and I saw that the seller had this gem. It was gorgeous but decidedly not my size. I snapped it up anyway- it was less than $10, gorgeous, unlike anything else I had, and plus I have always had kind of a fangurly crush on Edith Head. I remember thinking, “By the time I make this, my skills will have expanded so I’ll just be able to grade this up!”
Right, so. Flash forward to this year. I am on a mission to use every pattern in my collection, and I have a wedding coming up in early June. A perfect time to finally try the Edith Head pattern, I think to myself from the comfort of my planning notebook in January. I set aside all of May to work on the pattern and don’t think any more about it.
(a deceptive photo in which the suffering this dress put me through is not apparent.)
For once, I pretty much kept to my schedule (I was only a week behind! That’s pretty good for me) and it’s a damn good thing I did because I was hemming this thing the night before our flight to North Carolina for the wedding.
So, here’s the thing. Grading up a pattern is one thing. Grading up a pattern where the bodice is essentially just bra cups with a skirt attached is a totally different thing when the pattern for the bodice measures 32.5″ and your bust is a 36″.
I started with underwear. I purchased this, and would highly recommend it for anyone chesty who needs a reliable strapless, backless bra for a special occasion. It fit me like a glove and had the added benefit of foam cups so intense that they stood up on their own, meaning that I could (and did) use my strapless bra as a dress form while fitting this mess to myself.
(Original piece on left, final product on right)
I ended up slicing and dicing the bra cup pattern to expand it out- I added 2″ per cup in width, and 1.5″ in height. I then retraced and paper basted a million times, pinching out and adding bits here and there. I wish I could give a better explanation of what I did, but I basically just freehand drew in bits where I needed more coverage and folded out the excess, and then traced a new cup piece and tried it all over again.
When I was satisfied I had a cup that could both fit me and come up high enough to cover the strapless bra, I tackled the skirt, which thankfully was just a really easy, flowy, uncomplicated shape. However, I had to redraw the curve where the bra cup fit into the skirt, because I had totally changed it. I slashed each front skirt piece down the middle widened them by 2″, the same amount I’d widened the bra cup by. Then I drew on a curve based on the crumply paper bra cup I had, found it didn’t work, redrew it based on the actual bra cup instead, and then tinkered with that until it was perfect. Then I redrew all the facings to match.
(Throughout all this, I preserved the back of the dress as it was. and it worked out fine as you can see here.)
At this point, I was thinking that it would have been easier just to drape my own damn ball down.
Finally, contented from my number paper pin-fittings and muslins of the bra cups, I cut into my fashion fabric, a gorgeous eggplant rayon challis from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston. I was eyeing up a silk in a really similar color in the shop but luckily my friend Megan, who I was with, found this rayon in exactly the same color and said, “If you’re worried about fucking it up, doesn’t it make sense to spend less money?”
Yes, yes it does. I will use $17/yard silk to make a basic tank top but if I’m making something I’m gonna wear once, give me all the $2.99 rayon you have please. Am I the only person who buys fabric this way?
I sewed up the dress, inserting a simple invisible zip in the back and going through two extra-sharp needles (the first one dulled and caused snags so bad that I thought I was going to have to cut new pieces, thank god for steam irons amirite) while doing so, and setting in one cup and then ripping it out and resetting it. I have a new appreciation of concave and convex edges after doing this project, let me tell you!
Finally, I tried it on for fit and while the cups fit from top to bottom and covered the strapless bra, which was what I was most worried about, they gapped massively at the sides. Massively! I wanted to cry. At this point it was only two nights before we flew out and I could not face the prospect of redrafting everything. My boyfriend helpfully suggested that maybe I could wear one of the many other dresses I own but at this point I was POT. COMMITTED.
This, my friends, was when I said fuck it. Fuck it! Do you ever get to a point in a project where you have just had it? You don’t care anymore if it’s perfect, you don’t care if prints match up, you start squinting at flaws to see how noticeable they really are and talk out loud to yourself a lot about the shitty quality of even the nicest RTW, and how anything you make has got to be better quality than some polyester ATROCITY from fucking J CREW, right?!
So I just pinched up the excess into two MASSIVE “darts.” I didn’t even take particular care to line them up or make them even. I stitched, I steamed down, I adhered the straps and the facing and hemmed the damn thing and by the time was done I hated it so much that I wasn’t sure I would wear it after all. I packed a black slip dress to match my soul/mood about dresses in general and set out. I also packed a bunch of safety pins in case the whole damn thing fell apart on me because I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t at that point.
But on the day of the wedding itself, after ironing it in a fancy hotel room and doing my makeup and safety pinning the parts where the bra was still peeking through and taking some twirly photos, I felt way better about it. And you know what? I got ten thousand compliments on this fucking dress. I felt like a million dollars. People could not believe it. And, best of all, my friend Mike told me that I looked like the “cha cha lady emoji.” So what more could you really want in life?
But seriously next time I buy a pattern that needs the bodice graded up four inches someone tell me not to, okay?