Sunday, October 25, 2009

Samba Sleeved Dress Remake

This image from a recent magazine (I think it was Madison) caught my eye.  I love the way the dress is such a simple floral knit it could almost be a chain store basic, but the sleeves looked like they had been stolen from the costume cupboard at an amateur theatre, mardi gras sleeves that had seen better days, but were hoarded away just in case.

  I used two lined polyester shift dresses from an op shop, and a damaged lacy dress from a place I used to work. 

One of the shift dresses, the darker blue one, was made domestically, with hand sewn facings and zip, and dressmaker's carbon paper lines where the darts were sewn.  It was probably around a size 12 or small 14.  The hand sewn facings were quite pretty, and I saved them to use as appliques on the second dress.  The dotted lines marking the dart were a little disappointing, as I wanted to undo the darts to give more of a tunic effect.  They do show, but I figure the sleeves will draw attention away from the marks, and the fabric is patterned enough. 

The other shift dress, light aqua with spots, was a smaller size, and as it turned out was a perfect fit on my size 8 dummy.   The armhole and neckline were bound with a knit or bias satin fabric. I wanted to use some of the fabric for the ruffly sleeves on the other dress, but I didn't want to completely destroy the dress, as that would be taking it out of usefulness and turning it into waste.  Kind of defeats the purpose. 

The cream coloured lacy dress was a retail reject, because the fabric had torn along the zipper seam.  This meant it couldn't be repaired for retail sale, but it left a lot of beautiful usable fabric.  I used the bodice section for the sleeves, and simply hemmed the top edge of the skirt and threaded elastic through, so I have a lacy petticoat or overskirt (or a sheer skirt for those who've splurged on really expensive knickers and want people to notice)

I used new thread, because I am fussy about my thread.  I only use good quality thread, because I want to make sure my sewing stays together as long as the garment does.  If the thread gives up, the garment becomes too hard to look after over time as random seams pop, usually in hard to repair areas, and becomes landfill quicker.  In this case, I used an industrial thread, because I was sewing with my industrial machine.  Domestic thread doesn't go so well when sewing at super high speed, because it heats up and snaps.  Not that I was going fast, but I keep my threads for each machine nearby, and in fact this one was already on the machine. 

True confession time, it's cream coloured, because I'm  lazy about rethreading.  Some of the basting showed a little at the end, so I pulled those stitches out.   I actually don't get too concerned about perfect colour matching, unless it is on the outside of the garment. It's surprising what you can get away with.  In fact, an African designer working in Paris in the early 90's made it his signature to sew everything together with red overlocking.  Apparently he got a good deal on a big box of leftover thread when he was starting out, and turned necessity into a statement. 

I cut the barest minimum off the bottom of both dresses and hemmed them again to turn them into minis.  I also cut the linings back and hemmed them.  I undid the darts on the first dress and took off the armhole facings, setting them aside to use as appliques on the other dress.  I may reshape the side seams to give a tapered shape from underarm to waist, instead of the hourglass shape it currently has, but that will make it into a smaller size, because I'll have to take some off the hips.  Part of me loves that idea, the other part is thinking that if I cut it really short I could have a fitted top for myself.  I'd have to cut it short, there's no fabric to let out to go over my hips, and I don't want to add a contrast because the sleeves are already showstoppers. 

I drafted a sleeve like this:

1, Measure around the armhole from underarm to shoulder, noting where the curve seems to change from horizontal-ish to vertical-ish.   I didn't measure from seamline to seamline, because I figured I would make a simple symmetrical flared sleeve, not a carefully fitted sleeve that followed the contours accurately.  The ruffly layers would make that sort of sleeve a bit bulky anyhow.

2. Draw a vertical line for the grainline, and draw another at right angles to it, the length of 1/2 the upper arm circumference, plus a bit of extra for ease.  Decide on the length of the sleeve, and draw a line parallel to the first that far above it. 

3. Here's the tricky bit.  Draw a line the length of the armhole plus a bit - 1cm or so - from the underarm point to meet the grainline.  Now, remember you made a note of how much length was vertical and how much was horizontal?  Make a mark at that point on the line.  Above it, you will make the sleeve curve swell outwards, maybe 1cm or so. Below it, you will scoop the sleeve a little,  about 0.5 to 0.75cm.  Measure the new stitching line and make sure it is longer than the armhole length.  You will ease it in.  Strictly speaking, you don't need ease with this kind of sleeve, but I find the layers of frills shrinks the seam line somewhat, so I add ease to give myself some leeway.

4. The next thing I did was to slash and spread the sleeve to add flare to the hem.  You really do slash the pattern and spread it apart - I stuck black paper into the slashes to show clearly where the changes were made.  Don't cut all the way through the armhole seamline, unless you want to make it puffy as well.  Don't add too much flare in the underarm area - it will be all bunchy and uncomfortable, and who wants bulky armpits?  Once I sorted that out, I added 1cm all around for seam allowance.  If you are used to commercial sewing patterns, add 1.5cm.  I prefer to sew curved seams with 1cm, it's so much easier to make the curves match.

5. Now plan your ruffles.  I did this by trial and error, and wished that I had planned a little more.  I cut the sleeve out of lining fabric, and sewed a narrow gathered frill made of the original dress's hem onto the bottom edge.  Then I added strips of gathered ruffles onto the base sleeve.  This was the bit I should have taken more care with.  In retrospect I would have measured each one and sewn them onto marked lines.  I didn't, so both sleeves completely failed to match, and the reason you get to see the right sleeve only is because the left looked stupid and is being redone. 

6. The undersleeve was made from the bodice section of a lacy dress that been ripped along the zipper stitching, making it unfixable from a retail sales point of view, but leaving plenty of gorgeous fabric available to be remade.  It had a shaped border, which I didn't want to lose, so I cut the sleeve with the pattern slightly tilted.  This gave it a little too much length under the arm, and some extra gathering on the top of the sleevehead, but I figured it would work out fine. 

I layered the two sleeves, frilly and lacy, and sewed them together so they wouldn't slip while I stitched them into the armhole.  I then overlocked (or zigzagged) the sleeve seam. 


This is a fun way to try drafting a sleeve pattern, because if it's not perfect any bits that don't sit so well will be covered by ruffles.  The most important part is to make sure that it will fit into your armhole easily, and be wide enough to fit around your arm. 

If you try it, or if you have a restyle you'd like to share, please contact me, I'm more than happy to post any restyles, especially if you share your techniques as well.

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