Friday, August 2, 2013

mission: dress impossible

good evening, mr. phelps.

your mission, should you choose to accept it: one girl’s dress, size 8, for a piano recital.

the twists: it’s wednesday night. the recital is saturday.
also, it’s a black and white theme.
oh, and you felt super motherly when you heard about it, so you let your daughter “design” it herself on the way to the fabric store.
and pick the fabrics.

i’m never one to shy away from a challenge. in fact, i’d have to say i do some of my best work under severe time constraints. so when ava’s piano teacher came out and said okay, here’s the rest of the info for saturday’s recital. it’s a “black + white” color theme, i did a quick mental closet review and found nothing.

and by “nothing”, of course i mean i could have put her in a black skirt and white tee, but…really? i think not. so, we’ll sew.

it was 5 pm, dinner and the family were waiting at the park. but we hopped in the car and well the piano place is halfway between our house and the fabric store so we can just quick run there before heading home, right? and i threw ava a pen and scrap of paper from my purse—why don’t you draw some ideas for your dress?

she loves a one shouldered dress, and drew a sort of piano-keyish design across the bottom. i suggested turning it into a gored skirt so it became a nod to piano keys, rather than a piano costume, and she was on board. i’m fairly certain that 8 year olds are not known for their subtlety, so my challenge generally is to pull the reigns in a bit when she picks fabric for projects.

OUR POWERS COMBINED led to something pretty dang cute, i think.

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what i realized later was that i had inadvertently steered ava towards a rather difficult to pattern dress. it has no waist seam—those white piece are solid from the bodice through to the hem. :/ let’s just say there was a LOT of math involved. and we all know how much i love math.

shoot, if you’re gonna give yourself a mission: impossible, might as well make it a mission: superimpossible + MATH.

i made my own pattern pieces—one for the white and one for the black. i would have loved to have the strap continuous too—but you’ve got to cry mercy at some point. so that was a separate piece sewn on the top.


the eight white pieces had to each be one eighth of her bust/waist/hem circumference + seam allowance. i measured and cut all my fabric and said to jeremy “either i just accomplished my greatest mathematical feat EVER….or i just wasted a bunch of fabric.”

the end result was somewhere in the middle—my measurements were spot on. pinned, the dress fit like a glove. but i stupidly forgot to give a little extra seam allowance on the two pieces that would hold the zipper. so i had to add a small additional piece in that threw off the fit in the back a little.

and that’s how it goes: a little give and take—in the design and in the construction. ava’s like PIANO!!! and i’m like…ummm, how about ‘nod to a piano.’ some things you’re like YESSSS and you high five yourself because, well, it’s 11:30 and everyone else is sleeping and there’s no one else to high five. and some things you’re like NOOOOOO SMASH ALL THE THINGS AND THROW MY SEWING MACHINE OUT THE WINDOW!!!!

so, because of the additional side piece there are some fit issues that make me hulk pound. gaping in the back that i should have compensated for, and the shoulder strap didn’t lay quite right. but i spent a total of 4 hours on this dress—which was all i could squeeze out between the thursday and friday that were already booked up.

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and it’s mitigated a bit by that crazy awesome invisible zipper. bet you didn’t even see it there, didja? since i had no one to high five at the moment i instagrammed that bad boy. thank you, instafriends, for your validation in the form of “likes”.

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(this was back in may, so she was still casted. that particular one was covered in this awesome tie-dye print fiberglass. )

we went with a heavier white bottom weight fabric for the body of the dress—something that didn’t wrinkle as easily and would not be see-through. for the black inserts we found this tone-on-tone black cotton covered with music notes. see? subtlety and compromise.

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i let her have her choice for the bow though.

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and the two little buttons we added to the strap to give it some extra bling bling.

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and the real reward is that, despite her nonsmiling face (seriously, ava-of-the-future. you scowl every time i take your picture. WHHHYYYY?) she really loved this dress, and i loved being able to tell people it was her design and her fabric choices coughcough guided by mommy coughcough.

and as one final touch, big sister did her nails to coordinate.

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this blog post will self-destruct in five seconds. ;)

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  1. How do you do this? Not just the dress, which is wonderful, but the mothering too? How to make a kid feel very very special and a wicked dress designer as well as a piano star? How many of us mums out here would be just patting ourselves on the back for making any dress, much less a child inspired, theme related, fabric coordinated piece of very specialness? You're the tops!
    Love from

  2. And a big hug to the big sister for the fingernails, and to the mum who raises kids who love eachother enough to do such thoughtful stuff


  3. I love this post. The dress is awesome. I love the black and white theme.

  4. This is awesome! Love the design, love the subtly musical black fabric. And it never is fun, but sewing is one of the few places I've found where I actually use math a lot. (That and cooking.)


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