so. you know how something can start as a vaguely formed idea/wish (hey, lets all get really fancy for the formal dinner onboard our cruise. like long fancy dresses. oh yay! fun!). and then, for some reason, the more difficult it becomes to find/fulfill that wish, the more DESPERATELY IMPORTANT it seems to become?
our 15th anniversary cruise was with 3 other couples, all celebrating an anniversary. and some of us girls hit up a couple of stores prior to the cruise. fancy dresses! yay! only, no.
TAKE NOTE, FASHION DESIGNERS OF THE WORLD: you’re sorely overlooking an entire swath of the population. there are women—YOUNG women. mothers, wives, 30-somethings, occasionally in need of gowns.
not teeny boppers heading to their junior prom in need of a too-tight too-short polyester look-at-my-butt dress.
not mothers of the bride needing a sensible machine-washable dress and sparkly jacket set with a smattering of lace and sequins to pair with comfy flats.
we want something pretty. and fashionable. and with a little bit of bling. and something that shows off our figures but doesn’t give away the farm. something that makes the husband remember why he married us 15 years ago—and i’m not talking about our savvy couponing skills or amazing ability to get the whites whiter--and makes us feel like a wooooah-man, not a mommy. meaning: NOT black, and NOT empire waisted.
oh, and we don’t want to spend $400.
is that really too much to ask? where do you go for this? no, i’m really asking you. because i went to 4 different malls, 3 “gown” shops, 4 thrift shops, and spent—seriously—about 20 hours shopping for such a dress.
and the more i COULDN’T FIND such a dress, the more determined i became that i NEEDED such a dress.
now i’m not gonna lie—there were some dresses that fit the bill. kind of. i fell in love with one--but it was clearance, a discontinued style and color, and try as i might it was not fitting over the “ladies”. and that was a huge part of my frustration—my body shape and size. according to a “Standard Women’s Size Chart” i looked up (which a quick google search will provide about 1.2 million, and each one is slightly different because WOMEN’S FASHION HATES WOMEN), my bust size requires a women’s plus size 20-22, my waist is a missy’s 16, and my hips are between a missy’s 12-14. basically i’m an upside-down triangle.
and if i want to buy a dress that isn’t knit and zips over my bust, i will literally be swimming through yards of excess fabric from the waist down.
i shopped and shopped and shopped. ladies, my DAD was in a store texting me photos of dresses. my DAD.
now my husband—he’s an amazing man. he supports just about everything i do, and rarely, RARELY puts the kibosh on any of my hair brained adventures. but in discussing this lack ‘o dress sitch his exact words were “to me, it’s worth you buying a $500 dress for you not to make your own.”
he could see which way the proverbial dress winds were blowing, and he tried heading it off at the pass. and i don’t blame him—i have rarely attempted something of this magnitude, and it’s about a 50/50 split on dresses i’ve made myself that are worn vs. those bathed in lighter fluid and burned with much wailing and beating of the chest in anguish. so, you know…it’s a crap shoot.
but the more i looked, the more i couldn’t dismiss the thought that i could DO this. my skills have grown since the last time i tried sewing a dress for myself (probably 4+ years ago). and if nothing else—it was worth a shot. ONE TRY. one muslin, and at the first sign of weeping or wailing or the gnashing of teeth i pull the plug.
ok, you’ve held out this long. i’ll give it to ya straight. i did it.
if you follow me on IG it’s not a big surprise (#operationcruisegown). but it’s something i’ll be saying for a while: I DID IT.
do i have any better photos of myself wearing it than this cropped group shot screen capped from my instagram account? no, no i don’t. #derp.
i started HERE, an awesome FREE princess seamed bodice pattern generator. you plug in your measurements and it guides you through drafting a bodice pattern step by step.
it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. i needed more room in the bust, took out lots from the underbust area, nudged in the back and sides, brought the top higher and the back in a smidge. then i recut a second muslin, this time drafting in the hips. basically a strapless dress to my knees.
that was where i was when jeremy came home from work and found me stitching away, sheepishly side-eyeing him when he asked what are you doing?
one try, babe. i promise. let’s see how it goes.
muslin #2 was working. i needed a looooot off the hips, a little more bodice tweaking…but with about 2 hours of work i had created a muslin/pattern that i was fairly confident in. and that was a LOT quicker than the hours and hours and hours i spent shopping.
so i waited a week to let it stew and then headed to joann’s with coupons in hand and no earthly idea what kind of fabric i wanted.
oh, didn’t i mention? i didn’t actually have a dress design. more a thought: strapless, fit and flare design, something sparkly along the top.
17 days until the cruise (and 10 days until we left for cape cod) and i had a scrap paper with a sketch and some vague fabric measurements. and my man, who got on board the sew-a-dress train. woo! woo!
we narrowed it down to three: a gorgeous chocolate brown stretch satin (which was my ideal fabric choice), a red tone-on-tone plaid taffeta, which we though would be pretty cool, a la jeffrey sebelia, and a faux dupioni silk in olive.
went with the olive, and not just because it was less than $6/yard. that was a bonus, but it was also NOT BLACK and i liked it. and then got a watermelon pink lining fabric for it, because…why not?
even with coupons i managed to spend a cool $100. eek! but i waaaay overbought on the fabric, and those rhinestone things ain’t cheap—even for plastic!!!! that trim was over $20/yard! and it’s plastic!!! more exclamation points!!!!!!
okay, so some nitty gritty sewing details: i did the lining first, and tweaked it a little more still before i cut the green fabric out. i figured out the flare of the skirt by measuring a couple of gowns i have in that shape (one from my brother’s wedding, one that no longer fits). each fell somewhere between 130”-140” around. so i split that between my different pattern pieces, adding in seam allowance. i sewed and took apart the lining about 3 times, basting in a zipper each time so i could try it on and recheck the fit.
when i finally knew i couldn’t delay any longer—it was time to cut the dress fabric—i was, shall we say, a bit nervous. i did all that in one night: lining cut, sewn, adjusted, etc. etc. etc., finally taken apart and used as a pattern to cut the green fabric, then resewn a final time.
the flared part of the skirt is separate on the lining, but on the actual dress it’s all one piece. the dress is only 5 pattern pieces total, with 2 darts in the back for fitting. that’s it. the shape is all in the cut of it.
the next day i did the green. thing is—i put so. much. effort. into making sure the muslin and then the lining were as good as i could possibly get them, that the actual dress was…well…ain’t no thang. you know? and that a little bit freaked me out. i had a lining, i had a dress, and i was almost done. it seemed too easy!
but let me tell you: that lining is doing some major work. i reinforced the top with sewn in interfacing, and boned the entire thing. i was going to put in a waist stay also—i didn’t want to be yanking up my gown all night long. but in the end it didn’t need the waist stay. i had fitted it so much that it wasn’t going ANYWHERE.
so the lining and the dress are attached at the top and along the zipper.
oy the zipper! i wanted an invisible zipper, and it needed to be at least 12” for me to be able to get into the dress. joann’s had nothing close, colorwise (their olive zip only goes to 9”), and i ended up down on fabric row in philly hopping from store to store looking for the perfect zipper! (obsessive, much?) i bought 3, and fortunately one worked, even though it was more grey than green.
i hemmed the dress with one of my favorite techniques: enclosing a small piping in the hem to give it some body and stiffness. i had bought a few yards of pink tulle to potentially attach to the lining for some fluffiness factor at the bottom, but this accomplished the same thing without having to
fight with sew any live cats tulle.
i put a row of rhinestone buttons down the back, and a rhinestone trim around the top band. i actually made the dress from the wrong side—the shiny side—of the fabric, and added a band of the dull (right) side of the fabric along the top.
final details: i made a little clutch to match, adding a pin i had gotten in my mad grab-whatever trip to joann’s. of course that’s necessary on a cruise. where else will i put my seapass and uhhh…lipstick? i wore my mom’s earrings and necklace from my brother’s wedding, and mom bought me these shoes at the thrift shop for $3.99 before i even had a dress. they were my size, and looked never worn. too good to pass up.
and there it is. my 15th anniversary dress, in all it’s (unironed because i just took it out of the suitcase for these pictures) glory.
and now, at the very end, do you want to know the super duper sad part of my dressy tale? :( the night i wore it, i was absolutely miserable. a uhhh…monthly friend had come to call. and all i wanted to do was go back to my room, put on some sweats and crawl in bed. with ALL THE CHOCOLATE and ALL THE IBUPROFEN.
sounds like i’m going to need another cruise, right? ;)
edited to add: let’s not end on a sad note. here’s something i just remembered—about 2 hours into the wearing of this dress, i reached down and felt something pointy on my side. my friends watched amazed as i fished a needle—still threaded, and still attached—from the side seam of my dress. oops. this is what happens when you say “i should try this on one last time before i pack it, but i’m not going to because i feel like i’m tempting fate each time and one of these times i’m going to rip/spill/shred something.” lolololzzz.