Graduation Dress: Part 2

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Over the weekend, I graduated with my PhD, a perfect excuse to make a new dress. I was lucky enough to have my best friend and fellow sewist Nicole graduate with me. Together we made “reverse bridesmaid dresses” for the occasion. I’ve talked a little bit about our planning in a separate post here. Today’s post is essentially two-in-one, because Nicole and I have both detailed our dress-making adventures for you. The same dress can work on two very different body types–after some trials and tribulations.

I’ll start with my adventure. Even though I had made a muslin of the dress (see post linked above), I made a few additional tweaks to the final version. I ended up taking in the side panels a bit more, as I had anticipated with the muslin, and shortening the bodice by about an inch as well. I hung the dress, either on my dress form or on a hanger as I worked on it, and I think that this stretched out the bodice a bit, especially at the sides where the skirt is fuller and thus heavier. Because the distortion was especially obvious with the stripes, I made a self-fabric stash to cover up the waist seam. The other time-consuming part of this dress was hand stitching both layers of the hem (lining and outer fabric). Otherwise, the dress came together easily.

The dress was perfect for graduation day, which ended up being about 95 degrees and humid. We ate lunch outside, and I’m confident that I was the coolest person at the table (see what I did there).

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Nicole’s fabrics are also very lightweight (hello May in North Carolina!), but have less drape/more structure than the fabrics that I used. Her outer fabric is a lightweight polyester crepe from Fabric.com with 10% stretch. Her lining is a black stretch charmeuse satin, also with 10% stretch. I’ll turn it over to Nicole now to explain her fitting saga. She was bold and cut straight into her fashion fabric. Take it away, Nicole!

I initially tried to adjust the bodice using my measurements and dress form. I have a short torso, and most of the my torso shortness is between my shoulder and bust. I also have relatively narrow shoulders, so I had to make sure the straps didn’t extend too far. Unfortunately, I  found that it still didn’t fit well at the side/bust after constructing the bodice and attaching it to the skirt. I tried to adjust the final dress but that only made it worse.

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Fortunately, I had (for once) followed the pattern guidelines and bought 3.5 yards of the main fabric and 3 yards of lining, which left me with a lot of extra fabric – so much, in fact, that I could have probably made the bodice two more times if needed. This time, I took the pattern piece that I had adjusted on the dress form and made more adjustments to it on my body, including modifying the dart at the bust and bringing it in at the side. After I made the bodice again with these new adjustments, I put it on and still had to bring in the side a bit to prevent it from sagging in the armhole. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I cut and adjusted the lining piece, then had to adjust my seam allowance where the side and front met while sewing the main fabric to the lining to make sure the armhole was round.

I also took a good amount off of the hem for obvious reasons… The pattern called for 5 yards of horsehair braid, which seemed outrageous to me at the time. I talked to the woman at the cutting counter about it and she suggested 3.5 yards, but eventually realized that I was about a foot too short on horsehair braid once I finished pinning it to the hem. I ended up stretching the braid to fit and hand sewing the hem, which still turned out well. I actually felt a lot better about using less because I was secretly worried that the skirt might become too big and dramatic and make me look like a teapot under my graduation robes. Sewing the forever-and-ever hem took too many hours to admit, but I really love how it turned out. I also did it while watching Netflix and a playoff hockey game, so I wasn’t too mad about the time spent. 😉

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Renee again here. I LOVE how the horsehair braid gave Nicole’s dress a great fit-n-flare shape that is so flattering. The black fabrics (although potentially a sweaty choice given the occasion) also looked amazing under the black graduation regalia.

And there you have it! With a lot of patience and some careful planning (or luck with the Big 4’s sometimes ridiculous fabric allowances!), the same dress can be made to look completely different, yet very flattering on two physically different (but same at heart!) people.

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Pattern: McCall’s 7503
Fabric: 3 yards stripped floral rayon @ $14.95/yd, 3 yards Bemberg lining @ $9.50/yd from Mulberry Silks
Notions: Invisible zipper, thread
Cost: $73.35 fabric + $1.90 zipper + $1.80 thread = $82.83 w/tax ($83.83 if you count the pattern)
Time: 10 hours

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