The year was 1994; I was in grade 9, which in our particular corner of the world is the first year of high school, and my world was bursting into life. Freed from the strict sartorial shackles of my elementary-school class, for the first time in years, I could wear what I wanted, without being informed that my socks were rolled wrong or the cuffs on my jeans were too wide, or that I shouldn’t wear my T-shirts tucked in/untucked (depending on the year.)
I wore babydoll dresses; short shorts and crop tops; fluffy romantic things, and neo-hippy tie-dye clothes from the import store that always smelled of patchouli. And I had a crushed velvet dress.
It was green, not black. (I was not a goth, although I did hang out with an awful lot of them and ended up married to one.) It had a scoop neck, princess seams, and lacing at the back that let me pull it in ’til it fit just right. In fact, the only problem with it in the world, as far as I was concerned, was that the sleeves were too short.*
Eventually, as with most of the pivotal wardrobe items from this period, the sleeve-shortness irritation eventually outweighed my delight in it, leading to the dress getting donated. And seriously, I’ve missed it ever since.
Pretty much as soon as I started “seriously” sewing (around when I started this blog), I started plotting to re-create it. An array of 90s dress patterns found their way into my stash over the last few years with just this project in mind, most of which appear in the first picture in this post.
But, well, other decades called and the queue is long and my attention is fickle and the right fabric just never really appeared. Until this past fall, when my Fabricland got in a small and fairly random crazypants assortment of printed black crushed velvet that just screamed to become this dress.
Frankly, from the way it smells, it`s probably been sitting in someone’s warehouse since the 90s. MUSTY. Sigh.
Anyway, since we are on a zero new fabric budget this fall, in order to happen, the dress had to be a store project. And they really prefer you use an in-print pattern for those. So in the end I didn’t use any of my patiently-hoarded original 90s treasures, but rather the more-or-less identical current version, McCall’s 7189. It’s designed for wovens, but this is not a particularly stretchy stretch velvet, especially with the nasty scratchy print stuff on the outside. I figured I would size down to a 10 and it would probably be good. I cautiously want to suggest that I could’ve gone with an 8, since I still took the 10 in quite a bit, but I don’t know. I’ve never had good luck with that.
I am still trying to get a handle on fitting McCall’s patterns; I keep overshooting and then backing off too much. For this one, I did a square-shoulder adjustment (which was great—I don’t think I’ve ever actually regretted doing one of those) and a full swayback adjustment.
Let me explain a little. I almost always do a swayback adjustment, taking a wedge out of the back of the pattern so I don’t end up with too many wrinkles in the small of my very-curved back. I don’t need a big one, but I do need one. I also almost always petite bodices, because my back length is a full inch shorter than the patterns are drafted for, and a high armscye works much better for my skinny arms. But if you think of the curve that is my torso, while my back length is shortened, my length in the front is actually longer; not longer than the original pattern, but a little longer than my petite’d versions often end up.
Anyway, for this dress I decided to try and do things a bit differently. I kept the full amount of length in the front, and started my wedge in the side front, made it deeper in the side back, and just took the full horizontal tuck out of the Petite Alteration Line on the back pattern piece. (So the back was about a full 1″ shorter than the front.) For what it was intended to do, I actually think this worked brilliantly—the waist seems to fall in the right place both back and front, rather than being right in back but a bit high in front. But I still feel like there’s a bit too much height above the bust, since I didn’t shorten at all between bust and shoulder. It’ll do, mind you. Oh, and I deepened the scoop neck, because MOAR CLEAVAGE.
In terms of on-the-fly fitting, I wound up taking in the whole side-seams by about 1cm (a bit more under the arm), and also taking in the shoulders probably almost an inch on each side. I’ll attribute this largely to using a knit fabric. If I hadn’t had the lacing in I would probably have removed more.
The other change was more aesthetic than anything—the McCall’s pattern only has three quarter sleeves; while these are cute and maybe even more practical, for the sake of my teenage self, this dress needed to have long sleeves. LONG sleeves. As usual, I used my knit sloper to extend the pattern piece out to the correct length, although I kept the width of the original pattern (well, until I took it in during construction.)
Construction wise, there isn’t much to say. I did most of it on the serger, except for the hems and neckline, which I twin-needled on my new regular machine. Which really deserves a post of its own, but anyway. I added little loops along the back princess seam to run lacing through, as per the 90s original; I made my lacing and loops out of self-fabric stitched into a tube and turned, also as per my original. For the sleeves and hem, I finished the edge with serging with the differential cranked up to gather the fabric, which makes turning up the hem a cinch; I also used half-inch Steam-a-Seam for the hems, because life is just so much better with that stuff in a hem.
And, voila! An evening’s worth of work is all it took to bring a greater measure of peace to my latent inner fourteen-year-old.
It may be a little sad, but once I get it back from Shop-Project-Land, I have a feeling I will wear the snot out of this.
*Sleeves being too short is the single biggest reason I even started making my own clothing. Every once in a while I think I should step it back, and that there are plenty of great storebought clothes out there, and maybe I should give more time to one of the other passions I used to indulge in, like art and dance and reading and science and spending time with my family… and then I remember the sleeves. Sewing it is.