Going 90s

The Inspiration

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.

Velvet Dress

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.


Serious Goth Pose

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.

Mmmm, printed black crushed stretch velvet…

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.

Back view

Back view

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.

Back, with lacing you can almost see if you squint real hard.

Back, with lacing you can almost see if you squint real hard.

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.)

Velvet tubes, turned via bobby-pin

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 moreΒ 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.



Filed under Sewing

25 responses to “Going 90s

  1. Mary

    I take it you are working for fabricland? Those projects should be completely free, since they are required, but done on your own time. Sigh….
    If I were you, I’d ask for burda, or vogue, or kwik sew patterns as the free pattern of the month. They never seem to go on sale properly…

    • Yes, I talked about it in my “Coming Clean” post. Our projects are free within a budget, and are not required but rather one of the perks of the job. I do often use other pattern brands they carry, but in this case the McCall’s pattern was the best for the lines I was looking for. I’ve done Vogues as projects but they are tricky because they tend to be complicated and the time-frame is limited. (And I don’t have a lot of free time.) πŸ™‚

  2. What a great dress! Interesting fabric too. I don’t think I would have looked twice at it but, I really like what you have done. I also like you explanation of your swayback adjustment. I need to learn to do that for myself. I understand what adjustments you are doing there. But, could you explain a bit more about the square-shoulder adjustments, please? If you have time. Altho my shoulders no longer seem to be very square. It may help me understand the process of fitting my more sloped shoulders. I think I am getting more comfortable with that adjustment with certain patterns but, I am still scratching my head a bit over it. Especially where adding sleeves. (does my question make any sense?)
    At any rate, great job! I love it!

    • I always do my square-shoulder adjustment to the neckline side of the shoulder, dropping it down. This works well for me because my body is fairly short to begin with, but if you actually need the bodice length you may want to raise the outer edge of the shoulder instead (and either raise the whole armscye or lengthen the sleeve cap to match.)

      I’m pretty lazy so I usually cheat and angle the shoulder-seam from, say, the size 10 on the sleeve side to the size 8 or 6 on the neck side. But I also never do close collars, so making a size or two down on the neckline side isn’t a big issue. Clear as mud?

  3. Sometimes you can find lovely velvet to work with. Sorry your’s smelled! I think it looks lovely!

  4. Ha! I love it! I do remember having a very similar black stretch velvet dress at about that time! I also loved mine. I was in year 11 in 1994 so we are of a similar era. I sewed myself a long floral skirt when o was 16 because I couldn’t buy one long enough….

    • Yup, that would be the time! πŸ™‚ I wish I had thought to sew clothes back then… I don`t think I made a damn thing in high school. I knew the basics (I had made a bajillion barbie clothes) but it just didn`t occur to me. 😦

  5. Great dress! I love the print on you, especially with those boots.

    This whole post made me so nostalgic–I graduated high school in ’95. Especially the lacing loops, oh yes I remember them well πŸ˜‰

  6. Jennilee

    I had a purple crushed velvet dress, with lacing in the back. Man, I miss that dress. I have absolutely no recollection of what even happened to it! lol

    Also, I hear you on the sleeves being too short!! I frequently lengthen sleeves because I just hate if they don’t come down over my hands.

  7. This is fantastic. I want one, now.

  8. So many of the loved clothes will no longer suit me, but I am so very happy for your new/old love’s return. Know that feeling well.

  9. gilliancrafts

    I love this dress!! In my head you wear this kind of slightly-squared scoop neck every day. It look so good on you! I”m looking forward to your post about your Jalie Bella – a similar sort of silhouette, I think, but more flare to the skirt?

  10. Oh the memory of crushed velvet dresses! I love yours and you rock the look, as always πŸ™‚

  11. What a trip down memory lane you evoked in me. My best friend had a dress almost exactly the same style and colour, but in that rayon that was all the rage round then too. Her hair was similar to how you style yours as well. I was so envious of how gorgeous she looked. Straight hair was always beyond me… but I plotted to make my own dress like hers. I never have, but recently I did find the perfect pattern, and from the mid-90s too. Must actually make it up now.

    I am interested to learn you need to do very similar adjustments to me, although I need to take out 2 inches in the back, and the front none. And my shoulders are sloped, not square. I’ve heard time and again it’s a common figure-issue with dancers. No idea how accurate that is, but hey…

    Anyway thanks for sharing, it’s a gorgeous dress πŸ™‚

  12. I wore the exact same things when I hit grade 9 in 1988. Neo-hippie patchouli-scented dresses never go out of style, apparently.

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