Tag Archives: Grad Dress

The Graduate

Thanks to COVID-19 it was a very strange, sad year to graduate high school. Syo (now seventeen, not seven) missed out on a lot this year—school musical, dance classes, Pom and cheer, and while our schoolboard never did shut down in person class this year, there has been a system of alternating days to keep the in-class numbers low, so there’s many friends she hasn’t even seen at class all year.

The one thing we were determined to make as normal as possible—a proper, handmade grad dress.

We started off strong. Syo did a concept drawing last fall and we purchased fabric back before Hallowe’en. Over Christmas we began making mock-ups, first perfecting a strapless knit “block” that fit to her liking, and then testing several iterations of the cowl-like neckline she wanted.

Please note: slightly draped neckline and asymmetrical side gathers.

And then in March, staring down the barrel of the “last mock up,” it was confirmed that there would be no big grad ceremony as our region entered its third wave of the pandemic. And we both lost steam. Even though I had told both her and myself that she deserved the dress with or without the ceremony or the party.

But finally, in early June, I put on my big girl panties and asked if she really wanted to finish it. And she did.

Commence panic.

We had to draft the final pattern. Half-circle full length skirt, in one piece with an asymmetrical bodice with ruching on one side only. The skirt wound up being too wide for the fabric. We were able to narrow it slightly for the red under layer, but the problem was much bigger for the black mesh overlay, which was a slightly narrower fabric with an even bigger pattern piece in the front. (In the back we added a CB seam to compensate)

This is where I made my biggest mistake. I should’ve just let the pattern hang off the edge of the fabric and cut the full length. Instead, thinking it would be covered by the lace, I made the decision to skip the bottom most portion of the front skirt. This did not work out—thé degree of coverage of the lace’s mesh was much less than the stretch mesh, so we had to add a big piece of stretch mesh to the bottom. Syo is less bothered by it than I am, fortunately. And actually, when it’s on and the skirt is draping in its folds it’s not at all noticeable.

Yes, she insisted the slit be that high.

There were a few other hiccoughs in construction. She really wanted to be able to move the straps either up onto her shoulders or draping down off of them, which is fine but wasn’t working out with the back portion of the strap, so at the last moment we had to cut that off. And her desire for a cut-out back with lacing (absent in that original sketch, you may note) made EVERYTHING more complicated.

The back-lacing ribbon extending to attach to the straps (with a black lingerie ring to look fancy although they’re not really visible) was a last minute remedy, and I think it works well even though it wasn’t part of the original vision.

And yes, it’s one of the most striking features of the finished gown and I didn’t get ANY actual pictures of it on her on the Day?!?

It took a fair bit of fussing to get the side gathers right, and the weight of the lace on the hem pulled them down in a way not really intended.

The biggest and hardest part, though, was appliqueing the lace on to the bottom of the skirt. It was a full-width lace fabric, and I had originally expected to use rather more of it than just the wide scalloped borders, but it became obvious that it was going to be much simpler to fit just the border to the curve (there was still a lot of snipping and overlapping) and then appliqué isolated lace medallions trailing up the skirt after. Although that last bit did not happen due to time constraints.

So many pins…

I’ve done lace-play a couple of times before, and it’s incredibly fun to mix, match, and reshape motifs into the shape you need. But the scale of this, and the tight time constraint, was new. Not to mention the fact that I would be appliqueing non-stretch lace into a stretch mesh.

Placement was the first issue—the weight of the lace pulled down on the stretch mesh so that I had to raise everything at least an inch from where it “should” have been. Getting everything as flat as possible was the second issue, and there are still areas that ended up stretched and puckered despite my best efforts. In hindsight, backing the whole thing with a layer of wash-away stabilizer might have been helpful, but I didn’t think of that until I was well into the weeds. Or or having the time to hand-baste everything, but see above about time crunch.

As it is, I did my preliminary placement on the dress form and then refined and smoothed things out as I went along. We’ll just pretend it adds texture and depth to the lace.

We had to ditch the idea of further lace medallions scattered up the skirt due to time, but I did add fusible interfacing to a lace motif to make an appliqué for the top of the skirt slit.

Every bit as impractical as they look.

When one is playing with lace, you have to go for it, so we also added little lace motifs to her shoes and, of course, a mask. (This involved some last minute hand-stitching the morning of.)

(Made the mask back last summer, just added lace to match the dress)

The graduation ceremony was modified into a kind of conveyer-belt style where each grad and family group was moved in in turn, and each got to walk across the stage and receive their diploma from the principal, one by one. It was more than I expected, frankly, and what it lacked in gravitas was made up for in photo-ops, although Syo may not feel the same.

The biggest problem in the end was that the weight of the skirt pulled down on what is, essentially, a strapless knit dress. I’m not sure how we could anchor it better, however, as it’s hard to add a waist stay to a knit (power mesh panels?) without creating bulges.

Anyway, she got many gorgeous photos although I didn’t manage to take any of the back! and I didn’t manage to capture the details of the dress all that well. But the best one remains this snap of her looking at Tris, taken just as we left for the ceremony.

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Grand Finale

Have I mentioned Tyo is graduating high school this year?

I’m not usually an anxious parent. I didn’t agonize over sending my babies to daycare, or cry at the first day of kindergarten.

But this one is really getting to me. It feels like my job as a parent is almost done.

I know it’s not, really. Heck, if she has her way, Tyo might not move out for another ten years. But in a few more months she’ll be officially, legally, an adult. The world opens up, and it’s freaking terrifying. Before, there was always a next time, always a do-over. The do-overs are done.

Mind. Blown.

Also she asked me to make her grad dress.

Ok so maybe not so much asked as assumed.

It was also a wise choice, as I can’t afford the $800 dress she fell in love with at the fancy dress shop—but we can put her favourite elements into the dress that we make. Well, some of them. Not all that insane beadwork.

After some dizzying trying on at one of the fancier local dress shops, not to mention some heavy-duty pinteresting, and a bunch of style sketching that didn’t seem to catch her imagination, I finally got Tyo to just come to the fabric store where I work and pick fabric. The much more limited local selection really helped her focus and narrow down what she wanted, and I think we were both really excited by what she ended up going for: navy, a short satin under-dress with a long, full, removable lace skirt over top.

We settled on McCall’s M7281, as a contemporary pattern with the right lines, despite the not-very-inspiring envelope.

The Under-Dress

And despite my fears, the muslin process went quite well. Her measurements put her in the size 10 for bust and waist, size 14 for hips. Grown into the pear shape we have been predicting for her! And the sizing was true enough with only minor taking in. We initially muslined the straight skirt—she wanted a slightly flared skirt, but not as full as the one that came with the pattern. I planned to follow Gertie’s old tutorial for converting a pencil skirt style into a gently flared skirt.

So in the end I made minor tweaks to the bodice, some more major ones to the skirt (mostly to do with hip curve), and converted it from the straight original shape to the cute little flared skirt above.

Which makes it approximately the same shape as every other cute little dress she owns.

Did I mention we included pockets?

Apparently this feature is causing quite a bit of jealousy among her classmates.

The one thing she REALLY loved from her favourite of the store dresses (up above) was a corset-laced back.

It took a bit of mental rehearsing, but I eventually managed something not too dissimilar.

The dress has an inner corselet made of ticking, with metal boning. I used the original straight skirt pieces to draft a princess-seamed, hip-length pattern for it.

My biggest screw-up is that I didn’t choose to underline my bodice fabric. I thought with the dark fabric and corselet it wouldn’t be necessary. But the bodice could definitely have used a bit more support and smoothness in the outer layer. However, it’s not bothering Tyo, so please don’t point it out to her.

After some consultation, we added halter straps. They’re not, strictly speaking, functional, as the boning holds the bodice up just fine, but they definitely make her more comfortable—and they’re pretty. This crêpe back satin makes lovely soft bows. And yes, I forgot to attach them before sewing on the lining so I had to rip and insert.

The overskirt:

Once the base dress was nearly done I started on the lace over skirt.

Tyo was really excited by the idea of having the lace skirt removable. I’m trying really hard not to tell her how much this reminds me of the Teen Sweetheart Skipper doll I had in the 80s with the removable overskirt that could be worn three different ways.

Man I loved that doll. I think she perished in the Great Barbie Massacre of 2003, when I thought it would be a good idea to give the three-year-old Tyo all my old barbies. All of the heads were broken off within two weeks.

Anyway, Skipper aside, I was kind of dreading making the overskirt. The design plan was simple—gather the lace onto a straight waistband, close with hooks and cover the join with a bow. In practice, I was really dreading gathering all that lace.

I shouldn’t have been so worried. I used the zig-zag-over-heavy-thread method, which is interesting in mesh because the zig-zag basically shrinks around the centre thread into a fine line, and then it does very little shifting around on its own when you gather it. Also the fine mesh isn’t as bulky as most things, so even with something like four mètres of lace gathered onto a 26″ band it was remarkably well-behaved.

the waistband is just an interfaced rectangle I gathered the netting on to. We discussed adding another layer of tulle for poof but she says she likes it as is. The waistband closes with some skirt hooks and then a soft, droopy bow covers the attachment. We will have to cut slits in the overskirt so she can access the pockets. Also I’m pretty sure at some point during the night she’ll wear it as a cape.

The lace:

ok, I’m giving this its own section because I’m freakin proud of myself.

Tyo had one other request, which was to add a bit of lace to the hem of the short skirt’s lining, to make the basic dress a little less plain. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough of the wide lace to cut off 1.5m for the lining, and while we did have a sizable piece cut off from the upper selvedge of the lace, it had only a rudimentary, ugly really, scalloped edge.

Fortunately, I was feeling obsessive on a Saturday night, and set to work messing around with the space piece, some wash away stabilizer, and my machine’s fancy stitches.

Some key points:

  1. a hoop was useful but not essential, which is good because constantly repositioning it would’ve taken forever
  2. It works better to NOT work along the edge of your fabric. Much easier to guide things down the middle. Fortunately my remnant of lace was about twice as wide as I needed it to be.
  3. Baste your stabilizer in place, and then draw the outline of your scallop right on the stabilizer.

This took kinda forever, but was also weirdly fun, and saved me buying 1.5 more mètres of fancy 60″ wide lace just to use the bottom 3″ of it.

So this kid, though

This is done as another shop project, so we had to get to it early so it could go on display. It does feel good to have it done, though, as long as she doesn’t lose weight in the next three months. It also feels good to see how happy she is with it.

And now we can tackle the hard part—finding the right shoes!

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A dress to end an era

The Avengers (not the Emma Peel variety) grad dress is done.

Quirkyy? Maybe.

Quirkyy? Maybe.

Of course, it’s been ALMOST done since early May, just waiting on the zipper and hem. My motivation to finish anything so unselfish ahead of time? Zilch. But, with the grad only days away, I got it done.

Almost done (back in May)

I’m not sure how much resemblance my final product has to the original pattern—I replaced most of the details that make that pattern cute and unique with my own. But I do think it’s a reasonable take on what Tyo wanted.

Hmmm

Hmmm

Quick recap:

1) cut size 8; narrowed darts towards waist to increase waist size. (sewed the pleats on the skirt a teeny bit narrower to compensate)
2) removed fold-over “collar” bits, replaced them with bias “collar” strip.
3) added length at front waist, removed at back waist.

Pockets!

Pockets!

4) I added pockets. I just made up a shape, and tucked them in the side-seam. Tyo was VERY happy when she found them. It does take a bit of hunting, since they’re within a seam that’s covered by a pleat, but they’re there.

Skirt

Skirt

5) I made the skirt straight (or rather, smoothly curved) along the hem, not petaled. I just cut off the bottom curves of the petals; it becomes really short if you do this, by the way. I took the teeniest hem with a facing, and it is none too long on my daughter, who is none too tall. It’s not a full circle as cut but once it’s pleated up it might as well be.

Grum!

Grum!

6) black piping along both edges of the straps and around the “collar” strip—I imagine it’s like the black frame around a comic-strip panel.

Lapped zipper

Lapped zipper

7) I attempted to print-match only along the back bodice seam. This was generally successful, although not as impressive in a lapped zipper as an invisible zipper would’ve been.

Happy child.

Happy child.

Looking at photos, I can see a few tweaks I might make, but on the whole, the aim of the project was a happy teenager, and this was achieved.

Faced hem, my favourite kind.

Faced hem, my favourite kind.

I am, I think, out of things to say. But not out of pictures, so bear with a couple more.

Captain Wolverine

Captain Wolverine

Tyo would like to draw your attention to this accidental bit of print-not-actually matching.

Happy dance

Happy dance

Tyo would also like to do a happy dance, which means that I, as a mom, am doing my own happy dance x1000!

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Special plans

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Me and my girl.

Tyo is going to be 14 this summer. This means, and doesn’t mean, all kinds of things, but in particular, she’s finishing grade eight, which around here is the end of elementary school. Next year is high school, in all its iconic glory*. (I’m not sure who’s more scared, she or I. Okay, it’s her. I love watching my kids hit new milestones—it’s my favourite thing about parenting.)

Anyway. Tyo’s friends have been bugging her to wear a dress to grad. Tyo would just as soon go in jeans (preferably ripped), but she concocted a compromise. She would wear a dress, if I would make her one. Isn’t it great when our teenagers come up with a reasonable compromise? I know!

Oh, one more thing. It must be made out of Avengers fabric.

Challenge accepted. Confession: having never made a grad dress for myself**, I’m kinda excited to make one for my daughter anyway. Avengers fabric just puts it into the awesome category, though. The only downside is that I can’t, quite, steal her clothes yet.

Sadly, my local fabric stores are not hotbeds of superhero activity. Ok, the odd Batman fabric does show up. eBay, however, turned out to be a treasure trove. Tyo picked a very old-school, garish print. Perfect. The original price of 6.99/yard seemed quite reasonable, although shipping and that pesky conversion from American dollars nearly doubled it. Still not bad, though. What arrived is not the finest of quilting cottons, but perfectly respectable.

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MMMM. Wolverine and Thor…

Next up: Pattern.

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Tyo sent me this pic way back last summer as an example of a dress she wouldn’t mind wearing. So with that as our inspiration, we thumbed through my pattern database. Sadly, she was not going for McCall’s 4778.

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No? Not even version B?

But she did eventually bite on McCall’s 6331:

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McCall’s 6331

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View B, without the bustier cups. Tyo may someday embrace things like bustier cups but, fortunately for my reflexively-prudish-parental-nerves, she hasn’t yet.

We finally made up the practice version last weekend. I say finally because I have literally heard nothing but “When are we making my dress?” for like a month straight.

You will note some changes have been made.

In terms of fit, I traced off the Misses’ size 8, to match her bust, in the A/B cup size, and shortened the bodice by a good 3 cm, since her back length is nowhere near the 16″ the patterns are drafted for. Then I added that length back on at CF, in a kind of a reverse swayback adjustment, lengthening the front rather than shortening the back. This is my daughter, after all, even if the booty is all from her dad’s side of the family. I won’t exactly say the waist is level with the floor, but at least it’s closer.

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The practice dress.

Originally we were going to keep the cute little collar-like flaps on the front of the McCall’s pattern; not quite the inspiration dress, but it seemed like a neat detail to me. But when it came time to test the straps, it was clear that they were too far set for her narrow shoulders (those she does NOT get from me. OK, really the list of things she doesn’t get from me is much longer than the things she does.) And because of the nature of the fold-over, moving that point inward shrank down and threw off the shape of the little triangle and it just wasn’t working. Grum. So, back to the drawing-board. Or the cutting table… a few snips and the folds were eliminated, the points reduced to a gentle curve. Bonus: without the fold-over, it became much easier to cut the front on the fold, eliminating a seam. I must admit, the little sundress-collar-thingies are just about my favourite detail for a sundress. I probably over-use them, like an indifferent novelist who has the same character recurring under different names in every book.

Oh, and the original skirt pattern has these cute scallops to each panel. Yeah, that ain’t happening.

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Did I mention Tyo sewed the skirt seams herself? So helpful! Anyway, since I was using my Featherweight for the first time in months (it spent the winter at my Stylish sister-in-law’s house, in anticipation of coat-making that we never… quite… got to. 😦 ), and I had the nifty attachments like the adjustable hemmer, I thought I’d give it ago. With a little bit of adjustment and practice, I made a remarkably neat hem, just a touch over 1/4″ wide. Honestly, I’m pretty darn preening. I used all the tips people suggested in comments on my rolled-hemmer post, and they were very helpful—especially the trimming the seam-allowance when crossing seams one.

I actually kinda love how this practice dress turned out, even in the two different fabrics. I’m inclined to finish it (I need to practice my lapped zipper skills, anyway). Tyo assures me she will even wear it… next time someone has a garden party.

Although I suspect that is teenager-speak for “Never in a million billion years, mom.”

Next up will be the real dress. Plus red crinoline. I’m jealous already—I think I just might need a red crinoline. >_<

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Adjustable hemmer foot. Scary Sewing Machine Attachments rating: 7/10.

*Yes, the Breakfast Club has been watched.>
**I blogged about my gr. 12 grad dress, here. Spoiler: my mom made it. In 1970. My gr.8 grad, on the other hand, did not involve home-stitched anything. I wore a souvenir blouse my father brought back from a trip to Montreal (a foreign and exotic land,) and one of those lightweight cotton broomstick skirts that were all the rage in the early nineties. It was a beautiful skirt, and I held on to it for years after, until, early in blog-hood, it became a part of this dress.

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