refashioned custom dress


Fabric: Original dress made in a polyester two-tone satin faced taffeta. The matching fabric I think is a satin polyester, and poly lining.
Pattern: Self drafted with princess panels, dropped waist, and sewn in belt.
Techniques: Invisible zipper, fully lined, understitched neckline and armholes, sewn in bra-loops.


Every once in a while I take on sewing projects for customers. A month or so back, I was contacted by a lady who wanted to have her dress resewn. The strapless gown had become too small, and she wanted somthing that would be more versatile. She liked the idea of refashioning this dress – especially since she had shoes dyed to match especially. She was picturing a sleeveless dress with a straight silhouette and a dropped waist.

I sketched out a panelled dress with a contrasting sewn in waistband, keeping a bit with the original dress. The first task of this refashion was to figure out how much of the orginal dress could actually be used for the new dress – or in other words, how much dress could I make out of the original gown? It turned out, unfortunately, that all the pieces of the new dress simply could not fit on the pieces of the gown.


The customer lady and I decided on supplementing with a new but matching fabric for the bodice, which made for a three-tone dress. The contrast belt in the middle is actually just the back side of the main skirt fabric! The gown had gotten some bad water stains, so even with just needing the skirt and belt from the original fabric it was a bit of a challenge cutting around the worst spots. A good thing then, that I had the wiggle room to avoid them! The dress is fully lined, with an invisible zipper at the side seam.


The customer lady was very aware of what suited her and her body, which in many ways made my job easier. She looked great in the finished dress, and I was so thrilled to see her happy with the final result!

Ireland dress, swanky and finished

Hold on peeps, this is a picture-heavy one! John and I just came back from celebrating a friend’s wedding in Ireland, and I’ve been working (well, ruminating and planning at least) on this dress for quite a while, so it’s a big sigh of relief to have it done and looking good. And so much fun to photograph in a castle (!) in Ireland! So many exclamation points!

Ireland_coupleThat’s not the castle, by the way. This is right after the ceremony at the Irish-catholic village church. Don’t we look nice!

Fabric: Mystery mustard colored fabric I got for free from a friend of a friend while living in Chicago. It has a beautiful drape to it and a subtle sheen, and I’ve taken it for a viscose rayon this entire time. When ironing it however, it smells unmistakably like polyester (though I haven’t done a burn test to confirm) – as a fabric snob (and being ok with that) I’ll chalk this up as one of the nicest polyesters I’ve met! Lining is a jaquard weave poly from Joann Fabrics.
Pattern: Self drafted with a-line full length skirt, bias cut cowl front, and v-neck back. I’m thrilled I had time to make both a bodice mock-up, and a wearable muslin ahead of time.
Techniques: Bias cut neckline drape, waist-stay, self-lined bodice, bias-tape bound armholes, and fusible seam tape at all cut edges of bodice seams.

Oh, where to start! I felt so damn swanky in this! I don’t often wear floor-length gowns, but it totally felt right for this occasion, and for this fabric. I shared this picture below a while back, of a dress from the 30’s that has been my visual inspiration for what I wanted to wear to this wedding:

wpid-20130629194618663.jpgI realized pretty quickly that as much as I wanted to take the opportunity and do a full-on replication of this dress from the 30s, I just didn’t have enough fabric to do it. And being a random mystery fabric, I certainly didn’t know where to get more! I’m ok with that though. Even if the inspiration dress is way more dramatic and stunning, I felt dramatic and elegant enough in the castle wedding setting – and looking back at this picture I’m quite amused at how similar the finished dress ended up to the super-quick draped mock-up I did back then!

The wearable muslin I made was incredible helpful. It meant that I could make the changes to the pattern, and then cut into the mustard colored fabric, confident that I didn’t have to recut, and confident that I wouldn’t have to make more alterations.

Alright, here comes construction notes – if that’s not your thing, just skip to the picture of the hat below – interspersed with somewhat non-related, pretty pictures of the finished thing (sorry about the lack of detail-shots and process, just didn’t prioritize it this time around!).


So – the bodice is self lined – the front bodice cut on fold at the cowl neckline edge, and the back bodice cut twice. I spent a whole lot of time ironing on the fusible seam tape on almost all cut edges, which I did since I was terrified of stretching out seams so they wouldn’t sew together nicely! I’ve learned through some nearly failed projects that you can gather and ease a stretched out seam to the right length, but the fabric beyond the seamline is still stretched out, and will never lay nicely. Hence all the seam tape, haha! It really did make a difference though I think, and everything sewed together very nicely (in terms of seamline lengths). While making the wearable muslin I managed to iron on the fusible both too short on some seams, and too long on others. For this dress I actually ended up laying the fabric on the paper pattern, and pinning both of them to the ironing board (just with a pin straight down, vertically, into the board) to really make sure the length ended up correctly. I was quite pleased with this method!

Ireland_stair3Deer caught in headlights descending stairs in beautiful shoes, while holding glass attempting not to spill any more drinks on herself (total tally by the end of the night was 2 plus a broken glass, which was a total fluke, and a dress rinsed out in the sink that dried to look pristine).

I knew I wanted a waist-stay on this dress (you must know by now how much I adore trying new techniques and adding little touches to what I sew!), but it took a lot of internal debate on how exactly to do it! Most often the waist stay is sewn to the waistline seam-allowances, both self and lining fabric layers, and is visible from the inside. I don’t mind the waist-stay being visible, but this alternative would mean an unfinished waistline seam that I would want to bind in bias tape, which I was afraid would get too bulky with 5-6 layers right above the waist-seam, and only the 2 layers of the skirt below. Also, it would mess up having a clean zipper finish on the inside. Alternative 1 nixed.

The next alternative I considered would be to sew together all waistseam layers but the bodice lining, attach the waist-stay, and slipstitch the bodice lining to the seam. That would be better than the first alternative, but I was still worried that any little difference in the grain of the fabrics would end up pulling weirdly by being solidly attached at the waist, in addition to the issue of bulk. Alternative 2 nixed.


Ireland_dress_backPosing in the rose-garden, swoon! I can see the draglines from the wearable muslin ar still there somewhat (probably exaggerated a bit here), and I’m pretty sure it’s from the straps having slid down too far on my sloping shoulders. A bra sitting further in plus bra-loops keeping it anchored should fix that.

This was honestly such a long back and forth conversation in my head, where I kept forgetting why I had nixed the different options! I’m sure I considered other approaches, but what I ended up doing was to attach the skirt and bodice layers separately for the lining and the self, sewing the waist-stay to the outside layer waist seam allowance (pressed upwards), pressing the lining waist seam allowance downwards, and loosely slipstitch the seamline together at center front, center back, and at the side seam. I did that to keep the layers together where they were supposed to be, while allowing everything to move a bit too. I couldn’t get around this little oddity of having to leave a gap in the lining by the zipper, right where the waist-stay comes together with a little hook. It’s a trade off to not having exposed seams, but I’ll admit a little fiddly to avoid loosing the ends of the waist-stay, since they aren’t attached all the way to the zipper tape! Oh well. I found Tasia’s multiple posts on waist-stays very helpful, such as this one sewn fully to the waist seam allowance, and also this more traditional one.

Who knew I would have this much to say about waist-stays? Ok, moving on… sewing really was quite easy, there aren’t that many pieces to this dress. But making sure that they don’t stretch, and that they’re on grain, that is the tricky part. I had such a hard time hemming the skirt – the lining especially. I totally recommend having a second person helping you when hemming these types of long dresses! At the bridal shop I used to work at, we would mark the skirt with pins set in vertically where the fabric touched the floor. Then we hemmed a certain amount up from those marks, based on the type of fabric the skirt was made of (generally cutting at the pins and aiming for a finished hem about 3/8″ off the floor, but for chiffon you’d cut less since it tends to crawl up and shrink in length when cut). Anyways, I think my lining must have been a bit off grain because it was waaaay longer in one spot off to the side. Oops! It took several rounds of trimming but turned out ok. Having made myself very few floorlength dresses, it’s a new way of thinking for me that this dress is hemmed pretty much only for these shoes, and these shoes only! (loved, loved, loved, loved my shoes by the way!)

purple_suade_shoesMy purple suede peeptoe platform patent leather wedding shoes! Crappy cell picture, but none of the other pictures really showed these beauties.


Ireland_dress_stair2So glamorous!

Finally, let’s admire the beautiful fascinator that my talented and lovely Sara custom-made for me! She knew the color and style of the dress I was making, and she knows me and my style. Then she took that and melded it with her aesthetics to create this smashing headpiece. I loved wearing it, and got lots of compliments on it all day long. I don’t think this outfit would have been complete without it. (Thanks Sara, you’re so lovely!)

ireland_fascinator Alright, that wraps it up! I made a mustard-colored fancy dress, I wore it, and I loved it. It’s a win.

the Ireland dress in wearable-muslin form

Phew, sorry about the delay! I took these pictures early last week, but my new camera (!) and I are stilling getting to know each other so I haven’t gotten all the technical kinks out of the editing process. My apologies too for the odd color cast going on in these pictures – it was a little dark and I can’t get the raw-files to work right now!

DSC_3601Anyways, I made a muslin for that dress I’m wearing to the wedding in Ireland (which is a long thing to call a dress. I do also call it the Ireland-dress, which makes not much, but still a little sense all things considered). I picked up this surprisingly nice polyester with its wonderfully funny color combination at Vogue in Evanston, IL on my recent trip to Chicago. I went with my friend Sara and we also found a couple of more poly fabrics that were surprisingly nice, and that’s saying something coming from a fabric snob like me. The fabric I picked up to use for a wearable muslin is a little stiffer than my real fabric, but other than that it drapes pretty similarly.

DSC_3353That’s at John’s mom’s house, and I am attaching fusible seam tape (I think that’s what it calls itself) to the back v-neck cut edge, and I learned that 1. it is 3/8″ wide, so I redrafted the pattern so the seamline is right at the edge of the seam tape, 2. that I should cut the seam tape to the right length so I don’t accidentally distort the proper length of the seam, and 3. it is almost inevitable that the un-fused seamline of the lining stretches, so to avoid bunching on the inside I will fuse the lining, understitch, and any excess width will be on the outside layer which will roll over to the outside because of the turn of cloth.DSC_3598So, the first full muslin ended up being a little big. I made a bodice muslin that my wicked skilled teacher-friend Julie helped me with, which needed an FBA, some diagonal pinching out in the back because of the v-neck, and some balancing. I’m realizing that to make  garments hang nicely on me and look balanced at the side-seams, the front needs to be wider than usual and the back narrower. Good to know!

DSC_3512I decided it would look best to take out most of the excess in this muslin in the front, so I pinched out an inch at the waist, tapering it to nothing at the cowl fold edge since I’m happy with the amount of cowling there, and how low it falls.

DSC_3526I can see the hem in the front is significantly higher than the back, but I redrafted the skirt pieces more properly than my free-form carpet and copy paper travel drafting, so I don’t think that will be a big problem. I also cut the skirt with a fair amount of extra length for hemming.DSC_3518 DSC_3558

As you can see, the back had some diagonal pulling after I pinched in the center back.  The v-neck has needed several rounds of pinches taken out, which is common for deep necks like this one. The straps were sitting a little too far out on my shoulders, so I pinned out a good 3/4″ at the v-point. That, combined with the little wedge I’ve pinned out diagonally on the left side in the picture above, will help with pivoting the shoulder seams further in.

DSC_3510The pattern is now all altered and fixed and trued up, and the *real* fabric all cut out. We’re leaving for Ireland in a few days, so….um.. chop-chop! As for this wearable muslin, it’s not really wearable at the moment, but I would really like to make it so. I’ll have to take out all the excess at the side-seams, so it won’t be perfect. But look at that fabric! Too fun to not make a proper dress out of!

folk dance costumes

Oh, what a couple of weeks it’s been. I’ve been hard at work with costumes for the opening night of “Mellom rutene -det første trekket avgjør ofte det siste” (the link is to a news article). I travelled up and spent last weekend there to make sure they were all in order – and to see the performance of course! Following that I went straight into a monster work week, and now I’m home sick. I’m sure they’re related. But! That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the costumes I made!

bd6Photo by Ina Cyrus

I’ve been working for this pretty cool project: This traditional folk dance foundation does a three-year project in a municipality, ending in a final project performance. It’s very much shaped by the folk music and dance material traditional to each municipality, so every project takes on a unique life and progression. I got involved to make costumes for one of these final performances, and it was a really nice experience!


The setting for the performance was a chess-game, and the concept revolved around what happens if the pieces starts breaking the rules. This show is an expansion of the version they did last year, and part of my job was to expand on the costumes they had used. This meant I was making a lot of pieces that needed to supplement the tunics they already had in place. It also meant that the silhouette was more or less already given, but anything I added also needed to be very dance-friendly.

IMG_2909-4   IMG_2907-2

The main pieces I worked on were the vests for the kings and the queens. They already had beautiful hand crocheted crowns, but they needed something to make them more visibly different. I gave them vests with exaggerated collars (they queens more so than the kings, as you can see), and to make sure they were dance-friendly, the closures were made up of elastics in the front.


I also made four skirts for the rooks. I really wanted a straight, column-like shape in the skirts for the stoic rooks, but you can’t dance and roll around on the floor in a pencil skirt! The solution was to use stiffer and heavier fabric for the main portion of the skirt, and to insert cheese-cloth-like thin fabric in between the panels. When the dancer moved and twirled and stuff, the panels opened up to full skirt shape, in line with how the other skirts were moving on stage.

bd3bd5Photo by Ina Cyrus

There were of course more chess-pieces to identify, and we used hats and collars to do so. The pawns had simple tunics and hats, the knights had flat shoulder-collars, and the bishops were given neck ruffles. And, being costumes, lots of velcro as closures!



A recurrent inspiration was the medieval times, for several reasons: The previous performance was based on the old norse royal game of chess, so the existing tunics were very much medieval in style, and also – with my background in medieval studies I do jump at a chance to draw source material from the era. Several of the patterns were even based on medieval clothing, and I think it does show! In a good way, of course. For instance, the late medieval period saw a lot of collars attached to the bodice in the back with a diagonal seamline. It’s not really done much anymore, but it makes attaching the collar much easier, and I think, also more stable.

IMG_2917 IMG_2921

In addition to working with costumes and getting a lot of freedom in picking fun fabric combinations, I got to meet a great group of kids who did a wonderful job on stage. They were a dedicated and fun bunch, and I’m glad to have met them!

SONY DSCPhoto by Ina Cyrus

designing knits, part 2

Picking up where I left off: My yarn arrived, I’ve cast on, and started knitting! The yarn is as soft and delicious as I remember – and yes, it will pill a little since it’s so soft. That’s the nature of the beast for a single ply merino wool, but it’s a trade-off I’ve chosen to deal with to gain the soft feel, the drape, and the pattern effect. Actually, that leads me nicely into what I wanted to share about the process of designing this top: compromises.

That doesn’t really sound like a good thing in designing, but here’s the deal – knitting this lace top the way my original pattern is written would be somewhat convoluted, and probably a little irritating. Let’s go back to how I made the pattern in the first place: I used a soft jersey to drape the top on a dressform to the look that I wanted, then transferred that to a paper pattern. Knowing my gauge from having knit my sample, it was just a matter of marking all the places that had changes in angles (like the waist, or the tip of the shoulder, or the collar line for example), measure the distances, and calculate the amount of rows and stitches that needed to change in between all those points. It was quite a lot of math work, but I think it was a pretty accurate way of coming up with the shaping of the garment.

Now, I followed these numbers accurately. This meant counting rows all the time, and in order to keep track of where I was, I kept having to note on my pattern what row of the 8 row pattern-repeat the next increase or decrease would happen on, so I knew I was on the right row. One decrease might happen on row 5 of the repeat, then I had to count 17 rows and make sure the next decrease in fact was on row 6 of the repeat, and so on.

I don’t think most knitters would find that approach very enjoyable, or logical, or clear. So here is where my compromises come in: in order to make it easier and less frustrating for the knitter, I am choosing to move the decreases and increases to always be at the same point in the pattern repeat. That way, all you have to count is how many of those repeats to go before the next decrease. Yes, the shaping won’t be as optimal as the original, but the tradeoff is a pattern that is better to work with. In the end, I think moving a decrease 3 or 4 rows won’t make too significant of a change to warrant a more knitpicky kind of counting.

Any other pet peeves in knitting from patterns? Mine is knitting in sections and sewing the back and fronts together when it could just be knit in one piece from the start!

designing knits

I’ve already mentioned in a couple of posts that I’m working on another Geithus lace knit top, which is this thing, if you’ll remember:

I’ve decided to tweak it and publish it, and thought it might be interesting to tag along and see the process!

I bought this absolutely gorgeous Manos del Uruguay yarn while in the US last month to make my sample with, but then I knit up a swatch in the honeycomb pattern that is the main part of the lace knit top, and… it’s completely wrong. Wrong for this project at least! Let’s compare the swatches, shall we?

Making the second swatch in a new yarn was quite an interesting experience. After I realized the yarn was wrong for this project, I started thinking about *why* it didn’t work. Going through those things and deciding the reasons they didn’t work with my project was a reminder of the design process itself. It’s full of decisions you make based on the vision you have for your end product!

The green yarn is a smooth 2-ply lace yarn, and I decided I need a yarn with more give for this garment. The slippery, silky Manos also produced a fabric (color aside) that just didn’t feel right. It was less plum, and less dense than the original swatch, which was something that was important to me in designing the top originally. I didn’t want it see through!

The gauge was way off, and while I could have made another swatch with a smaller needle size, I believe a needle size of somewhere around US 0 or 2mm would just be enjoyable for the detail work involved in this! I decided that a single ply yarn that will somewhat stick to itself was the right yarn for the type of fabric and drape and opacity I wanted to achieve. A last thing I realized about the single ply, was that it would offer a clearer stitch definition. In the green sample it’s hard to see that there is a pattern at all!

So with the swatch telling me I had the wrong yarn, I’ve ordered 3 skeins of Malabrigo in a colorway I’m a little anxious and a lot excited to see if the color will make sense. It should be on its way to my mailbox right now! In the meanwhile, I’ve been crunching numbers. I’ve got some changes I want to make from the original pattern, such as proper cap sleeves instead of an extended shoulder; a more defined side rib to tackle the decreases; and a better way of finishing the armholes and the collar. I’ll come back to those later, when the yarn has arrived and hopefully I’ve started knitting the sample!

I hope this peek into the process of designing knits was interesting!

more costumes

Photo by Hanne Kristin Lie/Studvest 

Just a little sneak peak of one of the many projects I’m working on right now! I’m doing the costumes for a student theater show, and as always – lots of work, but fun! I shared the colors in my last post, and here you can see that the shapes are a little… freeform! There is a plan, I promise.

This is the article from the student newspaper. Now, if you will excuse me, I have five days left and a lot of costumes to finish!