It’s More of an Engineering Problem

Tatiana’s dress is done! I finished it yesterday late afternoon and she wore it at the showcase last night. I have to tell you, it looked beautiful on her. Now for the frustrating part – my frickin’ camera battery died on me right before I was to take her picture!!! Believe me, I uttered every expletive in the book with my full-on Boston accent as I stomped up the stairs from the green room to the ballroom. Stefan, another of her students, took her picture in it, and as soon as he sends me the photos, I’ll post them. In the meantime, here’s the review.

Pattern Description: This is a morph of two patterns. It’s based on Jalie’s Open-backed skating dress. The bottom is a self-drafted six-gore skirt.

Notes about this pattern/design choice: Competitive ballroom dance is divided up into two basic groupings: Smooth and Latin. Smooth, also sometimes called Standard, includes Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep. Latin includes Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. This dress is for the Smooth portion of the competitions. Generally speaking, Smooth dresses are ankle length, with a tightly fitted bodice and flaring skirt, good for showing off the position of the body and for higlighting turns and gliding motion. Latin dresses are much more, um, body conscious. I’ll do a post about Latin after I finish that dress.

Sizing: All sizes, from girls to women’s. Based upon Tatiana’s measurements, I used a size R, and I tapered the waistline to a size N.

Fabric Used: Panné burnout velvet for the dress, matte nylon-lycra for the leotard.

Needle/Notions Used: I made the outfit on my industrial serger and sewing machines. On a home machine, I would use a Stretch 75/11 needle. The notions I used were 1/4 inch elastic for the leg and back openings, and two waistband hooks for the neckline closure. I used standard poly-core thread. I debated about using horsehair braid in the hem, but when she came for the final fitting, we decided against it. I used 1/8 inch elastic for the finger thingies (I’m sure there’s a technical term for them. They are the loops you slip over your middle finger so you can look good when flipping the bird at a couple who blocked you in a corner to hold the sleeve in place). I also sewed bra cup inserts into the leotard.

Did it look like the photo or drawing when you got through? As much as it could. The leotard part definitely looks like the pattern.

How were the instructions? Jalie’s instructions were great. Really, they were crystal clear. And obviously the skirt went together easily – the instructions in my head were perfect! This was easier than I thought it was going to be. As I say, it’s more of an engineering problem than a dressmaking problem, but the engineering is pretty straightforward. It’s really a matter of understanding how much ease (or not) a dance dress needs to have. That’s vastly different from most of the garments I have sewn before, and once I figured it out (on the disastrous first take on a Latin dress), it got much more obvious to me.

Construction Notes: I used the Jalie as the basis for the dress after having a disastrous first-go with a McCalls pattern (I was using it for the base leotard for a Latin dress, not this one. But I learned my lesson quickly). The Jalie has much less ease built in than the other did. As it was, I still had to remove some ease (more about that later). I also really liked the fact that the Jalie had a dropped waistline and the keyhole back. Tatiana has the perfect ballerina’s body – very long through the torso, and this pattern fit her torso length perfectly out of the package. Jalie makes note of this in their instructions, and I’ll reiterate it here. When making a leotard, or a dress built upon a leotard, there are two critical measurements: circumference and length. Circumference is straightforward, and what we do for any gament we make. The length measurement I took was from the shoulder seam at the neck, across the bust point, down to the crotch seam for the front. For the back, measure from the crotch seam up to the shoulder seam at the neckline. This will make sure your garment doesn’t give the wearer a wedgie when moving in it.

As I said above, I started with a size R. While the pattern has negative ease to it, we needed even less ease than it started with. So I tapered from an R at the bust to an N at the waist, and back out. To put it in numbers, I took about an inch and a half out of the waistline.

The leotard has three basic parts to it: bodice/panty/sleeves. The panty is made of the matte nylon lycra. The bodice is made of the burnout velvet underlaid with the matte lycra (for modesty), and the sleeves are the velvet with no underlay. The skirt is unlined.

I didn’t embellish the dress at all yet. I wanted her to wear it at the showcase so I could see what needed to be done. If I do put any embellishment on it, I’ll probably use black Swarovski crystals at the neckline. Tatiana and Christine (another dance instructor, and half of the #4 ranked dance couple in Canada) were going back and forth about whether the dress needed it. I’ll let them decide. If the answer is yes, I’ll try to bribe Sewing Diva Phyllis to help me with the placement of the crystals.

Any changes? As I said, I changed the skirt to be a 6-gore, flared, ankle length skirt.

Likes/Dislikes: I really, really liked this pattern. I don’t have any dislikes.

Would you do it again? Would you recommend it? I’ve already been asked by several dancers if I would be willing to make them a dress like it. I haven’t decided if I want to do that. But I do recommend the base pattern heartily.

Conclusion: Tatiana’s happy – she walked up to me with a huge smile on her face last night and said, “Everyone loves my dress! And I love it too!”

Yeah, I’m happy with it. 🙂

Here’s a picture of the then-mostly-finished dress on the hanger. As I said, as soon as I get the picture from Stefan of Tatiana in the dress, I’ll post it here.

Happy sewing!

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