Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Very Last Dress

My grandniece Cauliflower turned 11 this August. I've been making her a dress every other year (on the alternate years she gets a sweater), and it occurred to me this year that this year's dress will likely be the last dress I can make for her. After puberty girls need their dresses fitted on them, and it isn't possible for me to do that given that I don't see her often. After this year she'll just get sweaters from me, and I felt this very last dress needed to be special. 

I had a particular tartan fabric on hand that I loved. I'd bought the fabric on impulse years ago, something I try never to do these days, as I am making every effort to buy only what I need and did not and do not need a new dress, but again this was years ago, before I began to crack down on impulse buys, and I will say that the fabric was on clearance and very inexpensive (I think it was under $10 for the 1.9 metre piece), and that I still love it. I wanted to make myself a dress out of the tartan, but I thought that if I picked out a dress pattern for Cauliflower that called for a trim or sections of contrast fabric, that I could squeeze that out of the piece too. 

Accordingly I searched for a suitable pattern for Cauliflower's dress, and found one in the McCall's M7680 pattern you see above. I could see option B working in navy with a deep hem of the tartan and perhaps a ruffle of it around the sleeve. I bought the pattern, and I bought a piece of navy crepe for the body of Cauliflower's dress, and I cut out my tartan dress first, cutting very strategically to make sure I'd have a sizable strip of the tartan left for Cauliflower's dress.  

Here is the finished dress. It's a size 12, and it actually fit on my dressmaker form after I adjusted the form to be as small as it will go. I'm fairly pleased with it. It looks plain and tailored, but then it's my understanding that Cauliflower likes plain, simple clothes best. And she's not a little girl anymore -- she may be wearing this dress until she's 13 -- and it shouldn't look like a little girl's dress. 

The sewing of it didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped. The body and the strip of the tartan at the bottom went together without issue, but then I got to the sleeves. The sleeves were very wide and I didn't like that look (nor would I like the feel of it -- how does anyone tolerate all that extra fabric flapping around their wrists?), so I cut them down, using a sleeve pattern piece from one of my own dress patterns as a template. Then I made the sleeve ruffles I had planned, sewed them on, and got the dress finished... and hated it. It looked as though I'd stitched a scrunchy around each sleeve opening which -- in case this needs saying -- was not a good look. I seemed to hate those stupid ruffles more every time I looked at the dress. I began to try to figure out a way to fix it, and eventually came up with the idea of replacing the tartan ruffles with tartan cuffs. I had very little of the tartan left by this point, so I explored the idea thoroughly first to make sure it would work before I touched either the existing ruffles or made a single cut in the remnants of tartan. 

The credit for my eventual success with the cuffs belongs to my beloved Vogue Sewing Book, which had an array of cuff and other sleeve finishing options to offer me, as well as detailed instructions for how to sew each one. I selected a split detached cuff option and, following the directions in the book, made a paper pattern for the cuffs and then did a trial run of the cuff pattern with a piece of muslin. The muslin cuff I'd made from my pattern worked after just one slight adjustment. I ripped the ruffles off the dress and cut the cuffs out of the tartan (this took some fussing, but I managed to squeeze them in to the small pieces I had left), prepared them, used the muslin cuff as interfacing, and then stitched them in place on the sleeves.

I'm pretty pleased with how the cuffs turned out. They look more or less professional. Cauliflower's present will also include the bracelet you see here, which was something of a find as it goes so well with the dress. Although now I'm wishing I'd made her a necklace to go with the dress instead, as it needs a necklace much more than it does a bracelet. I could still make her one for Christmas, I suppose....


And, of course, there had to be a matching purse for the dress. The purse has a tartan lining, and I made the little ribbon rosette you see here out a strip of turquoise ribbon from my ribbon canister and a half-dozen beads from my beading supplies box. Looking at it now, though, I think maybe I should have just left it without the rosette. I also think the rosette might have looked better if it were red. I thought I didn't have any red ribbon hand, only to discover I did after the gift had been given to my parents to pass along to Cauliflower -- it was in a box of Christmas ribbons I had stowed away in the gift wrap tote in the line closet, sigh. If only I'd remembered I had it.

The purse looks pretty good with the dress. I wish the tartan showed to better advantage in these pictures -- they just don't do it justice.

This is Cauliflower's gift in its totality: the dress, purse, bracelet, and a copy of The Girl's Book of Adventure, which looks like it has loads of fun pandemic-friendly activities in it, and (not shown) two masks that I sewed for her. When I'd assembled these items and was photographing them, I thought, "That kid has it so good." When I was a child, my family lived on such a shoestring that we usually didn't get birthday presents. I didn't receive any gifts at all for my eleventh birthday; we just had a homemade chocolate cake with candles on it at supper that night. The photo above depicts what Cauliflower's getting from one of her great-aunts for her eleventh birthday -- she will also have received many more, and much more expensive presents from her parents, brother, and very large extended paternal and maternal families. 

So... it's perhaps not such a shame that this is probably the last dress I will make for her.

1 comment:

  1. Really like the tartan and the dress and the whole package. Wonderful gifts.