It’s that time of the year again! The time where I make a dress inspired by my favorite holiday, which is Christmas.
In case you are new to my blog, this is my third year in a row making dresses with this theme. My previous two holiday inspired dresses can be viewed here and here. And like last year i’m filming the process of making this, the videos about it will be posted here.
This years dress has proved to be more of a challenge than ever. Not because it was difficult to make, in fact the construction was a lot more straightforward on this dress than last years. The challenge was coming up with an idea, which is weird for me, usually the idea is the easy part!
The ideas behind my previous Christmas dresses were very solid in my head for a few weeks before I started working on them, which made the lack of inspiration about this years project all the more frustrating.
After a lot of consideration I’ve decided to make something simple. I think my problem was trying to overcomplicate this project and come up with something really impressive. But I don’t feel like making a really complicated this year. I want to make something quite simple and pretty that goes with this headpiece that I made last year.
I’m making the design somewhat Angelic once again, with a fitted bodice, full length puffed sleeves, and a full skirt. It’s kind of a throwback to the Renaissance inspired dresses I made when I first got into historical sewing a couple years ago – but the construction will be much better.
Today i’ll be showing you my materials and how I made the bodice.
I’m using fabrics I already had around. The bolt of striped brocade was picked up earlier this year, and the other brocades were bought last year. I’m also using a bit of off white chiffon. Ideally this dress would be made entirely out of the striped brocade, but I only have four yards. That’s enough to make a relatively full skirt and pair of sleeves, but not enough for the bodice. So that’s where the gold brocade on the left side will come in.
The chiffon is for a gathered panel at the front of the bodice, which will make it look like i’m wearing a chemise underneath the dress. The did this with a lot of Lucrezia’s dresses in “The Borgias” which is one of my favorite series and probably why i’m so obsessed with this style.
Once I selected the materials from my stash I went on a little trip to joanns and browsed the Christmas selections with hopes of finding inspiration. I didn’t find too much, but I did get these cute little velvet birds, a gold cage, seasonal sprigs, and some braided trim. I really loved the little birds, and the contrast between the doves and cardinals. That was something I wanted to incorporate into my dress.
Once I got back home I discovered some red and gold ribbon that I bought a few years back (for 70c or something crazy, thanks to sales) which matched the little birds perfectly! So I chose to feature this ribbon prominently in the dress at the waist and cuffs. I also pulled some gold sequins, seed beads, and 4mm fake pearls from my stash which i’m going to use around the bodice neckline.
With all that settled, I got to work on the bodice. Instead of drafting a new pattern I used a vest pattern I made a few years ago to wear with my Pretty Pirate Project. I altered it quite a lot but the shape is still the same. The main changes were making the neckline wider and deeper, lowering the waistline, and removing the side seams.
Then I cut out a layer of cotton and marked all the boning channels. I drew these out randomly, with most of the bones at the center and sides of the bodice. I went a little crazy with the boning channels, but i’m using all plastic bones, and to get a nice shape with them you have to go a bit overboard.
Also, since i’m using brocade which shows every flaw I wanted the bodice to have a very stiff, smooth base, which is the effect lots of plastic bones give you.
I cut a layer of twill out and pinned them together, then sewed all the boning channels. This took a while but I like sewing boning channels, it becomes relaxing after a while.
I used the twill/cotton layer as a guide to cut out the brocade layer of the bodice. Then I pinned them together with the right sides facing each other and sewed around each edge. This should have been really easy, but I did it wrong. Or at least I thought I did it wrong. So I cut a few slits in the brocade layer, then began seam ripping the stitching. Only to realize a minute later that I DID sew it the right way.
Would have been nice to realize that before I cut the fabric…
Anyway! I redid it and it turned out fine. Then I added some lightweight fusible interfacing to the back edges of the bodice, so the eyelets will sit better in the brocade.
I also trimmed the curves and corners so everything would look sharp when it’s turned the right way out.
Speaking of turning things the right way out, I spent half an hour doing just that. I used pliers and colored pencils to speed the process up but it still seemed to take ages. When I was finally done I pinned around the edges, making sure that none of the twill/cotton/base layer was visible from the front side of the bodice.
I sewed around each edge with a whip stitch so the brocade layer wouldn’t move around and reveal the base layer. You can avoid doing this if you make the lining slightly smaller than the top layer of fabric, but I didn’t want to risk doing that when boning channels were involved.
I only grabbed a few threads from the top layer of fabric so none of these stitches are too visible.
When that was done I added boning to the bodice and tried it on – luckily it fit!
Then I stitched all the eyelets. I had the realization last week that you can use embroidery floss for sewing eyelets and it is way easier to work with than regular thread. I don’t know why this never occurred to me – it’s so obvious! Embroidery floss for embroidered eyelets. Makes perfect sense.
With this newly discovered process I decided to be brave and sew eyelets in a contrasting color. I went for a cheery red shade that matches the ribbon i’m using at the waist~
Fun fact: Totally pricked my finger when I was doing this and now it’s infected (though the doctor I saw insists it’s a bruise – despite the swelling, redness, and pain). I have my fingers crossed (the ones that aren’t infected) that it will resolve itself soon.
But hey, that barely matters because the eyelets look super pretty!
I also trimmed the bottom edge and sewed on bias tape to cover it.
To create the gathered front panel I cut out a strip of chiffon. Then I folded it in half and hand stitched across the folded edge so it wouldn’t shift.
I gathered it by hand at two points – one is three quarters of an inch away from the top edge, the other is half an inch away from the bottom edge.
Then I sewed it into the bodice with small whip stitches.
I liked how it looked, but when I tried it on the gathering stitches at the top snapped. So I regathered it down to twelve inches (instead of the eight it was gathered down to originally) then sewed some thin elastic at the gathering point. This holds it close to my body but gives it the ability to stretch if it needs to.
With that done it was time to add the embellishments to the neckline.
I alternated between 4mm fake pearls and gold seed beads, then whip stitched the strand in place. Below that I sewed a spattering of gold sequins on. It’s subtle, but I think it’s very pretty!
I didn’t extend the beading to the back of the bodice because I didn’t have enough pearls. And beading on the backs of dresses is kind of a pain, hair gets caught in it so easily.
And here it is with the shoulder seam done up! I did sew lining into the bodice but that step came after attaching the sleeves, so i’ll show that in another post.
And here is a preview photo of what the whole thing looks like finished, because the details are so much clearer in this photo and I wanted to show how smooth the brocade looks. I’m quite proud of that!
More photos and The Making of Posts about this project will be up soon!
Thanks for reading!