Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another Party Dress

The past two weeks have been busy. Several visits with family members and another holiday party. One more week of work and I am off until the new year. I can't wait.

Thanksgiving was very enjoyable. My parents, MIL , 2 of 3 siblings and their families came to visit for a few days. The absent sister called while we were eating our Thanksgiving turkey dinner, so we put her on speaker phone and acted like she was sitting right there with us. Which meant we all talked at once and she couldn't get a word in edgewise. She is a couple hours behind us, living in AZ, and she had just put her turkey in the oven. My brother chose the adult beverages for the occasion and we were all very amused by the label of this particular wine he had chosen.
The wine was very good and after a few bottles we were ready to do reckless, irresponsible things like the label suggested. Not really, we had to be role models for the teens in the family, but it was a very nice wine for a reasonable price.

Three days after my family departed, my SIL and her family arrived for an early Christmas visit. It was fun, but rushed. My nephews have an internet business and holiday sales are brisk, so they had to get back home to PA and fill orders. We did appreciate the effort they made to be part of this visit.

As I mentioned before I enjoy making dresses for holiday parties. In the midst of all the visits, I had another holiday party. The Cotillion Holy Ball. I wrote about Cotillion last year. My youngest son enjoys attending the dances and this one, in Dec, is used to collect money for charity. Parents attend and dance the last dances with their children, mothers with sons, fathers with daughters. My husband and I were official chaperones for the event and our son was a March Leader for the first dance (He got his name in the paper). But the best part, from my point of view, is that chaperones have reserved seats in the balcony where they can watch the dancing. All other parents have to stand around the periphery of a very crowded dance floor for an hour. So I got to wear some killer heels. Right after my Thanksgiving guests’ cars backed out of the driveway, I flew to the closets where I have hidden my sewing stuff and pulled out some potential dress patterns. After much indecision, I picked McCalls 5746, a fitted sheath type dress with lots of darts. They all originate near the center front/back and radiate outward.

I chose a dark teal blue wool crepe and lighter colored acetate lining from my stash. I made the version with the gathered sleeves because they create horizontal lines on top to balance out my larger bottom half. The top was a little big on me. I had to shorten the bodice front. I also sewed the bodice side seams straight up, taking out the extra fabric at the under arms. These are the exact same changes the Palmer Pletsch fitting instructor did on my McCalls Palmer Pletsch fitting shell pattern. I lengthened the skirt 5 inches because I am 2 " taller than the height of the pattern model and wanted a slightly longer skirt to cover up my knees. I am amazed at how well this dress fits. The darts are in all the right places for my shape. The center front seam was handy for shaping the front neckline to prevent gaping. This dress even looked good before I put on my "hold it all in" shaping undergarments . The teal is dark enough to give a sliming effect, but it isn’t black, which I don’t like to wear near my face. The sleeveless version, before the sleeves were sewn in, looked good too. Danvillegirl was working on the sleeveless version of this pattern at the same time I was working on mine.
The belt was made from a jacquard woven ribbon with metallic threads. The ribbon was hand tacked to the waistline seam and I used two snaps to hold it closed in the back.

The sleeves are self faced. Made of two layers of crepe, they tended to droop. So on the day of the event I scrambled to find instructions for making sleeve heads. I used the instructions in Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing by Roberta Carr. This book was published in the early 1990’s when big shoulders were in fashion. It has a chapter devoted to different sleeve heads to keep the shape in gathered, pleated, or darted sleeves. They were actually quick to make and worked great. They basically looked like this.

I see gathered sleeves starting to appear in RTW and patterns again. While most aren't big enough to require sleeve heads, those of you that sew costumes, or little girl's heirloom dresses might be interested in the instructions for making them.

Sleeve Head Instructions

Source: Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing by Roberta Carr

1. Measure distance between gathering points. Mine was 7.25 inches.

2.Cut a rectangle of organza 2 times the length of the distance measured in step 1. and 5 inches wide. So mine was 14.5 by 5 inches.

3.Fold rectangle lengthwise so that one side is 3" and the other 2"
4.Gather folded rectangle along folded edge using two lines of gathering stitches>
5. Sew along gathered edge with straight stitch or serger to hold gathers in place.
6. Hand sew gathered edge of sleeve head, with 3 inch side to the sleeve, to armhole seam using catch stitch. This keeps the sleeve head from adding bulk to the sleeve seam.


  1. Just happened on to your blog while surfing through some sewing blogs.
    Such wonderful information you share and I love your pattern choices....great ideas....and for wine too. I book marked this page immediately.

    I appreciate the information for the sleeve heads. I removed pads from the sleeve of a dress and have drooping so this might be the answer for me.

    Thanks for sharing. I don't know how you sewers do it. I am trying to get started again after years of not sewing.

    Warm regards.

  2. Sounds like you had a great Thanksgiving! Your new dress is lovely and in a perfect colour :)

  3. Your dress is magnificent. I love the color and the final touch with the ribbon belt! You look very elegant in this dress!

  4. Audrey, Good job on your dress! It looks beautiful. And it fits! Whomever was your Palmer/Pletsch fit instructor--my compliments. Pati Palmer

  5. What a beautiful dress! And thank you SO MUCH for the illustrated tutorial on sleeve heads! :)

  6. Great tute on the sleeve heads. I love that book.

  7. Until I saw your dress, I would have passed right by that pattern. Thankyou for sharing all the details & pictures! - EMC

  8. Great article! Featured some of my picks for this Party Season on here: http://londonblackbook.co.uk/2009/11/14/party-dresses-she-thinks-he-thinks

    Noa Xx