Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dressing for Success

Some friends of mine recently got married. When I got their invitation, the immediate thought (wail, more like) was "I haven't got a thing to wear!"

For the last several years I have pretty much always worn at least some tie-dye, usually a tie-dyed shirt and tie-dyed socks with blue jeans, or a tie-dyed "farmer's dress", or whatever. It's not a religious thing, but I like the bright colors, I have a lot of it, and it's comfortable. The last wedding I went to was a tie-dyed affair anyhow, so I was fine wearing one of my tie-dyed casual dresses (the one in my picture to the right with the bears-in-heart tapestry).

But this wedding was going to be a formal-to-semi-formal affair with dancing! My usual togs just wouldn't do. The groom-to-be and I joked about my having to pull out my formal tie-dye ("no, no, it only has to be semi-formal"). Pretty soon, it had to happen: I had to make myself a very fancy tie-dyed dress.


Designing the dress was fun. I had set myself a couple of constraints: the dress had to be tie-dyed, and it had to be silk (to lend it formality). Further, I would make it (almost) exclusively from silk charmeuse scarves from Dharma. With that decision, I could easily make prototypes of the dress. I also decided to make it a two-piece dress so it would be easier to get in and out of (and so I could wear the skirt with different tops later). I had been hankering to make myself a handkerchief-hem skirt for a while, too, so that became part of the design.

I started with paper towels and one of my favorite models, Barbie. Barbie is very cooperative for such endeavors--I have been making clothes for her since I was a kid. A little tape, some snips here and there, and soon we had a couple of prototypes (my daughter did one too).

I took the best prototype picture, massaged it a bit, and made what was essentially a coloring book page of it.

I borrowed my daughter's oil pastels and played with colors. So did my kids! I did the upper set.


I got a bunch of silk charmeuse scarves. The eight skirt pieces (two layers of four scarves each) were tied to make a diagonal stripe, while the others were done as diagonal stripes or X's. I also tied a sash.

I dyed them all using diluted turquoise, turquoise, electric blue, and strong navy and left them covered overnight.


Once the scarves were dyed, washed, and dried, they made a glorious armful of colored silk. The white appeared on some scarves (but not all) where the dye hadn't penetrated. I had been aiming for a little white. The strong navy color came out purple (because I was dyeing silk instead of cotton), but fortunately purple is fine with me. After all, I always tell my students that tie-dye NEVER turns out exactly how you expect!

Now it was time to start putting them together. Easier said than done!

These are the eight scarves that will become the skirt.

I found information on "Making An 8-Point Skirt" on the web. I aligned each set of four scarves with the turquoise sections forming the diagonals of the squares as below, sewed each set together into a square, and put in the elastic waistband. I used 1.25-inch-wide elastic to give the waistband some strength. Those eight silk charmeuse 35" scarves make the skirt quite heavy!

Here is the skirt.
This is the top. The body of the top is essentially a tank top that is attached to the collar at the neck opening. The body is made of one 44" scarf that I cut in half diagonally. I used an existing tank top that I had as a pattern for the scarf pieces for the body.

The collar is one more 35" scarf set diagonally on the body. Since 35" was too big, I cut it in quarters and sewed it back together after taking part out of the middle (so it would preserve the turquoise sections). I essentially removed a thick "plus" ( + ) from the middle of the scarf. It has a V-neckline in the front and a more squared neckline in the back, and it can be worn either way.

Here you can see the blue broadcloth lining and the interfacing I used to give the collar layer a bit more stiffness and fullness. The body part is not lined, since it is very thick silk.

The Results

I finished the dress with only about five minutes to spare before I had to dress to go to the wedding! Here I am at the wedding in the dress.

The dress definitely didn't come out the way I expected it to, but I'm pretty pleased with it. I've worn it to three fancy occasions now (in less than a month!), and I expect to wear it a lot more.

I didn't expect the purple (short) sections to stick out the way they do--I think it's because I used such thick silk, so those sections don't have anywhere else to fall to. However, the weight of that heavy silk makes the skirt really flare out during turns and spins, which I love! I love ballroom dancing, especially swing and waltz, and this is definitely a great skirt for that. It's also got that gorgeous glossy silk glow that I like--it fills some of those Barbie doll dress fantasies I never quite grew out of.

I just wish the Barbie doll figure came with the dress!


Okay, here are the gratuitous dog pictures:

Ooh, she sees silk on the floor... "must go shed on it..."

"Isn't this turquoise just my color?"

Sorry, Lacey, the skirt is a little too big for you!


Anonymous said...

Amazing! Very very impressive!! You should consider making a career out of this.

Unknown said...

You looked so fabulous at the wedding! Another dye well done :).