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Although Block & Sloper would be a great name for a design blog…I’m referring to my recent foray into designing an original dress for my niece’s high school graduation. I made my first block or sloper – which is a basic flat pattern of a fitted jewel neck bodice – based on my niece’s measurements. Since she is finishing her final year in another city –  we used skype to take the required measurements. Then I drafted up her bodice pattern and cut it out using some of my cotton stash… and sewed it up on my vintage Featherweight sewing machine (see previous post) to create the  ‘muslin’ bodice.

Block for sizing

I mailed off the block to her… and it fit her (apparently). My wonderful niece is driven to academic excellence so I never did get her to commit to a skype session to ensure the fit was to my standards but anyways… I went on a wing and a prayer and drafted the design based on her block. A plunging neckline and back with princess seaming,  sleeves and a ball gown skirt… then cut it out in my favourite cotton mull which is a crisp lightweight 100% cotton to represent the dupioni 100% silk and used a sheer 100% cotton (typically used for turbans)… to represent the 100% silk chiffon that will be the layer over the dupioni silk. All fabrics sourced from the fabulous Rokko’s on main street. http://www.rokkofabrics.ca

front bodice pattern

front bodice pattern

The design features a plunging neckline as well as a deep V in the back – with a full length ball gown skirt. Originally we were inspired by lace designs that are the bee’s knees right now in the fashion world… (think Elie Saab) so I sent my ‘client’ some shamples of rayon guipere lace and nylon lace (from Rokko’s). I have a soft spot for lace given my irish provenance. In textile school I did an art history paper on how hand made Irish lace brought some economic means to the starving irish during the famine years (1845 – 1849) – so it was interesting to look at these machine produced bolts of lace and remember how the advent of machinery and technology wiped out the demand for hand made goods… and how now the desire for the hand made is having a resurgence (but that is for another post).

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After to’ing and fro’ing about black versus neutral versus colour… we decided that a coral dupioni silk with a chiffon overlay would be lovely. It was wonderful process trying out different techniques in creating the muslin dress and it’s a great way to work out all the kinks and decisions about the design before cutting into the actual silk.  Drafting and redrafting, hand basting (love this), french seaming, adding a finished lining, under stitching…Oh, did I mention proper pressing? I get a bit obsessive about pressing seams properly – but it makes the world of difference – like properly blocking a hand knitted item which is a step that must be done! For ideas about techniques that I hadn’t used in a while – I referred to a vintage Vogue book I have. And relied on memories of my Mom’s couture standards – “always use a Bemberg lining and finish things properly”, i.e.  French seaming!!! I think I am ready for the ‘real’ dress which I will blog about in another post.

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The goal is that the ‘test dress’ or muslin fits with only minor adjustments. It’s a bit nerve racking not having the ability to try out the fit in person.

Mus.lin

Mus.lin on the beach

A little bit of surface design documentation… the muslin will eventually be compost-printed in the garden using fresh plants from mid-spring and early summer and perhaps some rust printing as well.

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hopefully only minor adjustments are required

humble cotton declares itself as silk

humble cotton declares itself as silk

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muslin in situ.

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