6.16.2012

TSC: The "Modern Mary" Dress

Two months ago, we were watching the flower show episode of Downton Abbey on Netflix and I got my first glimpse of the blue and white dress that so many people seemed to be raving about.  My initial reaction?  "Meh."  While I certainly preferred it to Lady Edith's (on which Lady Mary made a condescending remark), I didn't see why there was quite so much fuss.  After the episode ended, however, a rather funny thing happened.  "Wait! Horizontal bodice lines and vertical ones down the skirt... that actually has potential to be quite flattering!"  And so, my obsession was born.



The inspiration
Task one: to find the perfect fabric.  Mary's looked like a light, breezy cotton or linen with muted medium blue stripes on natural white.  So, I hunted for the same.  Of course, this proved impossible to find.  (If anyone can help on this front, I'd be much obliged.)  I then turned my search to finding any blue and white, natural fiber fabric.  This proved surprisingly difficult as well.  Finally, after weeks, Hancock introduced this year's patriotic cotton offerings.  Among them was a navy and white striped cotton.  Hooray!  The navy would help make the look modern and overall very 'me'.

We forgot to bring the original picture so, I gave my best "Lady Mary" pose from memory
In my excitement, I somehow missed that the navy had been screenprinted on.  In fact, I didn't really notice until I washed the length.  Anyone who shops at Hancock knows that their fabrics almost always shrink in the wash (though, this isn't uncommon in general).  The problem, in this case, was that the blue paint did not shrink.  The result was a suckered texture.  Ironing helped but did not fully alleviate the new quality.  Could I work with it?  Sure.  Was it what I had hoped for?  No.  The unevenness made stripe matching even more difficult.  But, we called this a muslin and I made it work.




With fabric, and ribbon, in hand, I declared that I would be skipping the June Sew Weekly challenges in favor on working on this dress.  While they had not yet been announced, I had no plans of participating.  Too often does a Sew Weekly project skip up the queue and I very much wanted this dress.  Which I henceforth, affectionately named "The Lady Mary."


Imagine my delight when the June challenges were posted and "based on a TV character" was set for the week of June 11!  It would mean a shorter timeframe in which to work on my dress but, it would add additional motivation and a deadline.  Darn you, Sew Weekly, you've trapped me again! heehee  (And again for another TSC dress...)

If only this darling hat had worked out...
Now, to find a suitable pattern.  The requirements:  an empire waistline, princess seams on the bodice front, short not-cap sleeves, with cuffs, and a simple, darted skirt.  I searched every pattern in my stash and could not find a single one which fit my vision.  So, I didn't use a single pattern.  I used three, McCalls 5923Simplicity 2550McCalls 6503, plus self-drafted cuffs and my skirt block (first used here)!  Now, if that's not a Franken-pattern, I don't know what is! (Especially because, by the end, the only piece left in it's original state was the sleeve!)

It's quite lucky that I over-cautiously bought three yards of fabric.  For this project, I was rebellious as always and opted not to waste time with a proper muslin.  Of course, when one is combining as many patterns as I did, there were bound to be issues.  It's also very lucky that I chose to use facings rather than a full lining so, any re-cutting went faster than it normally would have.  Not to worry, every seam is serged so, it looks nice and neat even without a lining.

Modifications to the bodice back were easy.  I changed the shoulder slightly so that it would line up with the new bodice front and I removed the darts.  I thought the chevron effect was an important element of the design and I didn't want the stripes disrupted.  (To remove the dart, I drew a line from the bottom of each dart leg to the armscye notch.  Then, I folded this new dart out and smoothed the bottom edge.)


For the bodice front, however, well... this is where the "muslin as I go" effect took place.  I chose the two needed pieces based on the size printed on the pattern.  But, after I assembled it and went to attach it to the skirt front, I saw that it was four inches too wide!  Huh!?  Really, I have no idea why the empire measurement would be so large.  It nearly matched the measurement of the bust line.  So, I hacked off the excess and attached it anyway.  This worked reasonably well so, I pinned everything together and tried it on.  Another problem.

Apparently, I have rather odd proportions and this pattern just wasn't going to work with them.  Usually my bodice trouble lie in a need for a minor FBA and/or a need to make a minor petite adjustment (though I'm 5'10" it seems I'm somewhat shortwaisted).  Since this pattern offers cup sizes, no FBA was necessary.  And because it hit at the empire line, the was no need to account for my short torso.  However, a whole new problem appeared.  The bodice was too short!  Wait, what!?  I guess that means I'm tall above the bust (makes sense) and short between the bustline and waistline.  Yep, I'm an odd one!  Luckily, the problem was strictly in the length so, I added an inch at the shoulder, raised the neckline back up and cut a new bodice.  Problem solved.  Phew!


(I'm neglecting to tell you how many tries it took to actually get the shoulder seams to match, all the calculating that went into the stripe matching, and how many times I unpicked and resewed those pesky skirt darts to ensure they were symmetrical.)

From there, it was pretty smooth sailing.  The sleeve needed surprisingly few adjustments given that it was from a pattern all its own.  I installed my very first side invisible zipper and that went in rather easily also.  So, with a little McCalls, a touch of Simplicity and bit of drafting (and re-drafting!) my dress finally came together. To hem, I simply folded under 5/8" and used a blind catch-stitch, grabbing threads in the white on the outside and in the blue on the inside.  Using this stitch on a stripe is so much easier!  And, it's almost completely invisible. Hooray!

I could totally use a lady's maid to get in and out of this dress but, I think it's worth the extra effort.  I just have to put my dress on before doing my hair or makeup ;-)

I had a little extra time before my darling photographer came home so, I decided to make another hair clip to use in my Gibson Tuck.  It's easy peasy: I bought a silk flower stem at Hobby Lobby, cut off the stem, and glued it to a special bobby pin with a flat disc welded on for just this purpose.  I thought it added a nice touch since my hat search didn't pan out well.  (We don't have many local options and the hat I ordered, and allowed myself to procrastinate while waiting for, was too big.)


I had fun dressing up in my sudo-period look but, in the future, it's much more likely that I'll wear this dress with fun heels and my hair down.  The good news is, though, that this will definitely get worn again.  I absolutely adore it!  I find it so funny that this project went from a television costume that didn't impress me to a small(ish) obsession to a dress that I want to wear all the time.

By the way, if you've seen my "On my hook" bar on the left and are wondering where the lace is, know that it's in progress.  I keep going back and forth regarding what size lace I want on the dress.  Once it's finished, I'll share it with you.  It will give me a chance to show how I actually wear the dress.

Next up:  a simple sundress, which is currently half-finished.  It will be nice not to have to stripe match ;-)
Then:  another TSC dress.  This will be another modern interpretation of a period costume.

The month is quickly coming to an end - Are you working on any last minute That's Sew Cinematic garments?

Thanks so much for reading and happy sewing! x

29 comments:

  1. Wow, Jennifer, how absolutely beautiful and worth the effort!!! That's a Franken-pattern and a half. Congratulations. I can see why this dress is something you'd want to wear all the time. The fact that it's Downton-inspired is just icing on the cake. Your hair is gorgeous too. Thanks as always for the detailed construction explanation.

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    1. Aww, thank you!! Only other seamstresses can appreciate the effort that goes into a garment and it's always nice to have it recognized :-)

      This hairstyle is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. It's so easy to do!

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  2. So beautiful! I can see that a lot of work has gone into this stunner and it's all completely worth it! Well done!

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    1. Thank you, Juliet!! You're very kind! It was a bit of extra work but, I think it was worth it too :-)

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  3. Wow! I'm so impressed! I love that dress on Lady Mary and your version looks fantastic on you! Well done!

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    1. Thank you, Mary! I'm so flattered by your comment. :-)

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  4. Gorgeous! This looks great, girl! I absolutely love it!

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  5. Jen!!!!! WOW!!!! I love the photo of the back. The stripes match so well and the darts look awesome!!!!
    LOVE IT. great job! xx

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    1. Thanks so much, Neeno!!! I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful comment.

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  6. All the effort has paid off! Perfectly matched stripes, absolutely great fitting...What a stunning dress!

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    1. How very sweet of you to say, Merche! Thank you!!

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  7. Jennifer, this is one of my favorite interpretations of this dress yet! Yours is one of the most wearable, while also looking closest to the original. Great photos too. I actually have some fabric that would be perfect to make this dress, and I've thought about it - but it's one of those fabrics that I could see myself using for nearly every pattern in my stash - so I can't decide if I want to jump on the Lady Mary bandwagon, or use it for another pattern.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words. I'm sincerely flattered!!

      Well, of course, I think a Lady Mary dress would be lovely. What if you played with the stripes in a similar way but, used one of the other patterns you're envisioning?

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  8. WHat a fabulous modern take on the dress. It looks superb on you.

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  9. Lovely, lovely dress. I adore empire waists and princess seams. You did a wonderful job with all those stripes.

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    1. Aww, thank you, Pam! I'm so glad you think so.

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  10. Looks great! The fit seems impeccable, and I love the design effect of all those stripes. I definitely prefer yours to the inspiration dress!

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    1. Thank you so much, Andrea!! I'm sincerely flattered :-)

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  11. i love the way you played with the stripe placement to make something so reminiscent of the original dress, and still creating something new and wearable. fabulous work! i'd never want to take that off, either.

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  12. Aww, thank you!! I'm glad to know my efforts to resemble a modern version of the original paid off :-)

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  13. Absolutely amazing and love your version more.

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  14. This is so adorable! You did a wonderful job incorporating elements of the original. I want to make a striped dress now:-)

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    1. Thanks so much, Lauren!! I'd love to see photos if you do make a striped dress :-)

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  15. I know I'm late to this party (I'm so behind with blog reading!), but I just wanted to chime in too to tell you how lovely this dress is! The stripes are gorgeous and I love everything about this dress!

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    1. I've been behind for months! :-P Comments are always appreciated though! That's so very nice of you to say! :-)

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  16. The striped dress is very beautiful.

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