Monday, 3 February 2014

The Grad Dress, Part I: Choosing a Pattern

As I mentioned in my 2013 round-up post, the bright side of having tendinitis and being unable to sew for a few weeks gave me some time to think about my grad dress.

Speaking of tendinitis... I now have it in my left arm, too. It does seem to be slowly but surely improving, though.

Back to my grad dress, I actually began thinking about it in the summer, and although I didn't really know what I wanted, I definitely knew what I didn't want:

1. Glitter or sparkles
2. A strapless dress, or anything that I would need a strapless bra for (spaghetti straps, one-shoulder, etc.)

...which pretty much rules out 99.9% of all grad dresses (seriously, just do a Google images search for "prom dress"). As if I wasn't being picky enough, I also knew I didn't want:

3. Anything backless
4. A princess dress
5. A mermaid dress
6. A mullet dress

Hooray. So, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I would be making mine. 

I did, in fact, go to a small bridal store to try out some styles, but more to see what looked good on me than anything. I tried on a few dresses that were the typical fitted bodice and flowy skirt kind that are popular now, and while they weren't terrible, they were very... meh. Mediocre. Boring. While they were flattering and quite pretty, they just didn't feel like me.

This store also had some dresses that were more of a 50's style. They had box pleated skirts and fitted bodices, with either a scoopneck with pleats at the bust or a boatneck. Even though they were less formal, they just felt so much more me than the other ones. 

Needless to say, I didn't buy one. Those dresses were cute, but they were also $200 apiece for 100% polyester, made-in-China dresses. Nooo thanks. All things considered, that's not a bad price for a grad dress (I know people who spend upwards of $600), but still. I've been trying to avoid polyester and anything mass-produced in terms of clothing, so why should I make an exception for my grad dress?

Anyways, by this point I knew I would be making mine, so I started brainstorming about what I did want, and came up with this:

1. A 50's style (or late 40's)
2. A full skirt, to be worn with a crinoline - but preferably without gathers
3. A fitted bodice
4. Princess seams, to allow me to perfect the fit a little more easily
5. Something I could wear a normal bra, with straps, under

With that, I started my search for patterns. I looked on Etsy, and found some that I really liked, even though most of them didn't actually meet all the criteria that I'd laid out for myself. Here are some:


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The only problem is that these kinds of vintage patterns are EXPENSIVE... that last one is $165 Canadian, no joke. There was no way that I wanted to spend that kind of money on the pattern alone, when I was already looking at over $100 for enough silk to make any of these dresses.

So, I started looking at reproduction vintage patterns instead, and at one point I was pretty sure that I was going to use Vogue 2903. It was a 50's style with a full (non-gathered) skirt, a fitted bodice, princess seams and a v-neck that I could probably wear a bra under.


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Then... I found this: 



Isn't it gorgeous? 

I borrowed it from family friend who has the most amazing vintage pattern collection I've ever seen. We spent at least two hours looking through all of them! She had lots of 50's and 60's patterns, and even a few as old as the 20's! 

This one is from 1956, and it must be pretty rare because I can't seem to find it anywhere online. What's funny is that it looks really similar to one of the ones I was looking at on Etsy (the second one pictured above), but I didn't have to pay $80 for it.

Plus, it ticks all the boxes of my list above. It's a 50's style with a full skirt (and a very full one at that... the hem circumference is over 5 metres!) and a fitted bodice. Okay, it doesn't have princess seams at the bust (it does in the midsection) but those pleats completely make up for it. AND I can wear a normal bra under it - I love it.

I'll be making view A, the short-sleeved version. I haven't decided on a colour yet, but probably dark purple or teal - two of my favourite colours at the moment. I'll be making it in silk dupioni - yikes! This will be my first time sewing with silk.

I'm so excited for this project! There will be many more posts to come about it... I already have another one on the go about everything I've done since.

Thanks for reading!

23 comments:

  1. The pattern is beautiful! I can't wait to see the finished thing already :)

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    1. Thanks, neither can I! (Although I want to enjoy the process of making it, too!)

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  2. Lovely! I can't wait to see it finished! I've made Vogue 2903 before, and although it's a great dress, there is some weirdness with an underyoke that the sleeves connect to.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I've heard that the construction is a bit odd. I was planning on maybe removing the yoke anyways, to make it a little more formal (according to a few people it can be done), but I'm glad I found a pattern that I don't need to alter!

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  3. This is very exciting. I can fully understand the meh-ness of grad dresses. Here in Australia we have a formal at the end of Year 10 and another at the end of Year 12; I thrifted both of my dresses, but if I had been dressmaking then I would have made it. The pattern looks fantastic.

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    1. Wow, I'm not sure I could handle having two formals in high school! I was considering thrifting a dress, but thrifting is so hit-or-miss and I think sewing one will be much more fun.

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  4. I love these vintage styles, hope you are up to sewing again soon. Can't wait to see your progress.

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    1. Thanks, me too! I've actually been sewing a bit (not a lot), but I managed to put together a muslin. I'll have a post up about that soon!

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  5. Wow! You are really full of guts! I am sooo jealous! Even though I find all of the dresses here beautyfull, I totally agree with you! The last one is gorgeous! I even like the one version whit arms, but maybe not for a prom..
    I am really exited to follow you trough on this! When does it have to be finnished?

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    1. Thanks! I considered making the version with longer sleeves, but it seemed more like a cocktail dress and less like a grad dress. I may make it in the future, though!

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  6. I had the same problem with my senior ball dress. I ended up falling in love with a dress from a 1956 burda magazine and recreating it from scratch. Good luck!

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    1. Wow, I'm sure it was gorgeous! Thank you!

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  7. Lovely choice! I was going to offer you the option of checking out my own collection if you hadn't found this gem. I can't wait to see the final dress. I'm a big fan of purples and blues myself.

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    1. Thanks anyways, that's really kind of you. And yes, but my only hesitation with blue is that a lot of girls are buying blue dresses... so I'm leaning towards purple. But it kind of depends what's available!

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  8. I love the pattern you picked! I can't wait to see your finished dress!

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  9. I can't wait to see how your dress turns out! I just found your blog and was happy to see that you're from BC too. I wish I had done something like this for my grad 4 years ago. Good luck!

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  10. Great choice - the silhouettes of these dresses are great. I can't wait to see the end product.

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  11. Hi, I love your blog, which is why I nominated you for a Liebster award ! :)

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    1. Wow, thank you! I was actually nominated for one a few weeks back, and I still haven't answered any of the questions, but when I get around to it, I'll try to answer both sets.Thanks!

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  12. What a lovely dress! And I am so with you about all the criteria you were using. It seems like so many dresses are strapless, which makes them "shaped tubes", and yet they are priced as if they used as much fabric as a dress with a full bodice and sleeves and all the labor of cutting, constructing and setting them in.
    I look forward to see your fabric choice -- you are wise to be getting the decisions out of the way now, and giving yourself plenty of time for the making up of the dress.
    I'm sure you'll look fabulous, you are so lovely and have such talent in making your own things.

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    1. Thanks! I agree that most grad dresses are overpriced... and that's coming from someone who's against cheap, fast fashion. I tried on one that was strapless, but it was so poorly made that the boning stuck out noticeably on the outside of the dress. It was priced at over $300! I just can't justify spending that much when I could make something higher quality for less.

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