Friday, 21 March 2014

The Grad Dress, Part III: The Wearable Muslin, and Advice Needed!

Even though I made a muslin for my grad dress, I wanted to try making the dress once before making it in expensive silk. I'm so glad I did! Although this is perfectly wearable, there was a lot that didn't go all that well, and I have a much better idea of how to sew it now.



It just so happened that I had my consultation for my grad hair the day after I finished this dress, so it was the perfect time to take photos!



Since my hair was done up, I decided I might as well style the dress like I will my grad dress. The necklace, the earrings, the shoes, and the bolero are all the ones that I'll be wearing for grad. This bolero is my latest thrift store find - $7 for 70% angora! It's pretty much identical in style to the 50's pattern that I was going to use for a bolero to go with this dress!

(Ignore the hanger marks that it has in these photos... those will steam out.)



I'm also wearing two crinolines in these photos! Neither are super full, and looking at these photos, it barely looks like I'm wearing one at all, let alone two! I might look into buying (or making?) a bigger one to wear with the real dress, but I'll wait until I'm done the dress itself and see how much time I have.



Anyways, about the dress. First of all, I really overestimated the amount of fabric I would need for this pattern, so I looked for the cheapest fabric that I could find without resorting to anything too synthetic.

I decided on a dark red leaf-print quilting cotton, which is definitely better suited to fall than summer, but it was the only print that wasn't completely overwhelming on me, and I wanted to use a print to hide mistakes! 

It cost around $6 or $7 per metre from the same discount fabric store where I bought the wool for my Ceylon dress.

In the end, I only used 4.5 metres of the 6 metres that I bought, and that was after the cotton shrunk to less than 40" wide. Now I wish I'd bought higher quality fabric!



Everything went pretty well - even the underarm gussets, which are horrible and finicky to sew - until I finished the upper bodice and tried it on. It was huge! I couldn't figure out why it had turned out so differently, because it should have been identical to my muslin!

My mom pointed out that the way the pattern piece is cut, the bottom edge of the front that's not pleated ends up on the bias. Not only that, but the crosswise grain of the fabric had quite a bit of give as well - it almost feels as if it has spandex in it.

So, after cursing my fabric choice, I took in the darts. They're not the perfect shape anymore, but they'll do. I did have enough fabric to re-cut the whole upper bodice, but I really didn't want to re-do my gussets.

I also stay-stitched around the bottom of the upper bodice, and along the top of all the midriff/skirt sections, to prevent more stretching. On the real thing, I'll stay-stitch all my pieces before doing anything, although I don't think I'll have too much of a problem with the silk - the crosswise grain seems as strong as the lengthwise grain, and the bias isn't as stretchy either.



After I figured out the issues with stretching, I didn't have any more problems until the zipper.

But oh my goodness... the zipper. This was by far the most difficult zipper insertion I've ever done, and not all that happy with how it turned out. As 1950's instructions will, the instructions say: "Sew zipper according to instructions on zipper package".

This wouldn't normally be a problem for me, since I've put in enough zippers to be comfortable enough with them. But... this one starts at the side seam, and curves into the seam that attaches the side back panel to the godet. I knew this beforehand, but I didn't realize quite how awkward it would be until I actually got to that step. 



I decided on a lapped zipper, which is my favourite technique to use. I probably spent about 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to start. Once I did, it wasn't too bad until I realized that I'd attached the zipper onto the wrong side, so my lap would be facing the wrong way! I debated about just leaving it as-is, since this is a wearable muslin after all, but I decided that it would really bother me, so I ripped it out and started over.

It could have been worse, but there are some puckers where the zipper curves, and the underside of the lap has some raw edges exposed. Also, since it curves to the back, the lap flips forward quite a bit. As a quick fix, I sewed on some hooks to the underside of the lap, and made some thread loops for them. It's not perfect, but it's better.

Next time, I will sew the zipper much earlier on in the construction of the dress. I think that'll make it a little easier to manage, but I still need to fix the problem of the lap flipping forwards.


This was my first time hemming a skirt this full (it ends up as full as a circle skirt, or maybe even a little fuller). To ease in the edge, I used the differential feed on my serger, which worked well on a sample piece, but on the skirt itself, it barely gathered it at all. I figured that I could just gather the serging a bit more by hand, but there was far too much hem t be able to gather it all at once. 

Instead of doing the sensible thing and just sewing some lines of gathering stitches, I cut the serging at a couple points so that I could gather it. This is far from ideal, because there's now a couple un-serged parts. I just covered them in Fray Check and tied off the threads that I pulled.



For the real thing, I will hem by hand, but for this one, I used a blind hem on a machine. 

It's not the best hem, because by this point I just wanted to be done this dress. I could have done a much better job with the blind hem, but I didn't really care all that much because I knew that it would get lost in the print anyways.



I also pinked all the seams (except for the hem), which was a first for me! I bought a pinking rotary blade just to try it out, and I love the simplicity and efficiency of it.

I won't go into detail about any of the other construction details, because I'll cover them all in more detail for the real dress. Overall, I'm happy with this. It's far from perfect but perfectly wearable.

It's also the most comfortable dress that I've sewn to date! The underarm gussets and the weird sleeves that are kimono sleeves in the front and set-in sleeves in the back are so comfortable and allow for way more movement without straining the seams or the fabric.


I'm so glad I made this as a trial run, because there's a lot of things I'll do differently on the real dress because they really didn't work so well.

For the zipper, I'm considering an invisible zipper. I haven't used one since the disastrous one in this dress, but there's no bulk at the waist on this one because there's no waist seam, just a diagonal seam attaching the godet. It also has a reasonable enough amount of ease (about 1 1/2") that I think I could probably get away with it... but I'm not sure yet.

Update: If I do a lapped zipper, I'll hand-pick it. I usually do, but I knew the stitching would barely show on this and I didn't want to bother with handstitching. That will make it a little easier to manage, but probably won't solve the problem of it flipping forwards.

For the hem, I don't really know what to do. I think I'll probably reduce the hem allowance (it was 2") so that I don't have to ease it quite as much. Other than that, I don't really know what's best. I'm considering using a hem facing, or even horsehair braid (actually, this is what I'm leaning towards... I love the volume that this gives a skirt). I'll do it by hand, so I don't want to do a narrow hem.

So... here's where I need your advice! Should I find a better way to do the lapped zipper, or should I try an invisible one? And what would be the best way to hem this?

If you missed one of my previous posts about my grad dress, here they are:

Part 1: Choosing a Pattern
Part 2: Muslins 1 and 2

Dress: Me-made, Vogue S-4727 (vintage)
Shoes: Vintage (thrifted)
Necklace and earrings: My grandmother's
Crinolines: both vintage
Bolero: Thrifted

62 comments:

  1. Can't really give you advice on the sewing. But this dress is magnificent. The pattern is incredibly flattering and you look amazing in it. Can;t wait to see the final rendition

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  2. Hopefully I can help with the zipper issue! This is something I stole from a vintage 40's dress I once bought - at the waist (where the lap would be likely to roll) they put in a hook on the lap and a little self coloured thread loop on the other side of the zip. This just holds everything in place.
    Ive also seen it done on vintage 40's dresses with mini press studs - but they never seem to work as well for me.
    For hemming I recently came across a super cheat to hem circular skirts too! I think it was on Colette's blog:
    http://www.coletterie.com/tutorials-tips-tricks/tutorial-hemming-a-curved-edge-by-machine

    Ive stared doing it this way on non-fancy circular skirts and it makes it sooooo much easier to hem :)

    Your dress looks fab! can't wait to see the real version :)

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    1. Thanks for the tips! I actually did sew in some hooks and thread loops, but I think either they were in the wrong spot or the thread loops were too loose because they don't work all that well. I may just need to practice! I also stole the technique from a vintage dress that I have. The press stud idea is interesting, too - I might look into that.

      Thanks for the link to the hemming tutorial! I really wish I had done that for this dress now... it looks so easy compared to what I did. On the real dress, though, I would prefer to do it by hand. I'll remember that tutorial for next time I'm hemming a casual circle skirt, though!

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  3. I would try going with an invisible zipper but would definitely use an invisible zipper foot for insertion. It makes it so much easier! And don't iron the zip on too hot a setting. It causes the zipper tape to shrink!

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    1. Thanks for the advice! I do have an invisible zipper foot but it's one of those cheap plastic ones... I might look into getting a proper metal one if I do an invisible zip in this dress.

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  4. The dress is fabulous! Looks like good advice above, but I use invisible zips all the time ( there is a good free class on Craftsy). I use a small ham on full skirts, hand sewn and sometimes use stretch lace which helps. I haven't used horsehair yet but it would add to the fullness you are looking for.

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    1. Thanks! I have the free Craftsy class, but I've never actually bothered to watch the invisible zip part... that would probably be a good place to start! I never even thought about that.

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  5. Your dress looks fab! I'm an invisible zip girl myself. And definitely check out the tutorial on Colette. It's great for hemming a curved edge. Good luck with the final version!

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  6. This is so beautiful... it might have given you a bit of grief but it looks like it was worth it. I'm usually an invisible zipper girl, never managed to sew a lapped zipper I'm happy with. You could look into handpicking the zipper, it looks beautiful but I've never tried, and it looks like the sort of thing that needs a lot of practice!

    As for hemming - needle and thread, on the couch, with a good show to watch :)

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    1. Thank you! I will hand-pick the zipper if I do a lapped one - I forgot to mention that in the post. I usually hand pick all my zippers, but the stitching barely shows on this dress so I didn't bother.

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  7. It looks incredible! I think invisible zip, and would attach extra wide bias binding to the right side of the hem and then turn over and slipstitch/ catchstitch on the wrong side of the dress. That making sense?

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    1. Thanks! Yes, that makes sense!

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  8. This dress is amazing! You're totally right about the print hiding mistakes - from here it looks just right :)
    I'm with the invisible zip suggesters, as long as there's enough ease. I always handpick, as any mistakes are so much easier to rip out without ruining your fabric, and it's a lot easier to get right the first time.
    Can't wait to see the final dress!

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  9. The trial dress turned out lovely! One would never suspect that you had ANY construction issues with it :)
    Hemming by hand would be my tip too. As for the zipper, I am not really good with them, but could it be moved to center back?
    Good luck with the final go ;)

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    1. Thank you! I had considered moving the zipper, but I decided that I didn't want another seam (there's already 6 seams around the waist). Also, since it fits me so well through the back (which is unusual), I'm reluctant to make a seam to break up the back pieces. Now, though, it's starting to seem like a better idea... but I'm still not sure.

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  10. I would also try an invisible zipper. When doing a tricky insertion, you might want to baste the zipper in first to see how it works, and tweak it from there. As for circular hems, I lightly press them up, then ease-stitch by machine close to the fold in the hem allowance, then hem by hand. I do ease-stitching like this lady does for sleeves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0pGBRhCtag

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    1. That's a really great way to ease-stitch. Thanks for the link! That would have saved me at least an hour of sitting gathering my serging.

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  11. The one similar skirt I've sewn (very full from lots of godets) I did a rolled hem. Taking up a wide hem on such a full skirt is just asking for trouble. I'm sure it can be done, but I think a rolled hem is easier there. Also, I'd think you'd want to be sure to let it hang overnight before marking the hem.

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    1. It seems that a rolled/narrow hem is the easiest option, but I'm pretty sure that I'd like to do it by hand for such a formal dress. I'm not sure if there's a way to hem it that way by hand (and have it be invisible), but I'll see if I can find one.

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  12. Wow! What a terrific dress. You have faced and conquered a lot of tricky sewing challenges, and learned a lot in the process, no doubt. I am terribly impressed that you had the foresight to allow yourself the time to go through this process. (I have memories of finishing a hem on a prom dress, while my mother whipped in some hand-done buttonholes, and while my date was waiting -- ack!!!)
    If you are worried about stretching on a bias edge, (which I know you are not), one tip is to trace your pattern on the fabric, and then stay-stitch between the cutting line and the seam line before you even cut the piece out. I think I read this once in a Threads magazine article. Another thought is that a while back, (1-2 yrs?), there was an article or two about using strips of silk organza to stabilize seams and seam edges in special-occasion dresses. I can't help but wonder if stabilizing the edges (under the foldback) of the zipper-seam edges would help to get everything to behave better. Oh you are so patient to let us all inundate you with tips! I hope you don't get overwhelmed. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks! That's an interesting tip about the stay-stitching, but I've already cut out my fabric. I stabilized the gussets with silk organza and I will probably do the same around the waist on th real dress. I used twill tape to stabilize the neckline, but it ended up a little bulky so I'll use silk organza for that as well next time. I did use some lightweight fusible interfacing at the zipper (I don't have any of this fusible stay tape that everyone seems to use), but again, I'll probably use organza on the real thing.

      All these tips are great! Even if I don't use them all for this dress, I'll be sure to use them at one point or another.

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  13. This is wonderful!! I can't believe it's a wearable muslin. It's superb!

    I'd probably vote for the lapped zipper, since it's a little more true to the era and I just personally like how they look. I'm not sure what technique you use for lapped zippers, but I did a video on a pretty simple way that let's you baste the seam first before inserting, and that might help you with the curving: http://rosiewednesday.blogspot.com/2014/01/shift-dress-sew-along-installing-lapped.html. I also vote horse hair braid for the hem! Can't wait to see your finished version!

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    1. Thanks! Your video is great - I liked the tip to use painter's tape as a topstitching guide. The method I use is similar, so I do baste the seam together before sewing in the zipper. I will admit that I forgot to cut a generous seam allowance though! It might go a little better with that larger seam allowance.

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  14. That dress is faaantastic, and fits like a glove! I think that lapped zipper + hooks and thread loops is a pretty standard way to close it, and will deal with the flippyness. When I do super full skirts, I tend to hem them by folding them over twice as narrowly as possible and stitching... not the most professional finish for a formal fabric, but works quite well on cottons to control the gathering effect. A few of my vintage dresses have a piece of grosgrain ribbon tacked to the inside waist to keep it from stretching out, one even has hooks and eyes to fasten the interior "belt" so you don't strain the outside fabric.

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    1. Thank you! I definitely wish I had used that technique for hemming this dress, but on the real one I would prefer to hem by hand. I was considering doing a grosgrain waist stay, but since there's no waist seam I would have to tack it onto the seam allowance, which isn't ideal. I figured that I would see if I needed one after making the wearable muslin. I still haven't quite decided!

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  15. Gertie's video on hemming a circle skirt http://goo.gl/9ptPn1

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    1. Thanks! I would like to try out this technique, but for this dress I'm hoping to do it by hand.

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  16. I think it turned out lovely, perfect for fall. And you're the only one who'll know about the hiccups. And if anyone else notices - they are looking too close.

    I suggest using the invisible zipper inserting it with Tasia's hand picked method. It's the only way I put in zippers now. Trust me.

    I can't wait to see the final result. Happy sewing.

    denversews.com

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    1. Thank you! I've used Tasia's method before (in both my Cambie dresses), but overall I prefer a lapped zipper (although I usually hand-pick those, too).

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  17. Invisible zipper by Lladybirdhttp://goo.gl/ejiadz. Not used this but can' t find the one I use at the minute. Will find later

    SSB. https://facebook.com/sassysewingbees

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    1. Thanks! The link isn't the one to her invisible zipper tutorial, but I know the one you mean. If I end up doing an invisible zip, I'll probably give that method a try.

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  18. The dress turned out great so far. I would recommend doing a hand-picked zipper. They are much easier than doing them by machine.

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    1. Thanks! I will hand-pick it for sure if I do a lapped zip... forgot to mention that in the post!

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  19. The dress looks magnificent and very well tailored to you.

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  20. What a gorgeous result! And congratulations on coming up with functional solutions for every little hurdle along the way. Brilliant to work out the construction details to end up with such a beautiful "wearable muslin" and also know how you'll want to approach the "real" dress!

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  21. If all the zipper suggestions don't work, you could do hooks and eyes for closures. If a zipper, definitely an invisible zipper is the most forgiving.
    Jeannie

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    1. I had considered that, but I'm not all that sure how I would even do that. I'll try some samples with different types of zippers, and then I'll go from there.

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  22. Amazing on you! I can't wait to see the final version.

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  23. I love both the dress and sweater - great find!

    Can't wait to see the finished grad dress!

    I just started my blog, and just found yours and really enjoy it :)

    As a fellow Canadian sewist, I'd love some tips on any online Canadian fabric sites. I'm having trouble finding fabric I like locally.

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    1. Thank you! Honestly, I don't know of many Canadian fabric sites - the few that I've found are mostly quilting-oriented. I don't know how close you are to the border, but my best advice is to get a mailbox in the US to ship fabric to. I've only ordered fabric online once, but that's what I did. I didn't want to pay $20 extra for shipping to Canada!

      I've never ordered from any of these so I can't officially recommend them. I know https://www.myfabricspot.com is a Canadian site, but I believe it's only quilting fabric. There are also a couple lists of fabric stores at http://finishedgarment.ca/canadian-online-quilting-fabric-stores/ and http://www.pinterest.com/sherrisylvester/canadian-online-fabric-stores/

      Hope this helps!

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  24. It's really lovely. Congrats, and I always appreciate an in depth blog post. This construction malarkey can be really tricky! I have had great success with using bias tape to hem (I've used store bought single fold). You sew it to the right side of the skirt and fold it under. Then I hand stitched mine down invisibly. You can see it in my "circle skirt of procrastination" lol, too hard to link on my phone. Your next version will be even more fab I'm sure :)

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    1. Thanks! It's good to know that someone appreciates my long posts! I sometimes wonder if they're too long, but once I start talking (or writing) about sewing, it's hard to stop!

      Your circle skirt looks great! That seems like a good way to do a hem by hand. Thanks!

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  25. This is really pretty! I'm impressed by how well it fits you, especially after all of the issues. Love the hair too. =)
    I vote for horsehair braid for hemming... It will help with the fullness and you may not need another crinoline. I'm partial to invisible zippers, and have even successfully installed them in curved seams, but the lapped zip would definitely be more correct for the style. Maybe some experimentation on this dress with hooks and thread eyes would help with placing them on the actual grad dress.

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    1. Thank you! You're right, I might just have to find the best placement of the hooks and thread loops.

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  26. I LOVE your dress!! I am JUST starting to learn how to sew garments. I started with quilting, and I really want to make vintage dresses exactly like yours! I'm doing the Washi dress right now, but I'm finding that it doesn't fit right and I have to find some videos to watch how to do FBA. I have some, I just need to find the time to watch then do (this weekend!!). My goal is to be able to do what you just made!!! Are you graduating from high school or college? I just found your blog from wesewretro.com You are really talented :) I can't wait to read more, and see the turquoise silk dupioni. Sigh. That's my favorite color :) You look great! Sorry I can't give you any tips, but I gave you lots of adoring praise! Your dress makes me want to sew right now. I look forward to really your blog and seeing how it comes out.

    -karrie
    ksmith8@emich.edu

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm graduating from high school. Good luck on your dress!

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  27. Your dress is fabulous! I love the pattern, and it looks great on you. This is how I do a hand-hemmed circular skirt hem. First let it hang for a few days before you mark the hem. Then trim the hem allowance to the desired width plus 1/4 inch. Then run a machine-basting stitch on that 1/4 mark, all the way around the hem, breaking at the seams. Press under at the stitching line and press the hem up the desired width. Then pull up the basting stitches until it fits perfectly flat. Press again, pin in place and hand hem your dress. Perfect! Also, if you underline the dress with silk organza (pricey, but a nice touch) then you can catch the hem stitches in the underlining only and they will never be seen at all. I made a sort of turquoise (called saltwater) silk dupioni 50s style dress to wear to my niece's wedding and feel magnificent in it. Enjoy!

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    1. Thanks! That sounds like a good method for hemming. I've decided I'm going to try horsehair braid, but I really love circle skirts so I'll keep this method in mind for next time. Thanks for the advice!

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  28. I am a fan of your blog so I nominated you for a Liebster Award! Check out the details at yellowsubmarinetime.blogspot.com

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    1. Wow, thank you! I've been nominated for two others recently, and haven't had a chance to respond to either of them yet. One of these days, I'll respond to all of them! Thanks!

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  29. Really great dress and it suits you so well! Cannot wait to see the prom dress.

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  30. That's a totally delightful dress and looks lovely on you. there's something so feminine about vintage styles.
    http://daisycreatesinsussex.blogspot.co.uk/

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  31. What an amazingly flattering dress!

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