Goodness gracious, this weekend has been quite a whirlwind of events! I had the immense privilege of watching not one, but two fantastic opening nights at San Francisco Opera – on Friday night, the opera season opened with a lovely production of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, and Saturday evening was none other than the unforgettable Sweeney Todd. Both shows were beautifully sung by some truly world-class singers, and of course, the dancers (my contribution to this whole operation – I played their warm-up classes!) were fantastic. Whew!
Since Friday evening was not only opening night, but the opening of the entire season, I knew everyone would be dressed to the nines. Instead of wearing one of my existing gowns from my music school days (which are all a little/lot too tight at this point), I decided I really wanted to make one. So when rehearsals began all the way back at the beginning of August, I began plotting my plan of attack. I love a halter silhouette for formal wear, and at first was thinking of using the Sewaholic Lonsdale pattern, but I decided that the back tie detail wasn’t quite what I was looking for in this particular dress, as I think it lends a more casual element to the design. I eventually landed on the Ava dress from the book Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dress, using the Lonsdale skirt in place of the bias cut skirt in the pattern.
The fabric is a rayon batiste from fabric.com, which I had originally intended to use a lining to my trench coat. Since it bled terribly after several washings, I realized it couldn’t be used as a lining, but would make a lovely flowing dress all on its own. Cutting it out was pretty tricky – the fabric is very thin and shifty. I probably should have just used starch or gelatin to stabilize it, but since I was working with a LOT of yardage, I didn’t know how that would turn out. So instead I taped the yardage to my wood floor to keep it on the straight of grain and slid my cutting mat underneath, using a rotary cutter to avoid distorting the fabric as much as possible. It wasn’t a perfect process, but it got the job done!
I then took my sweet time sewing it. In fact, this was supposed to be a wearable muslin for a different fabric, but I put so much work into it that I decided to just used this as my final dress! And, of course, since I spaced out my sewing so much, I ran into several near-disasters at the last minute that nearly ruined the project. I managed to get a stain on the center front of the bodice right before I was going to insert the zipper, and spot cleaning just created huge water marks. So I ended up inserting the zipper and then washing the whole thing – two days before I wanted to wear it to the opera. Good thing it dried quickly!!!
Fit-wise, it definitely could use a few tweaks for next time. You can see from the side views (which I promise you’ll see shortly…) that I had to take pleats out of the underarm area of the main bodice piece, since it gaped horribly (like, showed everything) when I first tried it on. To fix that for next time, I want to try to slash and spread the pattern itself to remove the excess fullness, which I think should create the equivalent of a SBA for this style. I just used the pleats here because I wanted to salvage the dress if possible!
I ended up fully lining the dress – both bodice and skirt – since the fabric is pretty thin. The double layer of fabric creates a lovely swooshiness to the skirt, which felt really delicious to wear! Here she is:
All things considered, I really enjoyed wearing this dress to opening night. Everyone really was dressed to the nines – full-on ball gowns and tuxedos! This dress is elegant in its simplicity rather than its complexity, so I didn’t feel out of place even in the midst of so much glitz and glamour. It truly was a night to remember!