Monday, May 16, 2011

Sari Dress: Creation (Part II)

My grandmothers, one a home seamstresses and the other a professional tailor, could sew.  The machine, pictured here, originally belonged to my maternal great-grandmother.  With a little oil and patience Mom keeps it in working condition.  Mom's a better seamstress than she'd ever admit.  My childhood showcased one-of-a-kind dresses and comfy summer shorts.  I survived the high school jeans dilemma by Mom's alteration skills.  Mom even stitched the final hem on the front part of my silk organza wedding dress.

Despite my family history, the gene that understands geometry and enjoys pinning fabric to patterns didn't make it into my predisposition.  Fashion and design, I love.  I've got an entire file of fashion magazine cut-outs of clothing and accessories, not to buy the items, but because some aspect of the design intrigues me.  Husband would say this contributes to my pickiness as a shopper, but I digress.

For me, this sari dress is about creating something beautiful to wear, not about becoming a seamstress.  From the start, I knew I would work without a pattern and based off of the intrinsic qualities of the fabric.  I would attempt as little sewing as required to make the garment wearable in public.

After a good deal of time wrapping myself with the sari in front of my bedroom mirror, I clarified my vision for the dress.  First, the material looked most beautiful as a tube dress which highlighted the gold embroidery and the dramatic shift from forest green into plum wine.  Second, the sari wanted to retain some of it's character, namely the texture called for some sort of drape or pleat or gather.

With this vague notion of a simple dress with a unique touch--like a bi-color twisted bust-line or an over-the-shoulder drape or an around the waist gathered overlay--I headed to JoAnn Fabrics for plum wine thread and something for straps.  I came home with the thread and the last 3/4 yard of "ribbon"--gold thread woven around purple-ish sequins (draped in the background).

As I rethreaded the machine to begin, I realized Great-Grandma's steel antique boasts two other features I love.  First, the machine produces a chain stitch (without a bobbin!) so seams can easily be ripped out--you pull on the one end and "frog" it as in knitting or crocheting.  This expedites the  many corrections I'm sure to need to make.  Also, the hand-crank wheel only works at one speed (how fast you whirl it) and in one direction: forward.  Ready or not, I ironed the sari and got out the scissors.

Despite the hours invested, the first day sewing wasn't pretty or, honestly, productive.  My first two hems were on the wrong side of the fabric (frog it!).  The seam at the top of the dress was so tight it took almost a half-hour of inching the elastic through on a small safety pin.  Then I tried the tube dress on.  Inspiration flared so I used the ribbon, originally bought to become straps, tied around my figure to create an empire waist.  The mirror said one thing: flattering, yet bulky.  Husband, leery of my "sewing" project, hesitantly agreed.  I needed to thin the dress by about a foot so I didn't look like a cinched up potato sack.  It was time to get out the scissors again.

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