A Self-drafted Evening Gown

In June, my husband and I visited Moscow. During this visit, we viewed an exhibition about Russian fashion history, and also attended a ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theater. Naturally, I didn’t pass up this opportunity to make myself an evening gown!

Inspiration

My first source of inspiration were the elegent evening gowns designed by Claire McCardell. I particularly like the following model. The gathers, the keyhole effect at the lower back and the sleeves are dreamy!

After making and trying a test garment (I just gathered two rectangles of fabric and connected them at the gathering line, then tucked them into elastic tied around my waist), I realized that, unfortunately, the gathers make my shoulders look even broader than they are.

So I abandoned that design and wanted to try a wrap dress instead. In my go-to book for pattern drafting (Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Josepth Armstrong), I found detailed instructions for drafting a wrap top. Special care is taken to ensure the top doesn’t gape, as happens often with wrap designs. I couldn’t get the fit right after the first couple tries and also realized that the neckline would have to be too low to wear my normal bras, go get the wrap effect I wanted. Due to the upcoming deadline, I decided to go in another direction yet again.

For the fabric, I had decided on a lovely viscose crepe from Atelie Brunette in Forest. While perusing my book, I came across the instructions for drafting a cowl neckline. I immediately knew that this would work really well with the flowing nature of the fabric. I went right back to the drafting table with new inspiration.

Bettina stands in front of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow wearing her dark green selfsewn evening gown and cobalt blue accessories.

Time to Sew!

I made a test garment, which was finally a success, and so the time had finally come to get sewing. Cowl necklines are generally cut on the bias to further enhance the draped effect.

I had never worked with bias-cut pattern pieces before (just bias tape etc.), but I knew that they were very easy to stretch out of shape. Therefore, I staystitched all around the bodice piece immediately after cutting it out. Then I finished the edge of the cut-on neckline facing with a narrow serger rolled hem.

The rest of the dress actually came together pretty quickly. I used an invisible zipper in the back and sewed the bust darts only part of the way, so that they released right under the bust. I really like this effect in combination with the cowl neck.

Sewing Gathers Easily

The waistband and skirt are simple rectangles. I gathered the skirt onto the waistband with a cool trick I learned from my favorite podcast, Sewing Out Loud. Learn lots more about gathering in this episode.

For frustration-free gathering, use a wide, long zig zag stitch to sew some kind of cord or strong thread (even unwaxed dental floss) to the fabric. You can then gather the fabric along this cord very easily. Then continue as normal, distributing the gathers as desired and sew them to the waistband. If you sew on the cord within the seam allowance, you can just pull it out.

I then hemmed the skirt like the cowl neck with a serger rolled hem. I didn’t have overlock thread in a matching color, so I used black, but I don’t think you can tell from a normal distance.

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