Took a few quick photos outside just as a snow shower was starting!
Here’s the front and side:
Marfy 2635 is a full length evening gown with a tight-fitting bodice. The bodice has diagonally seamed panels in the front. There’s gathering at the bust and upper edge of the front skirt. The skirt has no side seams, and back is eased into the bodice for shaping. Marfy also thoughtfully included the pieces for making built-in bra cups.
In my opinion Marfy is THE designer for formalwear patterns if you’re an experienced sewist that doesn’t need a lot of handholding. They have a certain complexity and refinement that I don’t see in most modern patterns.
I made this dress for my employer’s annual holiday party. Men generally wear a jacket and tie and women wear cocktail dresses. At least half of the female guests wear their default little black dress, so this dress was definitely one of the fancier outfits this year.
Recommended fabrics are satin, crepe de chine, and jersey. I used a wool satin with a very slight stretch that I purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics about two years ago.
I prewashed it in 30ºC (90ºF) water with some Eucalan and there was no change in look or feel at all.
I think one of the most difficult things about this dress is choosing the right fabric. You need something that will drape well, due to the circle skirt and gathering, but also something that has some body and a somewhat stable weave because of the tight fitting bodice and angle of the front panels. My first attempt on Sunday night used a silk twill. I thought that underlining it might solve the instability problem. I tried underlining with a sturdy medium weight cotton broadcloth (which was WAY too stiff), then a double napped cotton flannel, then tried fusing it to Pro-Sheer Elegance Medium. The fabric just didn’t have enough body, and the twill weave and angle of the front seaming made fusing bubble. The weave of the silk also made it pull oddly. So I chucked it and started over again with this wool satin. There’s still some weird pull lines here and there due to the bias and seaming and lack of trim to add stability, but overall it is MUCH better than the silk twill was. For this dress I would agree with their fabric recommendations of satin, not so much with crepe de chine or jersey. They are great for the bust and skirt, but just don’t have enough body for the bodice. I suppose someone more ambitious could make a separate foundation layer, but since I started this dress when the party was only a week away I didn’t have much time for experimentation.
I underlined the entire bodice, with the exception of the gathered bust section, with a double napped cotton flannel. I did this not only to give the bodice more body, but to “pad out” the fabric so I could add boning and have it be as undetectable as possible (since I thought I may need to add some vertically to the middle of the back rather than along seam lines). I had horrific experiences with underlining when I tried it around eight or so years ago. I was a clueless beginner and matter what I did I couldn’t get the pieces just so. The layers were lumpy and uneven. This time I had a much better experience. Before cutting I aligned my flannel on top of the satin. That way I cut both pieces at the same time with my 28mm rotary cutter. I then used Clover #50 silk thread and a quilting between needle for basting the pieces together, basting them before I lifted them off the table. As I was basting I kept my pieces from shifting by placing one of my super heavy dressmaker pattern weights on top of it. (These weights are amazing. They were a Christmas gift from my parents last year. Each one weights almost 4 pounds so NOTHING shifts as you cut. ) My underlined pieces came out great! No shifting or uneven layers. I definitely like gathering and basting much more ever since I discovered silk thread. Not only is there less bulk but the slippery texture makes pulling up gathering and removing the thread much, much easier.
This is the first time I’ve ever boned a bodice. Marfy recommended adding boning to the side seam of the bra cup. Since the Rigilene boning I ordered didn’t arrive in the mail yet I ended up adding spiral steel boning to the entire length of each side seam. I had a bunch of 18″ bones in my stash and cut them to fit. (See my mini-tutorial if you’re curious about how to apply the tips after cutting.) I made boning casings out of four layers of silk organza (two on each side of the bone). I made a small buttonhole in the silk organza before stitching it together since I wanted to be able to remove them for pressing, and if I ever wanted to wash the final garment. Then I catchstitched the silk organza to the flannel underlining as described in Boning – Not just for Corsets. I finished up by slipstitching the buttonhole closed. It seems like the organza will hold, but if not I will just apply new casings.
After I changed the strap position to be under the arms instead of at the mid-back level I decided the bodice needed some additional boning. I added a bone vertically to the middle of the back, right between the side seams and the invisible zipper. This helped prevent the back from collapsing. At this point I happened to find some steel boning casing from Vogue Fabrics in my stash, so I used that for the casing. I stitched up the sides 1/8″ from the edge, then stitched across the top and pushed in the bone. I left the bottom free and catchstitched the casing to the flannel underlining. Then I stitched the end closed by hand so I could easily remove it if necessary. After wearing this I am actually thinking of adding two bones to each back panel instead of just the one for better support.
This is the first time I ever wore something with spiral steel boning, and I can see why people rave about it so much. It is sooo much nicer to wear than the plastic boning. I barely felt it! The sensation is like someone gently holding the bodice up around you. I was very comfortable wearing this dress.
I stabilized the center back seam of the skirt with scraps of Pro-Sheer Elegance Light from Fashion Sewing Supply. This fabric was quite stable but I like giving zippers additional support along bias-cut edges. (The back bodice is on the straight grain, but the center back seam of the skirt is cut on the bias.) I used a YKK zipper from Cleaner’s Supply. I don’t normally baste invisible zippers before sewing them in, but this time I did because of the three horizontal seams that need to line up at the center back. I also added a hook and eye closure at the top under the binding to make it easier to zip up unassisted.
To construct the bra cups I used the foam from the Make Bra shop. I cut the pieces without any seam allowances, butted the edges together, and stitched them with a 3-step zigzag stitch. I then finished the edges of the foam with a narrow zigzag stitch. After doing that I pinned them to the bodice, making sure the foam edges were directly hitting the seamline, then stitched them in by hand to the seam allowances. I basted them around the neckline and armhole with some silk thread.
I spent two hours on Wednesday night sewing on silver sequined trim by hand before I decided that I HATED the final effect. The contrast was too much and it looked like a gaudy performance dress from Dancing with the Stars. Not the look I was going for at all. Off it went! The only downside was that the trim added stability to the bias cut front panels.
My lining is the superfine bemberg from Cleaner’s Supply. I bought it in white and dyed it to match the fabric using Dharma Trading’s Fiber Reactive Procion dye in the color Rhythm & Blue. The color came out too light so I redyed it using the color Blueberry. It was still lighter than what I wanted (I think I didn’t use enough salt in the dye bath) but it is much more acceptable than the original color. Unfortunately when I was moving the fabric in the dye bath I stuck my hand in too far and the blue water poured into my gloves. My fingers still have a blue tinge to them…
I used almost all of the same pieces for the lining as I did for the dress. The exception was that I used the bra cup pieces for the bust, and did pleats instead of gathers at the center front to minimize bulk. Normally I machine stitch the lining to the zipper tape, but since the center back seam of the skirt was on the bias (and one skirt panel was behaving particularly badly) I decided to slipstitch it to the tape by hand. I also tacked the lining to the foam cups at the lower center front.
Speaking of badly behaved bias, here’s the hem of the dress after hanging up for about 10 minutes. The lining was cut 3/4″ (2cm) shorter than the outer fabric. You can see why I let it hang overnight before hemming! It kept grown and growing though. Right before we left I actually took it to my serger while still wearing it and hacked off some more length from the left side seam.
Since I wasn’t using the trim for the bodice I finished the armhole and back edges by binding them with 1/2″ self fabric strips, which extended upward to form the straps. (Marfy includes these pieces with the pattern.) I slipstitched the inside of the bands along the upper back and armhole edge by hand. The armhole is slightly eased into the self fabric strap for better shaping. I noticed this had an effect on the fit of the bodice, so make sure when you do your muslin you sew on these pieces.
As you can see I tacked the straps in place by hand. I played with the strap placement a lot and I’m still not sure I’m going to keep it in this spot.
I still have to tack on some hanging loops. So much hand sewing with this dress!
By the time I got to hemming, which I did around 1pm on Saturday afternoon, I was sick of looking at this dress and just wanted to get it done in time for the 6pm party. Instead of having my mother measure the hem for me I eyeballed the evenness of the hem and said “good enough!” I also gave up on my original plans to do a bias faced hem and just blind stitched a 1/2″ turned-up hem on my Janome and serged the lining. Took like 10 minutes. I could always go back and redo it.
Fitting adjustments were numerous, as to be expected with a dress with a close fitting bodice like this, and due to my time constraints I still don’t think I got it perfect.
- Shortened the skirt 18″
- Added 1/2″ to the center back hem of the skirt
- 1/2″ swayback adjustment
- Removed a total of 1″ from the back by folding out a 1/2″ tuck. I could probably remove an additional 1/2″ from the upper back edge, but at the same time seeing countless amounts of strapless gown “back fat” at weddings has encouraged me to go slightly loose in this area. And it is easier to take a deep breath too…
- Took in the center back seam of the waist 3/4″ at the lower edge where the skirt meets the bodice
- Removed a 7/8″ dart from the front waist, adding a total of 1.5″ to the front waist. (The dart is rotated into the curve of the seam, so basically I slashed and spread the piece to make it less curved.)
- Likewise I widened the “dart” that was rotated into the lower back bodice piece by widening the bottom curve of the seam by 5/8″.
- Moved the princess seam of the bust cup inward 3/8″
- Increased the length of the straps