congratulations graduate!

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Yes, it’s a headless Frances photo.

(itty-bitty Mommyblog aside)

Holy crap, my child is done with elementary school. I am not ready. I just brought her home from the hospital last week. How did it go this quickly?

(back to sewing)

Frances started talking up her mom-made grad dress at school months ago, to both classmates and teachers. So sweet, yes? I’m going to enjoy her being proud of wearing home-made clothing for as long as it lasts.

Also, this dress had better be as close to flawless as possible, or I am screwed.

The rayon ($8/m) came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West in Toronto. Lining was just regular acetate this time–it’s a grade 5 grad dress. I want her to look special but an heirloom garment this is not. Frances helped me pick out the pattern (McCalls 6020, $4 on sale) and the zipper and trim, and then contributed on a weekly basis by asking me if her dress was finished yet.

Umm, no, sweetheart. Not started. Not quite. Patience.

Step 1: Altering the pattern

Frances has some unique sizing issues that make it a challenge to sew straight from the pattern, so first up was taking  detailed and up-to-date measurements, comparing them to the pattern pieces, and altering as required. The back, sleeves, and skirt pieces were cut out in straight-up size 8 (except for skirt length, which I made quite a bit longer as she wanted it as close to ankle-length as possible). The front bodice and waistband both needed altering: waistband an inch or two beyond the size 14 on either side; and the front bodice piece was a size 8 around the neck and sleeves, then widened down to a size 14 at the waist, and deepened by about two inches at centre front based on her front shoulder-to-waist measurement.

She’s not a size 8 in height or limb length yet, but we both wanted this to have some growing room so she could potentially wear it again.

I tested it by basting up the bodice lining pieces and getting her to try it on. While the back was a bit loose, the front and waistband were just perfect: the waistband sat straight at her waist and didn’t pull, and there was no excess fabric on the bodice front. Huzzah!

I even got to use my french curve to redraw the armhole and waist seams on the front bodice piece. It worked out all right–there’s a bit of bubbling on the torso I’m unhappy with, but I think taking it apart to fix it would only move the bubbling to the centre, so we left it. You can see that little bit of puckering in the top photo.

So many failed garments behind that relatively simple accomplishment, Dear Readers.

She didn’t want the sash or the bow, so I just made everything up in the same fabric; and we added on the sparkly neckline trim just for fun.

Step 2: Sewing the bodice and sleeves

This pattern is rated easy, which means there are some construction shortcuts. I am all for construction shortcuts when sewing on a deadline.

graduation-9-5One was the sleeve gathering: the skirt gathering was standard and enclosed within the bodice, but the gathering on the shoulder is quite visible. It’s cute but I’m not sure how much I like the stitching being visible if you get close enough. I might prefer if the pieces were split, gathered on the edge and then sewn together–but there’s no question that this method was a time saver.

Also, the sleeves and sleeve linings were sewn together as a single piece, then gathered. It made a nice edge and was certainly faster to do than adding and hemming them separately.

The bodice and bodice lining were also treated as a single piece for setting in the sleeves, which again made it faster, but also means that the sleeve seam is visible on the inside of the garment. Not a big deal; no one’s going to be looking in there, but it won’t be as smooth for wearing.

Step 3: The Skirt

The rectangles. Sew together. Gather. Attach to bodice, but not bodice lining.

The only alteration was making the front skirt rectangle a few inches wider to match the increased length of the waistband piece. Moving right along…

Step 4: Zipper

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the trim at the top was neatened after I took this photo of the zipper.

I changed the zipper to an invisible zipper per special Frances Request, so didn’t seam up the back until after the zipper was installed. And voila. Then the trim, which Frances picked out to add a little special sparkle to her special dress, stitched on by hand between the shell and the lining, and catch-stitching the bodice lining over the skirt piece, and hemming. It is a blind hem but the fabric is so light and floaty that it’s quite visible. Not a huge deal under the circumstances but I’ll have to figure out a way to do a proper blind hem on this fabric for the next project.

All in all, very little hand-sewing was required for the dress, which was great. It looks lovely and Frances loves it. When she tried it on after it was all finished, her eyes bugged out, she clapped her hands, and then jumped up and down. Just what she wanted.

Today was graduation day. We pampered her good and proper–nice long bath last night with fancy conditioner, shiny fingernails and toenails, a braided hairstyle–and she wore her mom-made grad dress to many, many compliments.  And there was skipping, jumping, hugging, grinning and laughing to be had.

I can’t believe she’s done with grade school.