Dancing in Red

Every day this week I’ve found gossamer bits of glittery red fabric on the floor of my studio and in the melting patches of snow between the studio and the house. I think I will find these fragments for weeks to come.

In early March I was asked to redesign a dress for a friend who was about to turn 50 and chose to host a prom for herself and closest friends. Crazy idea, no?

Let me introduce you to the prom queen. Peg is the mother of not one, but two, sets of twins (who are now grown). She went back to school to be a chef when all four children were still young. Now she works as the private chef for a local couple and lives just a few miles from here.

Peg showed up at my house with an inexpensive red prom dress and acres of red tulle and the aforementioned sheer fabric with sparkles. She also had a lovely sketch of some ideas for adding fullness to the dress and flowers on the bodice. The rest was in my court.

At the end of this post I get all geeky about what I did to alter the dress, so you can go there if you are so inclined.

The whole process made me giddy (when I wasn’t slightly intimidated by it). My deadline was March 26, the night of the festive gala—I had about three weeks to make the transformation.

The prom queen arrived on Saturday morning of the big day with two of her daughters and her little dog Thornton P. Wizard. You couldn’t have asked for a better photo prop than Thornton! Peg was thrilled with the results (phew) and had a splendid night of kicking up her heels on the dance floor.

We should all embrace the age of 50 with Peg’s spirit of youth and joy. Don’t you agree?

A few notes about the prom dress alterations:
(I’ll try to draw some sketches to accompany these notes. I’ll add them soon. But today I’m off to Montréal!!)

First, I cut into the front two vertical seams (24″ up from the hem) and added wide triangles of the sheer  fabric with sparkles to form godets and add drama. The insets started as 24″ squares with one corner rounded off and then the two straight sides sewn into the cuts I made in the vertical seams. Top-stitching helped the extra fabric to be full, but stay within the dress line.

I took an additional 24″ square of red tulle and gathered it at one corner, added a fabric flower (more on that below) and attached that on top of each godet so there would be more fabric to swish and flow. I added two more of these poofs (I can’t think of a better word for them!) to the back seams that corresponded to the front godets. I cut across the bottom of all four of the tulle poofs so they were slightly shorter than the hem of the dress.

Next, I found a silk ivory skirt with red toile patterns in my fabric bin. I used to love to wear that skirt, but it had its share of thread pulls and was ready to turn into fabric flowers for the bodice and the top of the tulle poofs.

Peg wanted straps on the dress so she could dance with reckless abandon, so I sewed tubes out of the silk toile and gathered it into ruched layers over red straps that showed vaguely through the semi-transparent toile. The inner red strap inside the tube assured that the straps would have some strength since the silk fabric was so delicate. The tubes of silk were about three times the length of the strap, making for lots of gathers.

Everything I know about making fabric flowers I learned from my friend Victoire Gardner. To make the flowers I cut long pieces (up to 36″) of fabric on the bias between 1″ and 1.5″ wide. I basted down the center of each long strip and gathered up the fabric. Then it could be wound into a fluffy peony or rose with various petal styles based on how much of the raw edges I chose to tuck in or leave out. To make a gathered flower, go to this tutorial. A tutorial for a rolled fabric flower is found here.

More flowers followed in the solid red sheer fabrics, with handsewn bead centers, and thin streamers of bias-cut sheer red.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 08:58:42

    Love it! What wonderful spirit – and how lucky she is to have a friend with magic fingers! Beautiful result.


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