The Ball Dress (or thank God that’s over)

It's been ages since I blogged but I have been very busy. First I was very busy convincing Monica that she didn't want the extremely complicated dresses she had on her wish list. Then I helped her shop for some fabric and guided her towards something which seemed like it would be easier to sew – a dark brown velvet with a lurex stripe in the half price sale at Global Fabrics*. I know what you're thinking, velvet isn't easy to sew! And you're completely right but to give you some perspective copying this couture dress by Elie Saab was one of her first choices:

Dress by Elie Saab

Eventually she ended up with a short list of design features including: skin tight, very low back, wide neckline, full length and sleeveless – to which I added draped back, cowl front and fishtail. Then I spent a bit more time being very busy dreading making the dress and procrastinating. Finally, when I really had to actually start or I wouldn't get it finished in time, I got cracking (apologies for the lack of photos, I just wanted to get it over and done with):

The good:

The bodice block turned out perfectly. I used a butterick fitting pattern from my stash and some techniques I learned in a Craftsy class: Fast track fitting with Joi Mahon. The class shows you how to measure the body and the pattern, make comparisons and alter the pattern before cutting so when you get it made up it fits really well and you don't have to do much fitting afterwards. As you can see from the toile photo it worked out exceptionally well and I'll definitely be using those techniques again.

I don't have a photo of the paper bodice pattern because it sort of got mangled by the cat after I'd finished with it but I did several alterations:

  • narrowed at centre front because her bust points are so close together
  • shortened above bust point and below lower bust curve because she has a short torso
  • Added the amount I took out at the centre front to the side seams so it was still wide enough to fit her.

Meanwhile I made myself a wrap around skirt (just to keep myself sane).

Vogue 7427 and Butterick 5627

I joined the bodice pattern onto a skirt pattern which was luckily exactly what we wanted and fortunately was in my stash already. Here's a picture of the two patterns I used for the dress:

Making the back drape was an interesting challenge, but it wasn't difficult and I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. I used the instructions from Dress pattern designing by Natalie Bray. I took some stitches in the bottom of each fold on the wrong side, leaving a strand of thread between each one so that the folds would stay in alignment.

Cool vintage draping
The drape pleated and ready to be sewn in place
Stitches on the underside to hold the pleats in place


The bad:

Because the dress is backless, she decided to buy a stick on bra to wear under it and it was a bit of a nightmare because her bust ended up completely different sizes, shapes and places depending on where she stuck it. Sometimes she had to reposition it three times before fitting to get it in the right place. It's certainly an interesting object though, her boyfriend was quite fascinated with it and I think he may have tried it on himself at one stage.


The fabric has a very spongy pile and even with my walking foot it crept all over the place. I had to hand tack every seam and dart before I could machine sew it
Chalk marks wouldn't stay on either side of the fabric so I had to thread mark everything I wanted to refer to later


And the ugly:

A couple of days before the ball I suddenly gained some perspective when I realised she would only be wearing this dress once. It was just as well because at the end it got all very project-runway-stressful in an only-just-keeping-it-together, just short of having to curl-into-the-fetal-position-in-a-corner-and-cry kind of way.

I have to admit there is some very dodgy, thrown together at the last minute, sewing in this dress which I wouldn't want anyone to look too closely at but the springy pile of the velvet hides all kinds of amateurish handstitches and even makes the machine stitched hem much less obvious.

Dodgy machine stitched hem
The lining was roughly cut out and then handstitched in tucking in the excess under the arm but it didn't affect the appearance of the dress at all so didn't matter
The armhole edges were clipped folded down and handstitched in a hurry before the lining was attached by hand. These long stitches are actually unnoticeable in real life even though they're quite visible along the edge of the armhole in this photo


After I dropped her off at the pre-ball function she suddenly realised that when I took the back seam in at her request to make her butt look good it actually made it too tight for her to lift her skirt up to go to the toilet, but it decided that was her problem. By then I'd washed my hands of the whole thing.

Now that it's over we can all move on with our lives. There has been a bit of a delay getting this blog post done because I had to spend a week basically semi-comatose on the couch watching TV recovering in the evenings after work because I was so tuckered out and then everything got very busy again and WordPress isn't friends with my iPad so I got very frustrated trying to wrestle this post into shape, but then I discovered Blogsy so everyone's much happier now they don't have to listen to me swearing as much. Better late than never!

*I know Global Fabrics have changed their name to the Fabric Store but I think that's a really naff name and I don't like it so I still call them Global. They can't possibly have passed that name by a focus group before deciding on it.






12 thoughts on “The Ball Dress (or thank God that’s over)

    1. Thanks Gemma! I’m glad other people do this too and I’m not the only completely crazy person around here (sometimes it seems that way when I’m around my non sewing friends).

  1. That is still a whole heap of hand stitching for a thrown together dress at the end! It looks beautiful and fits her like a glove. The Fast Track Fitting course is on my list – I really like the idea of adjusting the pattern before evening getting the muslin together.

    1. It was only handstitched because it wouldn’t stay put when I tried to machine sew it, usually when I’m throwing a dress together it’s all machine sewing and only hand sewing what’s absolutely necessary. If you like I could go through the basics of the fast track fitting with you when we have another WSBN meeting, it’s not hard at all, pretty much just commonsense, but it is great to get it fitted without having to mess about fitting the toile. I love the gorgeous dress you made your daughter, that lace is beautiful

  2. I can soooo relate to this post, having been through three seasons of ball gowns with my little treasure. She looks amazing in the dress regardless of your misgivings about the finishes.
    If it’s any comfort, at 20 my “little treasure” is so used to made to measure that she’s learning to sew herself – but I’m not sure whether teaching her is less or more stressful!

    1. Thanks, I can completely relate to your comment about your daughter being so used to you making her beautiful made to measure clothes. Mine is too and although she’s exceptionally good at sewing – much better than I ever was at her age – she isn’t satisfied with her results because it’s not as good as what I do so there’s a whole lot of stress from that too!

  3. I think if she’d showed me that first inspiration photo I would have fainted! ๐Ÿ™‚ Well done working through all that! It’s a beautiful dress and suits Monics perfectly…also I hate saying Fabric Store too, so we say Global-that-was ๐Ÿ˜‰

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