Thursday, 12 December 2013

Illusions, visual effects and mind-boggling stripes

I shouldn't really call this an Anna dress, though that's how it started its life. Sure it's got a slash neck and a maxi skirt, bust pleats, kimono sleeves and back darts, but the skirt and the profile of the finished project are so far removed from the pattern, I can't pass judgement on the pattern itself at all. (This obviously calls for another version).

The main reason for this? The fabric. This was hands down the most difficult fabric I have ever dealt with.

 Not only is the high quality slippery silk charmeuse prone to shifting out of shape, the print is incredible. A friend summed it up very well by saying the fabric left no room for error whatsoever. And of course there were errors! Matching nonregular stripes and diamonds in an unstable fabric across several seamlines is not easy. Plus, when I first bought the fabric from Emma One Sock, it looked like a border print. The repetition is actually much closer so diamonds were obviously going to feature more than planned. 

That being said it's an excellent opportunity to talk a bit about visual effects, and the capacity to create and exploit them when sewing. I love a good visual effect, whether achieved through lighting, weird shapes in odd places or the way something moves around. In garment sewing, you can create a lot of effects just from the colours, shapes and textures you wear.

By Hand London's designs always seem to make excellent effects in exaggerating their shapes. It seemed to be a good opportunity to complement that with a similarly audacious fabric. Obviously discount Roberto Cavali silk charmeuse would do the trick (bought in Feb). With that in mind, I wanted a dress to look as wide as possible at the shoulder (and follow the line of arms when they're moved), vary the size and number of the diamonds at the waist, make you look longer than a stretched cat, and for the skirt/hem to unfold in motion, revealing hundreds of concertina'd diamonds. 

Cue many late nights and stresses over cutting. 

If I can weigh in with a good tip for cutting silk: lay it out on your mattress, or on top of a duvet cover. It's much more effective at gripping than the tissue paper technique. Don't tell anyone else, but it also means you can stick pins vertically into the mattress, lowering any warping or shifting of shapes that might occur.

The angle of the seam and grain lines didn't correspond very well with the stripes so there were some very heavy modifications on the fly to match up diamonds and release fullness where it didn't look weird. The result is a much slimmer hipline than the original Anna, but also something a bit like grown on godets. They kick out beautifully.

The back was another story. Turns out any "curvature" is hugely exaggerated by the print, looking a bit odd. Looking like a column is nigh-on impossible. So to mirror the bodice front, I included some pleats to get the effect closer to vertical. In wearing, there are some amazing twists and angles to exaggerate the way you move or stand. If ever there were a dynamic dress, this would be it.

Could this have been solved by making a muslin? Perhaps, but only if you could emulate the print and hand of the fabric. Frankly, I don't think it would have helped my ability to visualise the project at all. I still love it!

Incidentally, it's our office Christmas party this week and I'm thinking about fabulous dresses for the occasion. I'm going for the Burda 12/2012 cover dress in an amazing sandwash midnight blue silk. Can't wait to show you.


(Also, photo credit to George O'D! An ever-willing photographer!)

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