August 22, 2011

The Lattice Gown, Part 1

Past time to start one of these, so here goes nothing!

Here's a gown I made over the course of a month this last spring. It is possibly the single most complicated and awesome thing I have ever sew, hands down. Before I completely forget how I went about making this, I figured I'd do a few posts on it. Since this project was a few months ago I'll apologize in advance if there's things I end up leaving out by accident!

I've been calling this the lattice gown. Others have called it the pie dress, the ice cream sundae dress or the pineapple dress (one of these days I'm totally remaking this in greens, golds and browns, AND with fabric made of pineapples!). Anyways, this is the image that inspired it-

Print from the fashion magazine De Gracieuse, found at The Memory of the Netherdands.

First off, I decided I wanted my hoop to be bigger. Now my hoop is already nearly 150" as is, but I figured that this dress was already a crazy endeavor so I might as well go whole hog and make it as absurdly over the top as possible. I made a simple petticoat of three or four panels of fabric gathered at the waist, with two deep flounces made of yards and yards of stiff netting.


That done, I turned to materials. The dress reminds me of an upside down flower; the bodice makes up the stem/leaves, the little peplum-ish thing at the top of the skirt looks like those little green bits at the base of a flower (called the sepal apparently) while the rest of the skirt resembles the petals of some exotic bloom. In keeping with the flower concept I decided my color scheme would be green, cream and rose. I really had my heart set on a nice dusky rose. But since I really wanted to do the entire gown in silk (going whole hog here, remember), I had to settle for what Triad had on hand when I went shopping. Thus I ended up with two yards of light green silk dupioni, five of cream silk dupioni and three of a peach/gold changeable silk taffeta. I also ordered a ton of silk gauze from Dharma Trading Co; that gauze is a whole freakin' post on its own, believe me.

Unfortunately, when I was at the store I had badly underestimated how much of the cream I'd need. I have NO IDEA how I thought I was going to get away with so little fabric, especially considering that I'd super-sized my hoop. Really, I know better. I just had a stupid moment. Reluctantly, I decided to go ahead and make the skirt as large as possible with what I had and see how it looked. I cut the cream fabric into three equal sections, then sewed them together selvage edge to selvage edge to form a large ring of fabric, leaving an 8" opening at the top of one seam so I could get in and out of the skirt. I decided to use tiny knife pleats to get all that fabric into the waistband. I knew the tiny pleats would just be hidden under the overskirt, but they please me so.

Twee little knife pleats. They reverse direction at CF and CB.

I eyeballed each pleat, pinned the everloving snot out of it all and ran a basting stitch across the top. Then I stuck it on my dressform to see how it looked. It managed to barely fit over the gianormous hoop, squishing the poofiness around the bottom of the petticoat down so much that the overall shape was greatly changed. Normally I wouldn't be ok with this, but I didn't have time or money to get more of the cream silk and the bottom was going to be covered with other stuff anyway. It's still crazy poofy, just not epically so anymore.

The only photographic evidence. It actually didn't look quite so horrible in person.
Plus it's unhemmed here, so it looks a bit odd 'round the bottom, what with the fabric sloping back in.

At this point I'd usually sew a waistband on, but I wanted the under and overskirts to be attached to the same waistband, so I started to figure out the bit that looks like the sepal on a flower (sepals? whatever). I decided to have twelve "points". My hoops are elliptical (they're a highly bastardized version of Simplicity 9764) so the points would have to be longer at the back to look right. I ended up using lengths of yarn to divide the skirt into equal sections, then draping a mock up of each individual point.

This was a stupid way to do this BTW.

It wasn't the brightest way to go about it. Were I to do it over (and I will. PINEAPPLE DRESS FTW!), I'd drape a short little fitted skirt, divide it into sections, draw the points on then cut it up and use it as the pattern. Either way, I ended up with six pattern pieces that fit around half of the skirt like so-

The green silk is flatlined to silk organza to give it some body. I put together the six pieces for the other side and sewed both sections together at the front (leaving the back open to get in and out of the skirt). I decided to line this with the same green silk in case the underneath showed while moving, so I cut and sewed together twelve more points, matched them up right sides in with the top layer and sewed all around the bottom edges.

I... I just don't know what happened here

I clipped the seams at the very end of the points, turned it all and used a knitting needle to poke out the ends. After pressing the bejesus out of it, I pinned it to the underskirt.

I popped a waistband on the sucker and moved on. I figured the lattice strips needed to be cut on the bias so they would gently curve over the roundness of the skirt. Luckily, I had a ton of cheap 1" wide single fold bias tape lying around, so I cut it into strips and got to work mocking up the woven lattice.

But first, a dance break.

What? I had just gotten my Uniquely You at that point. Oh fine then.

Starting to weave the lattice.

I pinned two bias strips to each point, then set about weaving them into each other prettily, pinning each juncture in place as I went around. While I wove I gently tugged each of the strips into a slight upward curve in order to get them to hug the shape of the skirt. And around and around and around I went, adjusting, repinning, adjusting some more, repinning, repeat. Once I was happy with the placement, I moved on to making the real lattice.

Using pinking shears I cut twenty-four 1 3/4" bias strips out of the peach/gold changeable silk taffeta, then sewed each of them up with an itty-bitty seam allowance. I didn't bother to turn them inside out; I just centered the seam at the back of each strip and pressed it open. I then gently stretched the strip along one edge to make it curve (yay bias!) and pressed some more to set the curve. Repeat twenty-three times. Resist urge to toss iron and strips across room.

The beginnings of insanity, right here

I pinned each of these in place over the mock lattice, weaving them under and over.

You cannot tell me that this right here doesn't remind you of a pineapple.

I carefully removed the guide strips, trimmed the top junctures of the lattice and tucked them under the points, then set about invisibly hand sewing each of those junctures.

BTW, did I mention there's over a hundred of those junctures? No? THERE'S OVER A HUNDRED OF THOSE FRICKEN JUNCTURES.

Ahem. What I mean to say is that I got a little frustrated by all the finicky hand sewing (and that silk was insanely difficult to poke a needle through) and busted out the heat n' bond. It seems like such a cop out considering the lengths I went through to make this thing, but there you have it. Half of those joins are basically glued together. I'm a little disappointed, but I can live with myself.

Let's just keep that whole glue thing between us, k?

I'll save the rest for future posts so as not to drone on forever! Tomorrow I'll switch it up and show you what I'm working on currently- a mash up of historical fashion and modern technology!


  1. I think this is the most beautiful imagining of fruit into a ballgown EVER. You write wonderfully well; and you give us the full experience of the frustration and hilarity that ensues with such a project. Can't wait to see what you do next!

  2. Thanks so much! I'll be showing a variety of historical and modern projects on here, so hopefully I'll manage to keep it interesting!

  3. Really beautiful work. You have a flair for reporting the process. Excellent work.


Your comment won't show up right away, but don't worry! I moderate comments because the spam is ridiculous. It may take a little while for me to approve your comment, but check back soon!