Monday, April 16, 2012

My Monte Carlo dress

OK, I'm a nostalgia buff. I've often lamented here about the busyness of life these days and sighed over less frenetic times. I do have to pull myself up at some point and thank modern living for pain free dentistry etc and remember that the good old days are usually viewed through rose-coloured glasses and period tv shows which can't port into your living room the smell of living in an era sans deodorant.

That being said the 1920s is my nostalgia decade of choice. Women wore short skirts and short hair and had more control over their life (and finances) than their mothers did at the same age. It was an exciting time of jazz, aeroplanes, fast cars (that couldn't brake or handle but oh my those Bugattis were elegant!), cocktails and gorgeous dresses.

Even though I don't have the skinny bod for 20s fashions, I love them.

Six months ago I bought a dress pattern I'd been sighing over for ages - the Monte Carlo Dress, by Folkwear. It's a 1990s pattern based on a 1925 Poiret gown. With a skirt cut on the bias, it's a luxurious construction requiring around 5 metres of fabric. Given that I have been sewing barely a year, I quailed at the thought of making a mistake and buggering up those five metres. It's not like I would be making it in plain cotton; oh no, not this little black duck for whom ignorance can be bliss when it comes to working with fabric. Nope, I was going to do it in something gorgeous, something worthy of a 1920s woman out for a night on the razz at the best speakeasy in town.

In those six months I've made quite a lot of clothes, mostly tops, and a skirt suit, mainly out of knitted fabric. Understanding the directions on the pattern has become easier (except for Burda. Jeez. The translation from German into English is strictly double Deutsch. I'm sure they leave directions out just to confuse the English speakers. Revenge for WWII or something). I read through the Monte Carlo directions last week and they made a lot more sense than they did when I bought the pattern.

So I decided it was time to make the Monte Carlo dress last weekend. My local Sewright shop had the ideal fabric, a burnout velvet in deep midnight blue. I had some paler blue fabric I could use as lining for the bodice, even though the pattern doesn't call for a full lining. I decided the moderately sheer velvet needed lining to cover my knickers and provide some stability for the slightly stretchy velvet itself. I lashed out on metallic lace to make the cape thing that goes with the dress, but haven't made that yet. That's next weekend. It looks very simple.

To my delight making the dress was a breeze compared to some of the things I've over-ambitiously tried to make in the last year. The swear factor was zero.
Monte Carlo dress by Folkwear
My Monte Carlo dress

I've mentioned my ignorance and over-ambition, and put both of them to good use by doing some hand-beading on the front of the bodice. This had to be done before the garment was stitched together. Now, I've never beaded anything in my life, so I blithely went out to Lincraft and bought some bugle beads and seed beads and embroidery needles and set to it. Thankfully my slightly wavy, ever so slightly crooked lines of beads are disguised by the fabric, which is a bit wavy itself. You don't notice the lines aren't completely straight. Phew! I have found one little error I'll have to fix though and I'm not saying what it is :-)

I decided to do something really simple in the way of beading as you can add impatience to the list of my foibles as well and I desperately wanted to get my dress done over the weekend. I hate having to interrupt something I'm doing and put it aside for another week.

Monte Carlo dress by Folkwear, hand beading
hand beading
I sewed all day Saturday. I sewed all day Sunday. By Sunday night the bodice was ready for the skirt, and I'd hemmed half the skirt. This morning I worked until 11 then thought, sod it! I HAD to finish this dress!! So I did. I took my time lining the skirt up with the bodice and tacked it all in place before sewing it with the machine. I did quite a bit of hand finishing here and there too.

The end result is pretty stunning, even if I say so myself. I'm astonished that I made it. It fits like a dream and my seams aren't too untidy on the inside :-).

I'll have to make a proper beaded bandeau to match it - I've tied a bit of fabric around my head here - and of course the cape thingy.

Without the bandeau and with different jewellery it's timeless enough to wear to a posh night out without feeling I'm wearing a costume - with my husband's new job I may get the opportunity to wear it out a few times! But with the 20s trimmings I'm all set for a 20s themed event when I hear of one that sounds like fun.

I couldn't wait to try it on once it was complete (how nice to try it on without pins digging into me!) and then decided on makeup and a photo or two. I'd told a friend about it and she wanted to see a piccy. All tarted up with the appropriate accessories, I felt like a different person - that same feeling I had at the Paragon cafe in February.

So here I am, 20s woman in my 20s bedroom, complete with cat and the lamp that cat broke. Cocktails, anyone?


  1. What superb work! You have created a very elegant reproduction, well done! Perfect for next year's Roaring Twenties Festival in the Blue Mountains.

    1. Thanks, Lorna! I have done a little more beading on the dress too, just filling out the top beading a bit more and straightening up the top line of the beads at the bottom of the bodice.

      What a shame the Roaring 20s Festival is 10 months away! Will have to find a reason to wear it before then :-)

  2. I agree, it's superb! I like the fabric too - was it easy to work with? What is it? I love this dress because it is so timeless. Sure, it's different - but I would wear it to a nice meal or party!

    1. Ashley, it's a faux burnout velvet. I'm not sure WHAT it is exactly, but it's a little bit stretchy and a little bit sheer, and about 1/4 the price or less of real burnout velvet. Some kind of synthetic blend, I suspect it's hand washable rather than dry clean only. The velvety bits are woven bits rather than velvet if that makes sense. You can tell I'm not that experienced!

      It was VERY easy to work with despite being stretchy with a bit of a wave woven into the fabric. Just slow and steady does it chugging along with the sewing machine.

      With modern shoes and accessories this dress could go to any dinner or party, that's for sure!