Drafting an Evening Gown and Couture Sewing, Part 1

I am going to take you back to that time I went full speed into the realm of couture dressmaking. At least partly, anyway. Per my last post, I have enjoyed making my ball gowns for the Marine Corps Birthday Balls that we have gone to. Prior to the royal purple gown, I made a cobalt blue silk gown with a lace overlay of the skirt. But for this one, I decided I was going to draft the pattern myself and apply some couture techniques to the construction.

To start, I needed some good resources. A few years back, I had a brief introduction to pattern drafting with a Colombian fashion designer. It was in Spanish, which I was not (and still am not) fluent in, but I got an idea of the tools I needed and got a pattern book in English. It was an older book, so a bit out of date in some aspects but still had some helpful information. This was the book, How to Make Sewing Patterns by Don McCunn.

I decided I would also purchase some classes on Craftsy — I got several in the series with Suzy Furrer and they have been excellent. She personally answered questions and gave advice on getting the right fit on the moulage and the subsequent sloper and patterns we made from that. I also got a couple of classes about couture sewing techniques and sewing with lace with Alison Smith.

My last major resources were two books by Claire Shaeffer and I cannot recommend them enough. Couture Sewing Techniques and Fabric Sewing Guide (2nd edition). The latter unfortunately is out of print but if you can snag one second hand, do it! The other book is readily available online.

I spent many hours scouring these books for the best methods for sewing my fabrics, attaching my built-in corselet, creating a lace overlay while maintaining the border at the hem, underlining, and on and on. I finally came down with a plan and wrote it all down in the order that I would need to complete it and how I would do it, diagrams and all. This gave me a nice visual. And then I started on my pattern using my Craftsy classes!

Using Suzy Furrer’s classes, I made bodice and skirt slopers and used those to create my dress design. It took a few tries to get the neckline and straps sitting just right with no gaping.

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My dress sloper well underway
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The bodice pieces I ended up with. They look pretty strange, right?
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This was my final toile before cutting into the good stuff!

I was also still finding just the right fabrics to work with. I already had my cobalt silk dupioni and a matching paper taffeta for the lining, but I needed to decide on the lace I would use for the overlay. Swatches come in very handy for this! I never hesitate to order a swatch when I can because colors online can look very different in person, plus it’s nice to be able to feel the material as well.

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These are the various laces I was deciding between: a navy blue guipure lace, a black heavily embroidered lace, a somewhat matching sequin lace, and a navy blue corded/embroidered lace. I wound up with the last one.

I am going to leave you hanging here for now. I will bring you part two soon! That’s where it gets good and really describes all the techniques I used.

Until then, tell me… do you like learning new techniques? What resources do you use?


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