The Poodle Dress, 2014

Another fabric I couldn't walk by, especially as there was tantalizingly just enough for a dress left in the bolt. Not that I urgently needed a new dress, but when I thought about it my somber real life wardrobe could do with something light toned and frivolous.

This beautiful, soft pink silk with a cute print of different kind of poodles just screamed vintage elegance with a pin up-twist to me, and so I began searching 40's fashion pictures. Despite adoring Dita von Teese and admiring classic silver screen beauties I have never looked deeper into vintage fashion, so it was interesting to at least scratch the surface of a new era. If I had nine lives, or alternatively didn't have to work or sleep what all I would try! Sigh.

The 40's fashion plate beauties are really tall and slender, so to imitate that look I needed to choose a style which would fall smoothly over my curvaceous hips with no extra pleating at the hip area. I found a picture of this Simplicity pattern which seemed ideal and very pretty. As I was in a hurry to get to begin the dress I didn't try to hunt the original pattern but decided rather to draft my own, as commercial patterns always need tweaking anyway. I also thought it would be good to practice my modern pattern drafting skills for change, and try out some things learned back in school.

poodle dress
The original dress looks a bit like it might be cut on bias, which sadly I couldn't do with the limited amount of material I had. The silk had a lovely drape and would probably fall smoothly anyway, though, so I decided to cut only the top front pieces in bias for better fit.

I wanted to avoid too many seam lines to to keep the lovely pattern intact where ever I could. The original, according to the sketch of the back, doesn't seem to have any shaping seams or darts at the back waist, which also makes me suspect it's cut on bias. Anyway, my hollow back absolutely needs some shaping to fit gracefully, so decided to try if a heavily curved back seam lifted from 14th century kirtle might work in a more modern garment as well. After all, I needed to throw a zipper somewhere anyway, as relying only on the neck opening would only court damaged seams and make up stains.

I flared the hem at the side seams and the center back seam as wide as the fabric width allowed. The silk would probably fall very sleek but the flare would be more obvious when walking.

At the front I raised the seam a bit to just under the bust to give a more fitted look. I also added a few pleats on the shoulder as I wanted to really get to play with pleats with this project. I also gathered the bust shaping into small pleats. The front pieces are joined by a seam that opens into a neck slit.

I made a mock up version, and as I had anticipated, I needed some tweaking. I pinned the pleats anew and tried out different options until I was happy with the fit. As you can see though, in the final dress the shoulder pleats still tend to turn just a bit too center while they were supposed to go towards the bust pleats.

Then I moved on to drafting the sleeves. I had pondered between the two sleeve options in the Simplicity style, as both had their charms, but finally decided that the silly poodle print needed the silly puffed sleeves. Besides, they would help to create the wide shoulder line which would balance my already mentioned hips.

Back at school in the early years of 21st century we used to frown at the puffed sleeves we had to learn to draft, while our teacher laconically commented "Whether you like it or not, they will be back in fashion, trust me." Now I looked through my folders in search of the secrets of the puffed prettiness. My first attempt looked somehow not right, but when I made it a bit longer it began to look better. At the sleeve end I gathered the fullness into three pleats. Just to be sure I made another mock up version in thin lining satin which had a more similar drape to the silk than the bedsheet cotton I usually use for mock ups.

Usually my patterns are a mess of corrections and smudged pencil lines, but now I tried to make very neat final ones to avoid misinterpretations with all the pleats.

When cutting the fabric I tried to keep the poodles intact where ever I could, but naturally I couldn't quite avoid a number of cruelly butchered poor little things.

While taking a fancy to the lovely fabric I had totally forgotten that I usually have troubles with thin, silky materials. When that finally occured to me I decided it was all the more reason to get some practice with one. As I had expected, my machine hated it, but happily as it was silk ironing smoothed the seams nicely. I had to redo a few pleats but on the whole the dress came together pretty fast.

The sheerness of the silk also created some challenges. I had in the beginning decided to make the dress without the added work and complication of a lining and deal with the sheerness by wearing a nude colored slip beneath. The problem number two was that the black poodles showed clearly through the faint pink on the seam allowances etc. On the doubled shoulder part I cut the underside to match the top exactly so that the poodles merged into one, but in the pleated sleeve end that wouldn't be possible. The sleeve end needed a facing anyway to protect the frail pleats from tear. I ended up cutting the facing of cream lining satin (I didn't happen to have any in soft pink of nude). It alters the color a bit and thus shows, but doesn't hurt my eye as much as extra poodles out of pattern repeat would have. I sewed the top edge of the facing on the sleeve by hand in tiny stitches.

I also hemmed the front slit by hand - it has become a habit, I can hardly help it. The neckline is finished with a bias tape. The hem is finished with a machine, thought not without some qualms, I could not help thinking how much neater it would be hemmed by hand.

I kept changing my mind almost untill the end whether to wear it with a separate belt or add the ties on the side seams like in the original. At last I chose the latter option. It looks really nice, the bow at the back adds to the soft feminine feeling, and most of all the bow ties allow adjusting the waist before and after dinner...

Still true to the Simplicity dress I added a bow at the neck, though I changed it into a black one to give the dress some contrast and work better with black accessories - like I have mentioned, my every day wardrobe is largely dominated by black.

I'll close with an amusing anecdote. As a little girl one of my most beloved earthly possessions was a rain cloak I had gotten from an American cousin. It was pink and it had tiny black unicorns. So, that's how much my dress taste has matured over the years.

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poodle dress