This does sound a bit overdramatic, doesn’t it? Well, maybe a tad.
But no other dress I ever sewed, except my wedding dress, put me through the wringer quite as much as this Sophia Dress from Burda Style Magazine Vintage Special. It took a long time, a lot of head scratching and a lot of swearing to turn from pattern+fabric into a dress I can slip into. And all for just one wear…
Was it worth it? Well, read on and tell me what do you think…
As with all mad projects, this was born out of single-mindedness (read tunnel-vision), a special occasion and insane determination of my sewing self not to be caught dead in a RTW outfit at a friend’s wedding.
My friend is Indian and hers was, of course, an Indian wedding, where she actually asked all her friends to dress up in Indian outfits if they wanted to. The fact that I might end up looking like I’m dressing up also played on my mind, but I was determined to stick to the theme.
So the awesome idea of upcycling an old sari popped into my head. It was inspired by my friend and fellow contestant from Series 3 of the Great British Sewing Bee, Nila, who can pretty much make anything with any old sari. And, what do you know, I had the perfect piece, a sari that my husband brought me from India last year.
Love it when a plan comes together…
A bit of vintage glory for your viewing pleasure, before we get into the details.
The fabric is poly chiffon, super soft, see-through and very drapey, with a great propensity for static. So it definitely required lining. I luckily had a larger piece of white poly lining in my stash, as well as a piece of poly satin left over from another project. It was a bit of a piecemeal job, as the satin was a bit heavier and more mate, but you can’t see it unless you turn it inside out. And it also took care of some stash busting. Win!
Now, the question was, what pattern to use that would showcase the specifics of the sari, especially the contrast front panel. After a lot of Pinteresting, and going through my pattern stash, I chose a vintage Burda pattern from the 2014 Vintage special issue, the Sophia Dress.
It features a sweetheart style neckline, a skirt that is pleated at the side and a hemline that hits just below the knee, but what attracted me the most was the pleated front detail, that could work really well with my front panel.
As this was a Burda Magazine, there was, of course, a lot of tracing involved, and for some reason, this took proper ages on this occasion. There are A LOT of pattern pieces…
Fit & Alterations
Also, as much as I dislike making toiles, for reasons of ‘I can’t be bothered’, but also because I hate how wasteful they are, I had to make a one. The construction was looking quite complicated. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the brief instructions (thanks, Burda!) and I didn’t want to risk my fabric, I did not have enough for experimentation…
And a good thing I did, as I ended up making quite a few changes to the bodice, though thankfully, the skirt was pretty spot on. I usually have to take out length from the bodice, but in this case, I took out a good chunk out of centre front and moved the strap angle as well, in an attempt to get rid of excess across the chest. The front is actually composed of 2 overlapping pieces, each lined, so I had to make sure the CF matched. I also took out 1.5 cm out of CB as well, tapering to nothing at the waist, my usual adjustment in most patterns (narrow back). Once the bodice was assembled, I realised that the armholes were gaping, so I took 1 cm each side, tapering to nothing at the waist.
I also ended up reducing the size of the pleat, as I had to work within the width of the sari piece.
Also because I wanted to showcase the sari, I used a contrast piece for the waistband, in black, which was taken from the border of the original piece.
I don’t know if the instructions are brief because it’s a vintage pattern and that’s how they are, or because it’s well, Burda. But there was a lot of head scratching and reading them over and over again. I took to crossing out the steps I completed so I can keep track easier.
The fabric is very see-through, so I realised that because of the bodice being overlapping, you could see the black flowers from the under piece through the over piece. So I had to underline, as well as line the overpiece, to avoid that. This also made life more difficult, because the lining was very slippery and I had even more layers to deal with. But definitely, the right thing to do. I used a piece of white lining for that, in addition to the legitimate lining that the pattern required anyway.
What I would say if you are attempting this is to pay attention to notches and arrows on the pattern and make sure you copy all of them on the fabric. Especially for the collar part, that’s what had me the most confused. I also underlined the collar for the same reasons as the front, but I loved the drapey-ness and the bit of structure this gives. The pattern asks for silk organza interlining, but I just used regular lining. Depending on your fabric weight, you might consider interfacing it as well.
In terms of finishing, because of the fragility of the fabric, I overlocked all the inside edges, of both the main fabric and of the lining as well. I also added iron-on stay tape at CB, to make the zipper insertion easier and avoid any puckering. Lastly machine-attached the lining to the zipper, as you know I hate hand sewing and avoid it as much as possible.
I did not finish the back slit the proper way, as I was running out of time (and to be perfectly honest, it’s one of the techniques that scares me the most), so I just cut out the lining piece and finished the main fabric by folding over and topstitching.
Btw, in case you are wondering, I did not even attempt to pattern match, I had enough headaches as it was. But it really does not bother me, the design is quite random. I did try very hard to align the waistband, as it contrasted and it really would have annoyed me if it didn’t match perfectly. I had to do quite a bit of fiddling and unpicking, but very happy with how it came out.
I know it doesn’t sound too terrible so far, but making this dress was just incredibly exhausting, physically and mentally. It took two weekends of solid work, almost 10 hours/day each, plus a few evenings. It was a combination of the sparse instructions, my maniacal obsession to copying the pattern with millimetric accuracy, the toiling, and the slightly difficult fabric, plus the fit tweaks that left me absolutely knackered at the end. I am pretty sure it would go much easier if I did it again, but I have absolutely no interest in going anywhere near it. Ever!
Wear & Style
I am wearing some of my favourite shoes in these pictures, they were actually the ones I wore for my wedding (well, until I got to the beach part where I took them off). At the wedding I was a guest at, I wore some very similar slingbacks, but in black, and my red coat. It was freezing, so I kept it on for the majority of the time. But it worked rather well.
Freezing aside, it’s comfortable to wear though I do feel it could use a bit more fabric removed from the centre front, especially on the underside piece. And annoyingly, although the fabric irons really well, it crinkles pretty easily as well, especially in the lap area, I had to give it a good steaming for these pics.
It’s quite a striking dress, with a vintage feel (duh) that is not my usual style, so I don’t think I will be reaching for it too often, maybe for another Indian wedding or a dress-up party. However, if vintage is your thing, by all means, give it a go, and feel free to ask questions if you get stuck, I sure could have used that.
Pattern: Burda Style Vintage Special Magazine (1950), Autumn 2014, Sophia Dress size 40
Fabric: lightweight chiffon sari; polyester lining
Notions: 50 cm invisible zipper; stay tape
Alterations: Reduced CF by 1 cm, CB by 1 cm, side seams by 1 cm, tapered to waistline
Next time: Go down to size 38 for top blending to 40 for the bottom, but keep the CB alterations
WHAT IS YOUR NEMESIS PROJECT? HOW DID YOU MAKE IT AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS OR TWEET OR IG ME @SEWRENDIPITY!
PIN THIS FOR LATER