Saturday, July 5, 2014

Do you want to build an Elsa Dress?

If you know a girl between the age of 2 and 10, you've no doubt seen Frozen. If you live with that girl, you've probably seen it so many times you know all the words to every song. Since it came out on home video in March, girls everywhere have pretty well had this film on repeat and clamored for all of the Frozen merchandise that Disney can make. This stuff is popular. So popular, in fact, that Disney ran out. Queen Elsa's gown became an underground commodity, selling for hundreds of dollars on Ebay.
In light of this catastrophe moms have been forced to do something they haven't done since the 80's: Make their own Disney princess dresses. But, unlike the baby boomers who at least had mandatory home ec to fall back on, Gen X is struggling with this one a bit. They don't all have the know-how to cobble together their own dresses. They don't have sewing machines. They have full-time jobs and no time for sewing. They are cutting up bridesmaids dresses from the Goodwill. They are sewing t-shirts to blue skirts. They are making some seriously unattractive and rather risque dresses then posting photos of them on the internet. And I, from my childless apartment, have been laughing at them.

So, when a friend mentioned that her daughter had her heart set on an Elsa dress, but they simply don't exist in the Northern hemisphere, I took it upon myself to help out. After all, I'm sick to death of writing and I never get to buy sparkly fabric. Also, I thought a tutorial would offer some karmic retribution after all of my laughing at others. 

I began by pulling out my stack of accumulated patterns. The most savvy moms (like Grace Hepburn) have been using Simplicity 2463 as a base for Elsa dresses, because of the pointed bodice and sheer yolk. But, I didn't have Simplicity 2463, and patterns weren't on sale this weekend. So, I pulled out Butterick 5458 from when I made flower girl dresses a few years back for my sister's wedding. Then, I set to work adapting it. 

First, I added 3 inches to the bodice front and back to make it a natural-waist instead of a empire-waist. Then, I added a "V" shape to the front of the bodice. Lastly, I used this tutorial from Syl and Sam for how to make a regular sleeveless top into a sheer sweetheart neckline (please just ignore the image of Snoop Dogg and imagine making this for your child). 

While 2463 has set in sleeves that other people have been lengthening, I hate setting in sleeves more than just about anything else in the world, so I went with (I'd like to think a more true to character) raglan. I pulled out an old pattern for children's pajamas (Simplicity 5271) and used this as a template for my yolk and sleeves. The sleeve had to be taken in a bit for fit, and also made pointy at the end to give that distinct queenly look. The neck line also had to be altered from a crew neck to a boat neck. So I matched up all of my pieces (accounting for seam allowance) and altered the neck to be sure it would all match up.

Since I had added substantially to the bodice, I removed 3 inches of length from the skirt back, and for the front I both removed the 3 inches, and cut the top edge into a very slight "V"to fit into the "V" added to the bodice. 

In the end, my pattern pieces looked like this. 
Then, I went off the LA garment district to seek out some machine washable, sparkly fabric. I came home with $20 worth of beautiful. For a size 6 I needed:

2 yards of blue satin
1/3 yard of sequins**
1/3 yard of sheer**
1 yard of "cape" sheer
1 14" invisble zipper
7 snaps***

**Note. Sheers and sequins are itchy. Children hate itchy. The sequins will be fully lined, so go nuts, the sheer will be against tiny skin, go soft!
***Note. I had planned to use velcro for this, but an experienced mom mentioned that Velcro on costumes gets stuck to everything and is upsetting. So, I went with snaps. If you prefer velcro, be by guest. You'll need about 16"

Of the heavy blue satin, cut 1 skirt front (on the fold), 2 skirt backs, 1 bodice front (on fold, for lining) and 2 bodice backs (for lining). 

Of the sequins, cut 1 bodice front (on fold) and 2 bodice backs. 

Of the sheer for the yolk/sleeves cut 2 sleeves, 1 yolk front (on fold) and 2 yolk backs. 


The most brutal part of this process was, luckily, the first. Carefully pin the sheer front yolk fabric to the heavy satin front bodice lining. Baste. (You could start by sewing the sheer to the sequins. But do note that you will be sewing sheer to sequins, and you'll want to quit right then and there.) Carefully pin the sequin front bodice to the basted lining/yolk. Stitch.

Repeat this process with the back lining, yolk, and bodice. 

Pin sleeve fronts to bodice/yolk fronts. Stitch. Pin sleeve backs to bodice/yolk backs. Stitch. 
Gather skirt backs (separately) and pin to bodice backs (separately). Stitch gathers in place. Gather bodice front, making note of the deepest "point and marking with a pin. Match "pin" that marks the center to the "point" on the front of the bodice. Gather evenly on both sides. Pin. Stitch gathers into place. 

Starting at armpits to ensure everything matches up right, pin bodice front to bodice back on both sides. Then, pin up both sleeves (armpit to wrist). Then, pin down both sides of the skirt. Starting at the wrist of the sleeve, run one long row of stitches down the sleeve, bodice and skirt. Reinforce armpits with a second row of stitching.
At this point, I did a fitting with my little Queen. Screams broke out. No, not pins. Itches! It itches! Oh the agony. I felt awful and went home with head hung low. That was a rookie mistake. As a little girl I wouldn't even let my dad wear itchy clothes in my presence, much less wear them myself. So, just like my dad did when I complained of something itchy, I touched the sheer sparkly fabric to my face. It did indeed feel like a million tiny needles. It was terrible. So, back to the fabric store! I came home with 1/3 yard of cheap sheer-ish jersey knit (nice and soft), ripped back some seams, and did it again.**
From here, I set the zipper in the back seam (below the sheer yolk) and stitched up the back. I serged the inside edges (to avoid both itchies and fraying satin) and used a rolled helm on the neckline, sleeves, and back yolk. Also, add a snap (or button) at the top of the back yolk at the nape of the neck.

Before finishing the hand stitching on the lining I set to work on the cape (capes are critical). First, I installed 6 snaps across the back of the dress, being sure to get at least one layer of the heavy satin in the snap as I installed it. The sheer or sequins just don't have the body to handle a snap. Don't do it. Then measure from the snap at the left armpit to the snap at the right armpit. Cut a piece of ribbon this length, plus one inch.*** This is where you'd sub the velcro. Attach the "loop/fuzzy" side to the dress and the "hook/scratchy" side to the cape. 

I bought textured/"3D" fabric paint at JoAnns and made a snowflake template out of waxed paper and tape. I wouldn't suggest it. See the mess I made. Make a better stencil. Do keep in mind when you do this that your cape fabric is sheer this means that both light and paint will go right though it. Put down a clean piece of something under it or you will paint snowflakes on your porch... just saying....

I cut the cape down to size, serged the edges, and gathered the upper edge onto the ribbon. Then, being careful to match the spacing of your snaps on the ribbon to your snaps on the back of the dress, attach 6 snaps to the cape. 

Then, all that you'll need to do is hand stitch the lining in place inside and hem to length (you may consider doing this while watching Frozen for motivation). 
As soon as I get a photo of her majesty in the dress, I will update to include it. 

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