Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ballroom Sewing: Is it worth it?

Is sewing my own ballgowns worth it?

I have asked myself that question a lot while frustrated with the jade anna dress.  In one way, the answer is always yes.  Around here, a new, made-to-measure ballgown will cost between 1500 and 3000 euros.  Some portion of that range depends on how the dress is assembled, as multi-layer skirts with lots of bias-cut pieces eat up expensive fabrics at a rapid pace.  The majority of the difference though comes from the decoration of a dress.  Appliques, fringes, sequins, and rhinestones are typically hand-applied to a gown, so the dress price reflects the hours someone spent gluing individual pieces of fringe or rhinestones to the dress.  It isn't a task that requires a high level of training, so the basics of decorating are not hard to learn, and decorating a costume yourself in one area in which you could save money.

The jade anna dress uses appliques, sequins, and rhinestones for the bulk of its decoration.  The appliques (well, I'm calling them appliques, though I realize there is probably a better word) are made of two layers of lycra, bonded together with Wonder-Under to add stiffness and to prevent curling.  I started by making several paper diamonds in different sizes and pinned them to my dress so I could see what size I wanted.  I then traced the diamonds onto the Wonder-Under and steam-ironed it onto the back of my lycra scraps.  I happily didn't have to cut into any yardage for this, which was good as after the bodice remake I don't have much yardage left.  Once the fabric pieces were cool, I neatly cut out the diamonds and ironed them onto the second pieces of fabric, sewed around the edges to hopefully prevent separation, and cut them out.

I don't think Wonder-Under was the ideal bonding agent for this, as it didn't stiffen the fabric quite as much as I would have hoped.  It was however the only option I could find locally.  I miss the big-box craft stores right now, with their coupons and dozens of options per notion.

Once I had made all the appliques, I hand-sewed them in place.  There are two big ones on the center front and center back, and then four more along the front.  My earrings were made the same way, with smaller diamonds, and then I glued posts on the back.

My plan was to have the appliques look shiny, metallic, and silver from a distance.  Honestly, the best way to achieve that would have been with silver sequin fabric, but it would have been expensive to buy a meter of it to use maybe a 20 cm square.  Instead, I bought silver loose sequins and my husband glued them all over the appliques and earrings.  We then glued a few crystal AB rhinestones on top of that.  Bands of rhinestones were then glued around the upper neckline and under the bust.

My logic for using both sequins and rhinestones was partially to reduce costs and partially to save to my sanity.  In my experience, rhinestones are really best as light reflectors, not as color changers.  It takes a LOT of rhinestones over a fabric to obscure the color of the fabric beneath.  For small detailing, like that line below the bust or on my arm-bands, rhinestones are ideal because they pack a lot of sparkle into a small area and their small size means they wrap around curves well.  Swarovski rhinestones, however, retail at about 15 euros per gross, and I estimate it would have taken about 16 gross to completely cover the six appliques of the dress.  In comparison, it took about 6 euros worth of loose sequins to cover the appliques, which were then topped with a few dozen rhinestones per applique.  The sequins were trickier to glue, though, as they didn't bond well to the fabric.  I don't think I'd trust them glued in areas that need to flex a lot.

I also sewed neck straps to the front center applique.  It gives the dress the appearance of a halter-top, and means I didn't have to make a separate necklace.  Win!

I made armbands and floats as well.  The armbands are just lycra sewn over elastic, then heavily stoned.  The entire dress used SS20 and 32 Swarovski crystal AB and Chrisanne SS16 crystal stones.  The floats are sheer georgette, cut as two curved trianges.  The narrow ends attach via snaps at the bottom of the applique over my spine, and additional snaps near the broad end of the triangle attach them to the armbands.  The broad end is meant to drap to mimic the streamers on the skirt.

I did not sew the floats to the dress because as lovely as floats are on the dance floor, they are hugely annoying off it.  They often drag on the floor when one's arms aren't in dance position, get stepped on, get ripped, make it difficult to move around, and so on.  Being able to take them off is a blessing.

Coming back to my original question, is ballroom sewing worth it, in another way the answer is always no.  While basic sewing is not difficult to comprehend, it takes a lot of practice to master those skills, particularly with notoriously difficult fabrics like lycra and chiffon.  While coming up with a dress design is not hard, figuring out how to select appropriate fabrics and create the appropriate pattern for what you're trying to achieve takes a huge amount of knowledge and skill.  While gluing rhinestones is easy, knowing where to put them and how many to use requires studying dress in action.  Special machines and fabrics make it all easier, but those are expensive, as is doing practice projects to improve your skills.  If I were to include the cost of my hours spent on this dress, its cost would sky-rocket well passed what I would have paid to have it made for me.

Hence when I wanted gloves for this dress, I decided that making them myself was not worth the inevitable frustration of trying to sew tiny finger seams on my serger.  Instead, I trotted myself to the nearest seamstress competent to sew dance costumes.  I am lucky enough to have one locally.  It was a simple matter to tell her what color I was using (she has access to all of Chrisanne's fabrics, too) and have her take a few measurements, and less than two weeks later I had my gloves.  They cost less than 30 euros, and I adore them.  I think they finish the look beautifully, and now I don't have to wear fake nails for competitions.  Win!

You'll note that I mention the streamers on the skirt, and these don't actually exist.  That's because I ran out of fabric.  When I grossly underestimated the fabric needs for the overskirt, I ended up using the chiffon meant for the streamers for the overskirt, so more must be purchased before they can be made.  Until then, I'm taking a bit of a break from the dress-sewing.

Nine empty spools and counting.

No comments:

Post a Comment