Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Dorothy Dress

Annabeth decided that she, too, would like to actually own her costume for Wizard of Oz. One of her arguments was that the purchased costumes tend to look sort of dippy -- they tend to be one-piece affairs with a faux-jumper front and a very simple back. Some of them even involved shiny, glittery fabric, shudder. And one of my thoughts was that we'd never find a ready-made costume that fit her well since she's more slender than the current average U.S. child.

Biggest argument against making a costume -- the gingham fabric. I was pretty sure that it would be difficult to find.

But, having made Thalia's witch costume, there was also the issue of Equitable Treatment of Offspring. So, in the end, I made the costume.

The children's version of the Wizard of Oz is Simplicity 4139. I opted to use size 8 and make it larger/taller where necessary.

Next, fabric. The director felt that 1/4 inch gingham would be okay since the venue was small (in a large theater you'd want something bigger). And, as predicted, this was impossible to find in St. Louis. The few 1/4 inch ginghams I could find tended to be baby pastels. (Also, various quilting stores apparently consider it an insult if you call them and ask if they carry gingham because they are SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT.) I found some online at and also at another place, the name of which I forget.

Next adventure -- ordering fabric online. The pattern calls for 3.25 yards of gingham for the size 8 costume; I decided to purchase 4 yards for a bit on insurance. Since we were on a constricted timeline (putting the show together in 3 weeks) I decided to see about expedited delivery. Here's how expedited delivery works at first you call them to ask about how to do it, wait patiently for 15 minutes or so for your turn "in line" on the phone, then have the customer service rep accidentally (I assume) hang up on you when you reach the head of the queue. Then you try the online chat, and discover that you have to place your order, then call them to tell them that you might want expedited delivery, and then they'll call you back "in a day or 2" to let you know how much the special delivery will cost. NO HINT AT ALL HOW MUCH IT WILL COST, which, of course, makes it impossible to comparison shop (although the only other place that had the blue gingham ALSO involved calling the customer service rep, which was a non-toll free call, and the person was away from their desk "so please leave a message").

Also, the concept that they'd call "in a day or 2" pretty much means don't expect to hear from them for 2 days. Meaning that if you don't like their charges in comparison to some other shop's, you've already wasted 2 days on waiting for them to call.

So I placed my little 4 yard order, then called them AGAIN to tell them to flag this order to indicate my interest in expedited shipping, since there's no place to check off that box while you're ordering.

And when they did finally call (2 days later almost to the hour), it was to tell me that the shipping charge for my 4 yards of gingham (a lightweight fabric that runs about $3 - $4 per yard) would be $50 to get it there the next day, $40 to get it there Monday, or the regular ol' $5 to get it there on Tuesday via "normal" delivery. Wow. I assume at least $10 of that goes to pay for all the frickin' phone calls customers have to make to even ask if the delivery is available, and another $10 for the various other inefficiencies of their system. I took the Tuesday delivery.

So, in review, poor service, poor shipping procedures, overall NOT IMPRESSED WITH FABRIC.COM!

Okay, now, back to the dress itself.

Guess what! This pattern is for a one piece dress, rather than a separate blouse and jumper. Surprise! Hahaha -- that's why we made the dress -- in order to have 2 pieces instead of 1. I guess the joke's on us! Not to worry, though -- I figured I could wing it to make it a two piece outfit.

I chose to make the blouse from permanent press muslin with a ric rac for the border. I chose a royal blue ric rac for the trim because I couldn't find a blue that matched the gingham better (side note: I ended up using the nedium blue gingham even though the cover of our DVD shows Judy Garland in more of a royal blue gingham -- Annabeth liked the medium blue better, and the director didn't seem to care -- the medium blue is currently sort of a periwinkle, and the current medium blue ric rac has more of a yellow undertone). I extended the length of the "blouse" pieces, left out the darts (I figured they were only there to accommodate the blouse-sewn-to-jumper nature of the Simplicity design), and extended the back pieces beyond the center back so I could use buttons instead of a zipper. I ended up scooping out the neckline more than the pattern -- it was going to choke Annabeth if I didn't. That involved making a new, longer collar; I also sewed a snap on the back of the collar to fasten the overlap of the button band. It sewed up quickly and easily, although for some reason I put the button holes on horizontally rather than vertically, which looks fairly stupid.

(By the way, you could theoretically skip this entire blouse-making adventure by going to a Catholic school uniform shop and buying a puff-sleeve blouse with blue trim, since we used to own one just like it.)

Then I started cutting out the precious, virtually irreplaceable (at this point, since deliver from is sooooo slooooow) gingham. First, cut out the skirt. I was familiar with the weirdness of cutting 3 identical pieces since I'd run into that while cutting out Thalia's witch costume. And I was pleased to note that the children's pattern has a separate pattern piece for each size of child, unlike the adult pattern.

BUT, while cutting out piece number 3 (having cut out pieces 1 and 2 and thus using yards of the fabric) I suddenly realized that the top and bottom of the pattern piece is CURVED. WTF? Why am I cutting a curve on the regimentally straight checks of gingham? I looked at the DVD cover again, and, indeed, the gingham checks do appear to disappear unevenly as though cut on a curve. But, hey, the adult size pattern cuts these pieces straight -- why does the kid size seek to drive us nuts with this? So, Ichopped off the curve and cut them off straight, slightly panicking that I'd ruined the damned thing. In the end, it was okay -- the length was still fine, the skirt hung okay, it was exponentially easier to hem and to apply the bias strip in a straight line since I could just follow the lines of the gingham.

I decided to line the bodice since it was not longer sewn directly to the blouse. I used some sort of slick lining from JoAnn Fabric. I'd considered using muslin, but decided the blouse might tend to stick to the bodice if I did that.

By the way, the bodice suffers from a common problem of Big 4 patterns -- it assumes that small girls have a bustline and curves that don't normally appear until years later. So a bit of adjustment is necessary to compensate (ironic since the original was designed to help de-emphasize Judy Garland's curves).

Then sew on the straps and trims, gather and attach the skirt, sew in the zipper, place it on the hanger, and realize that the reason you DON'T want to make this a separate jumper is because the bias-cut straps cannot support the weight of all of that gingham in the skirt without looking like a stretched-out mess. That's why it's supposed to have the jumper sewn directly onto the blouse -- to support the weight. Doh.

After pondering this, I decided to add a strap of grosgrain ribbon on each side, going all the way down the inside of the bodice to attach to the skirt both front and back. I machine sewed the ribbon all the way up the front and back of the bodice to help distribute the weight:

I'd made the straps (which actually have a "front" and "back" since they're supposed to be sewn directly onto the blouse) a bit long since I didn't know how long I'd want them. It was pretty easy to figure out with the grosgrain ribbon -- I just had Annabeth try it on, then pinned up the excess over her shoulders. It was just a matter of machine sewing the folds down, then. I left the sides of the folds open in case I wanted to have a velcro bar to keep the straps in place on the blouse, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

The bias-cut gingham straps on the outside of the bodice cover the grosgrain straps completely,

and the jumper really hangs pretty decently from the grosgrain straps.

I also added a tiny patch pocket to store dog treats for Toto.

Finished product back:

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

and front:

In the end it looked pretty good, but there were definitely times when I wondered what the heck I'd gotten myself into.

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