Why does no one tell you when you buy your first sewing machine, “Have fun. But don’t even think about tackling sequins unless you have 6 whole seasons of Sex and the City to watch while you methodically remove sequins from your seam lines”. Bernina, Viking, Singer, et al., I’m looking at you. Seriously. WE NEED TO BE WARNED.
I’ve made some pretty involved stuff in my few years of sewing, but nothing, NOTHING (not rolled chiffon hems, not bound buttonholes, not bra-making) compared to the labour that went into this sequin dress.
Get ready for a photo deluge. I sewed this fugging thing for a whole month and it doesn’t count if I don’t drown you in photos of the pretty, shiny albatross.
Before I explain why I am posing on the steps of a beached houseboat in Mississippi, why don’t I tell you what went into this beautfiul chevron asshole.
I’m feeling listy. Let’s see:
1. The original pattern (a 60’s shift from Burdastyle’s Sewing Vintage Modern) did not even remotely fit. There was MAJOR back gappage and it took 2 muslins, dozens of adjustments and the spontaneous purchase of Fit for Real People to make it work. I pinched out many inches from the back seam (and then eliminated it all together), shifted the shoulder seam forward, pinched off the front…. the works. The final product fits like a dream. In the process, I learned I need to make forward shoulder and/or high rounded back adjustments to my clothes. Damn office job (and damned inability to ever attend a yoga class) explains the gaping I get in almost everything I’ve sewn. It’s only taken me 2 years to figure it out.
2. The pattern did not call for sleeves so I frankensteined some from another pattern. I was recently won over to the concept of zero ease in sleeve caps after reading this (especially because sequins, in a shocking turn of events, look like disco barf when eased). I removed the ease by measuring the armscythe and sleeve opening. The sleeve was 4 cm larger, so I folded the difference out and redrew my sleeve curve. There is a good tutorial for this here. I initially drafted a short sleeve but got nervous about the sequins rubbing up against each other under my armpit, so I drafted yet another sleeve, this one more of a little shoulder cap that would not create pit friction.
3. Once I had FINALLY got the fit down, I cut out my fabric. I should mention, this was an amazingly lucky score from a swap we had in Montreal. Monseratt, I was blessing and cursing you during the making of this dress, but the two yards of bronze chevron hell came in on the side of Good in the end. Rather than use weights and a rotary cutter as is my wont, I traced the pattern pieces on the wrong side and cut them out using heavy duty shears. I was trying my best to match the pattern on the sides as well.
4. Now I had 4 pattern pieces and about 20 feet of seam lines to prepare. Here is where this epic sewing tale took a gnarly Lord of the Rings “Thou Shall Not Pass” twist. You have to remove sequins from your seams. You will destroy your machine if you don’t. So I spent hours, days, weeks, on my couch with a protective lap cover snipping each faux leather and tiny metallic sequin off with tiny scissors, and then pulled each one off the thread with tweezers. If you just seam rip them off you will loosen the entire thread and will be dropping sequins like bread crumbs. My house looked like Rupaul exploded in it for weeks. I kept finding sequins everywhere – my bed, my shoes, my tub. Thank god the cats can’t complain.
Here you can see me naively trying to minimise the amount of sequins to remove. I used a sharpie to mark just under 5/8″ of an inch and removed ever sequin the sharpie touched. When I sewed everything together, I would inevitably catch one here or there so those had to be removed as well. Once the seams were sewn, I went and removed everything along the seam allowance to remove bulk and allow me to serge them together. Hours, days, weeks, people.
5. Once the main pieces were assembled, I made a simple lining out of a stretch net (the sequined fabric had stretch as well). I sewed the neck opening down and then turned the lining in. The sleeves were lined and assembled separately. Attaching everything at the arm hole took a little McGyvering but I got it done. BUT. The lining was too lightweight and despite the understitching I had done at the neckline, kept flipping up. I had to hand sew the seam allowances to the net lining in order to get it to stay down. Not my best work. I was exhausted and my hands were sequin throbbing.
6. Once I removed the sequins from the hem, I realised a simple folded hem wouldn’t do. I made a hem facing out of a similarly weighted stretch fabric and then hand stitched it to the inside. This is maybe my new favourite hem finish – it looks so profesh and gives a nice weight to the bottom.
7. FINALLY, I spent a night filling in the gaps where I removed too many sequins. This was after 6 seasons of Sex in the City and into the second movie. Thank heavens I was visually distracted by the dress and didn’t have to pay too much mind to the MONSTROSITY that is SATC 2 (Samantha in the souk with condoms, ugh). But I digress.
The reason I embarked on this sequin journey in the first place was the fact that one of my favourite girlfriends was marrying a good ol’ Southern Boy in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I wanted something fancy but casual for their wedding. Little did I know when I arrived that I would be staying in one of the greatest accommodations ever…. The Shack Up Inn. It is a collection of old sharecropper shacks surrounding a cotton gin. The place is loaded with charm and history (which you may have seen a little of in my Instagram feed this week).
At the risk of making this post even longer than it is, I can summarise the three days I spent there thusly:
Drank moonshine and ate smoked deer and wild boar ham and got into an discussion with a Southern Baptist preacher about global warming. Ate a chili cheeseburger for breakfast and followed it up with a rack of ribs for lunch and fried catfish for dinner. Carted a bottle of whiskey the size of my torso into a juke joint and watched an 80 year old man sing the blues while passing the bottle around. Gave the bride a pair of homemade white lace wedding night knickers. Kissed the best man in a muddy field. Danced in an old cotton gin with a mix of hipsters and extras from Duck Dynasty. Rode in a pickup, got very little sleep, drank more beer than I ever have in my life and learned to say y’all. Had the best time ever. Y’all.
The south is tremendously underrated.
Also, I dyed my tips with red Manic Panic this week.
Back to the real world, where sequins are for special occasions and the morning doesn’t start with cracking a cold one. xoxo
All photos by the inimitable Alanna Whittington-Barnes.