adult's clothing · sewing · teen

The school formal dress

I know that some of you have been looking forward to this blog post!  Be warned, it’s very photo-heavy. I can’t contain my excitement; I’m going to jump straight to showing you the finished dress on Clare.

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

The year 11 school formal was a couple of weeks ago, right at the end of the academic year.  We started preparing for it very early in the year – I think it was February! We decided a long time ago that I would sew Clare her dress, rather than trying to buy one that fitted well.  The overall brief from Clare was ‘Disney princess’.  Clare had been collecting inspiration images, and with those in mind, we settled on Simplicity 8289, a Leanne Marshall design.

Sewing for the formal Sewing for the formal

We’d decided that pale blue or pale green would be good colours for Clare. So when Helen took me on my first ever shopping trip to Eliza Fabrics, and showed me the amazing silks that were available, I knew that it was meant to be! I bought up big on pale blue silk satin/twill and silk georgette (almost chiffon in weight), and bought the last of the pale green silk georgette that was in stock. In the end I went back a second time for more of the pale blue – which was fortunate, as I used almost all of the fifteen metres or so in total that I bought!  Because the silk was so reasonably priced, I used it for the lining as well as the dress itself.

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

We found the embroidered tulle for the bodice overlay at The House of Franke Stuart, a Melbourne institution for formal and wedding fabrics.  It matched the pale green silk georgette beautifully, and our plan was to overlay it on the pale blue to tie together the two colours.  Then it was time to start on the muslins.  Out came an old sheet, and off I went.

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

Muslin #1 was size 4 graded to size 6 at the waist. As you can see, it’s way too big, and way too long in the back bodice. I scribbled all over it, and recut in a straight size 4 for muslin #2 with some added length at centre front and removed some length at centre back. We also swapped the view B overlay to view A.

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

You can see that this muslin needed a lot more of the length removed from the upper back pieces.  I folded and pinned those out,  made yet more notes, then decided it was time to cut into the real fabric.  I interfaced the bodice fabric with a good quality fusible interfacing, then cut and sewed.

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

In the above photos the bodice is unlined and unpressed. Clare decided that she didn’t really fancy the wavy lace edging on the back and would prefer cleaner lines, so I recut the back pieces with the scalloped edging on the ‘armhole’ edges.

Sewing for the formal

Lined and pressed – so much better!

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

Then it was time to tackle the skirt. The skirt is a full circle skirt in three layers – lining, main skirt, then georgette/chiffon. That’s a whole lot of cutting out in a slippery fabric required. I really should have done a gelatine soak to make the fabric easier to handle before I cut. I was able to use a large dining table at a friend’s house, but it was still pretty challenging. The drapey bits attached to the skirt at the waistline are six sets of rectangles in three different sizes. I roll hemmed the edges on the overlocker. I really do love my Juki overlocker! I had done an overlocker class with Sew Into Overlocking at The Cloth Shop earlier in the year, which gave me the confidence to finish the edges that way.

Sewing for the formal

You can see in the above photo just how much the bias dropped in the silk fabrics. It was really rather astounding. I left the skirt hanging for about a month to allow the bias to continue to drop before I hemmed it. And boy, the hemming! That was quite an experience in and of itself! Once again I thanked my lucky stars for the lovely rolled hem produced on the Juki. We started by having Clare stand on the table and slowly rotating as I measured and marked the finished length on the lining, then repeated the process for the main skirt, then again for the chiffon/georgette overlay. The roll hem gave a lettuce edge finish on these fabrics, which Clare loved!

Sewing for the formal

We’d bought Clare’s shoes on eBay – I have a favourite seller who sells sample sizes at extremely reasonable prices. Clare and I are both sample size, and these sandals provided height with stability. By all reports, they were comfortable and stayed on Clare’s feet all evening (unlike many of the girls who left at the end of the event with their shoes in their hands). So that was it – the dress was finished, about three weeks prior to the event. But of course, I am a sewer – doesn’t there need to be something left to the last minute? How about a matching clutch?

Sewing for the formal

So on the day of the formal, I produced an Ida Clutch. It’s the first time that I’ve sewn this pattern (it won’t be the last) and it’s far from perfect in this fabric, but it did the job. And of course, I had fun with the lining.  It fitted the brief perfectly!

Sewing for the formal

Sewing for the formal

So, accessories were all gathered together, and it was time to get ready! Clare did her own hair and makeup; she’d had her nails done at a salon the day before. Her earrings, necklace and bracelet were mine, her ring was her great-grandmother’s, and we bought her sparkly headband.

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Oh, the swish and the swirl of that skirt! I had been a bit worried that I should have left it a fraction longer, but this length turned out to be perfect from a practical level. Dresses that graze the floor look wonderful in red carpet photos, but it’s really so much better if you can walk, run and dance in your dress! Clare then met up with her gang at a friend’s house to take more photos, then walk to the formal together. It was so much fun walking down the high street with them to the venue and watching everyone’s reactions!

2019-11-28 18.19.10 (2)

2019-11-28 18.29.15 (2)

2019-11-28 18.50.48-2

2019-12-02 10.54.08

I’ll hand over to Clare to give her verdict on the dress and on the evening. ‘Because we had tried on  the dress along the way I had a fair idea of how it was going to look.  But once I was all dressed up I felt like a fairy princess.  There was lots of skirt, so I did plenty of swishing.  The dress stayed comfortable without any adjusting during the night. We had a blast – hung out with friends, took photos, did some dancing’.

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

Simplicity 8289

This was my favourite project of the year.  I was incredibly pleased with the finished dress – it looked just as we’d both hoped, fitted her beautifully, and also fitted her personality.  In terms of sewing statistics, there’s more than fifteen metres of fabric involved, possibly around $200 to $250 in total, and maybe forty to fifty hours of time.  The amount of love involved – immeasurable.  And the best bit?  I get to do all this again for Stella in five year’s time!

31 thoughts on “The school formal dress

  1. She looks so beautiful! I love that she stood out in her group of friends in her colors of sea and sky. I’m dying to know…..what did Daddy think of his little girl in her first formal???

  2. Can I ask what Juki serger you used?
    I’m in the research phase of getting one.
    I’ve followed your blog for years and am always amazed at how prodigiously you’re able to sew up garments. Thanks for sharing. It encourages me to learn and grow in sewing also.

    1. It’s the Juki MO-1000 (with air threading). I had a Janome 744D for ten years prior that gave me nothing but grief (suspect that I bought a lemon) and the difference between the two overlockers is huge. The Juki is really easy to use, the air threading is terrific, and the stitch quality is excellent. Definitely worth doing a class though.

  3. Sensational. Great choice of colour, young girls in black no way this is special and will be remembered forever.
    Congratulations on a stunning effort with the sewing Lara.

  4. A beautiful dress for a beautiful young lady and memories to last for a lifetime. How extra special you were able to use Great-Grandmother’s ring, as well.

  5. Wow! Just wow! That is spectacular! You did a wonderful job of a very complicated make requiring patience and skill. The fit is great and Clare looks so beautiful and grown up.

  6. Well done! Well thought out and planned, following the brief and getting a perfect fit. Rolled hems are so good for this sort of material. Love that she is so individual amongst her friends and most of all, she loves her outfit. These are precious memories and you both enjoyed the journey.

  7. Reminds me of Sewing all my own dressed for formal dances and also Mardi Gras balls here in New Orleans growing up! Thanks for sharing with all of us.
    So beautiful and lovely!

  8. She looks beautiful and happy! She certainly stands out amongst her friends in that pretty blue.

    I am in awe over your hem skills. I still remember doing Courtney’s and it was by far the most difficult part of the entire process.

    I’m hoping Joel goes to his year 12 formal next year. I would love to have another go at making a waistcoat and dress shirt; if he will let me of course!

  9. It looks like you both had so much fun working on this project. The finished result is beautiful and Clare looks gorgeous. I love the “Disney Princess” brief.

  10. Clare and her gown are stunning!
    About 50 years ago I made my prom dress from a $3.50 remnant. I do remember that it was ‘pretty’ 🙃, but definitely not SPECTACULAR like Clares!

  11. that is so beautiful!!!! a perfect combo of shape, color and fabric. it is just perfection on her, you should be so proud. Love everything about it.

  12. Clare, you look beautiful in this dress — just like a fairy princess! I am so glad you love it. You are lucky to have Lara for a mom. They grow up so fast, don’t they Lara? Merry Christmas to all!

  13. She looks lovely….what a fantastic make….I had 3 sons (well I still do) and when they wore a tux, I’d make them come back to the house with their date so I could see the girls in all their finery……thanks for so many pictures.

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