In case you missed it, this past Friday saw the release of another UT Lab project, once again heralded by resident Urban Threads artist and Halloween diva Dani. You can see all the gorgeous photos from the Vestido de los Muertos project right here.
Today as promised, Dani is here to talk a little about her amazing creation she designed and embroidered, and to show us a little bit of the behind the scenes creation of making a dress like this…
With this lab project, I wanted to make something both dark and colorful to fit the bright, pretty Day of the Dead designs of the Bella Muerte collection. I took inspiration from flamenco dresses, Mexican folklorico dresses, and even tiered evening gowns. With that cultural mix in mind, I sketched a rough idea of what the dress would look like.
The pattern I used was a modified version of the Katjusha dress found on BurdaStyle. I shortened the circle skirt and added two tapered tiers on top of it. I did my modifications in Adobe Illustrator–one of the benefits of being a digital artist!
These are the basic raw materials I used for this project. I used a type of satin fabric for the main fabric and a light cotton linen for the lining. And lots of frills! I’m fairly certain I used over 20 yards of ribbon/lace for this dress.
After cutting out all the pieces, I pinned together the dress on my dress form before I started sewing, to make sure the size and shape were right. I ended up making the dress shorter than my sketch due to the limit of the fabric width. This pattern also only comes in one size, and it was a tad small for me. I fixed this by using less of the seam allowance included in the pattern.
I then started stitching the bodice pieces together. There is a lining to this dress, so I labeled each piece with masking tape to not get them mixed up.
Here’s the exterior and interior of the front part of the bodice.
The nice thing about this pattern is that there aren’t any zippers or buttons to sew on. The back is cinched together with elastic. I measured out the elastic and sewed casings into the fabric. After that I used a safety pin attached to each piece of elastic to thread them through the casings. I had to be careful not to pull the elastic too far in before I sewed it in place.
Here it is all sewn in. After the elastic was in place, I attached the cinched back to the front of the bodice. I went over this seam a couple times so it could withstand the pull of the elastic.
Setting the bodice aside for now, I went to work on turning my many yards of ribbon into ruffles. I wanted a less full ruffle to the top tier of the dress, so I set my sewing machine to its longest stitch and sewed a single run on the top of the yellow ribbon. By pulling on one end of the thread, you can ruffle the ribbon together without having to use a gathering foot or pinning it.
Since the ribbon was so long, I had to cut the thread a few times and pull from a different point. I had to be careful to keep the ruffling uniform, but this saved me of having to pull a single thread through several yards of ribbon. After this, I sewed it to the top tier of the skirt.
I wanted the bottom tier to be more voluminous, so I used a wider ribbon and manually pinned the ribbon in place before sewing down. I did turn over the seam of the fabric and sew it in place before pinning the ribbon to make it easier to place. Since this is a satin ribbon, I finished the ends of the ribbon with a lighter to keep it from fraying. (An old trick I learned from ballet!)
I used the same method of pulling one end of a long stitch to ruffle the skirt. I did this very loosely since I would be adjusting it to fit the bodice later.
I pinned the cinched skirts on the dress form to make sure the ruffles and the tiers were layering the way I wanted. I also pinned the top two skirts together to keep the positioning right.
Next, it was time to sew the bodice to the skirts. I pinned them together, making sure to adjust the skirt to the back of the bodice as it was stretched out so it would still fit. At this point I couldn’t get the bodice over the shoulders of my dress form, so I’m afraid no more dress form pictures for you!
After trying it on, I decided to give the dress some straps. I made the straps by sewing two long strips of both fabrics together, pulling it inside out with a safety pin, and pressing with an iron. I sewed them into the front and back of the bodice and I had myself some straps.
I then started the first fun embellishment on the shoulder cowl… embroidery! I printed out the templates for this series and placed them where I wanted with masking tape. This tutorial explains how to line up designs in this manner.
I then started stitching away! The first design stitched was the Bella Muerte Cuervo, or raven. I used medium weight cutaway stabilizer with these, and cut away the extra stabilizer with each design. I only changed two colors while stitching this on black fabric. I used a light gray silver for the white painterly fills instead of a pure white, and I used the pure white instead of black for the lacy line work on top.
Everything was going smoothly until I got to the back centerpiece design and got hungry. I then made a classic mistake. I left my machine for five minutes to go heat up some pizza, and the machine had eaten part of the stabilizer while stitching and had shifted the last stop of line work something fierce. Luckily I had used this design for my test sewout, so I was able to just cut it out and replace it with the test design.
There! It never happened… See? We make the same kinds of common mistakes you guys do. You just may not know it until you peek behind the scenes!
After finishing the embroidery, I sewed together the lining and pinned it to the embroidered fabric, placing some pre-ruffled ribbon in between.
I flipped the cowl right side out and pinned down the top hem with a different color ribbon. I sewed that shut and pressed both sides flat with an iron.
I made pleats on either side of the cowl to fit my shoulders. I pinned it first and tried it on with the dress to make sure it fit correctly. After this the dress was mostly done!
It just needed one final touch. The embroidered gauntlets! I measured the widest part of my forearm and cut out two squares of fabric that fit that measurement and the height of the design I wanted to use on them. I mirrored the Calavera Cascade to make the gauntlets seem more balanced when worn.
After embroidering the designs, I cut away the excess stabilizer. I pinned the lining with pieces of ribbon and lace in between and sewed a seam on either side.
I flipped the pieces right side out, pressed the seams flat, and sewed the raw edges together. Flipping that out once more, I was done with the gauntlets and the whole dress. And that is how I created my latest lab project – the Vestido de los Muertos, or the Dress of the Dead. Making something bright and colorful but still thematically dark was a perfect fit for our annual Halloween in July celebration!
These projects are always a fun way for our artists to bring Urban Threads designs to life in their own way!
They also end up being an exciting team effort to bring the whole projects to life. After the whole dress was complete, one of our amazing resident digitizers Bonnie (you’ve met her previously here) did the face painting on Dani. Our newest Urban Threads member and photographer Heather did the shots for this project, and everyone had a grand time romping around the woods and through flowers.