Crafty Review: Sewing Craftsy's Perfect Bombshell Dress, Part 1
Recently I've tired of combing vintage shops for excellent dresses only to find that none are in my size, or have holes or stains I just can't fix. Plus what I call real vintage - ie, clothes from the Sixties or earlier - is getting to be truly, truly pricey. But then I had a brainstorm, like many eager seamsters before me - why not make my own?
And so I decided to test-drive a Craftsy course, Gretchen Hirsch's Sew Retro Perfect Bombshell Dress, to see whether an online course could really help improve the home sewer's approach. And make my vintage dreams...a modern reality.
Because the Bombshell Dress is truly a classic - based on the designs of midcentury fashion genius Alfred Shaheen, it calls to mind Edith Head's designs for forties screen legend Dorothy Lamour. Love it!
And so you ask, what's Craftsy? Craftsy courses are multi-stage instructional classes that allow students to view videos of their teacher in action, combined with areas where you can post questions and images. Theoretically it's comparable to taking a course in person - at a fraction of the price.
When I interviewed Gretchen for Crafty Crafty back in May, we talked a bit about how difficult it was for beginning sewers to find good intermediate courses. And if it's a problem in New York City, where Gretchen teaches, it must be a problem everywhere.
Considering how few of us have access to top-quality craft instruction, Craftsy's mission sounds like a great way of bringing craft knowledge to the masses. But I was keen to put it to the test - would I be able to complete the course, using only the online tools?
I took a deep breath and got stuck into the first step - printing out the pattern, from a PDF that comes free with the class. This turned out to be a snap, even on my parents' sometimes uncooperative printer. I've been using commercial patterns exclusively, which officially makes me an old fogey in this age of Burdastyle. So, the process of personal sewing evolution was already underway!
Left: Panda Notions, I love you. Thanks for listening to my inane questions!
The first and really only hiccup came when it was time to source the materials. There is a materials list, which I dutifully printed out. Problem is - as I'll describe in a moment - it's imprecise.
First off, let me say - I really prefer to buy all of my materials at the start of the project. This way if I go on a tear (hopefully not literally) and feel like sewing the whole thing in a few days, I can go non-stop without waiting for crucial kit to arrive from online retailers.
I could wait to see what Gretchen says at each stage, to supplement the PDF - but considering the number of steps in making this dress - a grand total of twelve - I just can't buy my materials in twelve stages. It's a waste of subway time and/or shipping costs.
Two areas proved particularly difficult: the boning, which provides structure for the dress, and the zipper.
Regarding boning, the materials list simply says - "Boning - spiral steel". Huh? How many do I need? And at what length?
I had to really hunt around the comments to find the number and lengths of the steel boning, which means that one trip to the Garment District was a bit of a waste. It would be much easier if the instructions stated something like, "for hints as to what kind of boning to buy, go to the comments in lesson 5."
Since the materials list is a PDF, a direct link could even be inserted. Maybe I'm doing something wrong - but as far as I'm concerned, a class like this has to be foolproof when it comes to basics like a materials list (and yes, I am definitely calling myself a fool!)
Ditto the listing for the zipper - instead of a precise length (or even a hint that different people might need different lengths, which would be a good reason for not providing this kind of info early on), the materials list simple says - "Dress zipper (regular, not invisible)".
Suffice to say that when I went to Panda Notions and asked for a regular dress zipper, the man behind the counter practically rolled his eyes.
Rather dishy zipper specialist: "How long do you need it? We have to cut them."
Me: "Erm...what's standard?"
Zipper man: "22 inches is good. But you might need 24."
Me (feeling increasingly foolish): "I guess - 24, then?"
I now have a zipper that is probably the whole length of the dress.
Next up, we had to make a muslin, or a test garment that helps to figure out if the pattern fits correctly.
For me, this is where the course started to come together. Gretchen's instructions for this stage really changed the way I look at sewing. She instructed us to cut AROUND the pieces, not along the lines of the pattern pieces, and then trace them on pale muslin fabric. Then, we cut out the pieces, leaving about an inch's worth of a margin.
Then - even trippier! - we were instructed to sew along the actual lines of the patterns, to create a tactile border that would help us to line up the seams.
This did make matching the seams a lot easier when it was time for the next step - putting the entire bodice muslin together.
Right now I'm waiting on feedback on my muslin - in the meantime, I guess I'll go back to Panda Notions and buy (more) boning!
Overall, my feelings so far are positive, despite my frustrations over the materials list fiasco. Gretchen's approach is clear and imbues a lot of confidence in the nervous home sewer. The online interface is easy to use, and if Gretchen comments on my muslin - and I hope she will, as that will make it most like being in a classroom - I'll let you know the verdict.
I'll be back soon with the second part of my review - cutting the fabric for the actual dress!