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There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!
I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.
One of the mannequins was brought to my house.
I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.
Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.
I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).
I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).
I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).
My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.
Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)
There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:
My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.
My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.
Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.
My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!
The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.
I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.
If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)
Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
I have a virtual “family” of dressforms: one adjustable junior size, one adjustable woman (medium size), one toddler size, one half-scale size, and one that is more of a free-standing hanger in the outline of a woman – Barbie, Lucy, Baby, Minnie, & Wanda, respectfully.
So when I spotted a worn & slightly neglected vintage Singer dressform for $20 at my neighbor’s garage sale this past weekend, I had to ponder whether I really needed another.
The original label was still affixed to the front and it read:
I restrained myself after a brief inspection because I knew she would need some work – part of her stand was missing and some of the bolts that held the adjustable panels together were long gone. Overall, she just needed a good cleaning and a little love, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted another project right now. So I walked home and told myself that if she was still there by the end of the day, I would save her from the donation pile – I hate to see useful sewing tools go to waste!
Back at home, I weighed the pros and cons. Did I really want another “body” in my house? Did I have a use for her? I already had a junior sized form…
The deliberation turned my thoughts to how and why I had acquired all my others.
Barbie was my first. I bought her before my wedding, when Hancock Fabrics had dressforms on sale and because I had been wanting one in my size for years (and I truly needed one for my wedding gown construction). I gave her the name Barbie because she was the first “doll” I bought myself just to dress with clothes. (As a child, I liked to dress my Barbie dolls but then I never really did anything else with them.)
I obtained Wanda after Barbie. She was a splurge from IKEA when my husband and I drove all the way to Houston and back on Memorial Day the first year we were married. (We were so happy when they finally built us a local IKEA!) Years later, my father-in-law named her Wanda because he decided she needed a name too – I think it was because he said she had a “wand” for a head.
Lucy was a quick purchase when a sale coincided with a prom dress project and Barbie wasn’t quite big enough. Lucy’s average size has made her the most useful of all my forms. And she was dubbed Lucy because she wore the I Love Lucy costume for an absurdly long period of time.
Baby was a mall display store-closing purchase. Since it can be used as both a toddler boy and girl when fitting clothes, I kept the name somewhat gender-neutral.
Minnie was sort of a gift to myself. I plan to use her for an unusual future project, but I also have her in mind for draping and pattern-making practice. Since she is a to-scale miniature woman, the name Minnie was somewhat of a pun.
So now it was time to decide whether or not to expand the “family”. I eventually came to the conclusion that another junior size dressform would be useful, since wearing my wedding dress has been Barbie’s full time job for nearly 10 years (she ended up being more of a living room display than a tool). If I cleaned and repaired the vintage form, I could put my dress on her and start using Barbie as a sewing tool again!
And then I knew the debate in my head was over when I thought of a name without even trying.
The vintage form is a Singer brand, and since I am a bit of a film set geek, I decided to call her Abby. (“Abby Singer” or “The Abby” is film slang for the next-to-last shot of the day – told you it was geeky! I’ll explain more about film slang in a future post.)
After my internal debate had ended, I told my husband about the dressform at the neighbor’s garage sale. His immediate response was “Let’s go get it – you’ve already named her!”
So I returned to the sale – with husband in tow this time – just as it was winding down, and I offered $15 for Abby. I had contributed a handful of my own items for the sale, and it turned out that some of my stuff had sold for a grand total of $18.50. So in a way, I got Abby for free!
Abby had obviously been forgotten in an attic for a while – once I brought her inside, I noticed she smelled faintly like Independence Day (with that slight odor of fireworks or gunpowder that fabric gets when it starts to decompose in extreme heat). I’m glad I saved her from that type of slow death.
As soon as I make a trip to the hardware store for a few parts and sew a new cover for her, I think she will be exactly what I need.
I wonder if she has ever worn a wedding dress…