Labour of Love Dress



You guys, as beautiful as this dress turned out, I definitely needed some distance before I could bring myself to write about it. Since transitioning, Charlotte has found sourcing well-fitting clothes a stressful challenge, especially the smart/fitted variety. Even when shopping tall ranges she struggles to get the length in the bodice and skirt that she needs, as well as enough width across the back. 

With a number of weddings to attend this year I took pity upon her and naively volunteered to make her a couple of dresses. All I can say is thank feck I started the first dress a month before the first wedding. It took the best part of three weekends to complete, one of which was the long Easter break, and a staggering SEVEN muslins!

I started off by grading up The Mortmain, which worked fairly well with a nice fit across the back, but armhole issues meant Charlotte couldn't move her arms. I took some length out of the waist and added it through the armhole, but that backfired with movement restricted even further. In a frustrated frenzy I decided it would be quicker to just draft a bodice from scratch and dug out my copy of Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich. Turns out if your measurements are outside of the average range you're screwed. 

My last resort was to rub off a RTW dress that fits Charlotte fairly well and make the necessary tweaks to perfect it. Easier said than done. Again, the back was pretty much spot on from the outset, but I ended up with extra ease in the side boob region. With invaluable hand-holding (via Instagram) from The Thrifty Stitcher I managed to remove the ease with some clever slashing and dart manipulation. But fixing that problem led to annoying fitting issues across the upper chest which I ran out of time to resolve. Not only that, but I also exhausted my limited trouble-shooting and fitting skills. 

The whole process made me realise just how limited my drafting/grading knowledge is and how unnaturally it comes to me. Thanks to fantastic advice from so many Instagram friends though, I now have a long reading list and tutorial recommendations before I tackle the next dress!



Aaanyway, despite it all, Charlotte was very grateful for my efforts and over the moon to have a pretty new dress which she reckons is better than any RTW fit she could hope for. It says more about the shortcomings of RTW than my dressmaking skills...haha! 

The fabric is this stunning cotton sateen from Mood, handpicked by Charlotte herself and hand-delivered by my mum. The P&P from the US costs an arm an a leg, but I got it sent to my mum (who lives in North Carolina) and she then brought it with her to Cyprus where I met her during a family visit in March.

Do you recognise the skirt? It's a slightly modified By Hand London Elisalex. At Charlotte's request, I altered the side seams so it's less of a tulip shape and more A-line. I was working with the original printed pattern, but I actually think By Hand London have altered the PDF version in a similar way.




I'm obviously biased, but isn't Charlotte a total knockout in this ensemble? She styled it with a cropped navy cardi for the wedding and has seriously good taste in accessories. I loved her ASOS belt so much that I totally stole her style and ordered it in rose gold for myself. I definitely wouldn't enter a 'who wore it better' competition against her though!

Despite the traumatic journey, it was all worth it to see her looking gorgeous and feeling comfortable. The things we do for love, eh?

Let's hope my second attempt goes a bit smoother... 

29 comments:

  1. Charlotte looks amazing, and this is one of the most beautiful dresses you've made. I wonder if the Lekala plotted-to-measure patterns might be worth checking out for her--they offer some free patterns (#8000 in particular) and that might be worth some data entry and a quick muslin to find out.

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  2. You are a lovely partner and not biased! Charlotte is indeed a knock out!

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  3. Lovely! Charlotte looks polished without effort. The metallic belt is fantastic, like a source of light. My admiration and love for you both❤️

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  4. This dress is absolutely beautiful. You did such a great job; she looks stunning. You two are just a dream

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  5. Absolutely stunning dress! She looks amazing.

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  6. Beautiful! Well worth the effort, well done! it'll be easier next time...

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  7. Well done! The fit looks perfect to me and she looks lovelyI thought I knew about fitting until I started making wedding dresses for others and theater costumes. That was a crash course! We all have so many little idiosyncrasies. Do you have Fit For Real People? It's got some good info.

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  8. Great dress! She looks stunning! You did a fabulous job with the bodice.

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  9. This dress looks amazing Marie! Your hard work certainly did pay off b/c from here the fit looks perfect - not a drag line or fold in sight.

    Charlotte looks lovely in it as well. I need to up my accessory game now. :D

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  10. Beautiful, just beautiful! Charlotte looks wonderful thanks to your labour of love.

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  11. Absolute knockout. The dress fits so well and Charlotte is so beautiful. Well done you.

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  12. She looks beautiful! You have more patience than me for alterations. I typically end up shoving problem makes in a sack in the closet until I can recover enough to fix it - like weeks or months later!

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  13. Charlotte looks really beautiful in this dress. It looks elegant and shows off her lovely figure to perfection. I think you have done an amazing job with the fit, from the pics it looks perfect. Now you've done all that fitting, you could make another couple for normal wear (or Charlotte could learn to sew and make them :-))If I looked like this in a dress, I'd want to wear it every day. Well done!

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  14. Blimey, what a challenge! You did really well though, the end result is perfect and she looks fabulous. Do you think you'll try drafting again?

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  15. SO GORGEOUS! Only because you mentioned it, I can see the ease in the upper chest. But with wide shoulders comes need for wide movement- ask me how I know. I have always been lazy about developing a sloper and learning how to use it, but that many muslins might be motivation enough! Years ago when the Slapdash Sewist posted her 'broad back adjustment' http://theslapdashsewist.blogspot.com/2010/05/simplicity-2938-pleat-neck-princess.html it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of adding fabric only where you need it. And you have opened my eyes to the particulars of transitioning fashion challenges. thank you. Good for you for sticking through this! so beautiful!

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  16. Wow! I hear the struggle you had, but the result is lovely!

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  17. Seven. Wow. It's beautiful on her, so there you are.

    I cut my alterations teeth on costume and drag work, and made soooo many mistakes on my dear pal Rob, and he was patient and particular and made me a better sewist. Standard patterns are for a relatively small group. The rest of the world has these arms and that chest, this back and are so tall; it's easier to build a block for a person and add details than the other way around. Still, getting that block is challenging.
    Excellent work! I do love a polka dot.

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  18. Based on these photographs, I'd say the fit is really quite excellent. And I am someone who sews and drafts for a living, so you can take that to the bank! lol.

    But truly, drafting and sewing for anyone outside an 'average' size range or shape, be they smaller, larger, lighter or heavier, transgender of any gender, simply interested in clothing outside what society provides for their gender, living with some sort of disability (or amputation in the case of someone in my family)-it's always very challenging. I think this points to a need for the 'standards' in drafting and patternmaking, not to mention commercial clothing manufacturing, to be completely overhauled. Most 'standard' measurements from which blocks and drafting instructions are developed were taken in the 1940s. We need some solid research on the range of measurements that exist today, and some rules and standards developed around that research.

    Anyway, considering the tools presently at hand are generally lacking, I think it's awesome that you stuck it out and got such an excellent result. Beautiful work!

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  19. Wowsers! Charlotte and her dress both look fabulous, and I absolutely love that belt! Also loving what you did with the Elisalex skirt, that's a great idea.

    I'm feeling your pain with the drafting/fitting - been there! I have the book you mentioned, and agree that it's not great for anybody outside normal sizes. If you're interested in pattern drafting, I would recommend going to a pattern drafting class if you can. That's how I learnt, and we used that book, but my teacher had to show me how to do an adjustment for my larger bust to smaller frame.

    I can also recommend the pattern drafting classes on Craftsy. They are brilliant, and there is one on drafting a bodice block. It is quite involved (much more so that the block from the book), and ultimately I struggled with the fit at the shoulders because I measured my shoulders too short - which is how I ended up at the pattern drafting class!

    Anyway, good luck with the drafting!

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  20. I think you two are amazing!! I've been following your blog for years and obviously had my perceived ideas of what your life was like, how wrong could I have been. Your story has touched me greatly and to see you both embracing the changes in your lives with such grace has been deeply moving. I think you are immensely talented and are both beautiful too boot - inside and out. The dress and fabric are fabulous - I wish you both all the very best for a wonderful future and thank you for keeping me inspired all these years.

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  21. Seven muslins! My goodness. The result is great though; and the fit looks good to me! And it's a nice versatile style as well. I can see that working in lots of different fabrics.

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  22. Charlotte looks beautiful and the dress is a knockout!

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  23. Looks great! Worth the muslin-rumba! :)

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  24. That is just stunning! So impressed by your perseverance!

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  25. Wow, that's a lot of muslins! It was worth the effort through - the dress fits beautifully, and Charlotte looks amazing.

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  26. Severn Muslins - that's love for you! It does look beautiful on her, you have made it a great fit. Jo x

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