A Simple Sheath?

One of the most enduring dress styles in the last 60 years is undoubtably the classic sheath.  According to the definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a sheath can be one of two constructions:  without a set-in waist or with a set-in waist.  In either case, the silhouette is straight, narrow, and fitted, “shaped to body with vertical darts”, with ease of movement facilitated by a slash at back or an inverted pleat.  “Both styles were popular in 1950s and early 1960s.  Revived periodically.”

Fairchild's illustration of a sheath dress.  copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

Fairchild’s illustration of a sheath dress. copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

It doesn’t take very long looking at current fashion magazines and websites to see that the sheath dress is enjoying one of those revivals right now.  And why not?  It is an infinitely versatile style, going from casual to dressy just by choice of fabric.  Earlier in the Summer when I was shopping at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC with Susan Khalje’s  “Classic French Jacket” class, I succumbed to purchasing 1½ yards extra of my lining fabric, with the express intention of making a sheath dress out of it.  The fabric is definitely a demonstrative print, so I thought the simpler the style of dress, the better.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

I have to admit I had a few moments when I wondered if that fabric, which I loved as the lining in my jacket, might not be a bit too much for a dress.  Well, too late for any misgivings – this dress was going to happen!  Then suddenly I started seeing photos of more and more sheath dresses, many of them made out of very bold and colorful fabrics.  Two fashion websites I often visit for inspiration and ogling each featured such dresses:

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta's Ready-to-wear line.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta’s Ready-to-wear line.

Encouraged with this affirmation of my idea, I chose my pattern, ordered china silk for the lining (I already had black organza underlining), purchased the zipper and proceeded to plan my dress.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using the third view without the neck and hem bands.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using view A (on the right) without the neck and hem bands.

First, of course, I once again sewed up the muslin I had already made for this pattern earlier in the summer.  Here are the changes I made:

1) I sewed the neckband onto the body of the dress and treated it all as one.

2) I eliminated the facings, as I was making this dress with couture techniques.

3) I tweaked the fit a little more, to make it more fitted than my earlier dress (which was belted and needed a little more ease).

4) I adjusted the shoulder to be cut a little higher on the arm.

5) I dipped the neckline a little bit, to match the neckline on my jacket.

6) I added a slit in the back seam for ease of movement.

While I love the look, sheen and feel of silk charmeuse, I don’t think it is the easiest fabric to work with.  I thought I could make my job easier if, when laying out the fabric for pattern (muslin) placement and cutting, I was able to control the slipperiness of it somehow.  I decided to use  half of my dining room table, covered with heavy drapery flannel (which is what I use under tablecloths for cushioning).   The flannel “anchored” it beautifully.

Then I was faced with a design element quandary.  Before I cut out my jacket lining in Susan Khalje’s class, she and I had looked at the fabric with my dress in mind –and had determined that one of the gold “cross” lines in the design should hit at about my breastbone.  However, once I had the fabric remaining from my jacket laid out, I realized that was not going to work.  I tried every which way, and, with the fabric I had available to me, I simply could not match up the pattern in the fabric across the front and two side backs of the pattern and still “cross” my breastbone.  It took a couple of hours, but I finally was able to come up with a new plan – this one to have one of the “cross” details at my waist.  This allowed me to have a shoulder detail I really liked, a black field  (with cherries) at my neckline, and the slimming effect of a “cinched” waist, effected entirely by the design in the fabric!

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

Then I was off and sewing!

Zipper and neck details.

Zipper and neck details.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

The dress turned inside out!

The dress turned inside out.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

Finished!  What do you think?  Too demonstrative or just right?

Finished! What do you think? Too demonstrative or just right?

A back view.

A back view.

A side view

A side view

And, of course, I have to show the dress with its Chanel-inspired jacket:

A simple sheathA simple sheath

A simple sheath

This project is complete!

This project is complete!

Once again, I underestimated just how long it takes to make a dress using all couture techniques – even a simple (?) sheath dress.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!


Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

39 responses to “A Simple Sheath?

  1. More than “just right”, Karen! It is stunning — inside and out. And I love it with your jacket. To be honest, I’ve never thought of making a dress to match the linings of my “Chanel” jackets, but seeing yours, I will do that next time!

    Your pattern placement turned out perfectly. And you are so right — those couture techniques make for lots of sewing even on the simplest of dresses!

    Great job, as always. And it is nice to assume that your hubby is much better and you are able to get to your machine!

    • Thank you, Cissie – and I’m glad you like the dress. My husband (who is improving daily – thanks so much for asking) says he HAS to be with me the first time I wear this outfit, so I guess that means he likes it!

  2. Joanne

    GASP !
    Engineered with precision! It is pitch perfect Karen.

  3. tania@sewitanyway

    The pattern placement is brilliant!
    Isn’t it funny how the second choices we sometimes are forced to make turn out to be the perfect ones! You’re right- really gives an hourglass shape.

  4. You placed the print just as I was envisioning when you said you wanted a matching sheath dress! I LOVE it! So beautiful!

    It’s perfect on it’s own (and yes, very current!) and amazing with the jacket! So fun how the print lines up with the lining when you hold the jacket open. =)

  5. Fashionista

    Fabulous Frock! I am in awe of your pattern placement skills.

  6. Stunning! Your pattern placement was inspired. Last week when I was at Mendel Goldberg I spotted your fabric. The staff talked about what a favorite it was, one of their most oohed and aahed over fabrics ever.

  7. Gorgeous! The placement of the pattern on the dress lines up with the lining of the jacket in the shot where you are holding it open. What an absolutely fabulous dress! I really need to make a sheath to go under mine. Question: you mention that you used couture techniques like leaving out facings. Are these techniques you learned from Susan’s other class? Or her Craftsy course? I’d like to learn some couture techniques that are not specific to the Chanel jacket, as dresses are mostly what I make.

    • Thanks, Holly. You SHOULD make a sheath to go with your gorgeous jacket! I learned the couture techniques from Susan’s Craftsy course. You would enjoy it so much – and after being in class with her, it will be even more enjoyable and advantageous for you.

  8. Susanna

    I love it Mom! It is so flattering. In fact, I think this positioning of the fabric turned out to be better than your original plan! That seems to happen a lot. 🙂 You look stunning in your creations…not to mention your great tan and serious swimming muscles. 🙂 Love you!

  9. Myra

    Karen, the dress is amazing! Very couture indeed! The hourglass illusion acheived by fabric placement is ingenious. How long would you say the dress took to make?

    • Thanks, Myra! Gosh, I’m not sure how long it took to make (other than longer than I expected!) I’m guessing, but from making the muslin to putting in the last stitch, probably close to 30 hours. But that includes several hours of figuring out the pattern placement.

  10. Barbara

    Karen! I just had to comment–this outfit is simply stunning! The dress combined with the jacket-WOW-I can’t believe how beautiful it is. Every time you show a new creation I think it’s the best one yet but this is the best one of all time, hands down. You should know that your sister is so proud of you and in awe of your talent and keen eye for style. I love you!

    • Ah, thanks, Barbara! I’m so happy to have something already made for the winter and holiday season – and I think I will enjoy wearing it! I love you, too!

  11. Pam

    Wow!That is absolutely worth every second. The pattern matching is so perfect and the placement of the fabric design is perfect as well.So special, but so wearable at the same time. I love it!

    • Thanks, Pam. I do think it is very versatile – I can wear the jacket with basic black, I can wear the dress by itself, and of course, I can wear the complete outfit. And you are right – it really pays to put those seconds, minutes, and hours into something like this.

  12. Karen wowowowo. I love it. I love the print placement and the print, which most certainly isn’t too much by any stretch. Its just beautiful and with the jacket too …. I too love it.

  13. Completely and utterly wonderful. And such a fun and happy outfit as well as being elegant. Bravo!

  14. julinhappyhomemakerredux

    Your sheath dress is stunning!

  15. Love this beautiful frock 🙂 I love the placement of print and the totally different look you achieve with jacket on. That’s some amazing sewing!

  16. Lexley

    Absolutely stunning!!! Stumbled across your blog and am loving reading your posts. Your classic french style jacket is sublime too!
    Lexley (AU)

  17. Wow, how stunning! The colours and pattern are surprisingly not as alarming as one would expect, maybe because of the immaculate fitting and classic style. I really love the jacket too.

  18. theyarncupboard99


  19. Linda

    What a spectacular result! And you look smashing in it.

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