From Flora to Flop


In sewing there are various degrees of success. At one end of the spectrum is something which not only fits well, but is flattering, a perfect combination of pattern and fabric, a piece destined to become a staple in one’s wardrobe. At the other end is – a complete flop. Flops are painful, aren’t they? I didn’t realize this project was going to be a flop until I was almost finished with it, although I was beginning to have my doubts about halfway through it.

I started out with this really lovely linen blend from Mood Fabrics, which I’ve had for a few years. Here it is draped on my dress form:

Flowered Flora

The fabric looks like - and is - a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

The fabric looks like – and is – a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

I had purchased the By Hand London “Flora” pattern (a departure for me to buy a “new” pattern!), as it reminded me of a Cristobal Balenciaga dress which I have long admired.

Flowered Flora

Flowered Flora

Evening dress in flocked shantung in blue and black, 1957

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

I had not intended to use the Flora pattern for this fabric, but somehow I got the notion that it would be really pretty. In addition the fabric was 60” wide, a requirement for the Flora dress, and for once, I had enough yardage. I made a muslin, and liked the way it looked – and I did a fairly good job of perfecting the fit of the bodice. The pattern lends itself to using couture construction techniques, as there are no facings, so that fit right in with how I like to sew. I underlined it all with silk organza. I catch-stitched all the seams. I used a silk crepe de chine lining, and hand sewed it into the bodice. I backstitched all the edges to secure the lining.

The silk organza added additional stability.

The silk organza added additional stability.

Flowered flora

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

The skirt is voluminous and that is where my problems began. It seemed okay made up in muslin, but once I had it constructed in the fashion fabric, I looked like I was a dumpling wearing a flowered parachute. The funny thing was that when I had it on my dress form, I thought it was rather attractive. I was fooled into thinking that if I just got it all put together, I’d be happy with it.

Looks pretty, doesn't it?

Looks pretty, doesn’t it?

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem...

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem…

I have been trying to figure out what went wrong. I think perhaps the pattern is just too “youthful” looking for me. I think it is such a pretty dress, but perhaps my days of wearing voluminous skirts are over (… although the skirt on my silk dress from last summer looks fine. It is, however, simply a gored skirt with no additional pleats or fullness.)

Allure of silk final

The skirt is full, but hangs with no bulk.

Now I am left with trying to salvage something from this project. I like the fabric too much to just abandon it, and I have too much time and effort and money invested in it all, as well.   Right now, however, I am very sick of the whole thing, so it might be a while until I come back to it. But when I do, I am going to separate the bodice from the skirt first.

Now I wish i had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Now I wish I had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Then I think I may cut a new slim skirt (no pleats, no gathers, just a nice, slim, matronly skirt!) to attach to the bodice, and perhaps make a self-belt with a tailored bow for the closure.

How does that sound?



Filed under couture construction, Linen, Uncategorized

30 responses to “From Flora to Flop

  1. Aud

    I think that sounds good, Karen. A slim skirt will be better. I have made a similar experience with a full skirt. I am tall and slim, but 69 years old…
    Good luck!
    Greetings from Aud in Norway

  2. There is absolutely nothing matronly about you or your style, Karen. However, you do have an immediately recognizable look so perhaps you would be happier with a fitted, straight skirt. But matronly? No!

    • Thanks, Cissie! I am not a fan of older women dressed too youthfully, so I definitely want to avoid that look. But I don’t want to look matronly either… another definition of “sandwich” generation, maybe?

  3. Mery

    Whoa! Don’t cut straight to anything you think of as matronly. Your straight dresses are smart & chic. For balance in your wardrobe this big floral print is ideal for a bit of youthful swinginess around the hem. I too loved the Balenciaga ball gowns, but look again at the side silhouette at its waist puffiness. No doubt the eye would flow in real life from the long, swishing peacock tail, to the tall model’s ample cleavage, chandelier earrings, etc. Either grow taller and plumper or consider a-line, semi-circle or something like Vogue 8882 (see Erica Bunker’s DIY Style sideways view in her posting of it under the heading “white shirt.”) Gosh, I wish I had more time to make more specific examples because I’m an expert on this. Maybe later. Tho usually only 1 size larger than you I have 2 fit issues. I have straight up hips and concomitant thick waist, so gathered waists were always awful on me even as a child. There were few exceptions, none that stuck out so stiffly parachute-style. Also, old accidents cause bursitis and osteitis pubis (my bones actually get painful inflamation because of no padding where there should be) unless I can wiggle a lot. I envy your ability to sit, walk, and stand in a straight skirt. There are more options to look trim and chic in those than in the usually sportier a-lines that I need for leg positioning, and I get so tired of having smart, chic options limited. I really don’t mind the aches and pains as they’ve been my constant companions all my adult life and won’t be healed until I meet The Great Physician In The Sky, and I have much to accomplish before then, but I do have to be careful to avoid frumpiness in comfortable options. I’d gladly wear a braless muumuu and ponytail if the world would treat me with as much respect, but it doesn’t work that way. You’re used to seeing yourself in a trim silhouette, but I think you’ll be pleased with a flippy skirt with fullness removed only near waist. If it’s still too much for your small frame, trim off the tail, but don’t discard the muslin as it’ll be great in unlined chiffon over a swimsuit or tank dress. There’s too much good about this darling dress not to make it work for you. Do you have a scrap big enough to see how it hangs gathered but without the underlining & lining? If good, then remove only from top half of skirt, gather reduced lining into bodice and stitch top of cut-off underlining to lining. Just wear it like it is with a big, boldly curving yellow hat.

    • Mery

      I should’ve “whoa’d” myself long enough to edit. Let’s see if I can get my foot out of my mouth without sticking the other one in. Yes, I said I get tired of A-lines (easily frumpy) yet you should like one. Well, I tire of those only in my solid colored suits. I look forward to them in pretty prints and casual dresses. I think I know why dress was less poofy on the mannequin than on you. Does the hard mannequin force the waist seam allowance more severely up, and, therefore, the skirt more down than out, than does a softer human body? If so, then the fix is simple: top stitch seam allowance up. Also, I saw that hem in upscale resort wear on 2 over-70 ladies this evening and both looked just fine.

      • WOW! Thanks for all this advice, Mery! And thanks for your encouragement about the pattern. I agree – it’s very attractive, and I am still willing to give it a go with another fabric, maybe. I’m going to keep this project hanging behind closed closet doors until I feel ready to tackle it again! (But the full skirt needs to go…!)

  4. The fabric is pretty. I would struggle with the neckline, but I always do because I am too busty for most bodices of that style to fit well.

    Perhaps it is specifically the high-low hemline?

  5. Donna

    I too am in my sixties have to be very careful about a skirt that has any poofiness to it even though I am 5’6″ weighing about 110 lbs. I have a “boy” shaped body, athletic as I like to say, but a waist level poofy skirt is a very bad look on me, but drop the waistline by 3-4 inches and it looks great, go figure. I think a fitted skirt in a solid color or even the same fabric would look great and a contrasting belt would be wonderful. Please let us know how you change it, and pictures of wearing this would be wonderful too.

  6. Karen, does it feel big more because it’s different than because it’s too poofy? It hangs so nicely on the dress form, what do you think about higher heels? Maybe your mind thinks you need more leg to balance it out. Yes, I’m hoping for a salvage job here!

  7. Well it’s difficult to tell, because you are being shy! It looks lovely on your dress form. But I guess if the fabric is too heavy or stiff and sticks out too much then a straighter skirt would be the more elegant choice.

  8. You have too much time invested not to somehow make this work. Maybe the large scale print looks like “too much” when a solid muslin didn’t. Recutting the skirt to remove some volume is always an option.

  9. What a shame. Gorgeous fabric. A straight skirt would look very smart and definitely not matronly on you!

  10. I agree it is difficult to judge without seeing it on. It looks great on the stand.

    Could it be the scale of the pattern that is the problem? You are on the petite side and this pattern is a bit outsize. On the other hand I find the hi-lo hem very unflattering except on the most skinny youth.

    • Yes, the way it looks on the dress form is very misleading – I was certainly fooled. I think the scale of the design, combined with such a voluminous skirt is a big part of the problem. Thank you for your insight!

  11. Beautiful fabric! Definitely worth coming back to at some point when you’ve had enough distance from it!

    I have the hardest time liking anything with a high-low hem (aka mullet-hem) – perhaps that’s what is bothering you too. If you have any leftover fabric, see if adding a bit in front to level out the hem solves your problem with it.

  12. We have certainly all been there and feel your pain. You went to so much trouble and did all of the right things to create a beautiful dress!
    It certainly doesn’t look like a flop and I assume what you really don’t like about it is the skirt. Hopefully redoing the skirt will turn this flop into a winner.
    I look forward to reading the next chapter regarding this garment. Good luck😄

    • Thank you, Sarah. I feel fairly confident that I can salvage this dress, but right now I am fairly sick of it! One of these days, I’ll get back to it, hopefully with enthusiasm!

  13. susan snow

    I have been thinking about this. What about a slightly pegged pencil skirt bottom for your dress. Maybe some pleats instead of darts at the waist. You look lovely and slim, what about a nice cummerbund belt in the fabric to show off the waist? Maybe with some little buttons to do it up at the back in purple to pick out the colour in the fabric. It is always such a disappointment when projects don’t turn out the way we had hoped. Put it away for a month or two and then you will be more in the mood for the redo, that is what I do sometimes when I get fed up with a project that isn’t cooperating! Good luck.

    • Thank you, Susan, for your thoughtful comment. I hadn’t thought of a cummerbund belt… I definitely think a pencil skirt is what I need to do; now I just need to get some enthusiasm back for this project!

  14. Well, when you’ve come back to it after a well-deserved break, you’ll be able to envision the “right” skirt easily. I like the idea of a slim skirt and belt, too. And I’ll be waiting along with the others to see how this comes together again. Good luck!

  15. Since I have just discovered your blog (and pretty thrilled to find a 60’s woman whose sensibilities of beautiful design are very enjoyable), I want to ask if you have to taken up this project again? Regarding the lines of the dress, could it be that the shadow we expect to see near the waist is tricked out by the yellow flower–possibly resolved by a dark sash? My eye sees the side seams taking a straight line to the floor rather than flaring out from the full part of the hipline, as the beautiful blue skirt does. I am so interested in how to you handle this!

    • I have not gotten back to it yet, but every time I open up my fabric closet in my sewing room, it is staring at me! I think the fabric is too heavy for the width and volume of the skirt. I really like the fabric, so I hope I can salvage this dress someday, but it is not on my agenda anytime soon. Thanks so much for commenting!

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