What little girl doesn’t love a pretty dress? You know that moment when your see your daughters face light up as she swishes and swirls under a mountain of sequins, tutu’s, ruffles and velvet, feeling like a little Princess and the luckiest girl in the world. It just melts my heart and it’s a feeling I hope that I can bottle and last forever for my six year old Millie. With the summer holidays upon us I wanted to share my love of textiles and craft with Millie, working on a project together for some quality mother and daughter time alone, creating something that would be both unique and incredibly meaningful. So I asked Millie to design and make the dress of her dreams and this is what she chose.
So as you can see Millie’s picture is on the right and mine is on the left. Seriously. She was so super excited to plan her dress that she went straight to her story books to look at all of the Princesses and fairies, taking the parts that she loved most from each and putting them altogether to make her dream piece. She has chosen a pleated skirt and corset, with a lace up back, voile cape and a gazillion sequins. I think I’ll invest in a thimble.
Here I will be keeping a diary of our progress, the ups and downs, Millie’s thoughts and feedback and the costings from start to finish. Yes it would be a million times easier to go to Next and pick up yet another pretty summer dress for around £20.00 straight off of the rail, but this isn’t about money, it isn’t about style, it is about love, time, sharing, caring and creation. This dress could cost us £5.00 to make or £500.00 but it’s the thought that counts. I was pretty handy with a sewing machine way back when I did GCSE textiles at school over a decade ago, but I’d imagine my needlework is more than a little rusty now. I really hope from this that I can bring my little girls hopes and dreams to life and give her something entirely unique and magical, for as priceless and amazing as she is to me. And for a six year old to say that she has designed and made her own special Princess dress, I think that’s incredibly cool, inspiring, creative and some fantastic skills based learning.
UPDATE: 23/07/14 Purchasing The Materials
Today Millie broke up from school for the summer holidays and after a celebratory ice cream we headed to the shops with her dress design in hand to go and choose her material. Millie was so excited as she looked up and down the aisles of beautiful colours and bold patterns telling the staff that she was designing her dress from scratch. Eventually after much debating she chose a medium sky blue with tiny white love heart patterning for her skirt, a slightly lighter shade of plain blue for the corset, some gold fabric for her cape, a case of gold stars for embellishment, some white elastic, gold lace to tie up the back and a gold glittered wavy trim for the bottom of the skirt. We also got one reel of gold thread and one of blue and the whole lot came to a total of £16.85.
So now the cutting, stitching and making begins and I have no idea where to begin. I don’t have a dress pattern to follow, just Millie’s drawing and her as my real life mannequin. Fingers crossed in the not so distant future Millie will have the dress of her dreams and the flare of a young budding fashion designer. I’m not using pins, patterns, a sewing machine or specific measurements, I literally just have a needle and a 6yr old as a foreman!
It’s eight in the evening, and as I’m a single parent I don’t stop until everything is finished. The dinner plates have been washed up, the housework done, animals put to bed, bins out and the children in their pyjamas ready for bed and finally the dress making can begin. As it’s now the summer holidays I told Millie she could stay up for as long as she likes tonight, and we’ll try to get as much done as we can. It simply takes as long as it takes.
To Make The Skirt:
I first wrapped the rectangle of blue heart patterned material around Millie’s waist and asked her how long she would like it and how tight or loose. With the pattern conveniently being in a grid it made it incredibly easy to cut in a straight line and to create an accurate shape as I simply cut a length off of the bottom to achieve her desired height of just above the knee, and a length off of either side to get the correct fit.
I then created two pleats in the centre of the skirt by laying the material flat, pinching together around 1cm of material, several inches in length, using a hand running stitch with our blue thread to fix it in place. Again I was able to use the hearts for guidance to follow a straight line and measure the distance between pleats and it looks lovely and gives shape to the skirt. After the pleats were in, I then attached a strip of elastic to the waistband, to do this I stretched the elastic and hand stitched it to the top of the material, so that when I let go it all gathered together. To finish it off I then let it loose so that it gathered and turned it over a couple of times to conceal the elastic and created a ruched finish. I then used the gold thread to attach the wavy gold trim to the bottom of the skirt, first turning the material up by 1cm and then using a hand running stitch to secure it in place. Can you see a pattern forming here with my stitching abilities? This completed the pretty blue heart-patterned skirt, with two pleats at the front and a solid seam down the centre of the back, a delicate ruched waistband and a gold trim finished hem.
UPDATE: 24/07/14 The Finish Line
To Make The Cape:
I took the large rectangle of gold material and held it up on Millie’s shoulders letting it fall to the floor. Millie showed me how high she’d like it to come, which was mid shin so that it didn’t drag on the floor, and I trimmed a length off of the bottom. I then took a rough hand measurement of the width of her shoulders to gauge the top of the cape. I folded the material in half vertically down the centre before cutting a straight line downwards from midway across the length of the top to the outer lower corner. This created a triangular shape once opened out, and the perfect size and fit for her cape. I used the gold thread to double over the material across each edge and fix into place with, yes you’ve guessed it, a hand running stitch. Finally I stitched the gold ribbon across the top so that it could be tied across the shoulders. Ta-da!
To Make The Corset:
This was by far the most time consuming piece. I started by taking a rectangle of the plain blue material and wrapping it around Millie, with the two loose ends meeting at the back. From here I was able to trim it to the length that Millie wanted, which was just below the waist, and to make it the right width. As it is a corset I cut the material level with the small of Millie’s back, with the intention that the entire piece can come open to take it off and on. After cutting the rectangle to size, I then folded it in half as if it were on Millie, cutting a single arch shape across one corner, so that when it opened out it created the heart shape for the front of the bust.
I then double turned all edges and finished with a running stitch. Taking the gold ribbon, I trimmed fourteen equal short lengths of an inch or so, which I folded in half and stitched into position on either side of the back of the corset. This created seven loops on the left and seven loops on the right for the lace to tighten the corset into place. I then spent almost the entire afternoon stitching tiny gold stars across the top and bottom length of the corset, and one next to each loop hole for decoration. Millie then showed me how big she’d like the main heart feature to be, and she decided she wanted it to touch both the top and bottom. Together we stitched the gold stars into place, before finishing the corset with two pleats coming from the bottom of either side of the heart and reaching about three quarters of the length up. Millie then decided that she’d like to have straps to prevent the corset from sliding down, so I took two lengths of the cut-off corset material, doubled them over to form a tube, stitched down one side and then turned them out to form a strap. I fixed them in place for the height and width that Millie decided, which was about an inch in from the main outer edges of the heart feature.
And finally we were done! Not even twenty-four hours since we began, Millie now has a beautiful fairy Princess dress that she designed entirely herself. She drew out the concept, sourced the materials, adapted the plans as we went and made every single decision herself, I was simply her needle worker. She absolutely loves her outfit, which began as a dress and ended up as a skirt, corset and cape. Although I didn’t have use of a sewing machine, for a hand-made piece it’s surprisingly sturdy and fits her lovely as every part is adjustable and can grow with her. Whether or not she’ll still love it in a year or so is anyones guess, but it can easily fit her for the next couple of years at least if she wanted. This has been a fantastic bonding experience for the both of us, as we nattered late into the evening, threading sequins together, talking about boys and making alterations to each piece.
Millie was absolutely speechless to try on the finished outfit and the smile on her face was priceless. I’m so pleased to have made my Princess so happy and for her to have discovered a new found love for fashion and design. It’s not everyday that you get the chance to design the dress of your dreams, and I hope that she’ll treasure this memory along with me forever.