Welcome to the first part of many about the construction of my Her Universe Fashion Show 2023 Totally Minnie look. My goal is to get one part out a week until I’ve covered everything. Be forewarned that these are lengthy posts with lots of photos since they’re brain dumps of my thoughts and trials and tribulations while working on the project. Hopefully that’s a good thing!
One of the most challenging aspects of constructing my dress was deciding on the fabric and, in particular, the color of the fabric. But it was just red, black, and white, you say. Well, yes, but what I learned is that the definition of “red” is different for every supplier/store and that they don’t look the same when laid out versus gathered up.
Disclaimer: the colors look very similar and all “fine” in the photos in this post. But I assure that is just my camera unable to capture the nuance. There are so many shades of red in this post. So many . . .
When I first applied, I had already ordered swatches from Fabric Wholesale Direct, one of the places I’ve found to be very reliable with respect to quality and pricing. I had picked up poly dupioni and organza. And they looked like they matched great! So as soon as I was accepted, the first thing I did was order a yard of each to play around with.
Well, they did not in fact match as well as I’d hoped. The organza was much more into the orange side of the spectrum than the poly dupioni (organza on the left above, dupioni towards the top). That was fine. I needed to work on the bodice first, so I could focus on the organza later. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad layered over the dupioni (spoiler alert: it was that bad).
In the meantime, I also ordered swatches of real silk in various shades of red from Silk Baron, a silk supplier down in Los Angeles who has just an immense selection. I had gotten swatches from them and actually ordered from them for a costume that I started but never finished (it hangs partially cut out and partially sun bleached 🙁 in my closet. But fear not, I have extra fabric, so I can fix it.). I actually have so many swatches from them.
Their silks are gorgeous and they keep coming out with more and more that are just stunning. So I order the swatches and play with them and dream about making garments with them.
But silk scares me. It scares me less now that I’ve used it, but it’s still a little scary. Because you can’t really get it wet. It changes the texture of the silk and can leave water marks. For the other costume that I started, I pre-washed the silk. It’s still very pretty but has much less sheen. It was fine for that costume, but I needed this one to glow. So there was going to be no washing. It also meant no steam and I am a very heavy steam user when I press. So, yeah, it made me nervous. I had specifically not specified silk in my application video because I was pretty sure I wanted to use the poly dupioni since I could steam it and it would take a beating.
However, when I got the real silk (left above) and compared it to the poly dupioni (right above) there wasn’t really a question. I even tried ordering other poly dupionis to see if they varied but they were all pretty much the same. The silk just had this lovely sheen. And I knew if I was making a couture gown, I had to go with the real stuff. So I pulled on my big girl pants and ordered the 10 yards of silk. I wish I had ordered more, to be honest. My original calculations were done assuming I would cut the fabric on the crossgrain, but when I saw how it draped and looked, I went with it on grain and then had to cut the ruffles that way as well and it messed up my calculations. But it turned out okay in the end. I made it work.
From the swatches I got from Silk Baron, it was pretty clear which silk to go with. The Scarlet color was really a true red. Unlike some of the other colors, it is the same color thread in both the warp and weft. For example, Diablo — which is amazing — is red in one direction and black in the other. But honestly, every time I saw them post one of their other reds, I second guessed myself. They have several that would have probably been fine, but I’m really happy with how the Scarlet turned out.
So I was able to move forward with my bodice. For the ruffles, I did end up order the poly dupioni to use as the lining for the silk layers. It gave them a very nice hand and protected the bottom layer since the poly was much stronger. You can see a bit of wear at the edge of the train, but it’s way better than if it had been silk on the bottom. Also the dirt pretty much brushed right off of the poly dupioni.
Next up was the white for the dots. From left to right: Silk Baron machine-made arctic silk dupioni, FWD poly dupioni, Silk Baron handmade arctic silk dupioni. They are layered on top of the red silk for visual reference of how the dots would look on the red.
I almost went poly dupioni on these. When I got the handmade white silk from Silk Baron, it just wasn’t that bright glowing white that wanted. However, as it turns out, Silk Baron also has machine-made white and black silk dupioni. I’m not really sure where to go on their website to find it, but if you search for “arctic,” you get 2 silks, a handmade and a machine-made. Turns out the machine made has many fewer slubs and is much brighter. I actually thought it was taffeta at first, but it’s not. There are still a few slubs, but their taffeta is a bit heftier (I ordered some of that as well for comparison, but in the red). I liked the brighter color and the fewer slubs as the poly white also had quite a few slubs, so that’s what I went with.
For the black, I pretty early on gave up on using either dupioni, though I had purchased both some black poly dupioni and black silk dupioni to test. I’ll go into more detail about that when I talk about the dots and the tons of tests I did for those. I ended up going with pre-made black satin double fold bias tape. I preferred the look of the satin to the dupioni during my tests. Plus, there were approximately 27 yds of bias binding on the dots and this ended up saving me so much time.
And finally we get to the organza. The organza caused me the greatest amount of heartache. I was going for something called sparkle organza which is a type of organza that seems to glitter. This is not to be confused with mirror organza which almost seems shiny and reflective. I really loved the organza I had gotten from Fabric Wholesale Direct (left, in the image above). It has more “glitter” than any other organza I’ve found and I’m determined to use it for another project at some point (though probably not red). However, it really was too orange compared to the silk I had selected (center, in the image above). The organza I ultimately picked is on the right above. Again, I know it looks like the left one might even match better in the photo, but it’s the camera. Promise.
I even tried dying it to see if I could get it the right shade although I quickly came to my senses and realized there was no way I could consistently dye 50 yards the same shade. And thus began and a month long desperate search for the right organza.
I had to order at least a yard (and some places had a minimum of 2 yards) because a swatch wouldn’t do; the organzas looked different once they were bunched up into gathers. I probably ordered at least 10 different organzas. And all of them were listed as either “red” or “dark red” for the color. Despite all being listed as some form of “red,” the colors ranged from orange to red to pink. I loved the ones from Tutu.com. Theirs had this super subtle glitter which was just lovely (bottom 2 in the photo above), but they were super orange and super pink. Several were kinda sad in the glitter department. My own local Califabrics had a really great one that was as sparkly as the Fabric Wholesale Direct one (not shown), but it still wasn’t quite the right shade.
What I ended up going with was one from My Textile Fabric. I had never heard of them before I began my extensive foray into organza suppliers, but their red turned out to match the best. It was a more subtle sparkle, but honestly I think that worked out for the best because the more sparkly ones might have ultimately been too busy. The price was also good although I had to order so much of it (50 yds) that it ended up being cheaper to order the wholesale bolt of 100 yards, so now I have 50 extra yards on a bolt waiting to be made into something.
When I tell you I hemmed and hawed about the organza for 2 months, I am not joking. The picture above right was how I auditioned the organzas once I had the bodice done (yes, my dress looked like that for quite a while). Moreover, I know in the pictures, it really doesn’t look like there was that much of a difference. But I promise you, it’s just my phone camera. There is definitely a difference to the eye. The hardest part was that as the light would change in my sewing room over the course of the day and then to my ceiling lights at night, the ones that previously matched would no longer and ones that didn’t earlier would now seem a better fit. I was so nervous because I knew I wouldn’t be able to control the lighting at the show. But ultimately the My Textile Fabric seemed the most consistent. And I have to say, I’m happy with the result.
So, yeah, that is my experience with red fabric. I now have so much red fabric left over. I need to make a fire costume or something else. I have a few ideas, but they are down the backlog list. But it was definitely a challenging lesson in color theory and I learned so much about quality, color and texture.