What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Formation Team Dresses

So many sequins, so little time to vacuum them up…

Actually, this project wasn’t so bad. The team wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted, just that the five dresses needed to be “a little slutty, like Chicago-slutty, but also ballroom-appropriate.” Total opposites, of course.  We decided on black with either emerald green or indigo blue, with red being a distant third because of the cheap-predictable-tango-iness of it all. And stones were totally out of the budget. Gulp.

so I set off for my usual two Los Angeles garment district vendors. My favorite guy, Avi, was busy with an annoying ice skater non-sewing mom and her horrid child (really, who lets a 10-year-old run on top of bolts of spandex fabric in dirty shoes and then scolds the shop owner when he politely tries to coax her down? And then wants several yards of fabric free, saying, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to like this, so I don’t want to pay for it if I’m just going to throw it away.” I told him I’d be back when the nuisance had disappeared, so I went to my second favorite vendor. He’s only my second favorite because his dad, who doesn’t speak English, always, always, always, always tries to sell me on every single bolt in the place, even when his son tells him forcefully in Egyptian Arabic to just freaking leave me alone. But the guy is so sweet, and I just can’t ignore an 80-year-old smiling man trying to load my arms with yards of sequins and rhinestones, so I usually stop by Avi’s place first just so I don’t have to keep saying no.

Anyway, I digress as usual. So on this particular day I was in search of something already sparkly, since the girls didn’t want to spend what it would normally cost to bling out a dance dress with stones. After much consultation via text and photos, and after several visits to see that Nasty Ice Mom was still bothering Avi, I finally settled on a really terrific mesh bedecked in flat, densely spaced green and black sequins in a feather motif — they couldn’t afford enough of that fabric, but I figured I could cut each and every feather out of the fabric and arrange them Chicago-flapper-style on much, much cheaper mesh, thus turning 5 yards into 20. I picked up 20 yards of black velvet and some miscellaneous things before heading back to a bedraggled Avi, where I picked up another 20 yards of black mesh before crawling back to the car with the worst cold I’d had in years.

Back in the hotel room I watched Chicago three times (since the cold medicine made sure I wasn’t going to sleep at all anyway) and decided on a form-fitting, black velvet faux-corset front with a gathered mesh braform over a sheer, see-through skirt (that seemed pretty Chicago-racy, while the length still made it a legit ballroom dress), with a black velvet hem that was 18 feet in circumference.  Yes, 18 FEET.  Do you have any idea how long it takes just to hem five 18-foot circumference skirts? Three hours, that’s how long.

The dresses went together fairly easily; they were basically a skating dress with a ridiculously long skirt. I made the patterns (she says offhandedly, like it was nothing. I honestly don’t even know how I pulled five corseted, princess-seamed, six-paneled bodice patterns totally out of my rear, but I did, somehow), put together the bodices, added the gathered mesh braform (why do I do this?  Over and over again, I voluntarily opt for the gathered mesh, a serious pain in the rear?) and added the sequin-less skirts in just a matter of a few days. I kept putting off the sequin thing, because I wasn’t looking forward to all the fray-checking it would involve.  I just assumed the sequins were sewn on in one loooooong strand, and cutting that strand would automatically mean the rest of the strand would eventually fall off if I didn’t glue/burn/sew every single edge.

Well, I was wrong.  I gathered my wits and a glass of wine, and sat down to the nasty task…just to discover that this fabric that my favorite Egyptian grandpa sold to me was hand knotted.  EVERY. SINGLE. SEQUIN. I could cut it into tiny pieces and only lose the sequins that I actually cut in half and the ones directly adjacent to my cut…nothing else.  No fraying, no spraying sequins all over, nothing. I went to town, cutting 5 yards of small green feathers into long, awesome strips, saving every tiny piece to use later.

Amazing "Chloe" sequined fabric

Amazing “Chloe” sequined fabric

Getting there. Five dresses in progress, one strand of sequin feathers at a time...

Getting there. Five dresses in progress, one strand of sequin feathers at a time…

But while rows and rows of sequins did NOT fall onto the floor, every sequin I cut through did, and every sequin on each side of my cut did. And there were lots of them…lots, and lots, and lots of them. We’re still finding these tiny sequins all over the house, and I never even brought the fabric in here. There was one on the floor of my shower yesterday, and I don’t even want to think about where it’s been/what path it’s taken/why it ended up there.

Anyway, each feather was then glued to the skirt, a process that took about 50 hours to complete. Then, the anal retentive side of my brain decided that none of the feathers should have any unfinished edges anywhere, so I hand applied hundreds more sequins to every single cut edge. Once they were glued, it was time to drive back to LA to deliver them. I knew I had some more work to do on them…I’d decided to donate some rhinestones to the project (I spent so much time on these things and they NEEDED stones, desperately), and in the three weeks that had passed the dancers had also decided they needed jewelry and hair pieces, so I knew another visit to the garment district was in order. I planned to drive to Anaheim on a Thursday by way of the garment district, take the dresses to them that evening, do a quick fitting, spend a few hours that night in the hotel room making adjustments, trimming the edges of the sequined pieces, trimming threads, adding hooks, basically finishing things up, and making their jewelry pieces, and then deliver everything to the dancers Friday evening. Super easy.

Well…trimming tiny pieces of mesh from around hundreds of sequined appliques takes longer than you may think. Much longer. Like 10 times longer than I’d anticipated. And while two of the dresses fit perfectly (yay!), three needed slight altering, which took a couple of additional hours. It was time to check out of the hotel and I still had a lot to do…so I figured I’d find a nice park somewhere near the campus and finish my trimming and stoning there. No problem.

Then it started raining. Hard. And I had more stoning to do than I’d anticipated. And it’s really hard to cut/sew/glue/stone in a Prius, especially when each dress weighs a ton and is 20 feet around at the bottom.

After seven hours cramped in the Prius (with the windows closed because of the rain, so everything smelled like E6000…and of course, there are green sequins all over my husband’s car now) I finished the stoning and the jewelry, but I ended up handing over a care package of my tiny LED light, ridiculously sharp scissors, needles, thread, backup glue, heavy duty coat hooks, extra sequin pieces, and extra stones along with the dresses, hair pieces and jewelry, with the question, “Can at least one of you sew?!” They had a 3-hour drive ahead of them to get to their competition, so I figured someone would be able to sew on the coat hooks. I was on pins and needles, no pun intended, all weekend, scouring social media to see if they actually wore the dresses or if their Chicago number ended up quite a bit racier than planned.

It was a crazy, insane process, but here’s the result.  I’m hoping for a still shot of the dresses eventually — after this performance in the video below, I ended up sewing 8 snaps to each dress so they can start out bustled up super short before the dancers unsnap them to let all 18 feet fly free.  The girls were SUCH a tremendous joy to work with, despite the sequin drama and the Prius workroom nightmare. Watch at 2:17, how the skirts twirl, and at 2:56, when you can almost see the full back of the skirts. And though you can’t tell in the video, every dress is identical…the feathers aren’t placed randomly at all.  I know that probably only matters to me, but still, those are the things I see when I watch this video.

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