My name is Michelle Carlson, and I blog at mdhouseofwhite.blogspot.com and post (sporadically) on Instagram @mdelilahcarlson. One of the first blogs I discovered when I starting reading sewing blogs was Oonaballoona, by Marcy Harriell. Except for our curly hair and the fact that we both love Kai scissors, we are not very similar: she’s an actor, and I am a physician; she lives in New York City, and I live in a Midwestern suburb; she cuts and drapes with fearless abandon, and I carefully measure, trace and do flat pattern adjustments, toile, readjust my pattern, retoile, and constantly redo “finished” garments. I tend to sew coordinating separates that are “work appropriate”; she creates works of art.
In spite of Because of these dissimilarities, I find the way she sews and what she sews fascinating. I wasn’t able to duplicate her sewing process for Sew Style Hero month, but I was able to create a garment inspired by her collection of wax print maxi dresses. Marcy always talks about how she is a mix of cultures and wax print is too. It felt right to take this wax print, made in the Netherlands (or perhaps China?) and purchased in Tanzania, and pair it with Vintage Vogue 8974, a design original to 1949, for a dress to wear to my good friend’s traditional Nigerian wedding, which is being held in Minneapolis later this summer.
The bright spring green and sand tones may not be the most traditionally “flattering” to my skin tone, but I love it, and I think Marcy would approve! I washed the fabric before sewing, since I plan on washing the dress at home and wanted to see how it would hang without the initial stiffness of wax fabric. I spent some time plotting out the best arrangement on the pattern on the bodice–I had only 2.5 yards, not the usual 6 yards you get with most wax print fabrics to play with.
As with all patterns, I traced a size based on the finished measurements and my preferred ease, rather than the size suggested on the envelope. I made a toile of the bodice, and brought in the sides considerably at the bust, raised the back and shortened the straps accordingly, and shortened the bodice by 1/2 inch (actually I first lengthened by 2 inches to bring it to my natural waist, then realized it looked much better with a higher waistline and shortened it by 2.5 inches!).
As I worked on my muslin, I wondered if Marcy would have done the same before sewing up the fashion fabric. I decided that if she only had 2.5 yards to make a maxi dress, she just might. Searching her blog for “muslin” and “toile” reveals that she does make these from time to time, especially for patterns that are difficult to fit after completed and for special fabrics. I think this bodice, with it’s large diagonal darts and a slant from front to back under the arm that would make pinching out the excess result in a step off, is the perfect candidate for a muslin.
I lengthened the skirt as much as my 2.5 yards of fabric would permit, because maxi dress! Rather than using a facing, the entire bodice is lined with brown Kona cotton from the remnant bin at Joann. I fused interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply to the bodice fashion fabric and interfacing to the straps. Rather than the suggested snaps, I inserted an invisible zipper in the left seam. The skirt side seams use the selvage, while the front and back skirt seams are French seamed. The bottom is finished with a narrow machine sewn hem.
Marcy’s sewing is inspiring, but even more inspiring are her thoughtful ramblings. Her perspective is different from mine, but her words always touch me. This is what I appreciate most about the sewing community: the openness and honesty with which folks share their thoughts–about sewing and about life.
Thank you, Marcy, for your words and for inspiring me to sew a wax print maxi dress!
Editor’s Note: I love that Michelle chose Oona/Marcy as her Style Style Hero… because the whole idea of this theme month actually came out from when we hosted a whole “Oonapalooza” theme month paying tribute to Marcy back in 2014!!! And clearly she continues to inspire us all years later, including on her new brilliant Re:Fashioning show on Bluprint! – Gillian