Chinese Style Girl's Dress

A dear friend of mine told me that with me there's always a story behind everything in my life.  I guess that's true, since I follow other craft and sewing blogs, and they seem able to just give a straight forward tutorial or "look what I made" inspirational post without going into some crazy insane backstory about the whos and whats and wherefores that made this a particularly interesting project. (and EVERY project, no matter how mundane it starts out, turns into a particularly interesting project with me! Seriously, WHY?!) So it's not surprising that this sewing project, while appearing to be simple, has yet another back-story as well :)

First off, this isn't just an average dress.  It's Chloe's baptism dress.  (I don't know if I have any readers unfamiliar with LDS religion, but at age 8 a child is old enough to make a decision to be baptized.  Girls aren't actually baptized in the dress - they wear a
white outfit for that ceremony - but it's traditional to get a new dress to wear for the accompanying celebrations). Since I usually make my girls' dresses in sets of coordinated threes, it is unusual for me to make a dress in the singular.  So I make it a special occasion and allow the daughter in question to choose her own style, fabric, etc.  It's supposed to be a bonding mother-daughter experience worthy of a few gorgeous scrapbook pages - instead, it's a NIGHTMARE!!! With my older daughter, we spent HOURS at the fabric store while I tried to hold on to every shred of patience and she picked out everything from fleece to upholstery and ignored my suggestions - reveling in her power to choose it herself.  With Chloe, who is a total fashionista, I thought we'd have an easier time.  I was wrong.  Knowing that most of the little girls lately have been going for fru-fru prom-dress looking fancy-shmansy at their baptisms, I was prepared with patterns & steered Chloe right to the dressy fabric section.  It was a NO GO.

"Mom, you know, what I really love are dogs and puppies.  I'd love a dress with dogs and puppies on it."

Frankly, the thought of Chloe sitting next to the tiny prom girls at the church in a dog-covered getup actually intrigued the mischievous side of me.  I got many private giggles over the image of it.  But of course I said it wasn't going to happen.

"OK.  I really like polka dots..."

I could do polka dots.  Polka dots are adorable.

"...and stripes together.  Pink and blue and yellow!"

Did I say she was a fashionista, or did I mean she thinks she's a clown?

Finally she came home from school one day after an assembly with Chinese dancers with the idea for a Chinese styled dress.  As she is in a Chinese Immersion program at school and is very proud of speaking Chinese, this seemed a perfect opportunity to do something uniquely Chloe.  The search for fabric was ON!  All I wanted was something soft colored, feminine, and young.  We looked at every brocade and silk we could find.  Chloe found exactly what SHE wanted - RED.  Chinese red with bamboo and pinyin characters.  Again we had a battle on our hands.  I couldn't figure out exactly why I didn't want what she wanted until I realized that I didn't want to make a costume, I wanted to make a dress.  I was great with Chinese inspired, just not with a Chinese historical costume.

We finally ended up with fabric (just a white-on-white cotton, no brocade to be found), only to discover that there was NO pattern.  Anywhere.  Not even in Halloween costumes that have Japanese

Kimonos but nothing with a mandarin collar.  I had Simplicity 3588, but it doesn't actually open in front; it's a false look-alike.  Chloe didn't like that it has a bodice and skirt section and wanted a solid dress, didn't like the puffy sleeve, and didn't want a zipper splitting the collar in the back.  I found a rough drawing with instructions IN CHINESE online, and combined it with 3588 + Simplicity 3866 for the shape of the bottom half based on pictures we looked at online, plus the sleeve from Simplicity 4627 - the only fitted sleeve I could find that had no puff to it.  At one point in cutting out, I had three pattern pieces and a printed off Chinese pattern all pinned together to get the one dress piece I needed :-O

I barely started tacking it together before I realized it was totally, completely see-through.  Put a white slip underneath? Lose the white-on-white pattern!  Solution?  Line the whole dress in tan.  But when it kicks up, the tan looks shocking and bad underneath in contrast.  Solution?  Line the tan in white. Crazy? - yep, I'm certifiable.  Three stupid layers just to get the thing to work.  This simple looking dress turned out to be one of the most difficult things I've EVER sewn.  Tailored sleeves, that collar that took 7 attempts to get it in correctly, trying to figure it all out with only Chinese instructions!  Let's just say that my seam-ripper got LOTS of work with this project ;-)
I so rarely catch her looking right into the camera!  I love those blue eyes!
 She picked the pink bias trim, and I happened to already have a pink frog closure, my one great serendipity!

But it's all worth it when I see the results and how much she loves it!  I'm still surprised that she was so confident in her simple, tailored lines, next to satin & bows, but I love that so much about her. To top it all off, I stopped in to an Asian specialty store and bought the silver blossom hair comb.  Since she so rarely has anything in her short hair, it made it super-special to have a sparkly "do".

I have one more daughter left to turn 8.  Will I let her design her own dress?  Let's just hope time erases trauma by then ;-)

There's even a little story here.  Yes, Chloe's hair looks a little like she stuck her finger in a light socket.  Her idea was for me to put it in curlers the night before so it would be all curly.  Then it would be straight after her baptism.  I'm not sure how she came up with the idea, but I don't know where any of Chloe's ideas come from! What she said was, "I'll go into the water looking like one person and come out looking like a whole different person!  Just like I'll feel inside."  Except I put in the wrong curlers and instead of gorgeous, she had frizz.  It made me sad, and she kept bouncing up and down telling people that her mom had made her look like a clown, but it accomplished her purpose, so I guess that's what matters.  I adore that crazy Chloe.

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