I love the show Psych. It airs on the USA network periodically and somewhat unpredictably throughout the year (I cannot wrap my head around cable split seasons), on Wednesdays, maybe? (We DVR everything, so I have only the vaguest idea when tv shows actually air.) It’s about a guy who solves crimes using his powers of observation, but he’s lazy so he lies about it and tells everyone he’s a psychic. Like The Mentalist, except Psych was first. And it’s played for laughs. The show is generally funny, rather silly, sometimes really out there in a good way, and the two leads are very nice to look at… but probably my favorite thing about it is that it’s set here, in Santa Barbara, where I live, but it is manifestly not filmed here. It’s filmed in Vancouver, I think, or somewhere similar – somewhere with pine trees and ferns and rain, none of which we have here. All the flyover establishing shots are of Santa Barbara, but when they cut to the actors they’re generally in some gloomy, foresty place that in no way resembles California, even, let alone Santa Barbara. Somehow this never fails to amuse me.
Anyway, that’s a long introduction to my latest garment, the inspiration for which came from a dress Juliet (one of the “Santa Barbara” police detectives and the main character’s love interest) wore in a recent episode. I must confess that I probably spend at least 25% of my tv-viewing attention on the clothes the characters are wearing, and if I spot something I like I spend the rest of the scene thinking about how I would construct the garment, rather than, say, following the plot. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this! This dress definitely distracted me (so much so that I made my husband watch the scene twice more so I could analyze it), probably because it hit my sweet spot of knock-off interest: something that’s obvious how it could be constructed, but interesting enough that I would never have thought of it myself. Here are a couple really terrible screenshots of the dress I took from the episode on Hulu:
I immediately thought of a pattern in my stash that I could adapt to make this dress: Vogue 8380. This was the first real dress pattern I ever sewed, maybe 4 years ago – I made it in a terrible burlap-feel linen from Jo Ann. But believe it or not it’s totally wearable (still!) and I’ve always liked the design. So I pulled out the pattern, and dug through the stash to find a fabric that I thought would work. And because I’m me, I obviously decided to make it in a knit. I mean, it’s not like I have occasion to wear a lot of fancy gold silk dresses, after all.
So here’s my version of Juliet’s split back halter dress:
The first change I made to the pattern was to lengthen the bodice 2 inches, to lower the waistband from the empire line to my waist. (I determined 2 inches by simply trying on my old existing dress and measuring.) The pattern also has a shaped waistband, which I didn’t want here, so I cut my waistband as two straight rectangles the approximate width and length of the pattern’s waistband (3 inches by 18 inches). Then I tackled the back modifications. I started by tracing the side and top of the back bodice piece. I determined that I wanted to have about a 5 inch opening at center back, so I subtracted 5 inches from the waistband length and divided by two, giving me the length of the bottom of the back bodice from the side seam to the opening (6 1/2 inches). Then from the end of that line I drew a freehandy convex curve up to meet the top line. Here’s my modified pattern piece next to the original (note that the mod piece is wider than the original because the original was cut on fold – I will admit that in my first drafting attempt I did not think about this and my back pieces were half as wide as they should have been):
To construct the back, I started by hemming the curved edges and the armscyes (folded over and twin needled). I then laid one back piece on top of the other with both right sides facing up, matching the top edges, and sewed across the top. I then flipped the back one around to be on top, hiding the seam allowances between the pieces, and sewed a line about 3/4 inch down from the top to form the casing for the neck band. I then very carefully attached the waistband in the traditional way (sandwiching the bodice pieces between the waistband and waistband lining), matching the side seams. I attached the back skirt to the waistband, constructed the whole dress front, and sewed the side seams last. I took in the side seams quite a bit to get a close fit, to keep the back waistband from drooping too much in the middle. I didn’t want to have a big piece of elastic in the waistband because I didn’t want the bulk or the gathered look. Of course it occurred to me after the dress was totally constructed that I could easily have zigzagged clear elastic to the seam allowance of the waistband to support it a little more, but I wasn’t about to tear everything apart to do it, so I’ll have to live with a slightly droopy back waistband. Boo.
I wanted a more streamlined neck band, rather than the neck tie from the pattern, so I just cut a rectangle that was an inch and a half wide by about 20 inches long, and sewed it into a tube. I tried the dress on and adjusted the length until it sat where I liked it and I just sewed the ends together and hid them in the casing. I thought a solid yellow neckband would have been cool, or even a cord like the inspiration dress, but I didn’t have anything appropriate around so I just used self fabric.
This jersey has been hanging out in my stash for quite a while waiting for the right project. I found it at my favorite crazy 99 cent place, and I snatched it up without anything in mind for it (as is my wont). I suppose the busy print obscures the design detail a little, but I don’t mind. I do like how it casuals up what started as a really elegant inspiration. Man, knock-offs with a twist are my favorite.
Anyway, it turned out to be a good dress to wear to the huge Solstice celebration today here in Santa Barbara. Real Santa Barbara, where it’s (mostly) sunny and there are no ferns. Or redwoods. Or beachfront office spaces that can be afforded by fake psychics.
And I will say that this kind of makes me want more split/open back items in my wardrobe. It’s officially summer, hooray! Happy late solstice!