This project was for my best friendling, Jess. She’s a model. I can’t even balance in the heels she so glamourously walks in. There was a Christmas ball for her modelling group years and years ago, and I offered to attempt a ball dress for her to wear.
I really didn’t know what I was doing back then. I had a 2m x 2m square of a red polyester-cotton blend, and the same in black. Basically, I wrapped the black square around her body, pinned it down her back, and sewed. The skirt was made fuller by adding the red fabric as a triangle that was supposed to mimic a train of sorts. We then decided the red was too eye-catching so I added a layer of black netting to dull the colour. It also gave a bit more depth to the skirt from the back.
For my efforts, I was invited as her plus one for the evening, along with her other date, Chris (does that make me a plus two??). See, celebrities – a date on each arm. So naturally we did a matching dress for me, exactly the same but in reverse colours.
The Construction Proces
I had no clue about fastenings and fixtures back in the day. The easiest option (and still my favourite, aesthetically), was a deep open V lace-up back. I sewed tiny little hoops along the hem of the V and laced red ribbon through. Jess and I decided we didn’t want a visible knot where they ended, so I attached those removable brastrap hook thingies and measured the exact length needed VERY CAREFULLY.
This was where it got tricky. The straps that criss-cross over the shoulders are seperate from the ribbon closing the V in the lower back. All four strands of ribbon end under the arm where a bra would usually sit. This was my plan to allow support and lift for the boobies, as well as to stop the dress from gaping anywhere, since it was basically a sheet laced onto a body at that point. Bending forward was not advised! Besides, the ribbon was incredibly thin and put incredible pressure on the hoops attaching it to the dress, so dividing each strap into two divided that pressure a little bit. The top ribbons were responsible for holding the dress UP, and the lower ribbons were in charge of keeping the dress ON.
You can see the tension of the straps where the fabric is pulling. It’s not a smooth finish by any means. But neither dress fell off or popped a seam the whole night, so I must have done something right.
I’m just making it up as I go along…
But the problems didn’t end there. I didn’t have any fabric to line the dresses with (these were the high school days, we spent all our cash on sweeties, eyeliner and movie tickets). This raised the obvious concern of what to do about the, erm, cold weather efffect. So we dug up some old bras, cut off everything from the cups, and attached them as built-in support. This was done by hand, painstakingly and painfully. The neckline hadn’t been touched yet, and the bra addition helped us decide what style we liked. I folded the fabric over the edge of the bra, and gathered it in the centre where the curve made a natural wrinkle already.
Introducing my Elna Stella
And that was that. Oh, my mom’s sewing machine threw in the towel about halfway through the first dress, and we ran around like lost farts in a perfume factory in a panic, until another friend showed up with what would later become my first sewing machine, my dearest Elna Stella.
So the edges hemmed and trimmed, the plastic R5-store masks painted and decorated (that was Jess’s job), and the jewellery and make-up planned to the freckle, and we went to bed shaking from the shock of nearly not having a dress to wear. Teenage girls, amiright?
The next morning we were up early, got our make-up done, shaved our legs, all the necessary and mostly unnoticeable things girls do for a good night out, squeezed into the dresses, and settled down for the two-hour drive to the ball (in a Citi Golf, the modern lady’s horse and carriage). And what a night we had. Jess, ever the socialite, mingled while Chris and I sipped Brutal Fruits and felt like uncivilised trolls amongst the talented and gorgeous. But none of them were wearing handmade custom-designed and tailored dresses, I might point out. We got over ourselves soon enough, and danced the night away, zooming back home with KFC in our laps before the clock struck midday.
If you liked this Creation Chronicle, contact Studio Brinnjal for your own custom ball dress in South Africa. Check out more shots of the evening below: