Vanessa Coat – Proof of Concept


I got a dress at goodwill last year. Its purchase is a symptom of what my sister calls Dragon Sickness: hoarding. Also the “It’s Good Stuff!!” problem. “It’s Good Stuff” is what my father would say when he came home with godonlyknows what curb finds that he couldn’t bear to see left for the garbage trucks, even though it was no good to us.

The dress sat in my closet. It’s still in my closet in fact. But as I slowly thought about what to do with it, I saw another dress at the goodwill. It was one of those button-up-the-front wool blend coat dresses with synthetic velvet collar and cuffs (and shoulder pads!). It looked like it had been worn to church and nice sit-down Thanksgiving dinners in houses where the upholstery matched the curtains. I passed on down the rack and picked up a couple of other things, then came back. On the opposite side of the aisle I saw a skirt with appliqued spirals in a complimentary shade of medium brown. I had the Eureka! moment where I realized the dress and the skirt belonged together, so I took them home.

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vanessaThe skirt was made in angled panels with a snail-like gyre of the same material at the bottom of each panel. I cut the panels apart and draped them over the dress, after first cutting away the skirt in front. My goal was to make a frock coat, inspired by the costumes of Eva Green’s character Vanessa Ives in Showtime’s floridly gothic Penny Dreadful.

The panels were all cut at the same angle, so I couldn’t lay them out symmetrically on the coat, but otherwise the concept worked pretty well. I put two of the panels in front and four across the back. The asymmetry meant that one edge of the fabric was already finished and I decided to leave that side loose.

IMG_2363Two of the spirals I put at the waist in the back, which had the advantage of concealing the attachments of the back panels. I considered but decided against adding any spirals to the shoulders or upper sleeves.

I increased the taper on the sleeves, gathered the darts in the back a bit more and moved some of the extra buttons from the front to the sleeves.IMG_2364

I finished it right before the elementary school auction and wore it to the event, with badly finished seams, loose threads and all, where I got to watch my quilt raise $700 for the school Foundation (because public schools don’t have enough money to pay art teachers).

IMG_2390It looks like home made steam punk (which it is) and not like Eva Green, but lots of people have been kind enough to admire the coat on the two occasions I’ve worn it, so I feel better about trying the idea out on the other dress.

The other dress is red and of much finer material, so my mistakes and inability to sew straight seams will be more obvious. I think I’ll try to cover them with black lace. When I finish my everlasting rag rug and the three writing and editing projects in the queue (and fold enough clean laundry that I can have a work surface in my spare room).

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