The Little Black Dress/ The Party Dress

A Review. 

The little black dress/ The party dressOf these two books. Together. Because I’m a pathbreaker.

It’ll all make sense in a minute.

Both books are written by designer Simon Henry, trained in couture techniques at an early age by his couturier aunt. Both books start out with the history and iconography of the sorts of dresses involved, then segue into the sewing techniques required to create them. Both books are a step by step walkthrough on using the art of moulage, or draping, to develop a personal sloper which is tweaked till it fits and then used to create four different iconic styles.

The Little Black Dress, pattern summaryThe Little Black Dress, garment summary: I know some people wil be in paroxysms over the fitted Chanel-style jacket but I don’t understand why.

The Party Dress: Dresses

The Party Dress, garment summary: Yes that is Merche up there in the purple dress. She may deny it. In which case play along and nod like you believe her.

Also, pink dress chick is not playing pinata with butterflies (as originally assumed)-that’s a butterfly net.

The Party Dress: Midnight

Zero zipper-bumps. I will make this dress. I will also, eventually, smack my scanner against the wall. The latter is likely to occur first.

Because having two copies of the X chromosome means being deliriously susceptible to this sort of wishful thinking insanity:

From Dress Selection and Design by Marion S. Hillhouse

The mentality that keeps ebay in business: every single woman thinking, ‘I could totally carry that off’.

 The image above is not from either of the books being reviewed .*  The ladies are all wearing black dresses though. While oogling a party dress. Totally relevant.

Back to the purple dress though, it will actually work because it will be made to fit and because I’ll omit the train (..probably..not). I also want to make the Greta. Despite the styling below, the actual garment is quite demure and less décolleté-exposing than the average wrap dress.

The Little Black Dress: Greta

The Party Dress: Midnight variation

The above is a variation on Midnight-the purple dress with Merche in it.

The Party Dress: Vintage

This would be awesome to make. Just once. And then sell, so you don’t have to get shitty at the amount of fabric hanging in your closet unused.

The Party Dress: Vintage variation

Very cool variation on the above. Done by draping.

Every technique required for creating and finishing every dress is covered in fairly intricate technical detail in a separate section (which is almost identical in both books). There’s also a detailed how-to for each dress appended to the relevant section.

The Little Black Dress: Sleeve insertion

The icing on the cake? Both Metric and Imperial measurements are included for everything.

Simon is an experienced instructor and the tone of the book reflects this; patient and encouraging, it doesn’t just show you how do something, it tells you why it should be done that way. This is awesome in that a strong critical grasp of the theory behind the techniques is key to applying any new knowledge successfully to other projects. The Little Black Dress is the first pattern making book I bought-I could ill afford it at the time and I remember reading it cover to cover the same day it arrived in the mail. I felt as if someone had given me a magical key to the Vatican’s art storage depot: nothing was impossible and the world was my oyster. However, for that to really be the case you need someone to work with.

The techniques in the book involve draping; unless you’re happy with draping on a mannequin then adjusting the sloper to fit you, you need to have someone else around with the time and patience to follow the book’s directions. On you. So here’s a proposition: is there anyone out there that would like to work through these books with me? We could do something like one day a week and have a flickr group to post up our results. I actually started up a Meetups group last year to facilitate this. A couple of people signed up and never turned up. I got tired of paying the fees to support flakey no-shows and eventually ended it. So it would be awesome to really get on with these techniques (I will be doing this irrespective of whether I find people to play along or not: I have a petite mannequin now and the adjustments needed will be minimal. Anyone that wants to play along online is welcome to do so via their blog/ flickr/ twitter etc).

First intercontinental draping group. Think about it.

Simon also has a similar book out for little girls’ dresses called The Little Best Dress. Limited browse-through here.

Pros: Everything above.

Cons: You need a dress form or a draping buddy to use the techniques in this book (fear not intrepid drapist draper, you can make a duct tape dress form based on this vintage manual and stuff the inside with spray-on insulation foam).

Conclusion: Both of these books are great value for what they are (tools for developing a well-fitting sloper through the use of draping). If you can only get the one, pick whichever one features the most number of wearable garments. As always, check around for pricing, booko is a great place for pricing comparisons (inclusive of shipping costs).

* The image is from Dress Selection and Design by Marion S. Hillhouse. Want it? Show me evidence (before the 7th of December 2012, because it’s due back at the library then) that it’s no longer under copyright and I’ll scan it in and upload it to the internet archive.

Disclaimer: All images remain copyright of their original owners and are used here for purposes of illustration, discussion and review. If you arrived here looking for drapery (or draping for curtains etc check this and this out).

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