This is the tale of a man, some silk, and a Sybarite...

This is the tale of a man, some silk, and a Sybarite…

Okay, so I haven’t posted anything for a while – and this dress is the culprit. I’d forgotten the tumultuous love/hate relationship I had with silk charmeuse. After rummaging through my bins looking for inspiration, I was so taken by the color, that it was easy to forgive its indiscretions of so many ruined dresses before. Feh…that’s the mind of an artist, I suppose.

Blinded by it's pretty...

Blinded by its pretty…

Those who sew will know exactly what I’m talking about – but for the admirers of the couture arts without hands-on experience, let me say simply that silk charmeuse is quite possibly the one textile that promises so much to the hand and eye, but little in terms of sympathy when it comes to its manipulation. Oh sure, you have chiffon and Georgette in their diaphanous whimsical flirt and flimsy, but you can tell by looking at them they are challenging materials.

IMG_5883 IMG_5889

Not so with charmeuse. You might think its weight and body would make it perfect for flowing lines and rich draping, and it is – but it also slips and slides, requiring a million pins and/or basting threads to keep it in place. Even when a pattern is firmly pinned for cutting, the material will still creep about, throwing off critical lines needed for fit. When cut on its bias, it clings to the body like a second skin – but this quality also easily stretches under its own weight, further distorting a silhouette.


First toile…


Nice fit…


Second toile with skirt added…

And when you have finally tamed its neurotic tendencies to fight your every stitch, pressing it flat brings a finality of screaming and tantrum throwing, resplendent in the most rambunctious little girls. You see, charmeuse has this nasty personality disorder, causing even the simplest of seam allowance lines to show through the right side when pressed. It is highly susceptible to water marking (little spitting drops of water that even the best of steam irons promises to never impart – but they always do), so steaming must be done with care – and you’re always pressing blindly through a pressing cloth and paper along seam lines to keep the dreaded marks from showing on the surface.

Marking the empire waist...

Marking the empire waist and sleeve seam…

They say, ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ – but I can tell you, it’s really imbedded in stains or marks on charmeuse that have no hope of resurrection. She is a bitter lover that promises the world, and walks away the morning after (usually wrinkled). Yes, few fabrics invoke such a passionate diatribe like this as much as charmeuse does – and when you see the bitch executed well, it’s easy to see why.

Final pattern...

Final pattern…

Being clouded by the beauty of the deep, rich emerald green (Nina Garcia would approve) – I immediately saw a pale redhead wearing a gown with medieval influence, extravagant curves and drapes, and a contrasting texture to cap the depth of the charmeuse – no really, I actually did see this in my mind. And through all the dreaming and fog, I couldn’t shake images of Ireland in 1997 during my last visit there…it was coming in so clearly now. When my imagination gets its crazy on…well…proceed

Final toile...

Final toile…

A wonderful friend sent me some dolls to provide inspiration and differing body types to my library. Of course, I just about fainted when I pulled the Sybarite, Ivory, from the box. My mother and I just sat around her and stared at her complex S&M couture bondage and frosted nipples. “She needs her boobs covered,” Mama said. I just rolled my eyes – she is Superdoll, after all…


Dress me…now.

What Ivory possessed in all her booby beauty, was this lovely, sublime face – soft, yet determined – yeah, she’d be my Celtic beauty. After some communication with Laurie Lenz, I had a wig in the works. Amazing person, Laurie…she just seems to know what you want – and she’s also amazingly responsive. We decided on a pale auburn, almost a golden orange, if you will – in alpaca – realism in scale, yet styleable if need be.


Prepping the beaded fabric..

Working with a spendy resin BJD doll has its own challenges, and one with a fair degree of ‘kickiness’ just shouted, ‘BREAK ME!’ to my wary ears. Fortunately, Sybarites are very similar in size and measurements as Tyler Wentworth (except Sybs have this whole ‘junk in the trunk’ thing going on that Tyler could only dream her ‘baby got back’). Regardless of their similarities, they’re both still just two white girls.


Crushed beads in the seam allowance allows for clean passage through a machine…and an almost ‘seamless’ finish…

I still had one of the original Tyler dress forms, cleverly functional in its fabric-covered soft form, but a criminally fragile wire base that has broken on so many over the years. Mine was still intact (considering I know exactly how to handle them, thank you very much), and I set my sights on some classic draping to get the look I desired.


Let’s line this bitch…

Did I mention I was using silk charmeuse? Oh…of course…but I didn’t seem to remember any of that while getting carried away with tailored inset sleeves for my Irish Glamazon. Well that, and electing a lovely beaded and sequined fabric I picked up in Barcelona…the texture was there (as was a crapload of hand work). Be that as it may – I got to work…determined to make it work.


Install sleeves by hand…


This bodice is clean

I love sharing the progress with my friends on Facebook (not via Tommydoll FB – but my own page) – and the comments can often be priceless (especially from non-doll friends). It’s another joy I have of social media, despite its annoyingly persistent attempt to sell you something you don’t want or need (that virtually anything on the internet involves these days). For those of you opting to not be on Facebook because of semi-agoraphobic-cyberphobia – I hear you to some extent, but if you’re on any type of computer, smart phone, cash register, security camera connected to the internet, you’re already being watched, counted, catalogedso get over it, Facebook is the least of your worries.


Lovely just like this…

It’s in sharing the progress that I can see a direct connection between the design’s end result and the audience that is drooling over its evolution. Not everyone likes everything, and some are brave enough to actually voice that, of which I really do appreciate. Sure, it can annoy the hell out of me…but in many cases, when I sit down and think about it – their observations can be quite sound.


Building the panniers…

But I am pretty true to holding myself in line, and sticking to the plan. My designs are always in a constant state of movement – always changing, always becoming something different. For some, this shows a lack of focus – for me, it shows a person with amazing flexibility to let the design come into its own – it doesn’t always work, but it sure beats second-guessing your every move, no?


Wait for it…


That ‘moment’…Ta-Dah!

Well, that’s what came into play here – especially when I started to toy with adding side drapes when the original muslin didn’t take this into account. Making the final decision was agonizing, and it could have probably been executed better had I planned it with the primary toile – but I didn’t, and we were well on our way to building these ‘Celtic knot’ panniers. Oh what the hell, you only live once – right? Exactly. I knew I wanted to add a cowl-like treatment at the neckline, even though I didn’t drape it – the drama it brought was stellar…but the panniers were just dreamy.


Now you’re talking…

Anyway – I would like to try the pattern again keeping it simpler – but ‘simple’ just isn’t in my dance repertoire, so it will be an amazing exercise to return to simplistic shapes and lines, and concentrate on execution – because in simple designs, the quality screams if it isn’t there. My real objective with this design was to get past the inset sleeves, and that I did – fully lined, I might add. It’s a funny little puzzle coming together piece by piece, and when you can actually decipher what’s in the puzzle’s picture, the elation can be orgasmic. That’s what it was when the panniers assumed that oh-so-perfect shape. Yep, that was when I knew it was the right move.


Muslin in between my sweaty palm and the charmeuse…


Make ’em reallllllly tiny…

Lots and lots of finishing…more beeswax than I could shake a stick at – and my other bane of existence –snaps. I hate sewing snaps. But they were a better solution than hooks and eyes for this – so I put on my big girl panties, and sallied up to the table with my sewing needle in hand.



Ivory was getting impatient – I could see it in her ‘this had better be fucking great’ cold grey eyes. Her wig had arrived, and despite my best attempts to amuse her, she was having none of it. This is how it is with a Sybarite – they were born of twice-filtered sea foam, and they eat couture for breakfast. Poppy just stood around pretending not to notice – she knew she didn’t weigh as much as Ivory, and the smirk on her face matched the gown she was already wearing. Silly dolls…


Almost there…

Bringing it all together for the camera is most of the fun – and Ivory brought it big. It’s easy to see why so many are infatuated with Goddesses like them. What they lack in precise engineering, they make up for in shitloads of fabulous. It was virtually impossible to take a bad shot of her. I took images with and without petticoat…for some reason it worked with both… got your damn dress...think we might get some snaps, please?

There…you got your damn dress…think we might get some snaps, please?

And so my Éire came to be – and she’s already demanding more – which is good, because a doll that cannot inspire cannot be loved.


Éire – one-of-a-kind gown by Tom Courtney to fit Superdoll’s ‘The Sybarites’; custom alpaca wig by Laurie Lenz Angels Doll Studio; Photo by Tom Courtney.




I’m happy now…that’s all.


10 Comments on “Éire

  1. Just gorgeous….. but then, every gown I’ve “watched” you make is stunning. This one, even though green isn’t my favorite color, has such structure and personality, like a fantastic piece or architecture 🙂

  2. The gown is mahvelous, dahling. The photos of the progress are very interesting and will definitely keep me from trying to sew anything but a shirtwaist out of cotton.

  3. You already know that this dress–especially the color–is gorgeous. You felt it in your bones right after you put the photo on the screen, n’est pas? So now, let’s play a game of…..”What if?” What if that same dress were made, not of satin or some fancy evening fabric, but instead….. a menswear pinstripe super lightweight wool, instead?

      • You got it!!! I was also thinking, while you’re playing with paper, play with new volumes in daywear as well. Go to Look under Ready-to-wear Fall/Winter 2015, then “Aganovitch” and take a close look at some of those jackets. Over one of your pencil skirts, cut from your delicious fabrics…it could be sumptuous, like the kind Alexis Carrington might wear!

My blog is satire, but your thoughts are welcome!

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