Adventures in Modifying a J. Crew Sophia Silk Tricotine Gown – Part 1

Lately, in a nod to conservation, I’ve taken notice to achieve the look for less.   I have known myself to be the type of visionary that can take something ordinary and turn it into someone else’s dream.  I’ve also known myself to be just the compulsive type that is fascinated by weddings and dresses and other pretty things.  Last week during one of my online scavenger hunts, I came across the beautiful wedding of John + Whitney on Elizabeth Anne Designs.  I read the posts and thought about the simple, elegant nature of the gown.  One poster noted a failed attempt at trying to equate the gown to J. Crew’s Silk Tricotine Cecelia Long Dress.  However, I agree with the poster that it would not work in this instance, however I suprised myself by thinking that J.Crew’s Silk Tricotine Sophia Long Dress might be able to be modified into a gown with the same feel.  I thanked J. Crew for using pleated shoulders and began my journey.

Finding the gown was fairly easy.  They are all over eBay for around $100 and still being sold on jcrew.com for $295.  I purchase a larger tall size (no longer sold on jcrew.com) on ebay, along with a petite size (perfect fit).  I did this for a few reasons:

  1. My breasts are smaller and hips bigger than the J. Crew size chart allowed within one size
  2. I wanted a train
  3. I wanted extra material to add cap sleeves, remove the waist yoke without sacraficing length, and/or add covered buttons

The gowns arrived without a hitch, and I got on with my first order of business – deconstruction.  😉

Using a seam ripper, I carefully deconstructed the shoulder seams and outside armpit seams of the gown down to side seams.  My Rowenta on a silk setting and a thick, clean, almost new, white 100% cotton pillowcase (laid between the iron and the silk) flattened the pleats of both sides of the shoulders of the gown.  Here’s a pic showing the shoulders before and after (left side-done; right side-not done):

J. Crew Sophia Shoulder Modification Before & After

J. Crew Sophia Shoulder Modification Before & After

During deconstruction, I noticed that the J. Crew seams were french seams* (according to my 1961 McCall’s 1001 Questions on Sewing answered by Meg Carter – the best sewing how to book I own), so I had to be really careful with each step so that nothing would fray.    Though not the best for my modification purposes, I’d have to use this same seam type during reconstruction due to the lack of seam allowance.  I was also aware that the bodice lining was not pleated and could not be “let out”, so I’d have to determine whether or not to leave it or to add to it with the material I’d need to remove when I hemmed the gown.  Here’s a pic of my progress after all of the seam ripping was done:

J. Crew Sophia with Both Shoulders Deconstructed

J. Crew Sophia with Both Shoulders Deconstructed

Progress is good, and I am excited.  My future plans/thoughts are as follows:

  1. Alter the surplice neckline (front and back) into a non-surpliced deep v (this sophisticates the gown and makes it look more expensive; perhaps a lingering ideal borrowed from the time when only the nobility wore low cut evening gowns).
  2. Think about closing up the back, adding covered buttons, and removing waist yoke (this will make the train shorter as well – do I want that?)
  3. Add cap sleeves
  4. Merge the bodice of the petite and the skirt of the tall;
  5. Hem front of gown – leave slight train in back

*According to the book, a french seam is constructed by pining wrong sides together, stitching 3/8″ from the edge, trimming the seam allowance to 1/8″, pressing seams open, turning them wrong side out, and stitching “on a natural seam line, encasing raw edges”.

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