Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.
The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.
This design focuses on bias strips appliquéd to the garment structure. In the book, Adams talks about the straight-up-and-down, shapeless dress styles of the 1920’s coming to an end when French designer Madeleine Vionnet introduced the bias-cut gown, a dress made to drape and accentuate a woman’s contours. Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo helped make the look famous. It was Adams’ discovery of bias tape that makes this design particularly unique. When she learned that the edges of bias-cut fabric will not fray or unravel, Adams began cutting strips of fabric on the bias (essentially making her own bias tape) and sewing them onto dresses as appliqué pieces. The result was a colorful, textural display of patterns and distinctive expression.
Our Party Skirt is similar to the Alabama Chanin Basic Wrap Skirt in the way it is made; however, constructed with significantly more fabric, so it’s much fuller and heavier. This version hits mid-calf instead of above the knee, like our Wrap Skirt. The appliqué strips Adams used are cut on the bias. Adams explains that bias-cut strips won’t unravel, but she also mentions that fabric cut on the bias will wrap around a garment more easily. Cotton jersey, by nature, does not fray or unravel, and when constructing a skirt from a circle pattern, strips that have been cut on the bias will work up more easily and give a more uniform final product.
The Party Dress Book
2 yards for the base layer of 100% organic cotton jersey
1 yard each of three colors for the appliqués of 100% organic cotton jersey
2 spools each for base layer and appliqués of Button Craft thread
Rotary cutter, embroidery scissors, tailors chalk, ruler, needles.
Follow the pattern for the skirt portion of the dress provided by the author in the back of The Party Dress Book. Cut bias strips according to the author’s directions on page 133. Appliqué these strips to skirt base layer using a straight stitch. Finish construction of skirt by sewing the two appliquéd pieces together, using a straight stitch and inside knots.
To sew the jersey ties, you will need to attach one inside tie and three outside ties. For a size small, sew tie #1 eight inches to the left of the back seam. For larger sizes, judge tie placement by how the skirt fits your body. On the outside, place tie #2 eight inches to the right of the back seam. Place ties #3 and #4 to each end of the waistband. Be sure to attach the ties before you sew the facing along the inside edges of the skirt, and finally, the binding along the waistband. You can also reference Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for details on stitching techniques.
OUR DESIGN CHOICES
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Base layer – Black
Appliqué strips – Black, Dark Grey, Steel
Button Craft thread – Slate #26 and Black #2
Embroidery technique – appliqué
Knots – inside
Binding Stitch – straight