Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Calder" Cirque Dress - Marcy Tilton for Vogue 9112

Ladies, if you have scrumptious gams this dress (at original length) is for YOU!

I made this Cirque dress before the one I showed you back in spring, but wanted to get pictures which showed it to full advantage before sharing it with you here. A couple of weeks ago i ran across this fantastic mural in an out of the way, industrial-type area of Berkeley. I thought the cerulean blues would be fantastic against the burnt oranges in this print, but the location didn't lend itself to my usual self-portraiture. Happily my dad agreed to take some pictures of me with his DSLR camera and here we are!

I bought this fabric from Marcy Tilton's online store around 18 months ago. As soon as i saw it i loved it - the style recalls a dear artist friend of mine and the warm colors are my favorites to wear. I had no firm plans for what to DO with it, and this fabric languished in stash until i saw Vogue 9112. Instantly i loved that dress and i knew what i was waiting for on this fabric!

But I had a couple of aspects I wanted to think through to make this dress fantastic. I am 5'5", 5;6" with an Hourglass/Inverted Triangle figure. This dress has a high collar - in fact the collar is lots of what attracts me to this design - but with no design lines breaking up the upper bodice area. So I was a little leery about looking overly formidable. 

the lovely and formidable Margaret Dumont courtesy jimbolist 
I could have taken the 'traditional' approach and altered this dress to create a closure up the center front - but this would destroy the wonderful collar, and i really loved the simplicity and ease of the pop-it-on design. That ease of dressing is especially appealing in the heat of summer. So I decided to take a closer look at the design and all the techniques I've learned to tone down a pair of big square shoulders and large bust to see if I could make it work.

As it happens, the design is more IT friendly than one would think at first glance - the wide, open neckline and multiple vertical/diagonal lines of the collar help to break up a wide shoulder line. The shoulder seams are again quite nicely designed - wide enough for modesty and covering a bra, but slim enough to again break up any linebacker shoulders.

You may stand the collar up or fold it down. Allowing it to crumple a bit softens the lines around the shoulders. And you can create the classic vee neckline used to break up a generous bust by wearing a longer necklace or two.

I edged the collar with topstitched self-made bias tape to show more of the print

When it came to constructing the dress, I chose a drapey cotton lawn and cut enough ease at the bust so that the dress would drape over the individual breasts instead of pulling taught across the bust (i am wearing a silk camisole under the dress here, without which the drape is more pronounced). I've found this helps to 'break up' the upper body. I placed the print asymmetrically across the bust for the same reason - that sequence of yellow and orange circles at center front would have been a target! 

Continuing this approach, I placed the print asymmetrically over the dress as a whole. As my aesthetic generally is more low-contrast and delicate, with many curvy lines in face and hair I placed the more delicate, low contrast areas of the print in the upper third of the dress, closer to my face.

I concentrated the bolder, darker, higher contrast, 'heavier' areas of the print near the hem to anchor the dress visually and to get the impact of these parts of the print without feeling like I was being overwhelmed.

You'll notice that I relied on several different techniques to break up what could have been a formidable bodice - color and light/dark placement in the bodice as well as the overall garment, varying the weight of the lines used in the print over the garment, styling with necklaces, and last but not least Marcy Tilton's masterful use of subtly flattering lines in the original dress design.

I find that using several techniques, each applied with a light hand, creates a more effective and flattering end result when trying to direct attention towards or away from a particular aspect of one's physical being. Wearing a figure-hugging black dress with a dramatic decolletage will also break up the bust, but is not appropriate for everyday and can get a bit boring.  

I am very glad I chose to ignore 'traditional flattery' rules and tackle this design! Not only do i have two great summer dresses (with more to come) but I put myself through my paces creating visual balance in these garments. This experience clarified the process for me, and I hope this knowledge will be useful to my readers as well.

eagle-eyes will spot a high-heeled shoe, cassette audio tape, flaming binocular, old school teevee aerial....
This view shows the wonderful, asymmetrical swoop of the hem which makes this dress so whimsical and fun to wear. As I wanted to wear this piece as a dress, not so much as a tunic, I added 4" at the hem. This alteration is simple to do, and accents the indentation on the lower side hem.

Believe it or not, this dress is a big sentimental piece for me. I have a dear friend of many years who is an artist often working in the graffiti style. We spent many wonderful hours visiting museums together. One of his favorite artists is Alexander Calder, and we saw Calder's circus (made for his daughter) at the Berkeley Art Museum a few times together. So between the graffiti, the color palette, and the 'cirques' of this dress, it reminds me so much of my wonderful friend Shawn. I realize when you hear 'sentimental dressing' one expects old fashioned Victorian frills - this goes to show you just never know!

What are your most unexpected sentimental garments? Let us know in the comments!

Photography by Marvin Quick. 


  1. Love that dress on you and the story that goes along with it!

    My sentimental items are a couple of classic coats my mom had sewn for me. I sometimes think she would have gotten a kick out of sewing blogs if they had existed when she was alive.

  2. Wonderful fabric and the dress is very flattering.

  3. Beautiful on you and I adore the fabric. Great accessorizing, though I am anti-high-heel!

  4. I love this post! The graffiti in the background is perfect...I'm a lover of graffiti, too. And it makes a great shot with your whole look.
    The dress is gorgeous on you. Thank you for all the tips; they come at a perfect time, I'm readying the pattern right now. And since I'm busty, too, your ideas on placement are just what I need.
    I'm going to combine knit and woven fabrics so that I can reduce the size of the top and put in sleeves.
    You've given me so much to work with here, thank you!

  5. Sew Typical that is really wonderful! You know i was married in my mom's wedding dress, made by her mother. Those type of garments have a different type of life to them, really special. That's great about your mom and blogging, i am glad you are carrying the torch! Maybe you could do a post on those coats?

    Thank you Vicki! I need to make another :)

    Hi Virginia, it is so fun to just look at all the little drawings all over this fabric - great to wear when you have to wait around, ha! I love those shoes but do not wear them but once in a blue moon. They looked so great with this dress, especially that slice of coral, i just had to wear them - if only for half an hour, ha!

  6. Hi Gayle - we cross posted! oh, i am so glad to hear that this info is helpful - and excited to see your upcoming cirque dress! My own sewing has improved immensely with all the online help available and it is just lovely to be able to give back :)

    i like the idea of combining knit and woven a lot. Claire Ramsey made a wonderful LBD of this pattern of knit, and left off the collar:,24895.msg427106.html#msg427106

    that dress has a great back-story too! something about this pattern......

    re: the photos - very nice when what you envision in your head looks like that in real life; as you know it is not a guarantee! Thank you for the kind comments and enjoy the day.

  7. Your dress is just so happy! Love it.

  8. This dress will get a lot of use as it is smashing. I think it will work well as a tunic in cold weather with black leggings and a shrug over the shoulders. I again appreciate the terrific explanation that you give as you well know by now I have some of the same body challenges. That fabric is so intriguing. I haven't shopped much with Marci I think Ill have to give her another look.

  9. What a wonderful post. Your dress is stunning and the construction explanation is amazing. Alexander Calder - what a gift that this film is available. His large constructions never seem static, and this shows why. What an amazing man. Shawn shines through in spirit. Thank you for sharing, Steffi. xo

  10. Ohhhh thank you for mentioning my famous Opiate Dress! It has had a lot of wear and one design change. . . I adjusted the hem so it is less asymmetrical. I just was not comfortable with the lower pointy part hanging down. And I am going to add even more length to the next one! Yours is just fabulous. I remember that fabric! What brilliantly clever use you made of it!

  11. oh Coco, love that word :)

    Adrienne, your mind-reading continues. I finished this dress just before a bit of unseasonal spring coldness and styled it with olive drab leggings and little cardi. And that is great you also find the explanations helpful!

    Marcy has a very disting overall vibe to her shop, but there's always about 25% that is a huge variety of stunning gorgeous stuff not along those lines. Definitely worth a look (i'm there all the time!).

    I love you mom! Big hug and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    Claire, tis a great dress! i'm glad to hear you've been wearing it a lot. It's funny how this dress is such a strong statement piece but at the same time it stands up to all kinds of tweaking, big and small. I love seeing all the varieties out there.

    What a blast you remember the fabric!

    Happy Day!!! stephQ

  12. What a gorgeous version of this lovely pattern. I am inspired by you, once again :-)

  13. LOVE! I also love how you broke down all the decision points that go into making a garment to flatter your figure. Some day soon I'm going to try the same pattern. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration!

  14. Thank you Mary - the inspo is mutual (big hug)

    Welcome Ms. Aronson! Lucky you to have such a fun and useful garment in your future :) If you don't follow Marcy Tilton on facebook already, head on over and check out they many diverse makes of this design she has featured there. So different from when i was coming up to be able to see so many wonderful interpretations!

    Thank you and Happy Day!

  15. Your careful placement of the print paid off, Stephanie. That dress looks great on you!

  16. Thanks Sharon - playing around with this fabric was a lot of fun :)

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