The Hand Embroidered Dragon Dress

Several months ago I started this project and now, about six months later — IT’S FINISHED! Have you ever had a project that you “worked” on for so long and then when it’s finally in the “completed” pile, you are so satisfied with yourself that you can’t stop looking at it or admiring it while you’re wearing it? Well…. that’s me. Also, when I say “worked” on it, I let it sit for a few months before I picked it up again to stitch on it. Yeah, that’s me, too. 🙂

Last August the Sewcialists had a tribute month celebrating the people who inspired our sewing called: Sew Style Hero. I had one of my sewing muses in mind and planned a project around it. Unfortunately around that time I hurt my thumb and as my injury is on my right hand, it inhibited my embroidering, so I took a break from stitching for a while in hopes that it would heal 100% by the time I picked my embroidery needle up again. I had already started this project, so it sat, with me occasionally picking it up and working on it at times, but the drive to finish it wasn’t there until the last couple of weeks, where I powered on through and completed it.

So who is my “Sew Style Hero”? None other than Heather from Handmade by Heather B, also known as knitnbee on IG. Heather makes amazing outfits and wears stunning accessories to accompany her me-mades and I definitely have closet envy. I fell in love with one particular dress of hers that I had seen her wear quite a bit last summer and when I was gifted with a vintage McCall’s embroidery transfer with Chinese dragon motifs, I decided to make a dress inspired by Heather. Heather didn’t actually make her dragon dress as it’s a vintage inspired RTW dress, but to me, Heather OWNS it.

For my dragon dress, I used Butterick 5951, an OOP modern pattern with a 1940’s look. I used view B with mandarin-esque collar, omitting the sleeves and altering the bodice so that the armscye extended, adding a slight kimono sleeve. I also swapped the gored skirt for a gathered skirt and moved the back zipper to the side. The fabric is Karen Klein black textured poly/rayon suiting, which is still available on the Cali site. It is a great fabric and perfect for dresses. The bodice is lined with vintage lining from my grandma’s stash, which peeks out of the neck opening.

After I cut my dress out, I started on the embroidery. The embroidery transfer I used was McCall 1229, a vintage pattern from the 1940’s. I traced it on to water soluble stabilizer, basted that on my pattern pieces and started embroidering away. I used rayon floss, which is my least favorite type of embroidery floss as it’s terrible to work with, but it yields beautiful results. I also think of silk when I think of Chinese textiles, so the rayon mimics silk threads. I embroidered two facing dragons on the front of the bodice and one on the back. The back dragon was completed in a day, so thinking about that accomplishment made me think about how I could have finished this long ago.

After the embroidery was completed, the dress was a quick sew. I used my sewing machine and serger for most of it, but hand sewed the sleeve and skirt hems and hand-picked a vintage zip into the side seam. I would like the collar to stand up a bit more, but it doesn’t have any interfacing in it, thus the reason why it’s floppy. If I were to sew it again, I would interface the fabric.

I can’t express how happy I am to have finally finished this dress. It’s no longer a UFO and instead hangs proudly in my closet.

Tanya H, from TanyaMaile.com

Tanya is a Northern California ranch girl in love with retro prints and vintage patterns with a bit of modern flair. When not battling with her cat over her sewing table, she likes to repurpose junk, throw frisbees for her dogs, immerse herself in history books and geek out over sci-fi and fantasy. You can find her at her other home on the web: Mrs. Hughes.

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5 thoughts on “The Hand Embroidered Dragon Dress”

  1. Hey Pretty Lady, I’m super flattered that you chose me and an inspiration!!! You look gorgeous in this dress and your embroidery skills are amazing.

    1. Thank you! Everything you make and every outfit that you put together inspires me! ❤️

  2. That gathered skirt looks lovely on you 🙂 The dragon motifs are great too! I love that they’re hand embroidered. I can’t wait to embroider some of my projects too!

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