Sewing La La Land: Dreamy Dresses, Sewing Tips

La La Land costume
La La Land sketch by Mary Zophres; photo from Lionsgate. (via Hollywood Reporter)

Have you seen the movie La La Land yet? In the movie Emma Stone wears a series of “retro realistic” dresses that look like you could buy them off the rack at Bloomingdale’s. (A deliberate choice, according to costume designer Mary Zophres.) But at the same time, the dresses are memorable—you find yourself thinking about the colors and the way they float as Emma dances in them.

You won’t be able to find these La La Land dresses in stores, but you can make very similar versions yourself! In today’s blog post we pair Emma’s dresses with possible patterns, and give you some sewing tips from Marcy Tilton for working with lightweight fabrics such as chiffon and georgette. Read on!

Blue dress from La La Land: Sew the look with McCall's M7281

To make your version of this party dress, here made up in a brilliant blue, use McCall’s M7281. For the bodice and skirt lining, where you need a more stable fabric, use crepe or a lightweight satin with a soft drape. For the overbodice and skirt use a floaty chiffon that will accentuate your very best dance moves.

La La Land green dress: Sew the look with Butterick B6380

With its sweetheart neckline this emerald green, date-night dress has a slightly retro feel to it. Butterick’s B6380 by Gertie is a pretty good match, especially if you convert the sleeves to a cap or flutter sleeve. Go for lightweight crepe de chines that puddle into soft folds.

La La Land yellow dress: Sew the look with McCall's M7500

This is the yellow dress you’ve probably seen in images for the movie; it’s when Emma and Ryan first dance together. McCall’s pattern (M7500) has the basic shape of the yellow dress, with the square neckline and full skirt. We’d use the tucked bodice from View D, and we’d alter the sleeves from View C or D so they’re cap sleeves. For fabrics, try a silk crepe or georgette with a delicate floral print.

Ready to sew your own La La Land dress? Here are some tips from Marcy Tilton, Vogue Patterns designer and sewing expert, on working with tricky fabrics like chiffon and georgette:Vogue Patterns designer Marcy Tilton

  • Cut sheer fabrics such as crepe and georgette using a smooth paper:
    • Lay down a layer of paper* on the cutting table, and trim the ends so they are straight (at right angles to the opposite edge). This assures that you can line up the grain of the fabric with the edges of the paper.  
    • Tear or pull a thread on the cross grain of your fabric at either cut edge to assure the grain is straight. This is key.
    • Place the fabric on top of the paper, smoothing so the grain is straight. Align the selvedge and cut edges with the paper. This assures that the grain is straight on the pattern pieces.
    • Pin the pattern through all layers and cut through all layers. The bottom paper layer keeps the soft fabric from shifting as you cut and allows you to move and mark the pieces without distorting. 
  • Buy at least a quarter yard extra to allow for shrinkage and so you have extra to test with. 
  • Test fabric scraps for needle size and stitch length. 
    • Use a small (#10/11) sharp needle, fine polyester or silk thread and short stitch length (2.0-1.5 mm).
  • Pre-treat fabric by dipping in lukewarm water and air drying. Roll in a clean towel to remove excess water. Do not put in the dryer. Steam press after pre-shrinking.
  • After sewing, hand launder and air dry. Crepe weave fabrics are created with highly twisted yarns that will shrink, sometimes just with steam, so pre-treating is essential even if you plan to dry clean. In that case, give the yardage a good steam press before cutting. 
  • Use French seams whenever possible, making them as narrow as possible. 
  • If you are going to use a serger you will have to test stitch width, length and thread weight. You want something that is thin, light and nearly invisible. 
  • Cut with a rotary cutter or scissors (in this case override the ‘rule’ about cutting paper with your special fabric tools.)
  • Mark with tailor tacks, or fine dots using a dressmaker pencil.
  • If the fabric looks the same on both sides, mark the wrong sides with stick-on label dots.
  • Plot the order of construction carefully. Leave the fabric pinned flat on the table until you are ready to sew them. Hanging/moving can sometimes cause stretching or distorting.
  • Stay-stitch front and back neck edges first thing.

* Suitable smooth papers are: surgical exam table paper, brown kraft paper or tracing paper.

Last-Minute Gifts to Sew; Plus, Holiday Giveaway!

Elna sewing machine ad from the 1960s. Printed in Vogue Patterns Magazine
Elna sewing machine ad from the 1960s. From Vogue Patterns Magazine

There’s still time to whip up some handmade gifts for friends and family. After all, handmade beats store-bought, right? Here are six patterns that are fast and easy to make:

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

With this simple Vogue pattern (V9038) you could make a cape very similar to those by Burberry that sell for several hundred dollars. Look for soft, blanket-like wools and fleeces in large-scale plaids.

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Robes are fast to sew and involve no fitting, which makes them the perfect gift to make. We’d sew this Butterick pattern (B6428) in the softest sweater knit fabric we could find. It also sews up well in French terry or sweatshirt fleece.

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Your dog-owner friend will be so touched with the custom coat you make for her precious pooch. Customize this to your friend’s taste with fabrics and trims. Love the pompom on the hood! Butterick B6432.

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Kimonos also sew up quickly because there’s really no fitting involved. For this Kwik Sew pattern (K4176), we’d choose lightweight crepes, chiffons or burnout velvets in dramatic prints and colors.

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

We’re seeing fuzzy jackets like this one from McCall’s (M7511) on lots of teens and 20-somethings. Look for the cuddliest faux fur available, and make the lining in velour to amp up the cozy factor.

Last-minute gifts to sew. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Have a family member who likes to cook? She’ll appreciate an apron made especially for her. Quilting cottons in fun prints make great aprons. McCall’s M7448.

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McCall Pattern Company

You could win all sorts of fabulous sewing-related prizes—including a new sewing machine!—by entering our annual holiday giveaway. Click here for all the details. Hurry, entries are due by December 13th. Good luck!