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.

Editor’s Picks: Kwik Sew Patterns

Kwik Sew Fall/Winter 2014 catalogThe Kwik Sew Fall/Winter 2014 collection debuted recently and I cozied up with this pattern catalog for a little look-through. Kwik Sew has been my go-to for basic patterns for years, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many stylish options this brand offers. Here are my top five picks for sewing right now:

Kwik Sew K4087 jacket

1) K4087 jacket: The moment I saw this new jacket pattern I thought of the Becky jacket by Rebecca Minkoff. I know you’re saying c’mon, Meg, you usually do a better job of matching your patterns to RTW, but to me it has a very similar feel to the designer jacket. Ignore the prints we made it up in and make your version out of solid 4-ply silk (if it’s available in a color you like and not too pricey, or a comparable poly fabric) or wool crepe. Lovely.

Kwik Sew K4068 dress

2) K4068 dress: This dress is for everyone who loves a feminine dress with a softly gathered waist. If you like our McCall’s shirtdress M6696, then you’ll love this pattern. Sew it out of soft cottons or silks in solids or mini prints. And look super-cute when you wear it.

Kwik Sew K4083 peplum top

3) K4083 top: We’re going nuts here over this flirty peplum top. I mean, cute peplum and color-blocked sides? Count us in! We recommend using lightweight fabrics for this Kwik Sew pattern, like silks or polyesters, for the best results. Maybe try color-blocking solids instead of mixing a print with a solid. Your call.

Kwik Sew K4031 cape

4) K4031 cape: Yes, I am going to keep forcing cape patterns on you this season until you break down and make one. This Kwik Sew pattern looks very similar to the Chloé capes that sell for close to $5,000. Make your much more reasonably priced version out of the softest wool or wool blend you can find, the thicker the better.

Kwik Sew K3764 biker jacket

5) K3764 moto/biker jacket: This pattern is an oldie but really, really goodie. You need to rock a motorcycle jacket this season and this is the pattern to get you on the road. Make it out of leather or faux leather, or explore some unexpected fabric choices, like the silver jacquard of the designer biker jacket in the photo above. Yes, you will look smoking-hot in this jacket.

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V1419 Sewalong update: How is everybody doing with this? Are you checking out our Flickr group and contributing comments (if you want)? I am up to step #8. Where are you in the process?