Thursday, 5 September 2013

Me, Elvis and the Graceland dress

I'm not sure if you know about this, as I kept it really low key, but I went to Graceland. Oh who am I kidding, I pretty much got a loudspeaker and shouted about it everyday, but it was a 21 year dream in the making. I'll warn you, this is a long post with lots of photos, but it's not everyday you go to Graceland, so sorry/not sorry :)

Well, what do you wear to meet Elvis? For me, there was only one look that I wanted to recreate and that was of Maile Duval in Blue Hawaii, played by one of my favourite actresses, Joan Blackman.

Blue Hawaii is a really special film to me. It's not only my favourite Elvis film, but also the film that a young 13 year-old me watched and thought "hey, who is THAT guy?". I asked Mama Delle and she explained who he was and how much she had loved him as well, and from then on, she bought me a calendar every Christmas. The love affair started.

Here's a picture of Joan Blackman and Elvis in Blue Hawaii. Joan kicks off the film wearing this great dress and red flower in her hair. Unfortunately, I cannot find a good quality colour photo to show you, but if you google it (or better yet, watch the film) you'll get a great idea of how gorgeous this dress looks on her.



So, my plan for Graceland was to recreate this outfit. In my stash, I had been hoarding some great fabric that I had bought at Mood early last year on a trip to NYC. It's an Hawaiian-inspired green and white print in a soft stretch cotton.

Maile Duval ready for Elvis! Don't you just love
my new Bettie Page bag? I got this in Nashville.

For the pattern, I self-drafted a bodice and skirt to ensure that I got the exact fit I was after. I kept things quite simple with bust darts and waist darts on the bodice, but scooped the neckline low on the front and back, and shifted the shoulders over to create that early-60s look.  The skirt of the dress was pencil-like in design and as the fabric had stretch, I didn't need to create a split or vent. Hooray. 


Just arrived at Graceland. I promise you I was far more excited
than this picture suggests. Sun in eyes = face contort!

I styled the dress with a vintage white metal belt (inherited from Mr S' grandmother), red wedge sandals, my new Bettie Page bag and an artificial flower. The flower is a funny story; there are ZERO florists in downtown Memphis. ZERO! Not even a store that sells a bouquet of fresh flowers. Obviously people in Memphis don't like flowers. In the end, the concierge at the Peabody hotel gave us the address of their supplier so my wonderful Mr S drove me there to find a suitable flower for my hair.

I inserted a lapped zipper but could I get the waist seam to align? For the love of Elvis, no! Despite having stablised the zipper seam and hand basted the zipper, that waist seam was giving me the finger every time. After a rant to my beloved Roisin, she suggested hand picking the zipper in. YES! Why did I not think of this? It worked swimmingly for my wedding dress (yeah I just said swimmingly, sue me!) and if it was couture enough for marrying Mr S, then it was certainly couture enough for the King. 

Dixie Lou Tip
One great tip for hand picking your zip is waxing your thread. When I made my wedding dress (you can see that here) I followed the legendary Susan Khalje's book Bridal Couture. This book is out of print and I paid a small fortune for it, but it was invaluable and I still refer to it for general sewing projects. She advises to buy some tailor's wax, which you run your thread through. You then carefully iron the thread to seal the wax (place a pressing cloth on the top, I use silk organza) and then double up the thread as normal. This technique helps prevent those shitty knots happening when you hand sew buttons and zips. I do this for most of my hand sewing now and it really helps. 

I used an all-in-one facing to finish the neck and armholes, but cut it just above the bust line to prevent having to do darts again and creating unnecessary bulk on the bust. To save time, I serged the inside seams and handstitched the hem.

I was so pleased with this dress. It was exactly how I wanted it to look and I felt great walking around the home of Elvis dressed (in my mind) like Maile. Here are some close-up shots of the dress after I had been to Graceland - hence dropped out curls, missing belt etc, but just look at the happy glow on my face!



Beale Street!

And now onto Graceland. Ermagherd. This really was a dream come true. Driving into Memphis the night before I had tears, and then driving along Elvis Presley Boulevard to Graceland I had tears again. I can't stress how important this trip was to my little heart.

Graceland was everything I wanted it to be. Mainly, I just loved walking through the front door and into Elvis' house. It was 5 million Christmas' at once, finding money down the back of the sofa every day, or feeling so fricking happy in that one moment, you're not sure how to contain it.

Basically, it was fantastic.

The rooms at Graceland were over-the-top, kitsch and just bloody wonderful. Although, I knew so many people had visited before me, in my mind I was treading where Elvis had walked. I had to restrain myself from jumping on the sofas, or touching everything, and then I secretly seethed with anger and jealousy when a young toddler ran under the rope and sprawled out on one of Elvis' leather sofas in the room next to the squash court. Hey kid, get off, if anyone is breaking the rules round here it's me! (I did lean over and touch one of the sofas in the jungle room though. Rebel scum!)

I could go on and on about this day, but I won't bore you. Let's just say it's one of those days that will stay with me forever. Here's a selection of photos and thank you for getting this far in the post.

As Graceland was my dream trip, is there one place in this world you HAVE to or are dying to see?

This is the first room you see as you enter Graceland. 
It's the room where Elvis and I welcome our visitors. 

Ha, Elvis! What are you like taking photos of me in our 
TV room, you're such a goon.
(and yeah, we need 3 TVs, so sue us!)

Hanging out in the jungle room

Priscilla's My wedding dress on display

Out at the Presley paddock

This photo? Oh that's just me boarding the Lisa Marie
 to go get some groceries

The piano Elvis was playing the day he died :(

Jeez, it takes me a long time to sew these jumpsuits for him

Grilled peanut and banana sandwich of course!

Everyone thinks Elvis bought this for his Mom. No, it's my ride.

Outside Graceland with Don Draper

Laying the flower from my hair on Elvis' grave


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