I’m either sitting there sweltering in short sleeves (or worse, long sleeves) or freezing my butt off. A colleague of mine actually bought herself an enormous work shawl for the freezing days so she can be swaddled as she types.
I supposed I’ve just described most offices throughout history. So “weird” may not be the word, but “unpleasant,” certainly.
So I made a cardigan of the “looks enough like a blazer I can wear it at work” sort.
I’m not in general a cardigan person, but this has been very useful so far.
It’s an M6996, made up by many, beloved by most. View A, with the higher rouse and the flouncy back. I do like it. It’s pretty, comfortable, and most importantly warm.
The sizing, of course, is bananas. This is a small, or a size 8/10. I should be a large, based on the sizing chart. Fortunately there were a few reviews mentioning the sizing issues so I was able to buy the right envelope.
The back is a bit weird. As you can see there’s excess around the armscye, and the bicep is still a bit loose even though I snugged it down (…from the small), but the side seams are overall towards the back (which you can’t see, but it’s true). I’ll have to think about how I want to handle that for any potential version 2. Maybe a higher armscye and a slightly slimmer sleeve?
The fabric is a remnant cotton rib knit. It has just the right amount of structure to hold the shape while still being soft and very stretchy.
I have a lovely heathered purple rib knit I’m considering for a second version, but if there are other good business-y cardigan patterns out there I’d happily consider those too.
Again, I’m a size 16/18 based on their size chart, which for this pattern (though it’s not described on the pattern page–!!!) is a size Large for this particular pattern. This is a Small (8/10). There’s an FBA brought to you by the magic of pivot-and-slide, on the front pieces. It worked quite well for this pattern.
Everyone who sews knows there are big sizing inconsistencies with the Big 4 pattern companies, and that these companies have no intention of admitting to, let alone fixing, those problems.
So let’s help each other out.
I’ve written a novel here about how unpredictable Big 4 sizing is, and how none of the information available publicly ends up being helpful in deciding what size to purchase. But this isn’t just venting. There are two things I’m hoping to do:
Reassure beginning sewers that it’s not their fault that projects don’t fit the way they’re supposed to.
Encourage those of us who write pattern reviews online to be more detailed about how we ended up sewing the size we did. I’m willing to bet none of you make up the size you’re supposed to be, according to the sizing charts. But in reviews, most sewers only include what size was eventually used, and not how that compares to the size we’re supposed to be according to the charts. Unless someone has been following a particular reviewer for a while and knows what size they are supposed to be, that’s not helpful; a sewer still can’t pick a size for themselves.
If this post can inspire you to always include information about what size you used and what size you are supposed to be in every review, whether on blogs, review sites, instagram, or facebook, we can make this a little less frustrating for each other.
Hydrated? Caffeinated? Recently snacked?
How To Sew Something That Fits
In theory, one should be able to buy or trace a pattern according to one’s measurements and the published sizing guide and, barring individual body idiosyncrasies, make up a garment that more or less fits. Alas, this is not the case, as you’ve read me bitching about more than once. Over many years now of sewing clothes for myself and my daughter, I’ve developed a way of choosing a size and making it up that will end up with something close enough to a good fit that I can alter it with a few tweaks, so long as its construction is fairly standard. (i.e. basic darted skirts and bodices, pants or shorts with front fly construction, princess seams, etc.)
It’s a total pain in the ass.
1. Choose a size based on the finished garment measurements.
If I can get them. Indie pattern companies are pretty good about putting those measurements on the pattern envelope and/or the website. Big 4? Not so much. With Butterick-Vogue-McCalls, the finished measurements aren’t even necessarily on the pattern tissue. I recently tried to make up a BMV knit pattern where the finished measurements were not on the tissue; it wasn’t worth my time and I threw it away. I just opened the packet for a Vogue knit dress pattern, and the finished garment measurements aren’t on that tissue either.
On the BMV website, the finished garment measurements most often available are back length and hem width.
This doesn’t help me decide which size to get.
2. Double check those measurements by measuring the pattern tissue.
4. Alter in ways that I always have to alter everything because bodies are weird.
For me, this means shortening bodice backs, measuring back widths and ensuring there isn’t too much excess along the zipper, doing an FBA, adding to the rise and crotch length for pants and shorts, checking hem lengths, and usually reducing the armscye (particularly with the Big 4).
4. Cut and sew.
Having done the above in advance, the fit on the first garment will usually be good. No muslin required. Again, that wouldn’t apply to something complicated, but even there starting with this will get me a lot closer than starting with the pattern tissue out of the envelope.
The only part of the fitting process that is, or should be, inevitable is altering for my body’s specifics. No pattern company is going to get that right. But steps 1 and 2 should be unnecessary. It should be possible to choose a size based on body measurements and know that the resulting finished garment will relate to the body’s measurements in a predictable and useful way.
What Doesn’t Work
People have developed a number of work-arounds that they feel quite passionate about, but none of them work for me.
Pick a size based on your high-bust measurement!
The theory is that if you choose your pattern size by comparing your high-bust measurement to the published full-bust charts, you’ll get something that fits in the shoulders, back, armscye, etc., and the rest is easier to fit.
I wish. First of all, there’s still way too much fucking ease. This would only work if the size charts were reliable in the first place. Secondly, this will work only for women whose bust is approximately where the bust point on the pattern is. If your boobs are higher or lower than average, this will increase or decrease your high-bust measurement, making the approach utterly useless.
Speaking for myself, my high-bust measurement is about 36″. This is still a size 14–two sizes bigger than what actually works for me with most (but not all!) BMV patterns.
2. Look at the measurements charts and the ease charts and pick a size based on the measurement plus the ease!
Below, find a handy chart showing the ease and finished waist measurements of what is supposed to be my waist size of my most recent BMV projects. (Click to enlarge)
Of the twelve, a full eight have finished garment measurements that are either below or above the predicted range based on body measurements plus ease. That’s 2/3.
Moreover, they don’t always err in the same direction. While M7351 has 1 1/2″ more ease than it should, V7937 has 3″ less.
The ease charts no longer reflect reality, and a “close-fitting” garment–in jersey! FFS–can have multiple inches of ease, and that ease may or may not be what was predicted in the ease chart.
This chart is only available on the Butterick site. I’ve used the first column of ease because it is a confusing mess of a table (why are skirts in the bust area? What are shirts in the hip area? What about waist ease?) and also because all or almost all of the garments I’ve listed here fall in the first category of garment and/or have a bust measurement.
(One garment, V7937, is a skirt and so could arguably be considered to fall in the last column. But the actual ease in the hip area is still far under the ease chart guidelines, so it would fail no matter which I chose.)
3.Once you know what size works for you with a company’s patterns, just buy that size and then make the same alterations with all of them!
Looking at the same chart, you can see that for Buttericks, Vogue and McCalls–all operating as part of the same company, using the same measurement and ease charts–anywhere from a size 10 to a size 14 will work for me.
There’s no pattern for which size will work based on fit, style, fabric, or anything else. Knit garments (highlighted in green) could be anywhere from a 10 to a 14. Woven garments can also be anywhere from a 10 to a 14. Whether it’s close-fitting, fitted, semi-fitting or loose also results in no predictable sizing. The one thing that is predictable is that whatever size ends up fitting me, it won’t be the size 16+ that is supposed to.
And it’s often not possible to get size 10, 12 and 14 in the same envelope, so I have to guess. I often guess wrong, which is what all of those “14 but quite big”s are about: 14 was the smallest size in the envelope and it was still too big.
I don’t like guessing, so I rarely buy BMV patterns these days.
(Simplicity is no longer available in Canada, so I have no Simplicity results to share. I’d be happy to include/link to yours, though.)
Why The Hell The Big 4 Pattern Companies Suck at This
Decades ago, clothing retailers cast off the shackles of standard sizing for women’s clothing and we entered a brave new era of vanity sizing.
What is a pattern company to do? Keep the sizing and ask women who wear a size 8 in a store to sew up a size 16? Or change their sizing to keep pace with changes in the manufacturing industry?
While they won’t admit to it publicly, they bravely opted to do … both.
They kept the sizing charts the same, so that nominally a woman who buys a size 8 in a store will need to sew up a size 16. But they (appear to) design for RTW sizing, more or less, so that if a woman in a size 8 buys a size 8 pattern and sews it up, it will often (but not always!) fit.
This is often described in short hand as “too much ease,” but it’s not really an ease thing. If it were, if I made up a 16, the basics (shoulders, back, armscye) would be essentially correct; it would just be loose or baggy. But the shoulders and backs are often too big, the armscyes too deep; it’s clear that the size 16 is designed for a woman much larger than I am, even though that size 16 reflects my smallest measurement.
This worst-of-both-worlds solution created a system so confusing for the average beginning sewer that it remains, to this day, the single number one most common and controversial issue among home sewers. The pattern companies don’t admit it, of course, but it is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s been sewing for long enough to have experienced this (unless they are brick stupid, and have managed to convince themselves that sewing is supposed to be so hard that sewing up a muslin for every new t-shirt or blouse pattern forever makes some kind of immutable and inevitable sense). (I mean–you know all of your storebought clothes were made by third-world teenagers who likely don’t have a high school education and have never received formal training in fit or alterations, right? Please someone explain to me why what is so simple that companies on the one hand justify paying poor girls pennies an hour to produce them, on the other hand is so complex that different companies state we should have to make multiple versions of a simple t-shirt before we get one that fits reasonably well.)
End result is that the sizing charts are garbage. They provide no valuable information for the purchaser. The information that the purchaser now needs is the finished measurements for bust, waist and hips, so that they can select a size based on how big the piece of clothing is going to be. But this information isn’t available, for most of their patterns, until after you’ve bought a size; and even then, sometimes it’s not printed on the pattern tissue. And when it is provided, it may not be accurate.
One might think that this enormously disrespectful manner of dealing with one’s customers would result in a complete absence of customer loyalty. I mean, if you were trying to buy a pair of shoes, and you weren’t allowed to try the shoes on or open the box first, and there was a published size chart measuring the width and length of feet but that, you found after purchasing a few pairs of shoes, had no relation to how big the shoes were so they were constantly falling off your feet, and you tried to find out how much room they added to those measurements so you could use this a guide to picking a size but the company acted like this was a fucking state secret, and then when you found the information it too was completely inaccurate–would you ever buy a pair of shoes there again?
No. And indeed customers have switched. Indie companies have sprung up in the wake of this (they have their own sizing issues, idiosyncratic to each company, but the dissatisfaction with sizing in the Big 4 has created a market niche that has been amply exploited) and many home sewers have abandoned the Big 4 pretty well outright by moving to pattern magazines or self-drafting, purchasing Big 4 patterns only when they are deeply deeply discounted and resigning themselves to a certain amount of guesswork in size selection.
It would be one thing if the Big 4 would say something like, “We know we’ve made sizing choices historically that have resulted in a confusing mess for customers. We’re not sure how to best fix it yet but we are committed to doing so by [date].” But no. Customers hear instead, “Choose a size based on your measurements and the ease guidelines that we no longer will share with you! You can always pick a size based on the finished measurements that we keep in the envelope and won’t let you see until after you’ve bought it! If we even bothered to put it on the tissue! And then you can’t return it when it’s not the size you need! Just sew a bunch of muslins for every garment you make! It’s normal to have to make the pattern half a dozen times before you can get it to fit! Obviously you don’t REALLY want to sew, do you?”
Pattern Magazines Suck a Lot Less
BurdaStyle does have ease issues, but considerably less so. Their charts put me in a 40/44, and I typically cut a 38/42, with the ever-present FBA. Still, that’s only off by about an inch.
Also, because there are no seam allowances in the patterns, measuring to confirm the finished garment size is a piece of cake. There are no ease charts to mess with. You pick a size based on your body measurements, and then adjust as needed. So here’s the chart for my last five Burda projects.
Look at all those lovely n/a’s! I don’t have to worry about the predicted ease. I don’t have to worry about finished garment measurements. It doesn’t matter if it’s a knit or a woven, a coat or a swimsuit. While it’s off by one size, it’s a predictable one size; I can trace out the 38/40/42 (or its tall/petite equivalent), measure the key points to ensure it’s the amount of ease I want, do my standard alterations, cut and sew. And at the end, it will either fit or be close enough to fitting that I can adjust it.
Moreover, I’ve so far found this to be true across european sewing magazine patterns, comparing between Burda, Knipmode, La Mia Boutique and Patrones. If I used my body measurements to pick a size, it will either fit or be off by one size. (So far. If longer experience shows I need to take that back, I will.) I’m making a pair of pants from a recent Patrones magazine; I traced off a size 44 based on my actual measurements compared to their size chart; and the only sizing issues I am having are for my own idiosyncratic adjustments (crotch length, inseam, etc). Otherwise, IT FIT.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I have an easier time getting a pair of pants that fit out of a sewing pattern when I start with a magazine published in SPANISH, where I can’t even read the damned instructions.
Indie Pattern Companies are Variable
There are a few indie companies that are much more reliable with sizing and fit. Grainline, for instance, tends to be baggy in everything. She puts the finished measurements on the website so you can check before you buy; they’re consistent and accurate, in my experience, if you like that aesthetic. How To Do Fashion is, so far for me, pretty much bang on. I can pick a size based on body measurements and it will fit really well, even through the shoulders and armscye, so that all I have to do is an FBA and shortening the back etc. (I’ve made one blouse muslin so far, and another pattern was almost done but it’s for summer so I may not finish it before next summer. Posts will come eventually.)
Once you know how big the garment is going to be, compare: to things you already own and like, or have tried on in a store, and to your own actual measurements. Find the size that is most likely to fit the way you like. Start there.
It shouldn’t be this hard. But it is.
In the Meantime
When you write a review of the pattern, help your fellow sewers out.
Include the size you made.
Include the size the measurement charts would put you in.
Maybe discuss how much ease there actually is, how many sizes down (or up? Does that ever happen?) you had to go to get it to fit. Compare to the ease indicated in the pattern description. Did it say it was close-fitting but then you had to go down three sizes and it was still big? Did it say it was loose and then you made it up and it was not so loose after all?
If a pattern company consistently produces patterns that fit you well based on body measurements, please tell us! They deserve our business.
Make it so that a beginning sewer, finding your review from google, not knowing anything about you or your size except for what you put in that one review, can make an informed decision about what size they should purchase for themselves.
I’m planning on making a page sometime soon to summarize all this and keep it in one handy place. If anyone else would like to contribute with your own sizing/fit adventures, let me know.
Once again, I saw a yellow dress that I wanted to have and knew I wouldn’t be able to buy–this time because it retails for $7,260 USD. HAHAHAHAHA. (Ahem.)
But it is stunning. And I know I’m not the only one because I’ve seen it in several spreads in September fashion magazines.
As well as a live sighting or two.
Silk-lurex with a gorgeous beaded collar. You can really see the lurex in the Kirsten shot. To me it looks like a knit.
The embellished collar and shoulders are just stunning. I wouldn’t do beading on a project like this for myself as I want something I can toss in the laundry without fear, and I’d worry about wear and snagging. But this, I thought, was a great opportunity to try out a blackwork collar, and just in time for the Monthly Stitch’s collars challenge.
Which was in September. I didn’t factor in anything like enough time to embroider the collar, so this is a month late. But better late than never and it did turn out well, so…
I found a dark gold-yellow stretch silk in a store on Queen W for $59/yard … and put it back. Gorgeous but I would have been terrified to wear it to work. So instead I used a dark yellow brushed rayon, without stretch, from Fabricland on sale for under $10/m. I bought 2, and just barely managed to eke out the altered pattern pieces.
So this $7,260 USD dress was copied for about $30 CDN, if you include buttons, thread and embroidery floss.
M7351 has the shirt dress with an a-line skirt and a collar, but it doesn’t have the puffy elbow-length sleeves or the length. (It also doesn’t have the hip seam line but I wasn’t really a fan of those as they don’t seem to fit the model well.) So first step was altering the pattern:
Changing the longer sleeves to elbow length puffy sleeves, by slashing and spreading from the shoulder all the way down to the elbow and drafting a basic fitted cuff.
And lengthening the skirt by about 7″ to take it below the knees. That was all my cut of fabric could accommodate.
This is the Big 4, so of course it makes no sense.
I’m meant to be a size 16/18 according to their charts. This is a size 10D, graded to a 12 at the hips, with a small FBA.
Which is the point of the post, and also extremely technical and complicated, and therefore boring. I wrote a more detailed and technical post on embroidering collars with lots more background here, for those who are curious.
Collar pieces were not cut out. The cutting and seam lines were traced on to the fabric, and then the seamlines were thread-traced so I could embroider without worry of losing them.
The entire upper collar piece was interfaced, waste canvas attached, then basted to a piece of muslin large enough to fit in my scroll frame. I basted it around the edge and also around the cutting line for the collar, then trimmed away the muslin in the embroidery area. (I didn’t want to have to worry about differential shrinking between the rayon and muslin pieces later on, even though both were pre-shrunk.)
I doodled, researched, sketched, and combined blackwork embroidery ideas for the collar. I wanted something geometric and abstract that would echo the beadwork of the original, but also that had a recognizable motif. This was a tall order. This is what I decided on: the “floral lace” repeat from RSN’s blackwork book.
Again to echo the beadwork on the original, I used heavier threads at the front collar points. I worked the pattern from the points towards the centre back so the visible points would match. I’m not super worried about what’s happening under my hair at the back. I took photos of the first side then flipped it in editing software so I could exactly copy it on the other side and ensure the pattern was completely symmetrical.
Once the blackwork was done, I removed the basting stitches and cut out and assembled the collar per standard directions, following the embroidery to make sure it was exactly symmetrical.
I measure my embroidery time in TV shows, so, not including prep time and a few odd hours stitching while talking to Frances, the embroidery on this collar took the first season of The Defenders, the second season of The Get Down, and almost all of the first season of Master of None. Aka, a really, really long time.
It’s a shirt dress. Pretty standard.
Since the collar is the last piece to go on, I worked on the dress assembly while I was embroidering the collar. The rayon is very soft so I took extra care and fused some interfacing around the neck seamline so it wouldn’t stretch out while waiting for the collar. Otherwise: put the bodice together, put the skirt together, joined them, added the plackets, assembled and joined the sleeves, then the collar, buttonholes and buttons.
If you can believe it, after all that work, I made a small goof on the collar stand: I pinned it to the collar, decided it was 1/4″ inch too long on each side, took that 1/4″ off, pinned it again, and realized I was wrong and it was actually the perfect size before–but it was then too late. So I had to ease the dress slightly around the front to make it fit the collar stand without puckering. Woops. It turned out all right, but man, what a mistake to make, so close to the end and with a collar that was so much work to make in the first place.
The darts on the bodice ended up very pointy, so I took them out and did them again, twice.
It turned out the way I wanted, so yay! It’s rayon and wrinkles at a touch so this is as wrinkle-free as I can get it; also one of the lower buttons pulls across the hips when I sit down. Be careful of that if you use a soft fabric and make the narrow skirt. I’ve patched up a bit of pulling already and reinforced that area to keep it happier long-term.
This is another repeat dress inspired by a fabric purchase; this time a dress-weight poly knit with a gorgeous floral print that I made up into a heavily modified M7160, first made up earlier this year in a blue rayon knit.
1. Shortened the bodice by 1″ all around. The weight of the skirt pulls the bodice down; taking an inch out puts the waistline on my waist.
2. Swapped out the circle skirt of the pattern with the 3/4 circle skirt I drafted for the La La Land dress.
3. Shortened the 3/4 length sleeves by about 1″.
4. Did an FBA by tracing the front pattern piece and slashing and spreading from the shoulder to near the waist, to create shoulder gathers rather than darts. It worked well, but I should have then leveled the waist seam. I have a bit of tilt now introduced by this change.
There’s clear elastic in the shoulder seams and on the waist to help support the weight. Overall it was a really quick sew and makes for a practical and comfortable dress. (And this one also came to the conference in Victoria with me. I think it was $6/m for the fabric, and it can’t have been more than 2.5m for the dress–so a $15 dress. I am pleased.)
It does have pockets. The original pocket pattern for the full circle skirt worked just fine in the 3/4 circle skirt.
(When I was trying it on to fuss with the hem, Frances, sitting on the couch, said, “Oh! It has pockets!” Frances is a kid who wears a dress maybe twice a year, and yet even she knows that dresses with pockets are better than those without. If only manufacturers could manage this mental leap.)
I spent a bit of time looking up colloquialisms using the word “plum” for a punny title, because why not, and I was shocked! to discover that the use of the intensifier so many of us (or at any rate, I) are so familiar with should actually be plumb.
“I plum forgot” and “that’s plum crazy” and “we were plum exhausted”–all wrong! Who knew. English, you scamp.
But I couldn’t resist the punning so I am having it both ways here.
My search also turned up this gem, from Anthony Trollope’s Is He Popenjoy? Trollope, in case you’re not familiar with him, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens’ both chronologically and philosophically, particularly in their attitudes towards women:
“The words which his cousin had spoken had not turned him–had not convinced him. Were he again tempted to speak his real mind about this woman–as he had spoken in very truth his real mind–he would still express the same opinion. She was to him like a running stream to a man who had long bathed in stagnant waters. But the hideous doctrines which is cousin had preached to him were not without their effect. If she were as other women–meaning such woman as Adelaide Houghton–or if she were not, why should he not find out the truth? He was well aware that she liked him. She had not scrupled to show him that by many signs. Why should he scruple to say a word that might show him how the wind blew? Then he remembered a few words which he had spoken, but which had been taken so innocently, that they, though they had been meant to be mischievous, had become innocent themselves. Even things impure became pure by contact with her. He was sure, quite sure, that his cousin was altogether wrong in her judgment. He knew that Adelaide Houghton could not recognize, and could not appreciate, a pure woman. But still, still it is so poor a thing to miss your plum because you do not dare to shake the tree. It is especially so if you are known as a professional stealer of plums.“
Frances graduated from grade 8 this year (!!!) and for reasons previously discussed, if she were going to have a grad dress, I would to have to make it for her. (!!!) Alterations for off-the-rack are a huge pain and many of them (like making the neckline smaller) are just not possible. Frances wasn’t worried, though. In fact, she was so not worried that she sent me a picture of the dress style she wants, in the total confidence that I would be able to knock it off–said picture not representing any pattern I have or could find on the internet.
Tilted waistline, gathered skirt, sweetheart neckline, ruched bodice, chiffon overlay–oh ok sure. No problem sweetheart. Let me whip that up for you.
First step: muslin and mock-up.
I found two prom dress patterns from McCall (M7321 and M7281) that had parts of what we were looking for: sweetheart neckline, chiffon overlays, gathered or circle skirts. No tilted waist, but Frances decided she could do without; and no ruching, which despite Frances’s confidence is truly beyond me right now, at least in a pattern-hacking capacity. I also found some gorgeous satin faille at the closing sale I mentioned a while back in an absolutely beautiful silvery lilac-blue and picked up 4 yards for less than $20, so that I knew I could make mistakes and have lots left to start over with. While no solid chiffon I found anywhere was a colour match, this floral chiffon from Fabricland works. Frances wanted this only on the yoke; the rest of it will be just the solid faille, so we now have a ton of floral poly chiffon we won’t be needing. (Any takers?)
Despite having lots of extra, I did make and alter a muslin of the bodice first, altered once, then a bodice sewn/basted up, further altered.
Incidentally, the McCalls pattern we are using for the bodice (M7321) sucks. Seamlines don’t match; there are notches on one side of the princess seam and no corresponding notches on the other side. I bet lots of highschool girls making their own prom dress decide as a result of using this pattern that they can’t sew, which is a damned shame.
Frances wanted just a gathered skirt, so I used the overskirt pieces from M7321 pattern and gathered it right to the thread’s capacity. Any more and I’m sure the thread would have snapped. We made it floor length and then shortened it accordingly. The lining is the flared skirt from M7281, cut in a size to match the waist measurement, to reduce bulk in the waist seam (no gathers). All sizing was chosen based on the finished measurements on the pattern tissue.
The sleeves were modified from the pattern to be cap sleeves, like the one in the photo, except puffier.
The neckline hem is a bias binding strip. I wanted extra thickness and bulk there to take the weight of the dress and this seemed the best way to do that. All of the seams in the chiffon are french seams. It looks pretty tidy if I do say so myself.
Most importantly, Frances loves it. When it was finally done (and this was another this-took-forever project) she hugged it and said “it’s so pretty!” Mind: Frances is a girl to whom “pretty” is usually close to a dirty word. It’s not that she doesn’t like it or approve of it for other people, but she generally wants no taint of it on herself. “Is this comfortable?” and “how late can I sleep without missing the school busy if I wear this?” are her usual concerns. But when pretty counts, she should have pretty, I believe.
It was done on the Sunday before the Thursday evening ceremony. And she does look beautiful in it. She doesn’t want a photo of her in the dress from the front on the internet, which I am going to respect, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
And I’m so glad it’ll be at least a few years before I need to tackle another grad dress.
Me: Do you suppose it’s enough to make a shirtdress?
Elizabeth: Hmm. Maybe … I don’t know.
Something about the idea of a super colourful not particularly serious fabric made into something semi-serious like a shirtdress made me happy, and I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a potential lack of yardage stop me. Nor would I be deterred by a lack of shirtdress patterns, due to a longstanding disinterest in shirtdresses. (All those buttonholes! So much work!)
So with my potentially inadequate fabric supply in hand, I set off to find a shirtdress pattern I didn’t hate and that could be sewn up with less than 2m of fabric.
I scoured my Burda back issues and the Big 4 online sites. I couldn’t find one. So naturally, I bought three.
I know. But the top of one had cup sizing and the bottom of the other had a narrow skirt with pleats that didn’t use much fabric and the other one was neither, but was actually very pretty and I thought I might make it up another time.
M7351 is the bodice (view A without the pockets) and B6333 is the skirt (view C). By using a contrast fabric for the second button band, the under collar and the interior collar stand, I was able to just eke everything out. (Which also cut down on the thickness a bit and added a splash of really bright yellow.) I cut the interior pockets out of leftover cotton voile and use scraps of the Nani Iro for facing (not in the pattern, but easy enough to hack).
It looks like I may be the only person on the internet to have sewn up the narrow pleated skirt on B6333, so in the interests of furthering sewing knowledge: it works, and it’s a great way to save on yardage if you’re trying to squeak out a shirtdress in not a lot of fabric. The front is perfect, but I find the back a bit small at the hips, so it pulls a bit towards the back as you can see in the side shots.
Sizing was the usual Big 4 adventure: 10D for the M7351 and 12 for the skirt, and even though it’s the same company producing them for the same sizes with the same measurements, only by choosing different sizes was I able to match the waist. Keep in mind that a size 10 is supposed to be for a 25″ waist, which means approximately 5″ of ease; and that according to the charts I should have been a size 16/18 in both. If I were to make this again I would keep the waist the same but add maybe 1/2″ to each side at the hips on the back piece.
BMV likes to argue that you can use their ease charts along with the measurement charts to pick a size. Nope. Neither shirtdress has an ease rating; they just says “dresses.” The amount of ease at the waist on the McCall bodice would put it into the “loose” category. To be fair, both included the finished bust and hip measurements on the website, which normally isn’t available; but once again you have to buy the pattern to find out the finished measurement of the waist. This means for some reason a 5″ ease was considered appropriate for the waist on one shirtdress and 3″ ease was chosen for the other one, with no particular rationale given.
Putting it together was fairly simple. I didn’t even look at the instructions; if you’ve made a few button-up shirts and a few pleated skirts with side-seam pockets, there’s nothing new or surprising here. The seams are mostly serged; there’s some topstitching where you might expect to find topstitching; the hem was serged and then turned up once, to reduce bulk. I actually didn’t look at the instructions so I can’t say whether they’re any good or not. But the pattern(s) worked.
Just because it was May at this point was no reason not to delay completion of the dress further while I futzed around with embellishing it.
In my opinion matching up a bright large-scale watercolour print with a shirtdress is enough subversion for something to wear to work, so I decided to complement the pattern by adding some stitches in the exact same colour to some areas of the dress.
Blue: french knots, either singly or in clusters
Peach & light pink: satin stitches
Yellow: bullion knots
I wanted to do something with the neon pink, but no one makes a neon pink embroidery floss. Neon yellow, neon green, even neon blue for crying out loud. But no neon pink.
It’s subtle but it works, IMO. You can’t see stitching in the dress photos, but you can see areas where the print “pops” or stands out a bit more. Those are the stitched areas.
General non-adventure sewingishness
I chose teal buttons from my stash that matched the flowers I embellished with the french knots. On the fabric it’s a bit of a pop; on the yellow button band it’s pretty eye-searing. Not that that’s a bad thing. And I like the bits of yellow that peak out and the bright buttons. There has to be a bit of clashing, right?
Anyway: it’s a shirtdress, it’s done, I made it work with less than 2m of fabric, and I took a type of garment I’d been avoiding forever because it seemed like so much work and made it 10x harder than it needed to be, but I like it.
Rayon jersey purchased for something like $4/m to test this super simple knit dress with a full circle skirt and pockets. I don’t think the pattern is that old but for whatever reason it must not have been super popular, because it’s already out of print. (They’re still available as I write this, though.)
That’s unfortunate. It’s as easy to make as a Moneta but it has a lot of advantages:
1. Two-piece bodice front, making it easier to fit, and giving options for directions on printed fabrics.
2. Either a traditional circle skirt, or a pieced circle skirt if you want to play with pattern direction.
3. So no gathers on the skirt, which makes for a nicer waistline and still a lot of volume.
4. V neck
5. More sleeve options, and a belt.
Big 4 fitting issues aside (!!!), it is a super easy pattern. I had to shorten the bodice some and take in the seams (of course), and there are two separate kinds of elastic preventing the waist from stretching out (the skirt weighs a ton), but otherwise it is super cute and very, very swirly.
My version is View A, and besides the colour, it looks pretty much like the dress on the envelope.
Cutting is a bit fidgety due to the bias options but I found it worth the time. If you’re looking for a less-expensive Moneta-alternative and like the idea of playing with the direction of prints, this is a good one, so long as you can handle the inevitable Big 4 sizing frustrations.
So here we go–my first attempt at blog ridiculousness. I hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to do. Jesus Murphy, just my luck that this was the first make during my experiment…
Also, please note that this post assumes you are not squeamish about women’s underwear. Thank you for your understanding.
This dress really has no practical uses whatsoever.
Well, clothing, technically. I mean, it means the legal definition. I won’t be arrested wearing it.
But I won’t be wearing it to work, either. Maybe out on a date with a guy I really, really like.
First off, a confession. I know that stripes are supposed to match. And I tried, for days, to make these stripes match.
Initially I put this fabric together with this pattern because I thought the stretch was just perfect for the faux-wrap style and the stripes would look fantastic with those gathers on the right. But I did not buy anywhere near enough to allow for proper pattern matching, given the irregular repeat on the zebra-style stripes and the narrow stripe repeat width. I truly did my best–included tracing and colouring in the stripes on the pattern pieces themselves to try to get them to line up properly. No luck.
I still think the fabric and stripe just scream dress, but I do wonder how a different sewist would have pulled off the stripe matching. Maybe a very, very slim woman would have found the repeat pattern enough width-wise to make the pieces match up all the way up the sides. The best I could do was get some key points at the waist and hips to line up approximately–and given the gathers, the top halves weren’t going to match up no matter what. The front pieces matched up beautifully, though.
Anyway. The sewing went together fairly easily. I used some stabilizer tape for knit hems on this one, and did it ever make a difference. All the seams and hems lie so nice and flat and they still stretch. It’s a miracle. I love that stuff.
The major stumbling block: McCalls didn’t put page 3 of the instructions in the envelope, and since I ordered it online I couldn’t take it back to a store and get a switch. It took me about two hours to get 80% of the dress done–and then I was stumped. I tried to guess it together but it didn’t look like it was going to work, so I instagrammed McCalls on Saturday and then emailed them on Monday looking for page 3 of the pattern, which I got from them on Tuesday. So props to them for prompt customer service, and if you ever need to follow up with them on a pattern problem, I’d recommend using the email form on the company page.
The instructions on that page are a little tricky. While views a and b are completely faux-wrap dresses, and both sides are sewn together, views c and d are a combination of faux-wrap and real-wrap. One side is sewn together, and the other side–with the gathers–is free. That part you actually tie up when you put it on.
The dress, when done, is super cute and fairly flattering and really, really comfortable–especially in this knit fabric, which is light and unbelievably soft, which it had better be for what I paid for it. It’s also (partially) a wrap dress, which = plunging V neckline. So I finished it up and then it sat in my closet, complete, while I struggled with underwear options. I mean I had no bras whatsoever that were both pale enough not to be visible through the fabric, and short enough in front not to be visible in the V.
Digression: Bliss Bras
Squeamish male readers, cover your eyes.
Bliss Bras on Upper James came through in spades. Not only did the saleslady scour the store looking for things that were jersey-friendly, not dark, and very low-cut in front–and in my size, which is a challenge at the best of times–but when she found one that had the right cup size and a band several sizes too large that otherwise was perfect, she whipped out her sewing machine and shortened the band for me while I waited at the counter, for free, for a bra that was on sale. Colour me super impressed. This is how you win lifelong loyalty.
We also had a lovely chat about sewing machines, sewing in general, and bra-making while she shortened the band. Did you know that Hamilton is a global centre for bra-making? No? Me neither. There’s apparently a globally-recognized store that teaches classes locally and all over the world and everything. Who knew? A new obsession may appear in this space shortly, Dear Readers. But not until I’ve worked through a bit more of my Someday Shelf.
Anyway, here is the final result.
Apparently, some folks had the brilliant idea of attaching t-shirt bands to the inner front of similar patterns in order to prevent themselves from inadvertently flashing passersby. Beautifully done, yes? I’ve decided to live on the wild side. On occasion. In carefully chosen company.
Holy crap, my child is done with elementary school. I am not ready. I just brought her home from the hospital last week. How did it go this quickly?
(back to sewing)
Frances started talking up her mom-made grad dress at school months ago, to both classmates and teachers. So sweet, yes? I’m going to enjoy her being proud of wearing home-made clothing for as long as it lasts.
Also, this dress had better be as close to flawless as possible, or I am screwed.
The rayon ($8/m) came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West in Toronto. Lining was just regular acetate this time–it’s a grade 5 grad dress. I want her to look special but an heirloom garment this is not. Frances helped me pick out the pattern (McCalls 6020, $4 on sale) and the zipper and trim, and then contributed on a weekly basis by asking me if her dress was finished yet.
Umm, no, sweetheart. Not started. Not quite. Patience.
Step 1: Altering the pattern
Frances has some unique sizing issues that make it a challenge to sew straight from the pattern, so first up was taking detailed and up-to-date measurements, comparing them to the pattern pieces, and altering as required. The back, sleeves, and skirt pieces were cut out in straight-up size 8 (except for skirt length, which I made quite a bit longer as she wanted it as close to ankle-length as possible). The front bodice and waistband both needed altering: waistband an inch or two beyond the size 14 on either side; and the front bodice piece was a size 8 around the neck and sleeves, then widened down to a size 14 at the waist, and deepened by about two inches at centre front based on her front shoulder-to-waist measurement.
She’s not a size 8 in height or limb length yet, but we both wanted this to have some growing room so she could potentially wear it again.
I tested it by basting up the bodice lining pieces and getting her to try it on. While the back was a bit loose, the front and waistband were just perfect: the waistband sat straight at her waist and didn’t pull, and there was no excess fabric on the bodice front. Huzzah!
I even got to use my french curve to redraw the armhole and waist seams on the front bodice piece. It worked out all right–there’s a bit of bubbling on the torso I’m unhappy with, but I think taking it apart to fix it would only move the bubbling to the centre, so we left it. You can see that little bit of puckering in the top photo.
So many failed garments behind that relatively simple accomplishment, Dear Readers.
She didn’t want the sash or the bow, so I just made everything up in the same fabric; and we added on the sparkly neckline trim just for fun.
Step 2: Sewing the bodice and sleeves
This pattern is rated easy, which means there are some construction shortcuts. I am all for construction shortcuts when sewing on a deadline.
One was the sleeve gathering: the skirt gathering was standard and enclosed within the bodice, but the gathering on the shoulder is quite visible. It’s cute but I’m not sure how much I like the stitching being visible if you get close enough. I might prefer if the pieces were split, gathered on the edge and then sewn together–but there’s no question that this method was a time saver.
Also, the sleeves and sleeve linings were sewn together as a single piece, then gathered. It made a nice edge and was certainly faster to do than adding and hemming them separately.
The bodice and bodice lining were also treated as a single piece for setting in the sleeves, which again made it faster, but also means that the sleeve seam is visible on the inside of the garment. Not a big deal; no one’s going to be looking in there, but it won’t be as smooth for wearing.
Step 3: The Skirt
The rectangles. Sew together. Gather. Attach to bodice, but not bodice lining.
The only alteration was making the front skirt rectangle a few inches wider to match the increased length of the waistband piece. Moving right along…
Step 4: Zipper
I changed the zipper to an invisible zipper per special Frances Request, so didn’t seam up the back until after the zipper was installed. And voila. Then the trim, which Frances picked out to add a little special sparkle to her special dress, stitched on by hand between the shell and the lining, and catch-stitching the bodice lining over the skirt piece, and hemming. It is a blind hem but the fabric is so light and floaty that it’s quite visible. Not a huge deal under the circumstances but I’ll have to figure out a way to do a proper blind hem on this fabric for the next project.
All in all, very little hand-sewing was required for the dress, which was great. It looks lovely and Frances loves it. When she tried it on after it was all finished, her eyes bugged out, she clapped her hands, and then jumped up and down. Just what she wanted.
Today was graduation day. We pampered her good and proper–nice long bath last night with fancy conditioner, shiny fingernails and toenails, a braided hairstyle–and she wore her mom-made grad dress to many, many compliments. And there was skipping, jumping, hugging, grinning and laughing to be had.