Tag Archives: McCalls

The Graduate

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.

(Sigh)

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 Back, with fancy hair

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.

Insides

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.

Butterick 6333 and McCall 7351: Fabric adventures + embroidery adventures + frankenpattern adventures = The Most Complicated Shirtdress in History (don’t quote me on that)

Fabric Adventure

All the way back in March I bought some fabric from my favourite women-owned local fabric store to celebrate International Women’s Day. (I also wrote emails and made a phonecall–it wasn’t all shopping.)

A Nani Iro double gauze: this one

They had under two metres left and I took it all.

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!)

Frankenpattern Adventure

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.

But look what happens when the pattern company gives you accurate finished measurements before you buy the pattern

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.

The Side. If you squint you can see the pocket/side seam pulling a bit to the back.

Embroidery Adventure

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.

Stabilizing! with scraps of white cotton voile, that then were basted on

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?

It’s like it fits or something

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.

M7160: OOP, Of Course

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.)

The Front. What in god’s name is going on with my face?

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.

The Back. Also: yes, the hem is uneven. I let it hang for a week before hemming it but that apparently wasn’t long enough. I’ll rehem soon

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.

The Side

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.

M6884–a dress for some seasons

silly-48-7
What else do you do in a dress like this, but vamp?

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.

Now what do you suppose they did in this photo to keep the model looking so modest? I suspect double-sided tape.

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.

silly-51-8
And now that I’m all gussied up, I guess I’d better do what us glamourous single moms do with all of our spare time…

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.

Like so. As modestly as possible.
Like so. As modestly as possible.

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.

End digression.

~~~

silly-61-12
This is what women did in the 1950s, right? They put on a dress, did their make-up, wore heels, and did housework?

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.

congratulations graduate!

graduation-14-1
Yes, it’s a headless Frances photo.

(itty-bitty Mommyblog aside)

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.

graduation-9-5One 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

graduation-12-6
the trim at the top was neatened after I took this photo of the 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.

I can’t believe she’s done with grade school.