I’m not thrilled with it. The v-neck turned out all right, as did the cuffs and hems. The peach rayon knit has an interesting finish with a flat side and a slightly ribbed side, so I used the flat for the shirt and the ribbed side for the cuffs, and I like what it adds. It’s a very light and comfortable shirt, except that the sleeves are a bit too snug–there were no notches to show where the sleeve pieces were meant to meet up with the shirt, so I couldn’t figure out where the ease was to go. And Sewaholic patterns run small up top if you get my drift, which I do not, and my alterations didn’t quite work to add the extra I’d need. So there are drag lines.
But, you know, it’s ok. I can wear it out of the house, better if it’s tucked in.
Technically, I have three pairs of shorts I bought in my early twenties, which still–miraculously–button up, though two of them are just a bit snug; but all three are very short and very casual. I have a pair of peach shorts bought last summer at Joe Fresh, which taught me to never buy clothes without trying them on first even if it’s an $8 pair of shorts, because Joe Fresh excels at putting together very cute two-dimensional clothes that look good on hangers and have no space for a butt (or boobs). I have a pair of more professional shorts bought on sale three years ago that are just that little bit too tight to be wearable for eight hours seated at a computer.
In a summer version of the classic lament, I have a drawer full of shorts and no shorts to wear, at least not if I want to wear them to work.
So I decided this was the summer to sew some shorts, and I started with M6930, a simple pattern with darts and a back zipper (view A). I then immediately complicated it.
First was the back pockets–just the place for some colourful embroidery. There was a floral pattern in A Rainbow of Stitches that was just the size of the back pockets minus the seam allowances, so I traced it out (regular view and mirror view) onto freezer paper, backed the denim with cut-out stabilizer, and stitched it up with a bunch of fibres from DMC, Caron, Rainbow Gallery and a few mystery skeins–there’s cottons, silks, wools, and some kind of glittery synthetic on there, and I used stem stitches, split stitches, chain stitches, satin stitches, french knots, fly stitches, leaf stitches and pistil stitches. This easily took longer than sewing the actual shorts.
I also changed the fabrics an itty bit: for the inner waist band and the pocket bag, I used leftover pink cotton from my shirt last fall rather than the same denim used for the shorts proper. This kept the bulk down and the softness up–the cotton is so much nicer against the skin. I also used some of the cotton to line the back pockets so the reverse of the stitching wouldn’t snag when the pockets were used.
And then there was the stitching.
Brief Digression Through Stitches Used in RTW Denim
Denim is a super stiff and bulky fabric, and if you sewed it up using the same techniques as for cotton or wool pants, it would be unwearable: the seams would be stiff and hard and rub your legs all the time. In order to make denim comfortable, special stitches are used, the most traditional being the flat-fell seam. For these, the fabric is sewn wrong-sides together, one of the pieces is trimmed down, the other wrapped around it, and then this is flattened and sewn to the outside of the garment. Like so:
The inside and the outside look the same because of how the fabric is wrapped around itself and then sewn flat to the garment, which makes it much more comfortable to wear. However, this is time consuming, so you’ll often see some shortcuts in rtw denim as well, like this:
Instead of a full flat-fell seam, it’s serged right sides together, and then the serged seam is stitched down to the inside of the garment. Still flat, still very strong, no tedious seam-wrapping and so much faster.
The shorts pattern contained instructions for neither, so I just added the simpler version–serged the main seams and then stitched the serged seam flat against the inside of the shorts. I cheated and used the overlock foot to get the stitching as straight and as close to the seam as possible; but I wasn’t quite as confident in the edge-stitching, so I didn’t use a contrasting thread. Maybe next time. But the seams are strong and flat and comfortable and the inside of the shorts is really, really neat.
I also top-stitched the waist-band both top and bottom to keep the pink cotton on the inside, rather than rolling up into a little pink border on top of the shorts.
Most often with denim, you’ll see shaped front and back yokes rather than darts, but this denim was light enough that the darts worked. And it fit perfectly. I cut out a straight size 16 based on my hip measurements with no alterations and it’s just right.
I also had some fun with adding bar-tack stitches to the pockets for added strength (check your jeans–they have bar-tack stitches on the pockets, and likely rivets as well). Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Janome? It has a bar-tack stitch!
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.
Two hundred years ago, any woman alive would been able to produce a hand-stitched garment that fit anyone in her family. It might have included smocking, monograms, top- and edge-stitching, and other decorative and fitting details as a matter of course. While a woman who could sew exceptionally well might have been admired within her local community, every woman was expected to have enough facility with a thread and needle to be able to produce wearable garments. Not to mention linens, bedspreads, etc.
The reference escapes me at the moment, but until relatively recently in historical terms, it was considered a good investment for a middle-class family to spend a small fortune on a complete set of silk embroidery flosses for their daughters, to learn how to embroider well with quality products.*
Nowadays, if you sew yourself a skirt composed of two gathered rectangles and a waistband and the hem turns out even, you are considered talented.
People tell me this fairly often: “You’re so talented, Andrea!” And I think it’s kind of funny. I’m not. I’m moderately good because I’ve invested a lot of time in a learnable skill. Anything that every woman alive did as a matter of course just 200 years ago has not suddenly become a mysterious and rare Gift visited on a chosen few, particularly not with the advent of sewing machines with specialized feet, zippers, automatic buttonholes, printed patterns, sergers and the like.
Sewing is like cooking. At first, you burn the pasta. Eventually, if you put in the time and attention, you learn to make a bolognese from scratch, when to use the buffalo mozzarella and when to use the pizza mozzarella, why it’s better to use full-fat milk in the bechemel sauce but that 1% will do in a pinch, and that, my god, margarine is not a food. (Sorry for the snobbish moment there.) Maybe because most of us do still spend some time feeding ourselves, we recognize cooking for what it is: a skill.
We no longer clothe ourselves, so we no longer think of sewing as a skill. But even your factory-made clothing was almost certainly assembled by women sitting at sewing machines. Are they gifted? Probably not. Most likely they were poor and desperate and this was the best job on offer, and now having sewn those seams approximately 3,000 times, they’re pretty good at it.
The other thing is that I recognize that I’m actually not that good.
I’m ok at it. You know, I can wear something I’ve made out of the house and not be totally embarrassed. I can make things that fit me better than what I can find in a store. I can make things for Frances that fit her pretty well, and that are comfortable and she will wear. Hurray! Yes?
There’s a lot I can’t do, though.
My handmade buttonholes are a joke (thank god for the automatic buttonholes on the machine). My blind hems are not as blind as they should be. I still have no real clue how to fit raglan sleeves properly. Sometimes my darts are uneven, and I still struggle with adjusting patterns to fit my high waist. Belt loops are a work in progress.
But that’s all ok, because one of the things I love about sewing is how much there still is for me to learn. It’s fantastic! I could sew for the rest of my life and still have new skills and techniques to master.
This year, I have finally mastered how to make Frances a shirt and dress bodice that fits. Thanks to her health issues, this is not a simple task, but I did it. Go me! When I made her Princess Frances dress a few years back for a cousin’s wedding, I learned how to orient pattern pieces on ombre fabric to ensure a consistent gradation to the entire garment. But the back placket was poor, the sashes weren’t flat, the front bodice was tight, and the tulle was uneven under the skirt hem. I knew this, even though everyone raved about the dress. (It’s a nice dress, but it’s not perfect.) Her grad dress won’t have the ombre trickery, but I can already tell that the dress as a whole will be a better garment: the sleeves are even, the neckline lies flat and is symmetrical, and the waistband lies straight and goes directly across her stomach. And it will fit her. (And it is also the softest rayon ever woven–I keep petting it.)
I enjoy participating (peripherally) in the sewing community because it is fun. People make stuff, sometimes it’s crap, they post pictures of what they made, get some congratulations. My take is that no one really cares if you’re making stuff well, so long as you are making stuff. Glorious mistakes, and all.**
Thank goodness, because if there were a quality barrier to entry, I’m not sure I’d qualify.
But as much as I enjoy this “let’s all make crap together” spirit, I admit to giving the side-eye to the “and since I make marginally better crap than you do, let me tell you how it’s done” corollary. A well-timed “this is how I did it” is always nice, even when how you did it isn’t all that great. A tutorial on How To Do It when you’re not doing it right rubs me the wrong way, particularly when there’s a monetary charge for the tutorial or an associated pattern attached.
Particularly when you are publicly advertising yourself as an expert.
People are entitled to make and sell tutorials and patterns all day and night, if that’s what they want to do, and other people are entitled to buy and use them, regardless of whether or not it’s any good. And then the people who don’t like them are also entitled to say that they don’t like them. This is how it goes.
Like movies. People can make good movies, and bad movies. People can get paid for the movies they make, regardless, and other people can pay to see them. And then they can talk about which movies they love and which movies they hate. Publicly, even. If you’re going to make movies, you’re going to get panned.
The minute money is introduced, the relationship changes from social to commercial. Yes, sometimes people have social and commercial relationships simultaneously, but no commercial entity has social relationships with all of its customers. It’s the difference between your grandmother teaching you how to make pancakes (criticism=tacky), and buying a cookbook with a crappy pancake recipe that doesn’t rise properly (tell the world about it via Amazon).
But this is ok, because I’m neither calling myself an expert nor charging for it
I love sewing blogs, even the ones where people don’t sew so well, because it’s great to see people challenge themselves and learn
And let’s face it, many of us don’t have a local in-the-flesh sewing community to sew with
But if you’re going to ask me for my money in exchange for your expertise, whether it’s pattern-making or technique-related, you’d better be sure that you have some to sell
And if you don’t, I consider myself and other people perfectly within their right to say so
In related news, the bodice and sleeves of Frances’s grad dress are all done. I need to do the skirt and zipper, and then embellish. I can’t wait!
* Not advocating a return to the days where all women were required to sew, but the historical context does make it pretty apparent how far this particular skill set has declined in the developed world. Also, given the human rights abuses and rampant consumerism associated with today’s industrialized fashion landscape, we might all be better off if all of us–men and women both–took more personal responsibility for and active participation in the production of our own clothing. /soapbox
** Personally, I want to keep making new mistakes. Making mistakes is fine, it’s how we learn and progress; but getting stuck in the same mistakes means you’re not learning. Not making mistakes means you’re not taking risks or doing anything new. Mistakes are great! But I wouldn’t want anyone emulating my mistakes.
Am I going to regret having posted this? Oh, hell…
I may have mentioned on occasion that sewing, despite rumours to the contrary, is not a cost-effective way of building one’s wardrobe.
It can be moderately cost-effective, if undertaken with great care. To take as an example one of Frances’s new t-shirts:
Fabric: Rayon knit at $8/m for 1 metre
Thread: Need to buy a whole spool, even though I won’t use it all: $5
Pattern: If I buy them online when they’re on sale, about $3
So total, it’s a $16 t-shirt. Which isn’t bad, but you can find cheaper t-shirts in the grocery store for kids. Of course, it leaves me with scraps and I usually use the thread again, not to mention the pattern, so the cost goes down over time by a bit. But it isn’t and never will be an $8 t-shirt.
Or her grad dress:
Fabric: Rayon at $8/m for about 3 metres = $24
Lining: Crappy acetate lining at $3/m for about 3 metres = $9
Thread: Two spools = $10 (I won’t use all of both of them, but for a bigger project it’s important to have a spare ready)
Bit of fancy sparkly trim for the neckline: $2
Total is approximately $50. Not bad for a nice dress, no, but I could go to Target or Wal-Mart and get something cheaper if I’d a mind to. It just wouldn’t fit. And where Frances is concerned, this is the main thing: she will have clothing that fits properly (dammit).
With grown-up sewing, the economics get even more screwy. If you search out fabric deals and get patterns on sale, you can make clothing that is reasonably priced, but it will never be as cheap as the sweatshop-produced polyester stuff in outlet stores. If you buy nice fabric, patterns in-store, or indie patterns,* your clothes will be more expensive handmade than what you can buy. Of course, they will fit, and they won’t have been made by a woman in a sweatshop chained to a sewing machine for sixteen hours a day, and they will be much nicer than what you would have bought for less, both in quality of construction and materials.
However, unless one lives off a trust fund, eventually one must consider the costs of one’s chosen hobby. Thus, after the fabric spree over Easter weekend, I have put myself on a fabric-shopping time-out.
Ladies and gentlemen, I spent about $500 on fabric in April. $500! And I can’t even wear any of it yet because it hasn’t yet made its way to the top of the sewing pile (but soon–once the grad dress is finished). Don’t think I don’t know that this is loopy. It’s completely bonkers, from any kind of rational standpoint. I just really like sewing, and hate spending money on clothing that’s a pain to wear because the fit isn’t right. I know that if I thought of the money as spent on outfits rather than textiles, the $500 would not be outrageous, because there’s a fairly large pile of clothing-to-be hiding in that stack on top of the fabric boxes in the den. However, I also know that if I’d gone into a clothing store, I would not have bought myself four dresses. But I bought myself fabric for four dresses. Somehow sewing gets a pass on the decision-making process.
I promised myself after that weekend that I would not buy any fabric until August. Things needed to finish projects I already have fabric for–thread, patterns, zippers, buttons, etc.–are fair game. Even lining, if I’m getting the lining for a fabric I already own.
I have made it through just over a month, Dear Readers. It is getting harder, though. My favourite local fabric stores post IG pictures of their new offerings, and I have to physically restrain myself from jumping in the car and driving down “just for one or two things.” Oh my god, there’s a black-eyed susan quilting cotton print. There’s a thistle print! If it all sells out before August, I will be heartbroken, even though I have no idea what exactly I would do with a thistle print on quilting cotton.
But I am determined. And I hope that sharing the pledge here will help bolster my willpower. I need to sew up what I already have, Dear Readers: NO NEW FABRIC UNTIL AUGUST!
(Two months to go.)
*Indie patterns can be pretty awesome. For any of my new-to-sewing friends reading this, would a post on them be fun for you? Patterns from the Big Four (Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick and Vogue) are easy to find and can be cheaper if you get them on sale, but if you have a hard time finding patterns you like from them, there is a world of indie options.
I did it. I wore something I made myself every day. OK, often it was pajamas. But I don’t care. That counts.
And I figured out a few things about my me-made wearables that made the month more worthwhile. Like while I have enough handmade work clothing to get me through a workweek with a little RTW support, I don’t have enough lounge-around stuff. There’s no rush–I have a few RTW t-shirts and shorts that have life left in them yet–but at some point, there will be a wardrobe gap to fill. To fill the gaps:
1. I want to make myself some shorts. A light twill might do the trick, or a medium-weight linen. But I only have one pair of work-appropriate shorts.
2. I want to make Frances some capris, per her special request. She does need something to transition between jogging-pants season and shorts season, but finding a pattern she likes–loose capris, like longer shorts, with ribbed waistbands and pockets, in a light cotton–is not easy. I may need to improve my pattern drafting skills to really get what she wants there.
3. Frances loves wearing the knit t-shirts I make her. How gratifying to make up something so easy that she then wears all the time. Huzzah! However, hemming knits remains a challenge. I want to improve at that.
4. Some knit tops for me would not be out of place. My older knit tees are getting stretched out and most are no longer appropriate as work-wear. I have some patterns and some knits, so it’s just a matter of finding the time, as always.
5. For next fall/winter, some more work pants in a heavier fabric. And for spring/summer, some lighter-weight pants. Not-wool. I do have enough RTW pants to last for a while, so I’ll wait.
6. If I really wanted to dress in handmade clothing all the time, I’d need to tackle jeans. My focus so far is either pajamas or work-wear, with little in between. But I’ve had the devil’s own time finding any denim in fabric stores that feels like something I might want to wear. It has all the drape and hand of a ritz cracker.
Of course, if you looked at my sewing stack right now, you’d see none of the above. Right now I’ve got pieces cut out for Frances’s grad dress and a knit dress for me, and I’m gearing up to cut the remaining scraps from Frances’s pretty ombre pink silk dress into a Belcara shirt for me (actual dress has not been harmed in the making of this wardrobe–just the leftovers).
So when are my Me-Made May lessons actually going to happen?
April showers brought May showers, which will likely bring June showers, and lead to a desperate need to mow the lawn and precious few opportunities to do so. And it’s still not that warm here. So I gave in and wore the same handmade pants I’ve worn and shown you twice already. How fun!
Still wet, still cold. Jeans with my Liberty Jasmine shirt.
The positive thing about the repeats is that I feel no selfie-pressure. I’ll wait until I sew up something new, lucky you!
Day 17, 18 & 19
Holiday weekend=homemade pajamas. Also, a new shirt (or wearable muslin, anyway) and a purse-rescue-in-progress, but no pictures.
I am ashamed to say, that I didn’t even try. I was so tired that I just went for whatever was easiest. I did have my leather bag with me, so there is my me-made, but everything I wore was RTW.
Or, the Day Wherein I Redeem Myself
I wore a new shirt! Just made on the weekend, a wearable muslin of cheap polyester of the shirt from Vogue 8963. From the front, a fairly simple woven tee with flutter sleeves and gathers on the neckline, and from the back, a very cool sleeve detail and the lovely hemline created by four back pattern pieces. So fun. It mostly fits, but I’ll do a bit of an FBA for the nice-fabric version.
It was so easy, too. Just about four hours from cutting-out to trying-on. That may sound like a lot–and it’s more than a simpler t-shirt pattern would have been–but in comparison to a button-up with plackets and cuffs, it’s nothing. And it is so much fun to wear, comfortable and flattering and not-at-all-homemadeish.
Though I should note that the shirt is supposed to have a lining and this is important for the finishing of the neckline and armholes. I was able to work around this (I didn’t want to use nice lining material on a cheap wearable muslin) but it does tug a bit at the gathers as a result. But overall it is cute and I can wear it to work. Hurray!
Plans that nice weather would come and I would be able to wear skirts–that I’d made–to work.
And then Frances got sick. And then her stepbrother got very seriously sick, and Frances spent an extra day with me, sick. And making sure I wore my me-mades was maybe no longer quite such a priority–nor did I have as many options. But I did my best.
Work From Home and Run Errands outfit, including the new crochet sweater I finally finished. I won’t repeat my post about it, but here it is, and I wore it.
Frances still sick. Stepbrother still in the hospital. Therefore Frances still with me. Blue Friday: it’s just a wearable muslin of a Jasmine blouse in some inexpensive polyester, but I did make it and it even fit the theme. Go me!
Last day in homemade winter pajamas.
First day in homemade summer pajamas–the pajama pants from Amy Butler’s book, but cut short.
My Moneta! All finished. Yes, Frances was still sick and yes, I was still at home with her–but we had to leave the house anyway for her doctor’s appointment, so I might as well wear something I made. Right?
It’s a lovely rayon-spandex knit (from Fabricland–dirt cheap); so soft and very light and super comfortable to wear. I had maybe not anticipated quite how snug this dress would be, made up. Next Moneta I’ll give myself a bit more space on the top half (ahem) and I don’t see myself wearing this particular dress to work. But finishing and wearing this was part of my Me-Made May 2014 pledge, so hurray!
Is it possible that Frances is still sick? Good god. Yes, but she only coughed up part of one lung instead of all of both, so I’ll take that as progress and make her go to school for the afternoon–and wear my linen-silk sheath dress of doom out of the house for the first time.
Fun fact: on Tuesday, the high was 22C in Hamilton and 17C in Oakville. Who even knew that was possible? So I was comfortably warm when I left home and quite cold when I got to work and it was only 13C. Yikes. But the first thing my boss said when I got in was a compliment on the dress, so there you have it. It is officially a winner, and a soft, comfortable winner at that. With homemade flowers on it.
The Meringue. With the same shirt I wore in that post, and no tights. Figure I should wear the skirts now before it gets cold again. Because you know it’s going to, this year.
And there you have it. Two weeks down, two weeks-and-a-bit to go.
The Creativ[E!] Festival in 2013 was the first time I bought serious garment fabrics. Oh sure, I was a regular at Fabricland (I have a two-year membership, after all) and enjoyed pawing through the mountains of poly to find the occasional linen or wool. I’d go hunting for cute prints on Queen West and in various online fabric shops. But I didn’t really know what I was missing.
The Wool House and Sultan’s Fine Fabrics both had booths, and while I had passed them up in previous years because their fabrics weren’t eye-catching from a distance, that time I found myself spending 30, 45 minutes fingering a bolt of alpaca or ooohing and aaahing over a lovely soft shirting fabric. It was hard to restrain myself. And in fact, I didn’t. Or only in the broadest theoretical sense, in that I didn’t bring home a few metres of absolutely everything.
I did bring home a few metres of a nice light italian wool, two beautiful and dirt-cheap wool-silk ends, 1.5 metres of outrageously expensive flannel-weight alpaca, and two metres of a gorgeous linen-silk. Light creamy yellow, somewhere between ivory and sunshine, tending to ivory, with a very subtle twill weave giving a slight chevron effect close up. All the softness and sheen of silk with the stiffness and body of linen. It would have to be something special. A sheath dress, I thought; the body would hold a nice shape and the weight and fibres would be perfect for summer. There being no rush to make such a dress in October, it basically sat (together with the bemberg rayon lining I got to go with it) waiting for Spring.
We waited for Spring for a long time in these parts, but I wanted the dress to be ready for the first really nice day so it came off the top of the Someday Shelf. And the Built By Wendy Dresses book and the included sheath dress pattern came off the bookshelf along with it. I mean, why buy a new sheath dress pattern when you’ve already got one you’ll never use? Right?
(Slick segue to book review here)
I was not about to cut into my beautiful and irreplaceable linen-silk without making a muslin first, so I cut out the pattern from some leftover heavy-weight polyester. As it turns out it wasn’t the best choice: while the poly fabric was about the right weight it draped very differently and as a result, this was not really a good test of the linen-silk fit. The poly test muslin, by the way, is going to be finished into a winter version–in the fall.
There were a number of problems with the poly and linen-silk versions:
1. The raglan sleeves don’t fit at all. This is a deficiency noted by other reviewers, and I wish I’d read those reviews before committing to this pattern. There were several inches of excess fabric at the front neck, and just around the shoulder seam both front and back. This was after I’d taken down this seam to a small based on the muslin fit–and I’m not small! I’m 5’8″ and my shoulders are not narrow. So I took out about two inches from either side of the front neck piece and resewed it. My raglan sleeves now have a bit of a bend but the front of the garment lies flat. It still isn’t perfect and the front and back shoulder seams are still looser than I’d like, but I worried that if I made this any smaller, I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms.
2. There was no back shaping. Others have also noted this, and added back darts. I decided to just shape the centre back seam, taking it in by about an inch on either side at the waist and tapering up to the shoulder and down to the hips. This worked fine.
3. Even grading up to a large at the bust was not large enough. I had to let out the darts, lowering the dart point by 1-2″ on either side to give myself more space.
4. The waist was a bit too baggy, so I brought it in at either side by about 1/4-1/2″.
5. And the skirt pattern, for some ungodly reason known to perhaps no one, was a-line. What kind of sheath dress pattern has an a-line skirt? Ideally, your hem will be pegged a bit, narrower at the bottom than at the hips by 1-2″, to make that lovely flattering hour-glass shape. So I altered this as well.
6. The back of the neck is about 2″ too high.
This is an awful lot of altering for one sheath dress pattern, and some of it just seems sloppy. There’s no excuse for the poor fit of the raglan sleeves nor for the weirdly baggy shape of the skirt. It’s called a sheath dress because it’s supposed to fit like a sheath.
It was my first effort with an invisible zipper, though, and I do have to say that this part worked out very well. I made an invisible zipper! It’s invisible! And it zips! Properly! This has nothing to do with the book, by the way, which contains as its entire instructions on this step, “Install zipper.” If you’ve never installed a zipper before, good luck to you.
Other notes on the book:
The general sewing and dress information in the front of the book is decent, but not targeted to beginning sewists. The patterns do not have seam allowances included–you have to add them before cutting. No information on seam finishing is included, so a good basic knowledge of garment construction will be required to know when and how to do this. The dresses are unlined; for the sheath dress, I needed to add a lining (and I am tired of it in advance). The ideas for altering the basic patterns to make different kinds of dresses are interesting and a good spark to creativity, but it’s unlikely that any of the ideas included in the book will be perfect as-is, especially since the book is now a little dated (and so is its fashion sense). However, once you get an actual dress pattern fitted properly, it’s likely that you could alter it in any number of ways to make different kinds of dresses.
Also, there are no photos of the finished garments, and the drawings included seem a little suspect. It would have been nice to have photographs to see how the actual finished garments look, rather than someone’s artistic conception of it.
(insert nice transition back to dress post here)
All of my alterations and markings on the pattern worked fairly well, and the lining was much easier to put together and fit. So hurray. But before I put the lining in, I wanted to add a little something. I love embroidery and I love clothing with little embellishments and details, and I’m always wishing I had the time to make some of those little (but greatly time-consuming) additions. Well, if a linen-silk sheath dress isn’t reason enough, what is? So I took my stack of torn-out magazine pages and decided on some fabric flowers a la Dolce and Gabbana (sort of), only without the background painting, since I can’t paint, and not as all-over. Vogue Patterns had instructions on how to make your own fabric flowers, so… Some of them I made from leftover linen-silk, lightly painted with lilac acrylic paint; the others I made from cochineal-dyed wool from a natural dyeing class I took last fall. I used fray-stop on the edges, gathered and beaded them, and the linen-silk ones were also embroidered to help them stand out against the dress. I played around with the placement a bit with safety pins and tacked them on between the dress and the lining. It took a while, but I think it was worth it, and if I ever get tired of the flowers I can cut them off.
I guess this is where it comes in handy to have a mountain of craft supplies in the house. If you are ever struck with the wish to embellish a dress with handmade beaded flowers, you can! Without leaving the house.
Fun fact: It took about eight hours to cut, paint, stitch, embellish and tack on the seven flowers I have on my sheath dress. If I were to sell this, at minimum wage and without counting materials, that would be at least $80 in addition to whatever the dress itself would cost. Let’s pretend that I didn’t take a full day first figuring out the cut of the pattern, and just count the second day of putting together the shell–and then another day of putting together the lining and attaching it to the dress. So twenty-four hours altogether=$240 + materials = $300 at least and that’s if I’m paying myself minimum wage.
A) I am wearing a dress I could never afford to buy in a store.
B) If you’re wondering why high-fashion dresses cost $1000, there you go. This would be a forty hour dress, with the background painting and all the flowers, at least, and those folks aren’t making minimum wage (nor should they). Forty hours at, say, $30/hour = $1200, plus materials. See?
Here is the finished product, and it is finally warm enough in these parts to even wear it. Yay! The rayon lining makes it so soft and comfortable to wear, and the purple/pink of the flowers highlights the yellow in the linen-silk. I love it.
I will never again make a sheath dress with raglan sleeves, but this dress is a reminder to me to slow down on the finishing side and take the time to add those little details. It’s part of what makes sewing your own clothes so worthwhile.