Two Seasonally-Inappropriate Dresses
It's now November, so this post feels more than a little seasonally inappropriate; like eating pumpkin soup in June. But it feels better to record the taste of the pumpkin soup at the wrong time of year, than to never record it at all. Or something like that.
At the start of the summer, I fell in love with an electric blue dress in Oliver Bonas, above, but it was oddly bulgy under my arms where the curve of the inset panel had been joined, so I decided to try and make something similar myself. I haven't made many fit and flare dresses and for some reason (which now eludes me), I didn't feel like drafting the pattern myself, so I did quite a lot of research trying to find something that exactly resembled the shop's dress, which has darts perpendicular to the princess seam lines as a really lovely design feature (you can only just see it above). I couldn't find anything quite right, so eventually I compromised with princess-seamed Dress No. 9 from the Japanese sewing pattern book by Machiko Kayaki, called Pindot, Coindot, Polkadot. It's quite a few years since I've used a Japanese pattern book and I didn't especially enjoy the experience of returning to trace out a pattern from a spaghetti junction of overlayed pieces, but once it was cut, I was really happy as my bodice toile seemed like it was a perfect fit with no changes (you'll find that by the end of the post I've decided this wasn't entirely the case).
I used the No. 9 skirt pattern, but altered the pleats to replicate those on the Oliver Bonas dress, but I didn't think to go the whole hog, so my skirt is far fuller and my neckline lower. I took these photos in a rush when I was about to go out in the dress for the evening in the middle of a heat-wave that now seems a very distant memory. Unfortunately, because these photos were taken in a rush, there's not really a great photo of how this looks at a distance, apart from this curious, slightly blurred, photo where I look like I'm...well goodness knows what I'm actually doing, but I think I look like a footballer who's about to spit on the floor. I do frequently try on different personalities in my head - Sarah Lund from The Killing while doing the supermarket shopping wearing something similar to her trademark Faroese jumper; Bobbie from the The Railway Children welcoming her father home on a misty station platform while wearing a winter beret (although my friend, Ben, broke it to me that it has more of a Bob Marley vibe than a Bobbie Waterbury one to it. Damn him.), however, I'm absolutely sure that spitty footballer isn't a persona that I recall experimenting with. Apologies.
Anyway, moving on, let's talk construction. This pattern being written in Japanese and the pictures not overly helpful on this occasion (which is rare for a Japanese pattern - they're normally incredibly transparent), I went my own way. I hadn't sewn princess seams since a few summers ago and it seemed that I had left any knowledge I'd gathered firmly in the past. I made four bodices before I was completely happy with my curved seams (although only three are shown here).
I think it's going to need some bullet points to define the mistakes I made with each bodice!
- On the first bodice, I used french seams (this version isn't pictured, but it looked completely normal). Unless the fabric is incredibly fine, this probably isn't the most sensible move. The seams were actually perfectly smooth on the outside, but just felt 'wrong' when I tried the bodice on and I knew it would bother me.
- For bodice number 2, I sewed the curves with the regular 5/8" seam allowance and clipped the curves...but I think asking the two curves to fit together with that big a seam allowance was too much and the tiny creases that formed with the strain of doing this were irksome (photo above, bottom left) and having set the initial creases into place with an iron, they couldn't be ironed out later once I'd trimmed back the seam allowance sufficiently.
- Weary, but not defeated, for bodice number 3, I trimmed the seams down to 3/8" before joining them. This worked perfectly. But the well-behaved iron was downstairs where my husband was asleep (I think I was past midnight by then), so I took the dysfunctional iron prone to overheating tantrums out of the bin in my sewing room (why? why? why? Why did I keep refusing to believe the iron was actually faulty?) and thought to myself: if I put this on the silk setting, it will surely be fine. But the thermostat was definitely broken. In just a few short presses it had made the fabric shiny and unwearable and puckered it horribly too (above, bottom right). At which point I went to bed.
- Finally, success. The next day, I remade the bodice with 3/8" seams, clipped well at the curve, and pressed with a functional iron and all was well with the world (above, top photo).
I'm really pleased I spent so long over that stage though as I found it was a good brain-refreshing experience both in sewing techniques and my own stupidity. I'd focused on quilting more than dressmaking in the year before and some things seemed to have fallen out of my head, especially in combination with using a 5/8" seam, instead of a quilter's 1/4" seam allowance. The photo below makes the bodice look a little odd and sadly I didn't look at the photos before I left the house so that I could take another one while standing nicely. Additionally, it's amazing what you can sometimes see in a photo that you can't see when standing in front of a mirror, but on seeing it later, I decided I could have done with shortening the bodice a little as well as standing properly.
Moving on, I made the dress again and did the skirt COMPLETELY differently! Less flare, different styling on the pleats, a shorter bodice and a few other nit-picky things. This time in a Nani Iro double gauze that I've had sitting in my fabric drawers for about two years and which is possibly one of my favourite prints ever. Here it is mid-construction, above. I hadn't yet cut the skirt out and I took at least an hour deciding whether to continue the profusion of flowers down the centre of the dress or whether to just cut the skirt with a more random pattern placement on the lower half. Even months later I am still kicking myself over my decision to continue with intense flower placement, because it was the wrong decision. A horribly wrong decision. And it completely ruins the dress for me, because from a distance, it looks slightly like someone has thrown a can of paint at the dress.
At that point, I was two dresses down: one that I wished had a less full skirt and a shorter bodice; the other that looked slightly more paint-splattered than I'd like. Both with a bodice which I could finally see could have been fitted far better (isn't it odd how you often don't see something at all at first and then the moment you notice it you find it intolerably obvious?). As the summer was drawing to a close, I made a third and final version from Robert Kaufman's denim chambray, with a much-adjusted pattern piece for the bodice. That dress had no problems with either paint attacks or gaping bodices, but sadly, I didn't get a photo of it and the idea of wearing anything less than a thermal bodysuit until next June isn't an appealing one. It's one thing to write seasonally inappropriate blog posts in November, quite another to actually take photos for one. So that post will probably have to wait for another year.
In other matters dressmaking related, over on Instagram I'm taking part in @BimbleandPimple's 'Sewing Photo a Day' challenge, which carries the hashtag of #BPsewvember. Amanda has given a theme for each day and anyone taking part just posts a photo based on that theme and hashtags it so that other Sewvemberists can see it. It's a really wonderful way of discovering other dressmakers and seeing some inspirational finishes, but mostly getting to know others in little bite-sized snippets each day. Often stopping to think about the way you do a particular thing can be thought-provoking, so I'm enjoying taking part, even though I'm not always remembering to take a photo for each day while it's still light, so have missed a few. Also, some of the topics make me think more of quilt-making than dressmaking when it comes to my own sewing, so it won't be entirely dressmaking-related for me. Although it's now the 8th, I don't think it's too late to start taking part!
Finally, two questions: is it possible that in one year I could have fallen victim of not one, but two appliances with faulty thermostats? If a new washing machine felts a jumper where the label said it could be washed at 30 degrees and which was definitely set to wash at 30 degrees (I know that because I actually double-checked it at the time), is it more likely that the fibres reacted oddly or that there's a fault with the washing machine's thermostat? I've never felted a jumper that I washed at the right temperature before, so I'm interested to know if impromptu felting can be a freak thing? The composition is 33% viscose, 23% nylon, 20% lambswool, 20% cotton, 4% cashmere (so there's really a bit of everything in there!). It's now small enough to fit a teddy bear.
My second question : does anyone petite/knowledgeable in these matters, have a recommendation for really good 40 or 60 denier tights? Marks & Spencer's 'extra small' seem longer than ever before and result in horribly wrinkly ankles. Although they're hidden by winter boots, it would feel far nicer to have less ankle-wrinkle accompanying me around the house indoors. While last year, I wore nothing but skinny jeans for the entire winter, this year I'm favouring skirts and dresses even for dog walks and the lack of well-fitting tights to go with them is a low-level frustration that it would feel nice to have a solution to.