Sunday, 8 November 2015

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. 


The fabric is the organic cotton sateen that I mentioned in my Summer 2015: Fabrics for Dressmaking post, but instead of the navy blue, this is the, now discontinued, airforce blue colour. There are two sides, almost identical, but one with slightly more sheen. As I wanted to wear this dress as a sundress, I chose to use the completely matt side. I wish they still had the fabric in this colour - it's lovely.


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.


You can see how much nicer it looks from the back (below), where I had cut the pattern completely randomly.


In a slightly gloomy attempt to see 'what could have been', I tried the dress on back-to-front. It was a vast improvement, not only with the print placement, but also with the realisation that the princess seams on the back panel (which are far gentler having been drafted to accommodate shoulder blades), were a much better fit across my chest. If only I hadn't been left with strange ghost breasts on my back, wearing it back-to-front would have been a perfect solution!

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.

Florence x

17 comments:

  1. I've found in the past that the combination of cashmere and viscose results in washing disaster. I do not know why this is but on two separate garments I had a similar experience to yours and these were the same component parts.

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  2. As a woman of extended years I've found I only like wearing two brands of tights one is easily available in the states-not much use to you-which is Hanes great fit for short people. I do order them on line and have them sent to my sister who dutifully sends them on. Readily available here are Falke. Yes indeed they are expensive. But I wash them by machine in mesh bag and unless there is a real disaster they last for a dozen or more wearings. I used to wear M&S but now they've changed and pinch around the waist which is I expect as bad as bagging at the ankles. Truly enjoy your blog. Could you not gently seam out the phantom breasts and wear it reversed? Just wondering.

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    1. Yes, I too have noticed the pinchy waistbands with bagginess everywhere else. However, further down in the comments, someone has recommended M&S Autograph Velvet tights and having now worn them, I can attest to them being perfect in every way! Thank you so much for your comment. x

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  3. Would it be possible to detach the skirt from the bodice on the can of paint address and twizzle it round a bit different? My thoughts on the felted jumper would be to check how fast your washing machine was spinning, felting is the combination of heat and movement so it could just have been being too vigorous!

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  4. "(I think I was past midnight by then)"

    My mum knitted a lot, often in the evenings, and she would always say that she started to make mistakes when she got tired.

    I recently put a new merino wool/silk
    long sleeved top in the washing machine on the wrong cycle but at the right temperature - minimum cycle instead of wool - and shrank it. Might you have made the same mistake i.e. right temperature,wrong cycle? I was gutted, as I rarely buy garments that cost this much, but merino undergarments are fantastic in the winter for me. I can just about get it on but it is skin tight and the sleeves are not much more than elbow length. Putting a positive spin on your felting experience, could you now have a wonderfully creative time giving a teddy a beautiful outfit??!!

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    1. I think you may have it! Although it was definitely 30 degrees, I've realised it may well have been a cotton cycle, rather than wool and perhaps the extra agitation did it. Thank you so much for explaining it - I will wash more wisely in future! x

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  5. As a trial I've just ordered these http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00GF18ZSW/ref=pe_385721_37986871_TE_item as I've got the same problem as you - I'm 5 ft tall and don't like Norah Batty ankles - don't know what they'll be like. but they're cheap enough that I'm not too worried if they're still too long

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  6. Love the dresses, always nice to remember the brief summer while listening to the rain lashing down outside! You could try primark tights, they are cheap enough to experiment with sizes and I really like them. I got fed up a paying a fortune and shredding them on their first outing. As to shrinking things, I only have to show them the washing machine and they reduce in size by half! Except one of my husbands jumpers that I am thinking of lending to my brother next time he goes wild camping, it will save taking a tent 😊

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  7. I have solved the tights problem for myself - mind, this only works if you're wearing boots. Instead of wearing actual tights, wear leggings/footless tights and socks. I also find this makes my feet far less smelly. When it's really cold I switch up cotton socks for handknitted wool socks.

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  8. I have a different problem with tights. I am size 8 and 5 foot 4 and 3/4 and have relatively long legs for my height but am not a giant. Anything other than large size is too small! That should not be the case as the packets always show that I should be in medium size as should my taller daughter. We end up in tights that go up to our arm pits in order to not have our toes fall off because of too tight tights.

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  9. Whoa! that´s a long series of mishaps, Florence. I love the fit on the first dress. And that second dress to me doesn´t look at all like a splash of paint...though I understand you might not like the result. Onto your question regarding tights...I am 5.3 and own several Calzedonia tights http://uk.calzedonia.com/home.jsp No wrinkles at my ankles. Pompea is another favorite brand of mine but I am not sure they are as widely available in the UK.

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  10. Would it be possible to unpick the Nani Iro skirt and re-attach it back-to-front? I'm amazed that your jumper felted at all with only 20% wool, but bear in mind that it's not just heat that contributes to felting - sudden changes in temp (i.e. a warm wash and then very cold rinse) but also abrasion/agitation (e.g. washing with something rougher like a big towel or jeans) and detergent could all be to blame. Tights - I love these http://www.naturalcollection.com/shop/organic-cotton-plain-tights-by-natural-collection-1/ and I find the smallest size annoyingly short, so maybe you'd love them! (I'm just over 5'5" but mostly legs.) They're nice and smooth and fine so not overly school-girlish. Expensive but last for ages. x

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    1. I love that you say you are mostly legs as it gives wonderful visions of a tiny-Nina-head-and-body stuck on top (although I do know exactly what you mean as my daughter is also mostly legs and it's a very fine way to be!). Thank you so much for the recommendation.

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  11. I've definitely seen those little darts off princess seams on vintage patterns, but rarely on modern patterns. I agree with the other ladies- can you do a cheeky twist of the Nani iro skirt? And no help on tights - X tall and in Australia!

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  12. I think I have the answer to your tights question. I'm also petite (5ft2) and I wear M&S tights, but I do find there can be as much as 12 inches difference between their different varieties. I always take them out of the packaging and hold them up against myself - the ones that are 4 - 6 inches longer than my leg length generally fit perfectly. From memory, I think it's the Autograph Velvet I buy (around £8 a pair :-( ) but don't quote me on that! (Ripleygirl)

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    1. I can't thank you enough, Ripleygirl. I happened to be near an M&S about an hour after reading your comment and when I went over to a friend's house for dinner last night, my ankles were blissfully wrinkle-free! Thank you so much. x

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  13. Even though its not appropriate for this season, I still I find it stunning, I love them, specially the first dress, its simplicity made it stands out more at all.

    Dressmaking Fabrics

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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