Honey, you look like a blancmange...

Yes, this is the shocked face of the recipient of that comment...tired and exhausted by the hours spent making the blancmange. Where to start?

It was with utter optimism that I bought Simplicity pattern 2922. After my last post I had that awful feeling that, yes, I'd designed and made myself a dress that I loved, but I still hadn't conquered my pattern phobia and what if by following a pattern I could learn a whole host of things that would take me years of trial and error to learn by myself? I decided that it was time to revisit those whisper thin sheets of tissue paper that had scared me so much last time I'd opened a pattern packet a couple of years. The first thing that delighted me was to find that Simplicity do really small sizes - this is something that limits what I can buy horribly when buying dresses from shops - they hit my waist in all the wrong places because of being so short, the bust area tends to provide room for me and a couple of friends and they are generally just too big. The lady in the pattern shop told me that she tends to go up a size when she uses Simplicity patterns and that they are very small-cut...mmm...this was my first error. I'm usually a UK 6, so ignoring my measurements (which told me I was 4 on all but the hips, where I should have blended up a size) I decided to be on the safe side and make a size 8....yes, that's a whole 2 dress sizes bigger than I should have done. When Ian walked in he looked a little pained before telling me that: yes, it really was all horribly wrong and that I looked like a denim coloured blancmange (his own description). It's a new, but not necessarily attractive look.

It was meant to look like this (yes, I optimistically thought I might end up with her legs too...but just the dress would have been a bonus). But actually I don't think even in the right size this dress would have ever been right. The cut was odd and with the gathers above the bust creating extra volume further down, the dress was crying out to be an a-line cut...it just seemed impossible that it could be anything other...but it was and from the side it meant that the dress ballooned with extra volume over the bust, stomach and bottom and then went in around the thighs (it doesn't look like it would do this from the front...but really, it did from the side). When a friend popped round she instantly said: well perhaps that's why the model has her hand in her pocket, because she actually needs to pull it out and down to disguise the boofy amount of material over her stomach...exactly.

This dress had so many really adorable details in it...most of which had to be removed to try and salvage the situation. The gorgeous gathers hung from the arch line across the back.

It had sets of gathers above the bust, that again, hung from an a really beautifully shaped arch (no it doesn't look so bad in this photo...but it was, just scroll to the top to be reminded...it looked even worse from the side - unfortunately Mr Teacakes didn't take any pictures of that angle before I attacked it with a seam ripper).

It has really sweet pleats at the sleeves....so many things to love, but these pleats and a plain, ungathered arch were the only things that were able to stay and actually I think the puffy sleeves and yoke are still too big as I left the sizing of these things unaltered...there's a little too much material around the neck still. So below is the final dress with the ungathered yokes.

Here's the dress with several inches removed from just about every seam, which was a troublesome as it meant that I had to completely redo the pockets every time I altered it (which was about five times). I thought about keeping it this length and saving it for summer, but really I wanted to wear it in winter with thick tights, which wouldn't have worked for me at this length.

So here it is with several inches lopped off the hem. You can see what I mean about the sleeves still being a bit too puffy here. They worked in the context of the gathers that originally went with them, but now that the rest of the dress is so minimal I think that they look a little flouncy and big and they make me feel a bit manly. I wore the dress out to lunch with Mr Teacakes today...so it's not so bad that I feel the need to run away from it...but it's not quite what I was hoping for either. And I miss those completely lovely details of the original dress.

So enough of the numerous and tedious alterations and on to how I found the actual pattern. I've since googled it to find out whether other people found it similarly disastrous and I found here that Amy of Angry Chicken had found it a challenging pattern too and so perhaps it wasn't the best one for me to start with.

Here's what I loved:
  • I thought that the detailing was divine - I would have been utterly delighted by it all, had it hung in the right way on me.
  • It was so nice (the idea at least, it didn't work out that way in reality) that someone else had done all the hard work of drafting the pattern.
  • Once I understood how to use the pattern pieces and how you can blend between sizes I thought it was ingenious.
  • The notches that you cut to use as markers to align two pieces of material were a complete revelation (I normally draw lines on, but the notches work so much better and are obvious from both sides).
  • I thought that the sleeve that grew out of the yoke was the most wonderful idea and one that I will incorporate into my own dress designs in the future.
  • I was left with utter admiration for the people who are able to put together a dress pattern that will fit so many different sizes and even allow for you to shorten the waist easily if you are petite like me.
  • Those pockets! They are completely adorable, so easy to do once you know how and I love them to bits. I did think on my fifth time of resewing the side seams and altering the pockets to be in line with the seam AGAIN that perhaps I should just leave them off - I'm soooooo glad that I didn't.

    Here's what I liked less:
  • Using a pattern made me sew in a less intuitive way. The instructions told you to apply interfacing to the neck and sleeve bands...if I'd have been thinking for myself I would have known that the denim was heavy enough all ready and doing this has left these areas feeling too weighty.
  • I thought that the instructions were really unclear in places...so many strokey beard moments when actually what they were intending you to do was quite simple...just not very clearly communicated.
  • The whole balloon on the bottom thing...this was the only part of the dress that I thought was badly designed...the rest was completely dreamy and would have been perfect if I'd have chosen my size more carefully.
  • The finishing in general seemed to be sloppy - I don't feel proud of this dress on the inside and I thought lots of opportunities for achieving a more perfect finish on the inside were completely missed. A lot of the time they were instructing you to do things in a way that felt a bit like bodging it...but I'll know that for next time and will plan ahead around this as they do suggest that you can bind seams etc in the more general instructions separate from the actual pattern.
  • It said that denim was a suitable material for the dress, but by the time I'd applied the interfacing and accomodated double layers of material in the neck band, it was too bulky to allow for a zip to be installed nicely and so it's an over-the-head dress...which is fine, but again, makes it feel poorly finished as I would have sewn it different at the start if it wasn't to have an opening at the back.

Will I use a shop bought pattern again? Hmmm. I'm intrigued to know how it would fit if I used the right size, so I'm tempted. However, some very interesting books arrived from Amazon today that may just send me in the opposite direction all together...I shall blog about them in my next post once I've taken some photos of them (as well as showing you my sister's dress that I made her for Christmas that I meant to show you such a long time ago...the problem is that every time I talk about dresses I want to make another one...it's a vicious circle. I feel like I may never want to do anything else again.v

For those of you similarly bitten and smitten, I've just set up a Flickr group called Experiments in Dressmaking - I would love it if you wanted to join and add your own photos - triumphs & traumas.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,

Florence x


  1. Well I didn't think you looked like a blancmange and I thought the top of the dress in the proper size would probably be very nice. I do like the altered version though. And now you have me wanting to run off to the nearest pattern shop and start sewing dresses again!! You are always an inspiration Florence!

  2. Florence you did a sterling job! You always have such persistence and by re-sewing many times you've achieved a good result. I always use store bought patterns because I don't have the wonderful pattern drafting skills you possess. I often make a muslin in calico first though so that I can get the sizing and fit right before chopping into my fabric.

  3. frankly dear Florence you would look gorgeous in a bin bag!
    i actually have not used shop patterns since school... and can create my own though i am so very, very rusty! but i do see the benefit of using patterns for learning new techniques(and have been tempted myself recently). the bought patterns are all so standard though and women are all so individual, so learning to adapt them to you size would be the best idea. there is a book called 'The Perfect Fit' which can help you create personalized 'blocks' of your shape, though you would need a friend to help you create one as it is near on impossible to drape and fit a toile on oneself(believe me i have tried). i have recruited a sewing pal and fellow blogger janet (clare) and we are hoping to help each other create personalized blocks so it will be easier for each of us to make clothes for ourselves in the future.
    i am also so impressed with how you persevere, and will check out your flickr group.
    wishing you a lovely weekend x

  4. The good news is that you definitely can use a pattern and follow the instructions. The bad is that sometimes what you end up with is not as hoped for! Sometimes pictures are just not properly representative and you have to trust that the cut is going to be OK when it isn't. Sizing can be a problem - how to choose which is right for you, as I find measurement taking an inexact science. Saw a book yesterday about making pattens by draping - sounding good except it seems you can only do this over other people not yourself; maybe using a dummy would work? The author did say how hard it could all be, and when she mentioned the very tricky sums involved in traditional methods I knew I was right not to try and go there. Reading other comments, I believe it is the same book mentioned by Ginny. I think you did a great job rescuing the dress and you could re-make it to a similar design using your insight after the event and by improvising the dodgy design parts while incorporating the bits you want. I think you have taken a very fearless approach to it all, jumping straight in and are doing really well and you definitely learn by doing and working things through yourself, so it's all good really! I just think its all shrouded in mystery and we aren't supposed to know - but how did they do it before commercial patterns! There has to be an easier way but what? (There is a skirt book I want about designing basic skirt shapes, which looks good - although depends on measurements.) Definitely not a blancmange though - they wobble! Oh, and you could never look manly either.

  5. Such a great post Florence. I so admire you for not binning it and sulking bitterly about the waste of money, time, etc like I probably would have. Also love the list of goods and bads as that helps the rest of us I have used shop patterns many times and I think you get to know how they work (eventually ) and can see ahead which bits you may change as you work. You are already so much further on than you think - just look at what you have learned already from this one pattern. I make my own up and alter bits on ones I use, but it is lovely sometimes to have the bulk of the work done for you. I think a tailor's dummy would help too, though they are never perfect. It just makes life easier to have the garment hanging in a roughly dress form when working things out. Of course, my poor girl has stood in the corner of the room with nothing but a Father Christmas hat adorning her; fetching, but not quite what I intended! xx

  6. Well done Florence. I would have chucked the whole thing after the third alteration. I haven't made myself anything from a pattern in years, just because I can't get anything to fit right. I wasn't sure if it was just me, but it seems that pattern directions are much more vague/complicated than they used to be.
    Take care!

  7. I'm so impressed by your perseverence. I've used patterns on and off for more years than I care to admit so for what it's worth here's my take on them: It's worth trying patterns by different makers - I never find anything by Simplicity fits me first time but I have more luck with Butterick. It's probably not worth listening to the lady in the shop for that reason. Similarly, treat the picture or illustration with some suspicion (the best ones just show a photo of the garment not someone wearing it, I find). Making up a calico version or using a dress form works - if you've time or you've got a dress form, but getting someone to help you take really accurate measurements, especially where you know you often don't get a good fit in readymade clothes, can be a real help as it a) allows you to use those lines on the pattern for shortening or lenghtening, and b) just measuring the width of the tissue pieces with the darts pinned together can also give some idea if they're going to be enormous or skimpy. Read the instructions through and ignore anything you think you can do better your own way, like putting in zips or facings.
    I really like the way one can blend between sizes - and mix and match between patterns and details, too. Hope that sounds helpful and not too know-it-all, I could fill several blog entries with my blunders, even now!

  8. I have steered clear of the big 4 since I haven't made a single garment from any of their patterns that hasn't looked like a sack of one variation or another - not sure if that's me or them, but I've enjoyed patterns from the smaller companies much more. Can't believe you altered it so many times - such patience! But really, it ended up looking very nice indeed x

  9. I agree the details of the dress were just adorable, but I thought you did a good job in fixing it. The dress is still cute. I am amazed at your dedication to making your work just perfect. I am that way with baking and am trying to find that same drive in sewing as well.

  10. That's incredibly patient; I have forsaken dressmaking from commercial patterns because I can't find things I like that don't look like bin liners, and I'm never ever satisfied with the results... but I do like the patterns from Hot Patterns, they strongly recommend you make a muslin of everything before cutting into your expensive fabric. Also, the Readers Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing has been my bible when I've been interested in things like Hong Kong seams & when to interface & when not to - it's worth investing in as a reference book...

  11. modified dress is fab, well done.
    I have just discovered your blog, its great,

  12. Well, for one, I'm not sure what a blancmange is, but it doesn't sound too complimentary...I have pattern phobia myself, and congratulate you for conquering yours and persevering through the many edits. I think the final result looks great!

  13. husbands say the nicest of things to their wives don't they! (i sympathise, my husband told me i looked like a walking compost bin in my new winter coat). i hope he got a kick in the shin for that comment. i didn't think it looked that bad in it's first incarnation, but am very impressed on your alterations. my attempts to size things down usually involve a hot wash in the hope it shrinks!

  14. You did a great job on your dress. I made that same pattern in a lightweight denim this summer. I found the pattern challenging too and am less than thrilled with the finished garment.

    I love the pockets, but without my hands in the pockets, it looks like a maternity dress. I have a wide belt that I wear with it, otherwise I think people would ask me when the baby is due! I keep thinking that maybe some darts would help, but I'm not sure it can be saved.

  15. You did a great job fixing it! You might want to try the Simplicity line "Amazing Fit." They're all basic foundation pieces, but you check and customize the fit to your body. They also include a lot of couture techniques, which I think you'd be interested in.

  16. Just to let you know, I don't know what that woman at the store was talking about?! It's more of a habit for that company to draft the patterns with TOO MUCH ease. Please try commercial patterns again, buy them according to your measurements and check the finished garment measurements that are listed on the pattern tissue (should be on the envelopes if I had anything to do with it!) and adjust from there. It turned out really cute though.

  17. I'm so glad I found this post! I made this dress last summer and had all the same problems - I just assumed it was my fault! It is currently in my sewing corner under a pile of fabric - maybe I will hunt it out and try to salvage it!
    Nicky x


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