Inspired by the sudden arrival of summer and Melly Sews‘ 30 Day of Sundresses, I’ve been making summer dresses. I’m trying to find that perfect dress pattern, you know the one – a free pattern, easy to sew, looks good in every fabric, light enough for 35 degrees, extremely comfortable but I can still wear to work. Have you found that pattern? I’m still trying, but getting closer…
Last month I made the Shirtwaist Dress from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing. Having read some interesting reviews online, I wasn’t expecting a problems-free pattern, but it was still disappointingly poorly done. I’m glad I got this book as a gift, because if I had paid my own money for it I would have been angry. As a book about retro fashion and general sewing tips, it’s amazing; her background knowledge is deep and she explains things in a simple, friendly way. But as a pattern book it falls short. Here’s some of the problems I had (and how I dealt with them, in case anyone else needs help!):
1. Are seam allowances included?? I searched the whole book and pattern sheets and couldn’t find out if they were, but several other bloggers assured me they were, and they were right (I think; see #3).
2. The skirt pleats. Either you press them out toward the sides, as they are in the picture and as indicated on the pattern. But then they don’t line up with the bodice dart. Or you press them in towards the center, as shown in the drawing, but this is clearly the opposite of what the pattern says and the picture shows. The darts/pleats in this book are my biggest pet peeve – although she points out the importance of matching bodice darts/pleats with those on the skirt (there’s a whole separate mini-article about it!), few of hers do match. And no matter which way you press them, the skirt is still over an inch longer than the bodice. I ended up just redrafting them myself, adding in the extra fabric.
3. The shoulder seams were one place where I really doubted the seam allowance. They just aren’t the same length.
It turned out not to matter, because the whole shoulder was way too wide. You can see in the below picture how far off my actual shoulder the seam is. I’m cracking up because the sleeve is SO PUFFY. I think having smoother (less boxy) shoulders and using a fabric with a better drape would have lessened these problems, but since I had already cut my fabric and I can’t change my linebacker shoulders, I cut the whole shoulder in and went with a sleeveless version.
4. The pockets are too low, as pretty much every other pattern reviewer mentioned. Their shape would indicate that they’re supposed to be sewn into the waist seam anyway.
5. The facing of the collar and buttonholes is two pieces seamed at the waist. This would be useful if you were making a dress with different color top and bottom, but otherwise it’s just unnecessary bulk at the waist. Cut it as one piece, or move this join a few inches up or down.
6. Collar problems. First, the collar is quite far back. I though this was my problem, but in pictures of the original dress you can see that the point of the collar is about even with the shoulder seam. Maybe this is just a real vintage detail?
Also, I had real problems getting the lapels to sit nicely. I ended up pressing the life out of them and securing them with some hidden stitching. Maybe all my fiddling with the shoulder seams pulled something out of alignment? Or my fabric was too stiff?
7. The gathering at the back waist was too much; it was pulling the buttons open at the front. I reduced it to about a third of what the pattern says (so, just a few inches in the back instead of nearly the whole back) and it was great.
Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play? I actually really like this pattern (now that I’m finished, that’s easier to say) and will probably make it again.
I keep seeing the “free” Danielle Dress pattern recommended everywhere and it always looks great. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a free pattern. So I drafted my own. It was easy: I took a bodice that fits well and modified the neckline to be deeper and squarer, and then cropped it under the bust. I added a band of fabric that was the same length as my under bust chest measurement, and then added a big rectangle of fabric for the skirt. The only fiddly thing was matching the bodice and skirt darts.
The fabric is a bit heavy for a summer dress, especially as the bodice is fully lined, not to mention the color really looks like a paper bag. In hindsight I would have made the skirt rectangle a great deal narrower – in fact, I would have made it my hip circumference plus one inch. I think I’ll try another version with slight gathering replacing the darts, although that might push a bit into maternity-wear territory…
The Brigitte Dress. I should have known by now that when I think a project will be simple and quick, it never is. I had three major problems, one due to the pattern and two of my own making. First, the bust darts on the pattern are way too large and way too high (it’s not just me; you can see how high they are even on the cover model!). Because the pattern tells you to cut them out, it’s not an easy matter of unsewing them and lowering them. I ended up turning them into a yoke-like detail arching over the top front.
I had some problems with the plaid. Even when I got everything to match, even to match across the invisible zipper, the top-stitching pulled it out of alignment 😦
And speaking of that invisible zipper… After finally getting it installed, I went and accidentally pulled the end off. So I ripped the whole thing out, and it turned out to be a fortunate mistake because I can still pull it on over my head.
This is definitely the most comfortable and lightest dress this summer, but I don’t think I want to deal with this pattern again any time soon.
While I was recovering from the Brigitte dress by sifting soothingly though my fabric stash, I came across the easiest dress I’ve ever made (languishing unfinished in the scrap heap, of course, for want of 10 minutes of hand sewing). It’s not really made by me; the entire body of it is just one second-hand skirt, size humongous, with the waistband cut off. I added straps and shirring and ta-da. I grudgingly admit that this dress, which I had only the least bit of a hand in making, is one of the best I’ve ever “made.”
Next up is a simple sheath dress with some light stretch denim, which I got for free! One of my wonderful students brought it to me, explaining that they were cleaning out before moving house, and did I want it? Well, twist my arm, okay 🙂 It was slightly less that a meter of fabric with some chunks cut out of it, but those became a nice detail. I used my tried-and-true sheath dress pattern, which I cobbled together from the bodice of the free Garden Party Dress and a pencil skirt based on this tutorial.
After the success of the denim dress, I had a color-blocking revelation. It’s been trendy for, what two or three years now? so I’m right on schedule as usual. Suddenly all those pieces of not-quite-big-enough fabric have new possibilities in front of them…
Inspired by this top and dress:
I made this one:
You can totally see the resemblance, right? I used the bodice from the knock-off Danielle dress (above) and kept cutting in a straight line where the pattern ended. Instead of cutting right on the fold, I cut two inches away, and that became the placket. The back is the same, except the placket is on the inside.
This dress is pretty good, although if I made it again I would have the placket end a few inches higher (so, the ties would be higher too). Not to mention making it from a lighter fabric.
I got a lot of compliments on the last two dresses especially, plus they hit that magical space where “comfortable to wear” and “doesn’t look like pajamas” overlap. Great success! I think I’ve leveled up as a seamstress the last couple weeks.