At the end of last year I made a dress. It wasn’t just another dress, it was The Christmas dress. And it turned out better than I’d hoped.
I learned valuable lessons along the way, so I thought I record them here for my own future reference.
Lesson Number One: Just get on and make it
How often do we aspire to a project but feel it’s just beyond our current skill set? Or the fabric is too precious to risk making a big mistake? Or our perfectionist tendencies make us reluctant to have a go at something that might end up less than perfect? I’d wanted to make this McCalls M6696 shirt-dress ever since Idle Fancy’s Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses. That was TWO years ago! After a few early disasters with big four sewing patterns I’d been too nervous of tackling fit without the comprehensive hand-holding that usually goes with indie patterns. But surely the time was now. Or if not now, when? In the words of a much-loved and sorely missed President, my new sewing mantra is ‘Yes We Can’.
Lesson Two: Do the maths
After calling out for emotional support/hand-holding on Instagram (thanks ladies!!), I realised that I just needed to be methodical in my process. I had no idea where to start on selecting a basic size to make, so I did my homework by reading my fitting textbooks (Fit For Real People; The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting). These gave me a clue as to how much ease is included in commercial sewing patterns. I also measured the flat pattern pieces and concluded that I could start off with a size 12 or 14, C cup. I went for the larger of the two, grading up another size at the waist, which I subsequently removed (see Rule 3). It wasn’t rocket science but from past experience I’d allowed myself to believe that measuring/selecting sizes/grading between sizes was beyond me!
I read a few pattern reviews and noticed that many versions had removed much of the pattern ease on the back yoke. The back bodice is gathered at the yoke and waistline, giving the bodice a ‘blousy’ effect. I wanted to retain some of the original design, so removed 1.5″ from the yoke gathers and 2″ from the waistline gathers. Any more and the back bodice wouldn’t fit well and would require waist darts to provide shaping.
Lesson 3: Take It Slow
For this dress I Slowed. Right. Down. I made a muslin of the bodice and was pleased to find that my size 14 C cup best guess was close to perfect. But I still needed to take some excess from the bodice side seams. I transfered the muslin alterations back to the paper pattern pieces so when I cut into the brushed cotton I was confident I’d incorporated my changes.
Thimberlina had directed me to a blog post by Sew Nip Tuck, entitled Stop Right There! Don’t Cut McCalls 6696 Til You’ve Read This! In it she advises cutting the waistband into segments matching the bodice pieces, and sewing the side-seams from arm scye to hem last. This is a RTW construction technique, and allows you to construct the whole garment and then fine tune the fit on the side seams. This tip made all the difference. Thanks, Thimbers!!
In recent months I’ve found that there’s more satisfaction to be had from these slow sews. They have tended to be complex projects with numerous pattern pieces and processes, not to mention adaptations and alterations. But I have learned more along the way. Maybe now I have a predominantly hand-made wardrobe there’s no sense in producing at the pace I used to. There’s simply too many clothes in my wardrobe. I’ve therefore been focusing on adding more complicated/thoughtful projects that take longer to sew. Oh, apart from my New Year Liberty Linden – but that’s another story!!
Happy New Year! x