M6696: Proud as Punch

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


19 thoughts on “M6696: Proud as Punch

  1. Wow! This is so impressive. You’ve absolutely nailed it! The fabric is a perfect choice. Shirt dresses just don’t suit me; I just feel mummsy in them. But this is anything but. Just classy.


    • Thank you! How kind of you to say. But I do feel very mumsy in it too. The word I always think of is ‘matronly’! But then I wore it again to a Burns Supper with super-high heels and felt anything but! State of mind, I’m sure!


  2. Very well done, congratulations! Altering patterns is really hard. I draft patterns myself, so when someone brings me a commercial one saying they want that dress, I politely put it aside, look at the design sketch and make my own pattern that fits straight away. It is a myth that altering existing patterns is easy! So again – very well done! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t be so impressed. 🙂 I am a trained couture tailor. 😉 My mother used to sew, and I learned from her, but she didn’t know how to alter patterns, and I was never happy with adjustments on a finished garment. Unless they are minor, they never come out right. I had so enough of awkward alterations that I went to college and learned to make my own patterns (and to sew properly, too). Never looked back, and never used a commercial pattern since. But I still don’t really know how to alter an existing pattern because the course I took was for bespoke tailoring, not for ready to wear and commercial pattern making. That’s a completely different kettle of fish!


  3. That’s it!! I’m going to make mine!! And I’m going to follow your 3 steps, first off I’ll find some precious fabric that is just itching to be sewed. I probably mentioned it before, I’ve gotten this pattern traced off, I think it was summer last year I did it! Crazy! Me and my tracing fetish will just have to stop. Or at least i should see the project out and actually make the garment.
    This looks fabulous on, and all your pattern matching and bias cut pieces work really well. It must take some thought. (PS ta for the mention!) 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a cracker of a pattern and you’ve done a really wonderful job! Love the fitting tip about the slightly different order of construction, I’m definitely going to bear that in mind in future


  5. Pingback: Loving Etta | Sew South London

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