Grey Twill Shirtdress

Grey Twill Shirtdress

So often when it comes to sewing, you dream up beautiful ideas of flouncy dresses that have no place in your normal, day-to-day life. And that’s fine! It’s fun to dream big and play dress up with your sewing machine once in a while. But there’s only so many pretty dresses you can make before they overwhelm your closet. I’ve been making more of an effort to make pieces that are versatile and good for daily wear in my wardrobe. For me, this means dress shirts and shirt dresses that can be layered throughout the year.

I made this garment as a test for shirt dress construction, as I have had no previous experience with it. This was made with the McCall’s 6885, which has one of the most dreadful photos on the front. I don’t know what they were thinking with the floral dress and matching hat! It looks awful. If they had featured the chambray illustration it would be much more appealing. I made the short sleeve variation, out of a fabric that has been in my stash for many years. I don’t remember why I had bought this fabric originally, but it’s a thick grey twill from the S.R. Harris fabric depot in Minnesota.

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I indicated all of the pattern markings using tailor’s tacks, which helped as the placket attachment can become quite a hassle. Reflecting back on this, I should have started with the Grainline’s Alder shirt dress as that pattern has much more clear instructions. Overall, the placket went on quite nicely. I had some issues with the collar stay being longer than the neckline/placket, likely due to imprecise sewing. I also used the straight hem variation rather than the curved hem, as I had read from other bloggers that the curve comes up quite high on the thigh.

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After completing the garment, I found that the shoulders and short sleeves felt tight. This, with the heaviness of the fabric, makes me feel super claustrophobic when I wear it and since it’s been completed, it’s never been worn. I can’t move my arms back or forwards without it pulling on the front or back and being uncomfortable. I believe that I may try a rescue operation on the dress, removing the short sleeves and finishing the armhole with bias binding. Into the UFO pile it goes… Next time, I’ll make it sleeveless and/or consider a lighter cotton or flannel eventually and maybe put a yoke in the back with some gathers underneath to allow for arm movement.

Despite being unwearable, I consider it a learning experience, which I was glad to have on a fabric that has been in my stash for ages!

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Olive Sleeveless Shirtdress, or the Damn I Feel Good Dress

Olive Sleeveless Shirtdress, or the Damn I Feel Good Dress

DSC05020After having moved to Des Moines from the twin cities, I had the entire summer free and I knew that I would have to keep myself busy. So I started the summer with a goal in mind: make it through my enormous stash.

Granted, I have seen some other bloggers fabric stashes. Gigantic! As sewers, we often pick a pattern then go shopping for the fabric for it. So our fabric deals and impulse purchases sit in our cabinet, or cubbies, until we make a referendum that they have to go.

This olive polyester was one such fabric. It had been sitting in my stash unused for about 2-3 years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I was just uninspired. It has pretty good drape, and I was shying away from anything with a lot of precise sewing and detail. Until I realized that with the magic of spray starch, I could whip out a button up dress.

DSC05021For this dress, I used enigmatic McCall’s M6696. It’s a wonderful shirt dress pattern (with pockets!) that includes three sleeve and two skirt variations. This version is collarless, using the collar stand as a mandarin collar. I often gravitate towards this neckline in my day to day wear, so it felt right at home in my wardrobe. I used the guide provided by Grainline for the mandarin collar variation. I have some puckers at the very front of the collar stand, next to the edge of the dress, because I top stitched the collar stand prior to attaching it. Whoops! Thankfully it isn’t super obvious, but it’s one of those mistakes that only the maker would see. Next time I know to top stitch after it has been attached to the dress.

The skirt of this dress has a total of 24 pleats. Surprisingly, they’re not bad to do! My advice is to ensure that all markings are on the right side of the fabric to make the pleating easier. I first ironed the pleats down using the markings, then machine basted them in place, which worked out quite well. When I went to attach the skirt to the waistband, I ended up having a significant amount of excess fabric to ease into the waistband. The excess fabric was easily hidden behind the various pleats, so you can’t tell from the outside.

To finish the dress, I made quick work of the buttons by using my sewing machine’s automatic button holer and attaching the buttons with a zig zag stitch. I could also see this dress being done with snaps, which would be fun. I finished all of my seams with serging to prevent fraying from within. This makes it feel much more professional. I’ve always been interested in finishing seams with the Hong Kong finish (bias binding on the raw edges), and this would be a good pattern to test it out on in the future.

This is a pattern that I absolutely enjoyed making, and see myself making it again. I already have a plan to make my Ms. Frizzle costume for Halloween out of this pattern. So look forward to repeats of this bad boy!

The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress

 

When Ian and I decided to tie the knot, there was no big wedding planning excitement. But I immediately knew I wanted to sew my wedding dress. It didn’t seem like too big of a task, as I had made my prom dress. Nonetheless, I was more experienced, more knowledgeable and hence more nervous.

Weeks and weeks of compiling wedding dress inspiration and one day full of trying on gowns that were nothing like I wanted, I decided to dive into a tester. I knew I wanted a fit and flare gown, with a fitted bodice and waist that flared around my thighs. I made a muslin of a strapless, princess seamed gown that I had pieced together from a million patterns (sorry I don’t have their names/numbers!). The pictures are pretty awful, but so is the dress. It reminds me of an old 90’s dress.

This was about when my obsession with 1930’s fashion ramped up. Bias cut gowns, silky luxury, I wanted it all for my wedding. And there was nothing of the sort on the rack at bridal shops. Everything was grecian, ballgowns, or lace mermaid gowns. Then, I came across a stunning silk $3000 embroidered bias gown at a wedding shop. Off the rack it fit like a glove, and I wanted to try and make my own spin on it. I immediately asked the saleswoman what the fabrics were that they used, and set off with a goal in mind.

I knew that sewing on the bias was a tricky challenge, but after reading basically every guide on the internet, I dove into a test. I found Seamwork’s guide to be quite helpful and felt that I could handle it. I pieced together the top of Vogue V1428 and the skirt of Butterick B5710. I found a slinky cheap polyester with about the same weight as silk to give the fit a test. A quick chop and test, and I was sold. I knew this was my dress.

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I sourced my silk from Mood, and used silk charmeuse for the lining and silk crepe de chine for the outer shell. To ensure success with the bias, I cut all the bias pieces at my mother’s house, using her gigantic dining room table to make sure that I wouldn’t be moving any fabric while cutting the pieces. I also used tailor’s tacks to mark the seam allowances, and cut with a brand new rotary cutter. When it came to the sewing, I basted together all my seams before machine stitching. For the seaming, I stretched my fabric while stitching. There is much debate on the internet whether or not to stretch, to sew with tissue paper, or to not wiggle it at all. I found that the seams worked best with stretching, but if you’re sewing bias test it out on your fabric first to feel what works best for you.

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One of the scariest challenges of sewing this dress was attaching the skirt to the bodice. I had weird diagonal ripples along the abdomen of my muslin, and was scared that it would happen again. To prevent this, I draped both pieces on my mannequin and hand basted it prior to machine stitching. Time constraining and a bit challenging, but it is a wedding dress after all!

I installed the zipper by draping the zipper into the garment, then hand basting again. Despite this, I still had puckers at the bottom of the gown and the zipper was basically sticking out horizontally. My fabric was too fragile to rip it out, so I improvised. Upon my mother’s wonderful suggestion, I made a bustle across my bum to completely cover the bottom of the zipper. It happened to be some people’s favorite feature of the dress!

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To hem the dress, I tried the Ban-roll method and was immediately sold. It worked beautifully! I was sending pictures of my teeny tiny beautiful hem to everyone when I had completed it. I also understitched the bodice and criss crossed my straps on the mannequin.

One of my goals when starting this gown was to have an overlaying bodice of lace that would mimmick the dress I had tried on. However, I didn’t start this until a week before the wedding and had underestimated the difficulty of getting a lace bodice to fit well. After many attempted drapings and frantic trips to numerous fabric stores, I gave up on it. I had a beautiful, scalloped lace that I had picked up for a steep discount and took my soon-to-be husband’s advice to follow my gut. I scrapped the bodice idea, and made a cape.

Now, a cape was never in the plan. I just knew I needed something to cover my shoulders, and when else could I pull of a lace cape?! I drafted a quick cape with a radius of 19 inches, graded up the front of the cape by 2 inches, attached a white lace trim around the edge of the cape, and slapped a hook and eye in there to close it. Done! Not quite.

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I was worried that it wasn’t quite enough. Between a simple silk gown and a lace cape, something didn’t say wedding. I talked to my husband and he had an idea. We couldn’t let the beautiful scallop go to waste. I carefully cut the scallop from the pattern and hand stitched it along the waistband of my gown. You can’t see it very well in the actual wedding photos, but it was one of my favorite parts of the wedding gown. Not only because it worked so well, but because it only happened because my husband suggested it.

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This has been my proudest sewing accomplishment thus far. I am not only overjoyed with the product, but the process was so enjoyable due to all the family support and help I had in making it. If you’re considering sewing your own wedding gown, give it a try with some cheap fabrics. Use all the resources available, and be flexible. Not everything will turn out how you envision it, but that’s because it’s made from your imperfect hands. And that makes it so much more personal.