We all felt the pain when Marty the zebra had a mid-life crisis in Madagascar and didn’t know whether he was black with white stripes, or white with black stripes.
This dress faces a similar crisis – it’s my mashup of the Deer and Doe Belladonne and Leanne Marshall x Simplicity 1755. Is it a Belladonne or a Simplicity? Just as Marty never figured it out, I’m not sure I will either.
The sole reason I made this dress is the cutout style around the shoulders and collar – for months I’d envisioned this style in my mind and desperately wanted to make my own real-life copy. I trawled the internet for hours looking for a suitable pattern (seriously I felt like new planets were discovered, visited and colonised in the time I spent looking) then I found this one on google images. YES YES YES. Thankfully it was a pattern that’s still in print (usually I fall in love with super-rare patterns from the 1960’s that are only available from Ebay for a zillion pounds) and I found a local shop that had a few left. Take my money and give me my precious.
Mid-way through my search I did consider giving up looking for a pattern and drafting my own… but it seemed like waaaay too much effort and I could spend all that time I would have spent drafting it and toiling it sewing pretty things instead.
I’ve used Alexander Henry ‘Zahara’ fabric. Yes, yes I know, I can hear you – *another* Alexander Henry print. Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m an Alexander Henry addict 😂. I’m not ashamed. I got this print from modes4u.com, a shop I buy from regularly but initially stumbled across by complete accident. if you haven’t ever visited their website and you like loud prints and crazy kawaii Japanese stuff, go and check it out. I take no responsibility if you’ve emptied your bank account by the end of your visit, every time I go on there I just want to BUY ALL THE THINGS (and sometimes I do and then I don’t check my bank account for the next two weeks and live off scraps but it’s ok because I have the pretty fabric to keep me warm at night).
Although I was totally loving the bodice and collar of the Simplicity design, I didn’t really like the skirt of the dress. I didn’t have enough fabric for it anyway – I had bought the last 190cm of the 45-inch wide fabric that they had. The original skirt is a gathered affair and whilst these are usually ok on me in lighter fabrics like cotton lawn, I was worried that in a quilting weight fabric they would be a bit too bulky. The last thing I wanted was to make the dress I’d been after for so long only to have it make me look like I’d been partaking in my own versions of Supersize Me. I started thinking about what style skirt I would like instead – I considered a pleated skirt but I was short on fabric… in the end I settled on the skirt of the Deer and Doe Belladonne. I’ve made this dress previously and was really happy with the fit – it’s got two small pleats on both the front and the back of the skirt, so doesn’t eat up fabric too much, and it’s the perfect length. Winning. (On balance, I’m losing the pattern matching game across the back seam – it’s the best I could do with the fabric I had).
The cutaway bodice was the style I’d been looking for, but it wasn’t without its flaws. For one, the front has a seam down the middle, to accommodate the little keyhole detail at the neckline. I didn’t want to put this in, I’m not a fan of them, and no way did I want a seam down the middle of the bodice because I didn’t have enough fabric to get the pattern matching even remotely perfect. No one wants a glaringly obvious half a zebra head right on the centre front. In my mind I formulated the plan of scrapping both the keyhole and the front seam and proceeded with the making of the bodice of my dreams. A new pattern template was cut (for reference, I’m a UK size 10/32D and cut the 38 of the Belladonne and the 10 in the Simplicity), it was shortened to the same length as the Belladonne bodice so that the waistband still hit at the same height, and the stitching commenced.
What I realised after constructing the fully-lined bodice and the 70s-esque pointed collar was that because I had omitted the keyhole, I had my nice one-piece front with no centre seam but there was no place for the collar centre edges to nicely get tucked in to… imagine attaching a collar onto a shirt that has no button placket or front opening. Ah. Basically I blagged it from here, attaching the collar in the normal way but butting the two sides of the collar right up against each other at centre front, reinforcing the join with some bar tacking. Thankfully it’s black thread on black fabric and isn’t noticeable unless you were in my face with a magnifying glass… and if you were I’d be asking you what you think you’re playing at and be telling you to have a word with yourself. So I think we’re good, collar-crisis averted.
Another thing that I wasn’t loving about the Leanne Marshall/Simplicity dress was the lack of a waistband. One thing that’s crucial for me in any dress that I make is a fitted waistband – any bagginess around the middle and I’m all of a sudden doing the best impression of a shapeless blob you’ve ever seen.
I was originally led to believe, from the pictures on the pattern envelope, that the dress actually did have a waistband. Because it sure as hell looks like it does in the picture below, right? But when I looked at the actual pattern pieces, I saw that it was just a belt, covering up the gathers. Sad face.
I’m not really one for fussy things like tie belts, and let’s be real it’s just another thing that I can’t be bothered to iron. Operation Waistband commenced.
One of the (many) things I love about the Belladonne dress is its cute little waistband, it fits me really well and falls just at the right height to actually be flattering. So… the obvious thing to do was to take the waistband and skirt of the Belladonne and attach it to the modified bodice of the Simplicity dress, yah?
So I set about making this happen. I knew that the waistband was a perfect fit on me, so I compared the width of it against the bodice – the bodice was slightly wider, so I took in the side seams a smidge to make both of the pieces the same. I attached the waistband to the bodice and celebrated how well my plan was coming together.
I pressed the seams and then stood back to admire my work… having that classic moment of realisation as I did so. Whilst I considered the total length of the waistband, and made the bodice match it, one thing I had apparently forgotten to check is whether the side seams lined up in the same place down the bodice, into the waistband and through to the skirt . They didn’t. Sugar honey iced tea 🙈🙊
I was tight on fabric as it was and didn’t have enough fabric to cut another waistband to match the bodice. Even if I had cut one, the seams of the waistband would have then matched the bodice but not the skirt. I accepted my fate of unmatched side seams, and took comfort in the words of the legend that is Meatloaf: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
The contrast piping was complete fluke and not part of the original vision. Whilst I was rummaging through my disorganised chaos of stuff, probably looking for one of my five seam rippers that I can never seem to find, I stumbled across some cream piping that was bought for a different project but never used. This caused a mind-spark and then an inspirational raging fire as I realised it would look amazeballs with this zebra fabric, and break up the black a little. As I did with my last Belladonne, I sewed the piping around the waistband and the pocket edge. I’m not normally one to blow my own trumpet, but I think it looks pretty cosmic.
(The piping isn’t actually as hideously wonky as it looks in the picture below. It’s the way I’m standing. Honest).
The collar could do with another press, as it’s not as flat and neat as I would like – I’ll tackle it with the tailors-press-and-steam combo and see if it makes any difference. The fabric is sort of thick(ish) – it’s a quilting weight – so it might not get any better than it is… hey, you win some lose some. I can live with it.
Unfortunately the bodice isn’t really bra-strap friendly (is it possible to make a racer-front and racer-back bra?? That would work…) but I do love the way the cut out looks like it was just MADE to fit around the phoenix wing on the back of my shoulder 😍
I’m pretty happy with how this has turned out, and I’d like to make another in a more dressier fabric to use as evening wear. I also think the bodice would look good on a jumpsuit… but I’m not really sold on getting completely undressed just to pee. I certainly don’t need yet more things to add to the sewing queue, so for now I’ll let this one have it’s solo glory moment.
Finally, let’s all just stop what we’re doing to appreciate how well the graffiti coordinates with my shoes… my thanks go out to the artist for choosing just the right shade of purple 👊🏻
Coming up next week on the blog… a Liberty shirt made for the husband 😍 Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!