The Heart of Darkness Dress

It dawned on me just recently that I’m a bit of a Deer and Doe fangirl. I seem to have made a lot of their patterns – the Chardon Skirt, the Melilot shirt, the Datura blouse and the Belladonne dress to name a few. I also have a couple of their patterns in my autumn/winter queue, including the Bruyere shirt which I have FINALLY found the right plaid for after searching for the perfect one for (no joke) almost a year, and the Safran trousers which might be my first attempt at trouser-making (it’s those or the Gingers – haven’t decided yet…).

I was therefore, understandably, super-excited to be asked by Deer and Doe if I wanted to be one of the first people to make the new relaunched 2017 version of one of their original patterns – the Bleuet dress. YES PLEASE!

It’s a princess seamed, knee length shirt dress with the choice of making it sleeveless or with small cap sleeves. Difficulty is rated as 4/5, but if you’ve made a shirt before then the collar and stand should be nothing new to you. There’s a cute litte bow on the back too, which you can leave off if you prefer, but let’s be honest – why would you? Even though it’s a bow it doesn’t have to be girly if you don’t want it to be.

I deliberated for ages on which fabric to use for this – my first ideas consisted of a vintage fabric, maybe corduroy, aiming for a sort-of 70’s style with a colour blocked collar and bow. But I couldn’t quite find the exact pattern of cord that I wanted – there’s a lot of florals out there, which are not my style. A geometric pattern would have been perfect but I just couldn’t seem to find it.

Then I took a total change of direction and ended up, as usual, looking at Alexander Henry fabrics. I  never fail to find the right fabric for my project once I start looking at their designs – they just seem to be made for me. One print that I had my eye on for a little while (but never quite found the right project for) was Heart of Darkness, which ended up being the one I went for. They do this print in a couple of colour variations, but it was the red that I liked. Staying with the colour blocking idea that I originally had, I decided to make the collar and bow from some reclaimed black leather that I had laying around.

You’ll want to use a medium-weight fabric such as quilting cotton, linen, cord, or even denim. So long as it’s something that will hold up to the topstitching and fitted look. The last time I made a princess seamed bodice, I used a chambray fabric that turned out to be too loosely woven and the seams pulled across the chest and made little holes at each stitch hole. Not cool. You have been warned.

I’ve only had a brief toe-dipping into sewing with leather – a couple of collars, and a skirt which wasn’t too successful. There is definitely a learning curve with this fabric and it’s not as simple as just running it through the machine like you would do any other material. For one, it’s sticky (not literally). It will not flow smoothly against the plastic of your machine as you sew it, which means you end up with all sorts of fun like stitches that are different lengths depending on how much resistance the fabric was under as it was being fed through the machine. Yay. And then you have the added pressure of only being able to have one go at the stitching line because the needle punches holes in the fabric which, unlike with regular wovens or knits, do not heal and that hole is there for all eternity, mocking you for hashing it up.

ROOKIE MISTAKE TIP: one thing to check before actually lowering your needle into the leather is the amount of thread you have left on your spool and bobbin – because nobody wants to be totally smashing the topstitching only to have your thread run out. Two guesses as to why I’m specifically pointing that out. Yep. Didn’t think you’d need more than one.

I found that a strip of tissue and a Teflon foot helped everything get through the machine a lot easier. Yes, you have to go along afterwards and rip the tissue paper away, so don’t use anything too thick otherwise you’ll get bored of that REALLY fast. But I promise it helps. A Teflon roller foot is also a good shout – unsurprisingly, it’s a foot that has little rollers on it which helps the fabric glide through.

There’s a lot of pieces to cut for the body of the dress, four for the front and three for the back, but those princess seams really help get a perfect fit and are totally worth the effort. I recommend just basting the seams together and then trying it on for fit before committing – its much easier to unpick a basting stitch! I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to mine to get a good fit, which I’ll run you through.

I lowered the narrowest point of the waist of the dress, to match my natural waist. I did this at the side seams, by altering the path of the seam. You can see the change in the picture below – the original seam line is on the right and my finger is pointing to the narrowest point of the waist as per the pattern instructions. On the left is the new seamline with the lowered waist/narrowest point. Before I re-did the seam this dress was a loose fit around the middle and there was some excess fabric going on which made me look a bit of a chubber. This small alteration made a huge difference. But every body is a different shape and you may not even need to make an adjustment here – just try it on before committing to the seam and see how it looks.

Another alteration I made was to eliminate some excess fabric I had going on with the back piece around the armhole edge – to do this, I simply lowered the seam line along the back shoulder edge (where it joins to the front shoulder) by half an inch at the armhole edge, and tapered it back to the original seam line at the neck edge (I kept the seamline on the front shoulder piece in the same original place). The size of the armhole is now half an inch smaller, and the fit is now spot on.

As this dress is princess seamed on the front, and intended to be fitted, you’ll want to invest time in getting a good fit. Do try the dress on with the basted seams to see how it’s looking. Everyone’s chest is a different size and shape, so chances are those seamlines will need a little adjusting to get it how you want it. For me, the issue was excess fabric towards the middle-top of my chest which presented itself as wrinkles protruding out from the seam line on the centre front pieces. What I did to correct it was move the seamline further towards the centre front opening, therefore reducing how much fabric there was between the button placket and the princess seam. I also smoothed out the curve of the seamline to match my shape, as it was initially a little bit pointy!

There’s a massive 14 buttons down the front of this dress, but I found that they are perfectly spaced to avoid boob-gape and are definitely all needed. If you wanted to, you could add one further button at the bottom just to keep the dress closed all the way down, but it’s totally fine without doing this. I found the button size recommended by the pattern (5/8″) to be a little on the large side for my personal preference, so went with 12mm shirt buttons instead.

The pattern pieces include a hem facing, which I didn’t cut. Instead I used one inch black bias tape – because I’ve got a whole roll of this stuff that I hardly ever use, and this seemed like a good time to save the pretty fabric and use up the boring tape instead. I hand stitched the hem so that it’s (almost) invisible from the outside of the dress, but I started regretting that decision about 20% of the way round because man that hem is LONG. The tape (or the facing) does provide a nice bit of structure to the hem and makes it hang really nicely, so don’t skip it.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the amazeballs pattern matching going on here across the centre front 😂👌🏻 For those of you that are not really sure on how to go about placing your pieces on your fabric in order to get the pattern to match, it’s actually quite easy – the ‘centre front’ marking on the pieces is your friend here. All you need to do is make sure that this marking is placed on the same part of the fabric for each piece (and obviously at the same height, too). That way, when all the button plackets are folded back and stitched, and the buttons and buttonholes are installed, those centre fronts will overlap and the pattern will match up nicely across the two front pieces (hopefully).

Although the pattern comes with templates to make cap sleeves, I decided to leave these off. I did consider making them out of some black leather to match the bow and the collar, but I’m not really a fan of little sleeves like that so I though it was best to leave them off rather than spend time putting them on only to regret it. I think the dress will be more suited to layering over a long sleeved top without them. Instead I just used 1/2″ bias tape around the armhole which gave a nice clean finish both inside and outside.

I am totally in love with how this dress has turned out – the leather accents are my favourite part. And obvs this fabric is amazeballs and I’m happy I finally got to use it! (Now the husband wants a shirt made out of it too though…). When I first saw the Bleuet pattern I did actually consider making it without the bow as it felt a little bit girly to me – but then I had the idea of using leather and all of a sudden it became un-girly, more gothic, and much more ‘me’. But that’s the great thing about this pattern – your fabric choice will totally influence the way it looks, and although many dresses can be made using the same pattern they will all look different.

Despite all the pieces and the fitting adjustments, this is actually a reasonably quick make – I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it came together. The Bleuet can be worn all year round – in the summer on it’s own, and in the winter over a long sleeved top with thick tights and boots. I’m thinking that I’ll make me a corduroy one in an autumnal burgundy next…


Ps – how awesome is this graffiti?! It’s in Camden, North London, right by the office where I work. Just a couple of weeks after taking these pictures though I walked past and noticed that it had been painted over… sad face.

You can see all three of the new patterns in the Deer and Doe Autumn-Winter collection here.

Coming up next week on the Wanderstitch blog… a neon 80’s-inspired Seamwork Ariane bodysuit  😍 Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!


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  1. Celia
    September 10, 2017 / 2:29 pm

    I really like the pattern, and the use of leather on the collar and that cute little bow! Another great make!

    • Sarah
      September 11, 2017 / 7:55 am

      Thank you Celia! I think it’s a great pattern to use all year round – I’d like to make a ‘calmer’ (ie work appropriate haha) version to wear in the autumn to the office, layered over a polo neck anad tights 🙂

    • Sarah
      September 11, 2017 / 7:57 am

      Thank you! 🙂 The leather really sets it off, doesn’t it!

  2. September 10, 2017 / 5:42 pm

    The combination fabric & pattern & leather details is just gorgeous! Again an amazing make!

    • Sarah
      September 11, 2017 / 7:57 am

      Thank you lovely! The leather compliments the fabric so well doesn’t it 🙂 Really pleased with how this turned out!

  3. September 10, 2017 / 7:48 pm

    That is one seriously cool dress. I love the fabric and you’ve paired it beautifully with the pattern. Your fit is great and the leather accents are fantastic and I think I’ve run out of adjectives now but I just wanted to say this is great.

    • Sarah
      September 11, 2017 / 7:58 am

      Ahh thank you Jenny! The leather accents go with the fabric really well don’t they! So glad I decided to put them in 🙂 I am actually seriously happy with how this dress has turned out!

  4. September 11, 2017 / 5:07 am

    pattern matching across the placket is awesome! Great details ;o)

    • Sarah
      September 11, 2017 / 7:59 am

      Thank you Colette! I sat there for ages looking at the template placement on the fabric to make sure I had it JUST right – I didn’t have any spare fabric to cut another piece if I got it wrong so the pressure was on!!

  5. September 11, 2017 / 9:13 am

    amazing pattern match – and a beautiful make. I prefer to use bias tape for hems as I like the weight of it and its always nicely pliable. it has that artless look of being well made but in an effortless way!

    • Sarah
      September 12, 2017 / 9:17 am

      Ahh yes I totally agree! Bias tape always makes things look good doesn’t it! I use it on the hem of shirts too, but 1/2 inch width instead of 1 inch. Do you use different widths for different garments or do you always use the same width tape on everything?

  6. September 11, 2017 / 10:10 am

    So the dress is brilliant and the information is brilliant! Awesome dress Sarah! Xx

    • Sarah
      September 12, 2017 / 9:17 am

      Thank you! I am super happy with how this dress turned out 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Sarah
      September 13, 2017 / 6:37 pm

      Thank you! I am so pleased with how this came out. And I just can’t resist Alexander Henry fabrics!! ☺️

  7. Francesca Amodeo
    September 21, 2017 / 3:23 pm

    Wow! This is amazing 😍. Your pattern matching is to die for and the leather accents …. be still my heart😊. And thanks for the tips on fitting but most of all on fabric. I consider myself experienced but was thinking of using a linen. I know now that it’s not a good idea, many thanks.

    • Sarah
      September 21, 2017 / 7:08 pm

      Hi Francesca – glad you love the dress! I’m really happy with how the Bleuet turned out, especially the leather accents! It gothed it up suitably for me 🙂 Glad I could help on the fabric choice! What will you use instead now?

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