The weather has been hotting up here in London lately, which means you very quickly come to get an extremely accurate experience of how a rotisserie chicken feels. You have a nice cool shower to refresh yourself, and end up covered in sweat about three seconds after you turn the water off. Happy days.
Britain, especially London, is not equipped to handle high temperatures. Most commuter trains and local buses don’t have air con (some even have the heating on even in the summer – I mean COME ON people) and you can easily lose 2lbs through sweat just getting yourself to your office squashed underneath some tall guy’s armpit. Death by melting becomes a very real danger. It’s official that the London Underground network is getting hotter in the summer as well – something to do with the building materials used at the time it was built and the distance beneath the surface, TL;DR – what I do know is that it can get properly HOT.
For those particularly sweaty times of the year, I wanted a simple, easy to wear summer dress. Nothing tight, nothing restrictive, no fussy buttons or closures. Something for those times when you really can’t be bothered to wear clothes, but it’s frowned upon by society to go about naked so you have to wear something.
I saw some embroidered chambray at the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts Show at the Excel Centre back in April. In my mind, I visualised the border print making an awesome skirt or a dress. I liked it, but stood there deliberating over whether to buy it for ages, for two reasons:
- It’s blue. A colour I don’t usually wear. I stick to warmer colours.
- It’s got flowers on it. I don’t think I own another item with a floral print. It just ventures that little bit too far into the realms of girliness for me.
But something inside me was preventing me from putting down the fabric and walking away.
I think I was eventually swayed by my inner hippy – I mean yeah man, ?EMBROIDERED FLOWERS? will make such a cool hippy dress ✌?and the flowers are pink. Pink is totes the best colour. There’s also some pink-and-purple combos going on in the design which I think lured me in because they are all matchy-matchy with my hair. The fabric was purchased.
If future-Sarah could say something to present-day-Sarah it would be: if you are spending that long deciding whether or not you like the fabric enough to buy it, don’t buy it. Give the husband a stopwatch and tell him to allow you 20 seconds to either take the fabric to the till or put it back down. No second chances. If you want it enough, you’ll have bought it before the time is up. After looking around for a suitable dress pattern to use the fabric on, I came back to the Patterns by Gertie range from Butterick after having success with another one of her patterns. I noticed that a heck of a lot of people had made this B6453 dress by Gertie – there’s even a whole facebook group dedicated solely to people who are making/have made this dress. One thing I don’t really do is follow the crowd with whatever pattern is the latest craze… it sort of puts me off, knowing that there’s so many others of them out there. There’s been a few recently, like the Tilly and the Buttons Zadie dress, and of course the Moneta party which was hosted by Colette at the start of this year. I like to arrive at these things in my own sweet time, which is usually around three years late, once the hype has long passed. Sometimes I don’t ever get there, and I’m cool with that. If everyone is making a particular design the individual in me rebels and goes for something more obscure that not many people are making. I am the salmon of the sewing world, swimming upstream whilst everyone else heads downstream.
But I ignored that feeling with this dress… for reasons that never became clear to me. I liked the loose fit skirt, and the strappy bodice would keep me cool. Requirement boxes were ticked. The design looked good on the pattern envelope, and my visualisation of the finished item looked good in my head, but in reality, I’m a little underwhelmed.
The pattern envelope says that for the view I’ve made, you need 4 yards of fabric. Woah. This prompted me to ignore the pattern template for the skirt (as there were FOUR pieces and they were all of Godzilla proportions) and instead use the skirt template from the Pauline Alice Cami Dress that I have previously made. No one wants four yards of fabric hanging off you when it’s sweat-fest-degrees and your enthusiasm for wearing clothes is currently zero.
Both patterns have the same style of skirt, dirndl skirts – which are essentially rectangles that are gathered at the waist – but the Gertie pattern calls for four of them (four quarters) and the Cami Dress just two (front and back). I’d previously made the dress and knew the length and width were ok, so I just went for it. I didn’t have enough fabric to cut four panels for the skirt anyway – I wasn’t bothered for a casual dress but the extra fabric might be nice for an evening dress with a nice poofy petticoat underneath.
The fabric is a chambray-type fabric, but it’s quite lightweight and loose-ish-ly woven. Is this normal for chambray? I’m not sure, as this is the first time I’ve worked with it. While a lighter fabric is good for summer (the whole two weeks of it that we get here in the U.K.), it’s not so good for a close-fitting dress that has darts in it. The darts have pulled the weave a little bit, and the white threads of the fabric are now showing through ? My darts on the back now look like white lines. I used a shorter stitch length to try to prevent this from happening, but clearly this didn’t work. I tried letting out the darts a little to take off any pressure on them, but then the whole bodice looked wrinkly and saggy around the middle. I was fighting a losing battle.
(As a side note, the back of this dress makes my shoulders and upper arms look like I could pick up and throw a 200lb man 20 metres. I’m now wondering, is this ACTUALLY how I look from the back or is this style of dress just particularly unflattering on me?? ?)
The bodice didn’t fit very well without any adjustments. There was too much boob-room, even for me at a D cup and I had to take the side seams in. That’s strange, because I always *always* cut a 10 in big four patterns and nine times out of ten it’s a little on the snug side. But this seemed oddly huge for some reason, so I not only had to take in the sides but also had to adjust the facing to fit the new shape of the bodice. What a faff. I altered the curve of the princess seams over the bust in an attempt to better fit my shape, but couldn’t quite get it exactly right and the flimsy fabric is now giving me boob-wrinkles. Not cool.
I cut the facing separately out of the fabric and then the interfacing, and basted the two together (I used sew-in interfacing, as always) but for some reason, when I came to sew the combined facing to the dress, the facing was waaaay bigger than the actual dress along one of the back edges. Just one. Eh?! What the chuff is going on here then? My cutting may not be absolutely precise all the time, but it sure ain’t that bad. I’m not sure whether the fabric stretched out or what… but I wasn’t too impressed.
I didn’t have any sliders or rings handy for the straps. Probably because I read on the instructions that they were needed and I decided to ignore this. I figured that I would just make the straps the length I wanted them to start with, so no adjustment or fussy findings were required. I was aiming for most simples here remember.
I soon discovered that this method posed a little bit of a problem – when you come to sew the facing to the dress, if you follow the pattern construction method you haven’t yet sewn together the two halves of the straps and so can tuck each half out the way while you go round and sew the facing. If, like me, you decided to NOT put in the rings/sliders, and your straps are therefore NOT in separate pieces, you can’t nicely tuck the two halves out the way, because they are in one long joined up piece already. This led to much awkwardness trying to bunch up the fabric that I was trying to sew in order to get the strap out of the way, whilst making sure you’re not catching any of these folds or the strap as you go round. In the end I managed it, but there’s still a bit of excess fabric where the facing was too long ? by this point, I was already falling out of love with the dress (and the fabric) and I really couldn’t be bothered to reshape the facing.
As the saying goes, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’. I made it to the end. I’m not a quitter ?
I don’t think I’ll be wearing it out in ‘proper public’ much, it will be relegated to the pile of clothes that are for mooching around the house/dog walking in. Which in a way, is sort of what I intended it for anyway I suppose. I feel like I maybe want to make another one in a different fabric to give it a fair try – something a bit more tightly woven perhaps (to improve on the dart situation) and in a print that’s more ‘me’ – but I think I prefer the looser style of the Catarina dress by Seamwork over the fitted style of this dress. It’s got the same gathered skirt but a looser fit bodice, and definitely no princess seams.
Something I’m getting better at, but clearly still need improvement on, is distinguishing between fabrics that I think are pretty on the roll but won’t suit me to wear them, and fabrics that are actually contenders to be made into garments for me and fit in with my style. I think this fabric is one of the former – especially as flowers are 99% of the time NOT my thing.
I need to trust my instinct – if I can’t make up my mind instantly whether I like the fabric enough to buy it, or have any doubts over it whatsoever, then I shouldn’t buy it. I’ll know when I see the fabrics that I love, and there will be no hesitation. And then there’s also that classic test: would I have bought this item if I’d seen it in a shop? …No, I wouldn’t have. I guess this is the learning curve with creating your own wardrobe – you’ll come to learn what colours and styles suit you (unfortunately the only way is through trial and error, so there will be mistakes and what-was-I-thinking-was-I-on-drugs moments), and eventually the success rate increases.
So this one will be chalked up to experience, and next time I see a pretty fabric I’ll be more strict about whether it’s pretty on the roll in its own right, or whether it does actually fit in with my style. And, of course, if it clashes with my hair (yes I hold fabrics up against my hair in shops) it’s down and out at the first hurdle.
Coming up next week on the blog… my Deer and Doe Belladonna // Simplicity 1754 mashup in Alexander Henry zebra print fabric ? Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!