Y’all know by now that I love shirts. In the summer I like to mix it up a little with shirt-dresses. They work for me because although dresses themselves are usually girly (and I don’t do girly), shirt dresses have a little masculine edge with the buttons and the collar. And that’s enough to get me to wear it – after all, no one wants to wear jeans and T-shirts *all* the time – not even me.
The shirtdress I’ve made is the Pauline Alice Cami Dress. It’s a retro styled dress with fitted bodice, front and back darts, and a high-waisted gathered skirt. There are in-seam pockets, which you can choose to either include or leave out if you prefer (I left them out, partly because I can’t be bothered to iron the pocket linings and partly because I didn’t have enough fabric anyway).
The dress has a button placket which runs to the waistline, and there are pattern pieces for both short and elbow-length sleeves – I don’t know how I feel about these longer sleeves though because if it’s warm enough for you to wear a lightweight shirt dress then surely it’s too warm for long sleeves? It’s like short sleeve jumpers – am I the only one that doesn’t see the point in these?
I knew that I wanted to make my dress out of a peacock print fabric… and you know where has loads of peacock fabric? Liberty. Their ‘Hera’ print comes in loooooads of different colours, so I thought that surely they would have the colour scheme of my dreams. Erm, no, actually. I scanned every single colourway I could find but nothing really rang my bell. The one that I kept coming back to is the one in the picture below. I do really like it, but I think I like looking at it more than I would like wearing it – and in some of the pictures I saw the purple leaves looked almost brown from a distance and that wasn’t a chance I was going to take. Murky brown is not going to look good on me. They didn’t have this particular colourway in the store when I went in, meaning I couldn’t see it in real life before making my decision – so I decided to move on and find something else.
The fabric that I settled on in the end is an Alexander Henry cotton lawn… yes you read that right… ALEXANDER HENRY COTTON LAWN. OMG. I did not even know that they did anything other than quilting cottons. This changed EVERYTHING for me… Alexander Henry is such a cool designer and this opened up a whole new world of fabrics for me. This particular beauty is called ‘Regent Peacock’ and is from the Fulham Road: Lake Hollywood collection which was released around 2010/2011. See, I told you I was always way behind the releases of cool fabrics.
Loose fitting dresses are not kind to me, so I always try to make clothes as fitted as possible. Too much excess fabric around my waist makes me instantly look 20lbs heavier – I need to show that I indeed do have a waist and that the width of my stomach does not match the size of my hips. I’ve been a bit too much of a keen bean though, and perhaps should have given myself an extra cm (or two, or three…) around the bust. It’s a smidge tight. Or I could just lose a little bit of weight… 😂 It’s getting a little warmer now here in London so at least I can eat salads and leaves to help things along – in the meantime I will just call on my trusty boob-safety-pin to keep everything in line.
As I usually do with skirts, I added a little bit to the length to try to at least cover a little bit of my chubber knees, but – as you can see from the picture below – I’ve failed at this. Dumpy knees out in all their glory. Ah well. The Cami Dress has a dirndl skirt, which in normal words means ‘two rectangles gathered at the waist’. As it’s not cut on the bias, you could use border prints or stripes for the skirt and they will still look the right way up.
I only had two metres of this fabric, as I had to have it shipped over from the states and the cost of three metres came to an eye-watering total which I couldn’t quite justify. This meant that I didn’t have enough fabric to cut the sleeves, despite trying every single cutting layout I could come up with, but nope – they weren’t gonna fit. Instead I decided to wing it as a sleeveless version – I cut into the armscye to make it a nicer shape and finished it off with a nice pink binding (you can just about see a tiny sliver on the picture). It was my first time at finishing an armhole with bias, and it’s turned out pretty well – very neat and tidy on the inside and outside – yay! There’s a nice tutorial here on the Sew Over It blog which is full of pictures and easy to follow.
Even though the pattern envelope says that the dress is a high-waisted style, I had to lengthen the bodice to meet my natural waist. This gave rise to all sorts of issues and swear words trying to add in another buttonhole whilst still trying to keep everything evenly spaced down the placket. The husband came over to help, turning up to save the day with a calculator. He inputted some mental crazy maths and we ended up with a few more unsuccessful attempts. They say playing Monopoly brings out the worst in families, well so does working out measurements for spacing buttonholes. I don’t recommend it. Eventually we worked out something that looked OK so I marked out a final version before things got out of hand.
The buttons on this dress came from my trusty button shop, MacCulloch and Wallis in central London. For anyone that shops there and isn’t aware, they operate on a wholesale basis with their buttons – if you buy 10, you get 1/3 off the singular price listed on the button tube. So it’s cheaper to buy 10 than it is 7, 8 or 9. That does mean though that I always buy 10, no matter how many I actually need, and that because of this I now have a little stash of sets of three or four of all the leftovers. I’m sure they will get used someday… right? I see a shirt with mis-matched buttons in my future.
I used sew-in interfacing on the collar and button packet, as I find that iron-on interfacing makes collars unnaturally stiff and no matter which brand of iron-on I use, eventually after several washes you get little bubbles where some of the glue has disintegrated and the whole thing ends up looking really pants. And let’s be real, you’re not going to unpick literally a whole garment just to replace a dead piece of interfacing, so the sad-looking collar will be banished to the depths of the wardrobe taking the rest of the item with it. Use sew-in interfacing from the off and save yourself the faff of getting sticky melted glue off your iron all the time (which if like mine also gets used for the actual ironing of clothes, only ends badly). No one wants a rogue blob of glue on the front of their new top.
French seams were the order of the day for all joins on the bodice, just because it’s so much tidier – it’s my preferred method of finishing seams now, especially on lighter fabrics. Yes it’s a little extra work and takes a bit of time, as you’re sewing two lines per seam instead of one (as well as trimming in between) but it looks so much nicer and provides a cleaner finish. I don’t use this on quilting cottons, because they are a little heavier and so many layers together would be quite thick, but sometimes for these fabrics I will use bias-bound seams. This does however also add a bit of weight (and bulk), but looks nice and pretty especially if you use an awesome patterned bias tape!
The side seams are overlocked, rather than french seamed, because of having to put the zip in. I could have overlocked only the side with the zip, and french seamed the other side, but I thought that in the name of consistency I really should keep them both the same. I’m really happy with the zip, nowadays I’m much better at them and they are a breeze to put in. And – *ding ding ding* bonus points – they are actually invisible. Previously I would dread putting in zips, but tricks I’ve learned along the way that really do help are:
- Using a low heat *LOW I TELL YOU OR YOU WILL END UP WITH MELTED TEETH* (on the zip not in your mouth), carefully iron the invisible zip before you install it so that the teeth uncurl from against the zip tape. This will help you get your needle as close as possible to the line of teeth, and assist in conjuring up the magic that is invisible-ness
- Hand baste one side of the zip in place, before machine stitching (yes, I know, LONG)
- If there are any seams that the zip passes by on the way down (like a waist seam), after basting in the first side of the zip close the zip up and mark the level of the seam on the unstitched side of the zipper tape. When basting this second side of the zip, be sure that the mark is level with the seam on this side too. This way, when you close your zip, the seams will be level on either side of it.
As a side note, which might sound obvious (but believe me wasn’t when I first started learning to sew and insert zips), there is such a thing as an invisible zipper foot. This is not to be confused with a regular zipper foot. They might sound similar, but they have totally different purposes in life. There’s many tutorials out there which help you insert an invisible zip with a regular zip foot – yes, you may be able to wing it with acceptable results – but believe me once you try an invisible zipper foot you’ll sing from your roof that it is worth every penny you paid for it and more.
The picture above shows the underside of the invisible zip foot for my Brother sewing machine. The design may vary slightly between machine manufacturers, but they will all have the same uber-important feature – those two hollow channels on the bottom of the foot. The zip teeth (which you so carefully ironed flat earlier, didn’t you) will feed through these channels, allowing the needle to get really close to them and put a line of stitching where it needs to be – right next to the teeth. Stitching that is too far away from the teeth will cause your invisible zip to be not-invisible – which is why it’s so important to get as close to the teeth as you can. A regular zip foot doesn’t have these channels on the underneath, so you can’t get your needle close enough.
And this my dear sewing friends is why you should definitely invest in the proper tools for the job when it comes to zips – the value of the ‘investment’ in this case being about £12 (for the genuine Brother part, I’m sure suitable alternatives can be had from China for less). A small price to pay for a lifetime of amazeballs zips.
I bought the paper version of the sewing pattern, which I always prefer because printing, cutting and sticking pdfs makes me want to curl up and die. It’s printed on a nice thick white paper (not the standard tissue paper that you get with most commercial patterns), and comes in a pretty sturdy envelope. The quality and in-depth-ness of the instructions is medium – I wouldn’t recommend following these alone if it’s your first experience with collars – but in any case, I would like to point you towards a tutorial that revolutionised the way I sew collars (and drastically improved results) – this post on the Sewaholic website gives a super-clear step-by-step run through of the method used in ‘Shirtmaking: Developing Skills For Fine Sewing‘ by David Page Coffin. I learned how to sew collars from a Vogue men’s shirt pattern, and the results were always a bit ‘meh’. The method that Coffin uses is much better and I wish I’d had it from the start.
Overall I’m really happy with how the dress turned out, I just need to lose a little bit of boobage to get a better fit around the bust. I’ve since made another one of these dresses in a Cotton and Steel octopus print cotton lawn, which if you follow me on Instagram you will have already seen a sneak peek of! I’m also loving how well my shoes go with this dress… however you can clearly tell from the pictures that these boots were NOT made for walking and are only for sitting down/standing still and looking pretty in.
This dress also represents my entry for the #SewTogetherForSummer challenge, which you can read more about here if you’re not familiar!
Coming up next week on the blog… my Deer and Doe Belladonne dress in Zen Charmer fabric by Alexander Henry 😍 Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!
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