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one dress, three ways: mccall’s 6886

Right off the bat, let me say the following: this dress is magical and I love it. That statement makes me laugh because if I only knew a long time ago what I know now, you better believe I’d have more than just four versions of this dress. (See the first one here.) I have had this pattern – and genuinely wanted to make it – for a really long time. Longer than I’d like to admit, because I consider myself a pretty fearless seamstress, one who normally doesn’t let the “what if it doesn’t fit/look right/flatter me” mentality get in the way of a project or new idea. This dress, however, is different.

We all know the feeling of a failed or disappointing project. It stings, and the only thing worse than trying on something unflattering or unattractive or what-have-you is trying on something that is any of those things, except . . . you made it. Right?! It’s such a waste! And it happens to all of us, so that concern was always in the back of my mind about this dress until, one day, I decided to get over it and just make it. Fast forward a couple of months, and I have three new versions. I made two small fitting adjustments (swayback and grading down a size at the waist), and it’s one of the easiest things I’ve ever sewn. Easy to sew and quick to sew – and all the positive reviews you’ve seen for it are true. Somehow, this dress looks good on everyone. This pattern is a versatile design that translates into a lot of different, wearable looks, which we sewists can appreciate.

I wanted something work-appropriate, a version that was a little more casual/everyday, and a special occasion dress in a knockout fabric. The navy super stretch denim, navy floral scuba knit, and the white super stretch denim (used as the underlining for the sequin mesh) all came from JoAnn. The cracked ice sequin mesh came from Fabrics World last year. And no, the fabric suggestions on the pattern envelope don’t mention the super stretch denim or sequin mesh or scuba knit that I used, but all of them can work for this dress. The denim has a backing on it which makes it as stretchy as a knit, and the scuba is a stable knit with just enough stretch to work for this design.

We all need pieces in our closet that are appropriate for the office – and even better if they work for after-hours cocktails, right? This dress will work well for me year-round for countless different events, and I am absolutely over the moon about this fabric. I saw it at JoAnn a few weeks ago and knew it had to come home with me. It’s a lot of my favorite things in one fabric: navy blue, shimmer, florals, stretch. It’s just so pretty! (I don’t think it’s available online, but check your local store in case it’s still in stock.)

Construction of this dress was incredibly easy. I serged all the seams and went with a blind hem stitch to hem the skirt and sleeves. The neckline is turned under, turned under again, and stitched.

The denim version is my new go-to dress for running errands or traveling. It’s stretchy and comfortable, and it’s easy to toss in the wash. I combined the neckline from view E with with sleeves from view C for this version. All three of these dresses are the length from view E, simply because I like that length on me (a couple of inches below my knee). Attaching the neck band is pretty straightforward, but I did find that I had to clip the neckline at center front before sewing the band to the neckline, which is opposite the typical order of operations.

Last fall, I made Butterick 6244 in this creamy double wool, and it’s a nice outerwear piece with this dress. Here in Texas, we’re lucky to get a couple months of super cold weather, so it’s all about smart layers for the days when it’s too warm for a coat but too chilly to wear a dress on its own.

Now, for the showstopper. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been dreaming about this dress. When I bought this fabric over a year ago I knew exactly what I was going to do with it: a sequin skirt and this very dress. The skirt happened earlier this year and now, finally, the dress is a reality too. I make a lot of things, and I make a lot of things that I love, but this dress is pretty incredible. It’s classic and simple, but special and beautiful.

In order to hide seams and hems, I used the sequin mesh as the outer layer and the super stretch denim as the underlining. Basically, it’s the same concept I used to create the skirt in this fabric earlier this year. In place of hems that you turn up and stitch, I went with hem facings using the stretch denim. This does two things: it keeps the hem neat and clean and keeps the sequins off your skin. I wanted a prettier seam finish on the inside of the dress, so each seam is bias bound, and the hem facings (sleeve, skirt, neckline) are all sewn down with a hidden catch stitch.

To get a more personalized fit, I graded down a size at the waist and made a swayback adjustment to the back pattern pieces. This is an adjustment I have to make to most of my patterns, but it’s not always needed in knit garments. When I made this dress for the first time I didn’t make this adjustment and I should have. It’s probably not obvious to anyone but us seamstresses, but I wanted to take out some of that excess fabric before making these versions. Put simply, all “swayback” really means is that you’re curvy and there’s not enough of your back to fill out all that fabric.

Here, you can see the fabric that is pooling at my lower back in the first version of this dress:

To eliminate the excess fabric, you simply pinch it out, pin the excess so you know how much to remove from the pattern, and transfer that to your pattern piece. The adjustment starts at the side seam, but be sure to not lengthen or shorten that seam at all. We’re only interested in removing the fabric from the back.

A great resource for fitting patterns is a book called The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, and it walks you through each step of this process really well. I’m on my own when I make adjustments like this (and yes, it’s a bit of a challenge), but I would recommend enlisting the help of a sewing buddy to help you with this if possible.

It’s an easy but significant adjustment to make. This is what the back of this dress looks like now:

Sewing your own clothes is a rewarding endeavor by itself, but adding pieces to your closet that are well made, flattering, and wearable is an exceptionally satisfying feeling. Love these dresses!

Special thank you to the McCall Pattern Company for sponsoring this post. 

how to: add a button extension

And just like that, three weeks have gone by since my last post. June and July have been busy and full of new adventures and distractions, but I certainly didn’t think my blogging routine would fall by the wayside. And I’ve had good intentions, saying things like “coming next week” and “look for the new post in a couple days” but time and other things kept me from sticking to it. All of this to say, my apologies for getting off track. I’m excited to be back with you today, and I have tons of content planned for the rest of the summer. The funniest part about all this is that I have the pictures and ideas ready to go, it’s just a matter of editing and typing it all. Maybe I’ve stumbled into a lazy streak when it comes to computer work?

If you’re wondering about what’s been going on with us this summer, I’ll put some highlights at the end of this post. But first, let’s talk about this darling skirt. I’ve had this out-of-print pattern for ages (McCall’s 5431), and it’s one of those patterns that always gives me pause when I’m digging through my pattern stash. It’s a great little skirt for summer, and I especially love the big patch pockets. For the longest time, I thought the design was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. That is, until Emily’s Summer of All the Buttons 2017 mindset kicked in and the lightbulb went off: Buttons! It needs buttons! (And I’m not kidding about my button obsession. I’ve made two new button-up blouses, and I have plans for four shirtdresses. I can’t stop with the buttons.)

My fabric is 100% linen, and I got it from Textile Fabrics in Nashville last month.

In order to have the skirt button up the front, I added a button extension. It’s an easy pattern change to make, and once you know the rules for button placement and spacing, you can apply this concept to just about anything. There’s a few different ways to execute the placket itself (a fold-over facing, a separate placket, etc.), but for this skirt I went with a separate facing piece.

The rules for button placement and spacing are pretty simple, but it all starts with the size of the button. I used 7/8″ buttons for this skirt. Usually, with button extensions (on a blouse, for instance), spacing is determined using the first and last buttons as a guide. Then you fill in the rest, making sure each one is evenly spaced. With a skirt, however, buttons don’t always go all the way to the hem, so determining placement and spacing is much easier. You can just start at the top and work your way down without having to worry about spacing the buttons in between the top and bottom buttons. So, if this is something you’d like to try on a project, I’d recommend starting with a skirt.

Here are the guidelines for adding a button extension:

  1. Length: The length of the buttonhole is equal to the size of the button plus 1/8″. My buttons are 7/8″, so my buttonholes are 1″.
  2. Placement: Buttonholes are sewn 1/8″ beyond the center front line, or wherever the garment is overlapping. So the majority of the buttonhole will be on the garment side, with just the 1/8″ extending beyond center front.
  3. Spacing: For blouses, mark for the first and last buttonhole, and then divide the remaining space among the rest of the buttonholes. For a skirt or other garment where the buttons do not cover the full distance of the placket, start at the top and work your way down. You want enough space from the top of the button so that it doesn’t touch the edge of the garment, but don’t leave too much space so that it gaps open.
  4. Extension/Facing: To accommodate the buttons, you have to add space beyond center front. This is equal to the size of the button. So, I have added 7/8″ beyond the center front line. Then, I added seam allowance (5/8″). In total, I’ve added 1.5″ to center front. (You can see that in the white paper.)

This skirt has a yoke, and only one button could fit on it, so that made this even easier. I simply centered the first button on the yoke and worked my way down.

To determine the spacing for the remaining buttons, I used a couture method I like to call “eyeballing” it. (Hey, when it works, it works!) Bigger buttons need more space between them, and then the opposite is true. Just keep an eye on proportions. My buttons are spaced 3″ apart.

 And that’s it! I’m quite happy with how this skirt turned out. I think the buttons give it a little something extra, and I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of this piece this summer. I really, really need a few garments like this (easy to sew, unlined, comfortable in the heat), so I know I’ll be making this one again.

This pattern is out-of-print, but it is still available to purchase on the McCall’s website. I’d also check eBay too, if you’re interested. I didn’t make any other changes to the pattern, but I will say that it runs a bit big. I ended up going down two sizes. The pocket flap is also a bit funky, so I ignored that pattern piece and tweaked the pocket piece so it would have the same look.

I didn’t have any ribbon on hand that I really liked, but I did have a small piece of lace to use along the bottom of the yoke lining. I think it finishes that seam nicely. It serves no practical purpose, it’s just a pretty detail for the inside.

It’s been a busy summer for us. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were house hunting, and I’m thrilled to tell you that we found one. YAY! This is our first home purchase together, so it’s extra exciting for us. We have big renovation plans for the house, so I’m excited to share those with you soon too. We’ll be moving next month, and I’ve already started organizing and packing the house we’re in now. It’s been a few years since we last moved, so I’d forgotten (or just blocked out) what a task all that is. But I’m taking it one day and few boxes at a time.

The house we found is truly a blessing for us, and it has just about everything we’d been looking for. Ty has an office, and I lucked into a huge studio space (even bigger than what I have now!), and we have plenty of room for guests and an acre lot for the puppies to run around in. The neighborhood is charming with tons of mature trees, which takes me back to growing up in North Carolina. The house itself has quite a bit of southern charm, and I can’t wait to get some white rocking chairs for the porches and enjoy having usable outdoor spaces.  We love it.

Ty had some business to do in Alaska and California recently, and I got to tag along. His parents have a cabin in Alaska, and they happen to live 20 minutes from where Ty needed to go, so we got to visit with them for a few days. We explored and fished for salmon and had a wonderful time. This was my first trip to Alaska, and it was magnificent. Then we spent a couple days in San Francisco for the final leg of the business trip. I spent an entire afternoon at Britex Fabrics, easily one of the best fabric shops I’ve ever seen.

It’s always fun to leave for a trip, but it’s also nice to come home. I’m glad to be back, and it felt so good to sit down at my sewing machines after a few days away. You know me – always working on projects is my happy place.

Ty in his element, fishing at the Kenai River.

Walking along the beach in Homer, Alaska.

I caught a salmon. ALL BY MYSELF. It was amazing. (Also, kind of gross.)

Beautiful Alaska.

Have a great rest of the week!

how to: add a vent in a straight skirt

I’ve never been one for mini skirts. I don’t really have the legs for a skirt that short, and I’ve always wondered about the whole sitting-down-and-actually-doing-things-in-a short-skirt dilemma. But I do have the height to pull off a skirt that falls below my knees. Good thing too, since my preferred skirt length falls somewhere between right below the knee and mid calf. I add length to my skirts on just about every project.

Any skirt with adequate sweep in the hem is a no-brainer to lengthen, but the closer fitting pencil and straight skirts require an extra step or two to make them wearable. Enter, the back vent. Today, I’m going to show you how add a classic back vent to straight skirt patterns, and then we’ll go over how to sew it. Just like everything else, there’s more than one way to go about this, and it’s up to each seamstress to determine what’s best for her project. A pleat in the center front seam can be a fun alternative to a basic back vent. Or, a flared gore in the center back seam elevates the back vent to an intentional design detail. I’ve seen pleats in the back princess seams too, which is also another interesting option.

Adding a back vent to a skirt is as easy as adding length and width to the center back seam. The length of the vent itself depends on how long the skirt is. For some context, my skirt is 27″ from my waist, and I made my vent about 8″ long. You don’t want a vent that comes up too close to your backside, but you also want a vent long enough to allow for your normal stride.

So, to the center back seam of my pattern I added a piece measuring 2″ wide by about 8″ tall.

I like to curve the top of the vent, to make serging the center back seam easier.

And that’s it for the pattern! The back skirt pieces are both cut the same.

To create the back vent, the back seam is sewn together from the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the vent. Here, my center back seams have been sewn together, and I’ve turned the skirt right sides out and placed it on my ironing board. I have turned under the serged edges of the vent, and I will sew those before sewing the vent together.

Once the edges of the vent are sewn:

Now the vent gets pressed in place. It doesn’t matter to what side the vent gets pressed, just use a hem gauge to make sure what you’re pressing is accurate. Remember that that vent is 2″ wide, and I just pressed under 1/4″, so now it’s 1 3/4″.

After the vent has been pressed, carefully pin it in place. Now, here’s the trick I learned in college: use a piece of tape as a sewing guide. Place it at the top of the vent, making sure that your sewing line will go through all the layers of both sides of the vent at the top. It’s also a good idea to go just beyond the center back seam and either backstitch or bartack this spot to make it as strong as possible.

Tape in place:

Sew alongside one side of the tape guide.

One thing you sometimes see on a back vent is a sewing line from the top of the vent to the hem, which keeps the top side of the vent in place. I opted not to do that on the orange striped skirt to keep distracting topstitching to a minimum. I also knew I would go back in and tack the vent down on the inside, which is a totally acceptable option. If you sew the vent along one side, it will look like this (I know the bright green thread is hard to see clearly):

Once the vent is sewn in place, hem the skirt. This particular skirt has a 2″ hem, which I hemmed using the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine.

Hem completed:

And that’s it!

There are other ways to add the vent to the lining, but this method is my favorite. It’s simple and straightforward. So, if your skirt is lined, follow the same steps to add a back vent to the lining.

Back vents are one of those things that may seem intimidating at first, but after doing it once it clicks. Then, you’ll feel like you can do them with your eyes closed!

Happy sewing!