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Category: sewing

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. 

wrapped up: mccall’s 7627

I made my own patterns for a long time. I drafted and tweaked and tested and revised patterns for everything you can imagine (pants, coats, dresses, tops, skirts – all of it) for longer than I’ve not been doing it. Patternmaking is a tedious, long process that I actually really enjoy. I still draft my own patterns from time to time when I need to – and knowing how to alter commercial patterns is a skill I’m not only grateful to have but one that has definitely come in handy – but I’m less inclined to draft from scratch these days. The convenience of well designed patterns neatly folded in an envelop available for a reasonable price is too much to resist.  The work is already done for us! So now that I’m all about those patterns, I watch with eager anticipation for each new season’s collection. Vogue is my favorite brand and never disappoints me, and I probably use those patterns more than any other, but McCall’s and Butterick aren’t too far behind. The last time I used a Simplicity pattern was sometime in 2016, but one of their recent releases caught my eye so you’ll see that skirt soon.

 This fall, McCall’s released a pattern for a wrap dress that had my name all over it, and I scooped it up as soon as I could. I thought it was so pretty, and it had lots of potential to become something I could make into a few versions. And the blouse? Stop it, it’s too darling!

My fabric is a floral cotton sateen I got a few months back from Fashion Fabrics Club. It’s sold out now, but I like to search “sateen print” every couple of weeks to make sure I keep an eye on their inventory of that fabric. I cannot tell you how many sateens I’ve ordered from them over the years, and the prices are unbeatable. (I’m not an ambassador for them or compensated in any way to say that. Just passing along helpful information!)

Right off the bat, I want to say that this is a lot of dress. The skirt is a full circle and the sleeves are quite wide, so thank goodness for the cinched in waist to give it all some definition. I initially wanted to make view C without sleeves, but I let my “it should be a fall garment with sleeves” mentality get the best of me and used the sleeves from the blouse in view A. Of the three sleeves, that one is my favorite because it’s subtle and not too in-your-face.

This pattern fits well and is incredibly easy to sew, and I will happily make it again in the spring. Gingham, maybe? Denim and poplin are also good options, and I also really like the idea of this in yellow cotton. I made it in one day, just hemming it the following day after letting it hang overnight to let the bias settle. (See more about leveling a hem here.) The only change I made to the pattern was to narrow the sash belt. I was short on fabric, and I also didn’t want to see the wrong side of the sateen. (Per the instructions, the ties are gathered and attached to the bodice as a single layer, no lining, and the edged are hemmed – so the wrong side of the fabric shows.) I thought this would be distracting, so I’d planned to cut two of the ties, but had to make an adjustment when I nearly ran out of fabric. (We’ve all been there, right?!) So I made the ties narrower and cut out two in my self fabric and two in black cotton.

You know how I’m always going on about “breaking up” a print in an interesting way to avoid being overwhelmed and distracted by it? Well, you’d think that thought had never crossed my mind when you look at this dress. The waist ties should be solid black, to interrupt the print a little but also define the waistline better. (Come on, Emily.) I’m going to replace the ties with solid black, and I will cut them using the original pattern piece, because I do like how wide it is. It gives the dress a little more character.

Putting the bodice together was fun, and I really liked the look of the sleeves at that point. After I finished the dress, though, I completely changed my mind. I think the combination of the big sleeves and the busy print of the fabric are too much. It’s almost robe-like, and I had a huge flub over the summer with a dress that looked like a robe, so I’d very much like to not make the same mistake twice. Eliminating the sleeves does make it easier to wear this with a cardigan or jacket, so I definitely appreciate the uptick in versatility. Without the sleeves, it’s a little more predictable and less special – but I’m okay with that. I can wear predictable, but I can’t wear robes or things I don’t feel good in or that aren’t flattering.

This will be much better:

The sleeves and sash belt don’t take away from my love for this pattern, however. It’s a good one! It’s true to size and flattering, and fit adjustments should be minimal. I think it would really shine in a solid color, and the blouse version with the flirty peplum is simply adorable.

This dress is unlined, and there are neckline facings. I don’t mind facings at all, and I think they’re just the thing in unlined dresses sometimes. With facings, I have do have one suggestion: finish the edge. I see unfinished or serged-only edges all the time, and some big time sewists prefer that and encourage their followers to do the same. I happen to believe that the smallest, easiest details are what take your sewing from “I made this in our spare bedroom” to “I made this but you would think I bought at Saks.”

Whenever I have a facing with an edge that doesn’t attach to anything else, I like to serge it and then press it under and edgestitch it. Simply serging it (or zigzagging it or what have you) isn’t wrong. I just think it looks a little unfinished. And to press the edge under and stitch it only adds a few minutes of production time. It’s worth it.

I’m looking forward to making a couple of tweaks to this dress, and turning into something that I really, really love. That’s the beauty of sewing – everything is fixable!

Happy Sewing!

ruffled up: vogue 9251

Hello and Happy Wednesday! I’m so happy to be back with you in a more “regular capacity” today after a wonderful few weeks in the zone with TÉLIO and HUSQVARNA VIKING®. I must begin today’s post by sincerely thanking you for a few things. I’m grateful you’re here and reading and following along, but I’m also thankful for your kindness and support. A few opportunities have presented themselves to me this year, and I’m so appreciative that I can embrace those things knowing you’re still interested and cheering me on. There are a few things I need to address from previous posts (underlining, hem facings, waistbands, swayback adjustments, etc) and I promise we’ll get to all of it soon. I have plans for new tutorials and projects to finish out the year, and I will go over your questions in the coming weeks. Keep them coming! Thank you also for your messages and prayers when Olivia died a couple weeks ago. The pet lovers out there know all too well how much our dogs and cats mean to us, and I was touched by your thoughtfulness. I will write a little more about that at the end of the post.

But first, let’s talk about a couple dresses, the first being a piece that will be at or near the top of my “hits” post at the end of the year. You know how you can work steadily on projects and love each one, but then one project comes along that is so good, so you, that it makes you stop in your tracks? That is this dress. I made two other versions this summer, but I always wanted a third in the maxi length. The project didn’t come together until I found this tissue weight floral rayon crepe at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco when Ty and I were there in July. I remember seeing the fabric for the first time, rolled up neatly in the middle of dozens of other rayons with its soft, pastel colors and beautiful floral print basically calling out to me. It’s the most expensive rayon I’ve ever bought (by a long shot, gulp) but I was meant to have it. Without a doubt in my mind I knew it would be perfect for the maxi length version of this pattern, Vogue 9251.

I started making this dress as soon as we got back to Texas, but actually finishing it got delayed when we moved in August, and then TÉLIO happened and time got away from me. It’s one of those projects, though, that I just had to finish. I needed a short break from fall and winter projects too, so this was a great way to give myself time to refresh. I posted countless in-progress pictures of this dress, so it made me feel better to finally finish it and it not be one of those garments that you see all over the place until it disappears without explanation.

This pattern is magnificent. Easy to sew, flattering, versatile. It’s designed to tie on the inside right and the outside left, but it doesn’t actually wrap all the way around you. The first time I made it, I left off the ties entirely in favor of snaps so I would have the option of wearing a belt with it if I wanted. The second time I made the ties as designed in the pattern. This time, I modified the pattern so that the ties are much longer, attached at the end of each bodice piece, and wrap around the waist.

It was as easy as making side of the front bodice longer to accommodate the ties, and leaving the right side of the bodice open for about an inch to create the channel for the tie to feed through. I also lengthened the bodice a little, and you can see that adjustment too. (Normally, I would copy these patterns onto more durable paper and make adjustments from there, but apparently I’m going through a lazy phase.)

Swayback adjustment on the back bodice:

The left side wraps under the right side, so the channel is on the ride side seam. I interfaced the seam allowances for extra stability and topstitched around it. Notice that in order to create the channel the side seams are serged individually then sewn together and pressed open. If you sew the side seams together as one, finishing the raw edges would get pretty messy.

To conceal the edges of the bodice, ties, and ruffle, I added a piece of bias tape which finishes that edge nicely.

Because this fabric is so delicate and drapes so beautifully, I thought a ruffle around the neckline would be a nice addition to the dress. To do this, I measured the neckline and drafted a circle for the back and front. I didn’t want a seam anywhere other than the shoulder, so I doubled the fold of the front ruffle so it would open up as one continuous piece.

Fabrics like this require extra care, so this dress took a little longer to sew than the previous two versions. As with most things you love though, it’s worth the effort – even if leveling the hem and then pressing, trimming, and sewing the narrow hem made me roll my eyes a few times.

I love this dress. Looove it. I cannot wait for the first opportunity to wear it – and we may be months out from that time but gosh it’ll feel great to wear this one.

Another dress I wanted to share before getting back into fall projects is my second version of Vintage Vogue 8788. I’m not dedicating a blog post to this dress because I covered all the pattern and sewing details in the original post featuring the navy polka dot version of this dress, but it’s another piece that got interrupted by our move and my other fall projects before you got to see it. I actually photographed this dress a couple days before we moved, but those pictures were so rushed that exactly none of them were good enough to post. So, here we are five months after I started this dress finally showing it to you!

For this second (and final) version I used a heavyweight blush pink Ralph Lauren linen suiting that I got at Textile Fabrics in Nashville in June. I’m not normally a big pink person, but this particular shade had me at hello. It’s subtle, sophisticated, and just really, really pretty. The fabric is heavy and substantial so there’s plenty of natural volume in the skirt, but I’m also wearing my petticoat to amp it up a little more.

I wanted to make one more version of this dress because it took such a long time to get the fit right that I wanted to squeeze out every last drop of value from my time investment. Plus, I really like the design of the dress! I really like this pink version, and I think it’s another fabric/pattern combo done right, but the design of the dress is such that, no matter what you do to it, it’s a little funky at the sides under your arms because of the way it wraps around to the back. Eventually, I will need to put a dart in the side bodice to get it to lay completely flat against me. I might have just enough fabric left to make a bolero jacket to go with this dress too, which I think would be gorgeous. For now, in my closet it goes!

Here you can see how far in the back the wrap goes:

And here you can see that, even with all the adjustments and contouring I did to the pattern, there’s still some fabric that could be taken in.

With these projects wrapped up, I’m excited to move onto fall and holiday pieces. I needed a couple weeks to refocus and be inspired to work with cold weather fabrics again. I’m ready now, although my focus will be less on coats and heavy winter garments and more on sparkly holiday pieces. (What can I say, I am who I am.) I have, however, had a coat in mind for about a year now, so I’ll get to that first thing next year. First up, the fun stuff.

I have a big announcement to make soon, about a project I’m working on with HUSQVARNA VIKING® so keep an eye out for that. We’re talking sewing inspiration, new garments, lots of sparkle and tulle – and giveaways! As soon as we’ve dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, I’ll let you know.

Studio tour coming soon too!

Olivia

I am a private person. This helps tremendously when it comes to being a sewing blogger, because I have no interest in sharing too much that doesn’t have anything to do with our topics here. How often do I mention my morning routine? Or what I make for dinner? I shared our new house with you because, well, along with that came a pretty great bonus room upstairs that I thought you’d be interested in watching being transformed into my new studio. One lesson I learned when I had a business is that staying on message and branding yourself as something specific and sticking to it is to your benefit. I also think that you’re here for a reason and it makes sense to stay in my lane and put the content out there that you appreciate and want to have. I have enough sewing know-how and related stories to fill a book, so those things make sense to share. Life happens to all of us, but you don’t need to know about everything that goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes, though, things happen that interrupt or delay projects and I can’t just ignore them. Such was the case with Olivia.

Olivia had a significant, profound impact on my life. Losing her not only caused a delay in my posts with TÉLIO and HUSQVARNA VIKING®, but completely broke my heart.

Ty and I adopted Harrison in January 2012, and it was just the three of us for about seven months. Then, we decided it would be fun to be a foster home for dogs waiting for adoption. We fostered two dogs over the course of about a month, but neither of those dogs captured our hearts. We were happy to take care of them temporarily, and it was wonderful to see them placed in a home where they would be loved – but we weren’t meant to keep them. Then Olivia walked in.

She was about a year old at the time, so only a few months older than Harrison, and her owners were going through a divorce and had surrendered her to the rescue organization we were working with as fosters. She was dropped off at our house one afternoon, and I think I loved her the second I saw her. Her darling little face and floppy ears and beautiful brown eyes were too much for me to resist. We weren’t really in a place to adopt a second dog at the time, but I think Ty saw how much I adored that precious little puppy and we made it work.

I never had dogs growing up. We had two cats, one of which died when I was a young girl. I don’t remember how sad that made me, but I know it did. Ty always had dogs, and for a few years we would talk about getting one someday. What started as me making a joke saying, “Well, if we’re going to get one, let’s get the biggest one!” turned into our actual plan – and so we set our sights on getting a great dane.

We love our dogs. We love them a lot. We are affectionate with them and take care of them and just enjoy being around them. Harrison is a big, lazy sweetheart and Olivia was the charming, energetic one. I could go on and on about all the things I loved about her. She got sick in August, but we were on the road to recovery – until one day we weren’t and there was no turning back. Watching your beloved pet – a member of your family – suffer and die is one of the worst things you will ever experience. My heart aches at the memory of her laying on a bed at the animal hospital, unable to move and hooked up to an IV. I completely break down when I think about watching Ty carry her in his arms to the car in the middle of the night before we took her to the hospital for the last time. And it takes every ounce of self control to keep from crying remembering when the hospital techs wheeled her into the room where we were waiting to have her put down. She lifted her darling little head up just one time in those final moments, and that was to watch Ty as he walked around the table to stand next to me near her face. It was awful.

We buried her in our backyard, and that has brought me some comfort, knowing that she’s back home with us. I couldn’t eat or sleep well for a week, and I have moments when I’m completely caught off guard and burst into tears at the thought of her. Sometimes it’s knowing I’ll never see her again. Other times it’s because I’m angry that I only got five years with her. I miss everything about her. She was my dog, and I know without a doubt that she knew exactly what I was saying when I held her face in my hands the night before she died and told her she was the perfect dog and that I loved her. I also know that we did everything we could for her, and that the last decision we made for her was the right one. I just never knew how painful it would be.

I’m slowly coming to terms with losing Olivia, but I can’t dwell on the final weeks of her life. I have to cherish the time I had with her when she was healthy and brought us so much joy. My goodness, I’m so lucky to have had her for any amount of time. Eventually, we’ll get another puppy. Maybe in a couple years, maybe sooner. I can’t fathom the idea right now, but I think we will. For the time being, I’m so grateful for Harry. We think he knows Olivia is gone, but he’s always been the easygoing one, so he’s his regular, goofy self. He’s getting even more attention these days, so he’s doing just fine.

Thank you for all the kind messages you sent me about Olivia. I never could have anticipated hearing from so many of you, and I was truly touched by everything you said and the prayers you prayed. Pets are such an important part of our lives, and I think you’re doing something right if you’ve experienced that kind of unconditional love.