the gingham dress

I really can’t say it enough: I love gingham. For whatever reason, I didn’t use it very much until this year, but after discovering the fabric for this Butterick dress I made in March I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s such a happy print, and nothing else reminds me more of summertime and America and classic, timeless style than gingham. Today I’m finishing a red gingham dress, and then I’ll have a fun little trio of gingham dresses. So maybe a matching skirt and blouse set will round out the collection for this year? Yes, I like that idea.

The dress in today’s post came to me one afternoon, after I finally found the perfect navy blue gingham. I found it at fabric.com, and it’s not a poly/cotton blend, which I especially like, and I also like the size of the checks. I like prints that aren’t so small that they essentially look like a solid color and not so large that they’re overwhelming. This 1″ gingham was the perfect size for this project. I can’t quite remember what sparked the idea for this dress, but it’s possible I saw something somewhere that inspired it. All I know is that once I had the idea, I couldn’t get it out of my head. And, I can say this with complete confidence, this dress will make the “hits” list at the end of the year. It is exactly the vision I had in mind, it’s easily one of the most comfortable dresses I’ve ever made. It also felt good to use my slopers and execute my own design. I love the convenience of commercial patterns and I’ll never stop using them, but every once in a while I need to design something on my own. It’s what I know, and I enjoy it.

I wanted something that tied in front, but anything remotely skimpy or revealing was out of the question. I also needed a dress with full back coverage so anything strapless or spaghetti straps wasn’t an option either. Sometimes you’ll find a dress or top with a tie element, but it’s pieces of fabric sewn into a seam that ties over another part of the garment. For example, in my research I saw a button front top with ties that came from the side seams and tied on top of the button placket. I didn’t want that. I wanted the tie element to be functional, not decorative.

To achieve the bodice I had in mind, I drafted a fitted bodice with a midriff and shaped pieces that tie in front. When I have an idea like this, I often start my search in a commercial pattern catalog, in case there’s something similar that I can adjust to save time. I never did find anything that would have worked, so I made the pattern myself. This was the best way to go for this project because it let me control every design detail without having to test too much or worry about the fit.

I outlined my idea on the dress form and used that as a guide for the pattern. This step just gives me a nice visual for style lines, seams, and specific measurements like width of the ties or shoulder seam.

After drafting the first pattern, I made a muslin on which I noticed only two fitting adjustments that needed to be made. I pinched out a little excess fabric under the bust, and made a slight swayback adjustment. Here you can see the midriff and bodice pinned where the fullness needs to be taken out. (And, gah, my apologies for such an icky picture!)

The muslin on the form:

My pattern pieces looked like this: 

Lining the entire top bodice piece would have made the ties a bit bulky and difficult to tie, so I had to get creative with the lining. The ties could have been lined in rayon, for example, but I didn’t want the lining to show anywhere. That would have been distracting. So, the lining extends far enough into the ties so that cups can be sandwiched in between, but it ends in a spot that keeps the ties free from an extra layer (and you also never see the lining from the right side of the dress).

Here you can see the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern that shows where it ends.

And here’s how that looks in the dress itself.

I had a pair of cups hanging around in the studio for ages, so I just used what I had on hand. You can find these at JoAnn. I just tacked the cups into place underneath the lining.

Once I decided that the ties wouldn’t be lined I had to figure out how to finish the edges, but I knew I didn’t want a narrow hem. So, I frayed the edges. Just having frayed edges on the ties didn’t make sense to the continuity of the garment, so I cut the selvage off of my fabric and continued that detail around the entire neckline and the armholes. I’m particularly crazy about this part of the dress. It’s so darling!

The skirt is a simple full circle skirt pattern, and there are side seam pockets. The skirt lining is a half circle pattern (no need for a full circle lining), and I used bemberg rayon to line the skirt. This gingham fabric is very “cotton-y”, and a cotton lining would have gotten bunched up under the skirt and not allowed it to move and flow like it should.

I let the dress hang on my dress form for a day to let the bias settle. Then I leveled the hem so that everything would be nice and even. For more information on leveling a hem, see this post from last fall.

I wore this dress in Nashville last week on the day my mom and I went fabric shopping and had lunch. I got lots of comments on this dress, and the ladies at the fabric store especially liked it. They also appreciated the sewing and time it took to make it. Every once in a while if someone compliments something I’m wearing I’ll respond by saying, “Thank you, I made it!” Then, I get the enjoyment of seeing their reactions, because sewing your own clothes is still one of those things that most people don’t think about. Usually, they’re so shocked they have no idea what to say. Isn’t it funny when that happens?

I cut the midriff pieces on the bias, because I liked the visual of the print going in a different direction around the wait. It interrupts the placement of the gingham in a way that isn’t distracting or overwhelming.

There’s this cute little flower truck that parks in spots all around Nashville, and it happened to be close to where we were that day so we had to check it out. Adorable, right?

My parents and my brother live in Nashville, so I like to go visit them a couple times a year. We had the best week together! The fabric store I mentioned is Textile Fabrics Nashville, and I would encourage you to go there if you’re ever in Nashville. They carry the most beautiful things, and I stocked up on some delicious linen for some summer projects and a plaid shirting that I think will make a pretty shirtdress.

I’m happy to home and back at work. I missed my studio, and it felt really good to crank up the sewing machine on Monday. Have a great week! 

mid-year progress report: the hits

The idea for this week’s posts only came to me recently. I never gave much thought to doing any type of review–or recap, even–but I’m glad I did it. It’s fun to look back and not only round up all the things you’ve sewn, but really analyze what you’ve poured so much of your time and energy into. I always want to be able to look back and assess my projects fairly, because not everything will be a winner. But as long as the successful projects outnumber the duds, we’re doing something right.

And a lot has gone right so far this year, and I’m truly thrilled with the garments I added to my closet. I’ve made a lot of things that either worked well on their own or were a great addition to the things I already had, which is a step in the right direction towards a thoughtful, curated wardrobe. So, with that, let’s talk about the hits of the first half of the year.

Hit #1: the cocktail dress. This project was a success from top to bottom. From fabric choice to finishes, it’s a superstar. I needed this dress for a cocktail party Ty and I attended in Florida back in March, and I had a heck of a time deciding on the design. In the end, I went with a bodice I designed using my own slopers and a skirt from a Butterick pattern. I made a muslin to perfect the fit, and the bodice has built in structure with an interfaced underlining. The skirt is equally supported, and there is 6″ horsehair braid hand sewn into the hem band, which I cut to showcase the wrong side of the fabric. There are side seam pockets, a back invisible zipper, and the dress is fully lined. And don’t get me started on that fabric. It’s from Promenade Fabrics in New Orleans, and it’s some of the most exquisite (and expensive) I’ve purchased in a long time. Worth it.

Hit #2: the sequin skirt. This is a version of a skirt I designed when I was in business, and it felt good to revisit it and make it for myself. I used a sequin mesh and treated it like a woven, putting it on top of a heavy twill to support the weight of the sequin fabric and build volume into the skirt. The hem facing is sewn completely by hand, and there’s an exposed zipper in the back. Fully lined. I adore this skirt, and every time I look at it I’m glad I made it midi length. Eventually, I’ll make a floor length version (because they really are so stunning), but this was a project that will serve me well for a long time. And you’ll never miss me at a party. I’m basically the disco ball.

Hit #3: the green gingham dress. I had to include this dress in the hits because I think it so perfectly represents me as a person and a seamstress. I love classic silhouettes and design, but I also like using unexpected fabrics and cheerful prints. This green gingham was the first gingham I’d bought in a long, long time and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s linen (one of my top two favorite fabrics ever). I made a muslin for the bodice to perfect the fit, and I went the extra mile to fully line the dress. The inside of that dress is so neat and pretty I smile every time I see it. I added fullness to the skirt, and I really think the bigger skirt adds some pizzazz to the overall design. I’d like to make this dress again sometime in a solid color, but this little green number is so good it might also have to stand alone.

Hit #4: the striped skirt. This is another design of mine from back when I had my business, and it’s a winner to me for a lot of reasons: the proportions are correct, the stripes are a great width, every seam matches, and–perhaps most importantly–it looks like me. What’s the point of sewing our own clothes if we don’t sew our personalities into them? Love this.

Hit #5: the lemon dress. I waited for a long time for the right lemon print fabric to come along, and I’m over the moon for this fabric and dress. I again took a commercial pattern and elevated it a little, fully lining it, moving the zipper, and perfecting the fit of the bodice. All of those things are time consuming, but the result is a dress that fits me like a glove, and I’m really comfortable in it. This is one of those patterns I will absolutely make again, in at least two more colors. Couldn’t be happier with how well this turned out.

Hit #6: the polka dot dress. This little number makes it onto the hits list for three reasons: the pattern adjustments I had to make to correct the fit, the construction, and the overall aesthetic. I had a feeling before I started making this dress that it would become a favorite, and it didn’t disappoint. I’m probably happiest with the fit, which also means I’m happy wearing it. This dress checks all the boxes for me style-wise because it covers what I want covered, the fit is flattering, and the skirt is nice and big but not too enormous for my everyday lifestyle. It’s also incredibly easy to sew, and I predict a few more will be made over the coming months.

I’ve always thought I had a preference for separates, but this list tells me that while that may be true, the dresses I’ve made have been some of my best work. (So maybe I’ll be stepping up my separates game this summer?) This list also tells me something very, very important: hard work pays off. The projects on this list were some of the most time consuming and tedious things I’ve ever made, but I saw them through with great success.

I have big sewing plans for June, like I always do, and I can’t wait to get back to work on this little handmade wardrobe of mine. While I don’t see any more off-the-shoulder tops in my future, I do see a lot of new and exciting things. Thank you all for reading and commenting and following along. Your engagement is a big reason why this whole thing is so fun and rewarding.

Have a wonderful weekend!

mid-year progress report: the misses

It occurred to me other day that 2017 is basically half over. I’m both surprised at how quickly time always seems to pass and happy to see summer coming right up. So, with half the year behind us, I thought it would be fun to review a few of my favorite projects and also talk about the ones that miss the mark, the “hits and misses” so to speak. To ignore the flops in particular does a disservice to growth, and I think it’s important to know why something didn’t work in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Most everything I’ve made this year is either a favorite or something I really, really love, which made compiling the hits list a challenge to narrow down. The misses, however, were a breeze to identify. The projects in this post are stinkers for a variety of reasons: overthinking, straying too far from my aesthetic, and making silly mistakes. In the case of this first flop, I’m guilty of forcing myself into a trend I knew wouldn’t work for me.

Miss #1: the off-the-shoulder top. I’ve worn this top one time, and I will never wear it again. Never. It sits my closet, looking pretty, but it’s completely impractical and I am really, really uncomfortable in it. It’s hard to resist a trend sometimes, especially when it’s everywhere and so many people look so cute in it. The off-the-shoulder thing is a trend so pervasive that you kind of look around and wonder if the fashion industry is having a good laugh at our expense. “Let’s do a bunch of the same top over and over and over again! They’ll love it! The’ll buy them all, and then everyone will look exactly alike!” Even the pattern companies are popping out top after top that looks exactly the same. It’s kind of a bummer.

Anyway, the thing with these tops is that you have exceptional skin to wear them comfortably, and I do not. I have a couple scars on my back that I like to keep covered, so a top like this instantly becomes a situation where I say, “I can totally wear this IF I wear my hair down AND if I wear a necklace . . . ” and that is no way to approach your projects or getting dressed. I’ve wasted a lot of time doing that, and it’s too frustrating and discouraging. I do like the color and the pom pom trim, but anything this baggy doesn’t do me any favors. And if the stupid off-the-shoulder part had popped up over my shoulders one more time the day I wore it, I was probably going to rip it off and chuck it in the trash right then and there.

Miss #2: The navy striped dress. I can’t tell you how much I despise this dress, and considering how much I love stripes, this one really stings. The original idea was to have all the stripes going in the same direction but in an effort to do something different, I decided to go vertical on the skirt. Shouldn’t have done that, it’s distracting and jarring to look at. Also, the navy stripes on the bodice should be more over the bust. So much white over the bust draws the eye to that area, which is awkward and unflattering. This bodice pattern is 1″ too short for me (I’ve since corrected that), so the waistline is sitting higher than it should which makes me look stumpy and messes up my proportions. My effort to hide that with the sash belt only exacerbates the issue.

This dress didn’t even make it to my closet. It sits in a spare closet, waiting for the day I finally just toss it or donate it.

Miss #3: the yellow striped dress. This one breaks my heart, because the fabric is some of the prettiest I’ve ever bought. I had big plans for this dress, after using a Butterick pattern with such success earlier this year, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. After deciding to scrap the Butterick pattern and go with something more classic and simple, I cut a new bodice and skirt. Trouble was, I cut the skirt in three pieces instead of four, creating an interesting dilemma where the side seams end up about halfway into the front of the skirt. I never cut rectangles for skirts, so I was really tripped up by an incredibly basic principle. (And maybe the two margaritas I had the night before weren’t helping?) I tried to cleverly pleat the fabric to hide the seam, but it just didn’t work. I do like the bodice though, so it’s possible I’ll be able to cut out a straight skirt with the scraps I have left and salvage some type of dress. But, quite frankly, I’m not terribly optimistic at this point. You can read about the progress of this dress as of a few weeks ago here. And, if you follow me on Instagram, you saw this fabric all over the place. Now you know how that worked out.

Version 1: 

Version 2:

Annnnddd, version 3 is a pile of cut up bits of fabric.

I’ve made a lot of garments so far in 2017, so I’m okay with having three things in the flops category. There’s a handful of things that fall into the middle somewhere–I don’t love them or hate them–but these three were without a doubt unsuccessful. I will note the mistakes, focus on what did work, and happily move on to the second half of the year. And, on Friday, I look forward to spotlighting the things that did work. Any guesses what they are?

Feel free to tell me all about your hits and misses. We can commiserate! Ha!

Have a great week!