You guys. I made a dress! An actual dress! Like, to be worn out in public and everything! And I sewed it! And it has buttonholes, and pockets, and a collar, and plackets, and interfacing, and all sorts of other fancy, intimidating sewing stuff. Which I sewed!
I’m just a little excited.
You see, I’ve been curious about sewing for a while now. And when my Nana passed away a few years ago, I inherited her old beast of a sewing machine. And I started fiddling around.
I made a few simple things at first – homemade hot rice bags for Christmas presents one year, some crafty things for my girls – but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I started thinking seriously about trying to make some of my own clothing. I started by up-cycling an old sheet into a maternity skirt (not so cute). Then came a skirt refashion that I’m still quite proud of. And then. I discovered patterns.
Now I’m not talking about free patterns, which are often kinda wonky and more trouble than they’re worth (especially to a beginner), but the well-designed, carefully documented patterns that are more than worth the small price you pay for them. The Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, McCalls, and Butterick) churn out the highest volume of patterns per year, but the real talent and style is found in the growing number of independent clothing pattern designers.
Oh my goodness. I now spend an inordinate amount of time geeking out over all the awesome patterns out there, and all the ways people have interpreted those patterns to create a look that suits them and their lifestyle. The potential of sewing just amazes me. To be able to imagine a garment in my head, and then create that vision with my own hands, and to have it fit my body perfectly, is just so cool to me.
Anyway, on to the dress. The pattern I used for it is Simplicity 2246 (now sadly out of print – I got mine on Ebay). It’s part of a series called Lisette, which was designed by Liesl Gibson of Liesl +Co and Oliver + S and distributed by Simplicity Patterns. I used View C, but added the three-quarter sleeves and tie belt from Views A and B. The fabric I used is a medium-weight linen blend from JoAnn’s. It’s probably not the greatest quality fabric – it was a more vibrant red when I bought it and I wish it had held its color a little better – but it wears well and is a nice weight for a cool season dress like this.
As far as sizing goes, I’m apparently pretty far from whatever proportions Simplicity uses for their sizing. After sewing three (!) muslins for the bodice, the last of which included the sleeves and skirt as well, I wound up with the following conglomeration of sizes. I cut the bodice at a size 8, based on my high bust measurement*, then graded up to between a size 12 and a size 14 at the waist. I then lengthened the bodice by 1/2 inch, did a 1 1/4 inch full bust adjustment (FBA), and re-drew the darts. Oh, and I widened the armholes along the front side of the bodice so they wouldn’t bite into my arms.
Feeling a bit like a narrow-shouldered sausage at this point, I cut a size 10 for the sleeves to accommodate the widened armscye, grading down to a size 8 at the cuff, only to discover that I still had to do a 1/2 inch full bicep adjustment to be able to raise my arms comfortably. Oh well. At least that adjustment made me feel buff.
I cut the skirt out at the same size as the waist (halfway between and 12 and a 14), and drafted a pattern piece for in-seam pockets based on this tutorial. The tie belt I cut at a full size 14, because I’d seen some reviews saying it was a little on the short side.
I used fairly standard, cheap-o buttons from JoAnn’s, and the buttonholes are all hand-worked, loosely following this excellent tutorial (I didn’t use buttonhole gimp or fancy thread). I chose to do hand-worked buttonholes partly because I don’t own a buttonhole foot, but also because I think hand-worked buttonholes, when done right, just look more tidy. I hope I did them well enough. The ones near the top look pretty good, at least (an excellent tip – always sew the buttonholes that are least likely to be seen first!)
How do I like it? Pretty stinkin’ well! This was definitely a garment that I’d had in my head for a long time, and to be able to execute my idea as well as I think I did feels really good! It’s the first me-made clothing pattern that I’ve actually worn out in public (the only others being a couple of sleep shorts). I wore it to church the Sunday after I finished it, and I got compliments from three or four people who had no idea I made it. That really boosted my confidence. I knew I liked the way my dress looked, but I was a little afraid of it looking too “homemade”. But I think from here forwards, I’ll just feel 1940’s and fabulous** wearing it.
There are a few things I’d change. I think in fitting the muslin, I was afraid of over-fitting it, especially since it’s a button-down dress, and I wound up not fitting it quite enough. A drapier fabric might be more forgiving, but if I were to sew it again in a stiff fabric like this, I’d only grade the waist up to a size 12, and do a 1 inch FBA. I’d also cut the skirt at a size 12 next time. The pocket piece worked out perfectly, except that I would rather have it about an inch higher than it is (5 inches down from the waist seam, rather than 6)
All in all though, I’m really happy with this dress! I’m already planning another of View C for summer in a cotton lawn or voile, similar to this. And View A would be absolutely gorgeous in a plaid flannel for fall, if I feel confident enough to try matching plaids.
Alright, one last shot for the road.
*The most important tip I learned from this process is that using your high bust rather than your full bust measurement to select a pattern size can help you get a better fit in the shoulder area, especially if you think you might need to do an FBA. Most pattern companies design for a B-cup bodice, or a difference of 2 inches between the full bust and high bust measurements, so if the difference between your measurements is 3 inches or more, using your full bust measurement to pick your size can result in all kinds of drapey weirdness around the shoulders and gaping armholes. Selecting a size based on your high bust and then doing an FBA is much easier. If I’d known this going in, I could have saved a lot of time, and avoided sewing at least one of those three muslins.
**Does this actually look 1940’s? It does to me. But I’m far from an expert on vintage clothing.