Dresses of a year

Before you have children, everyone tells you that once you do your time will disappear. And you think, ok, sure, but you really have no concept of how things will change in your life. How much longer everything takes with a small person in tow. How your own time pretty much condenses to the few hours between dinner and bed, plus the unknown length of nap time. But that time can add up into some pretty serious chunks of sewing (as long as you adjust your tolerance to mess and don’t mind the only time the dining table gets cleared is when you want to cut out fabric…).

Herewith projects sewn, photographed but unblogged in 2016 because some things have to give. In roughly chronological order.

170107dresses7Three Seamwork Kennedy dresses. (Yes, there are only photos of two.) I quite like this pattern, although it is a tad short. I was really unsure about the sack-like trapeze silhouette, but this pattern convinced me as long as it’s fitted around the bust and shoulders, it’s ok. These were in my nursing stage so I added the exposed zippers, which worked well but now I no longer need access are of an awkward length (almost to the natural waist where they’d probably look better ending just below the bust). The first was made in a polyester textured navy and white stripe stretch fabric from Spotlight, inspired by this Karen Walker dress. I raised the back neckline so it doesn’t have the V and ties. I’d wear it more if I hadn’t used a gold bias binding around the neck and sleeves which is very scratchy. The purple tropical print was the second and most successful. This is a silk/cotton blend with a seersuckerish texture bought at The Fabric Store years ago. Made for the Canberra Sewing Crew’s autumnal high tea and worn heaps, even to work with tights and a blazer. For the third version, I lengthened it into a maxi dress for my birthday picnic. I love the look of this but the feather fabric (“peachskin” from Girl Charlee) is a) slightly sheer and b) quite sweaty so it really needs a slip underneath and since I don’t have one, has hardly been worn.

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One Acton dress pattern testing for In The Folds. In the few years I’ve been regularly reading sewing blogs, there have been two or three kerfuffles about pattern testing so I signed up for this as much to see what was involved as for the pattern (although I do like the silhouette and wouldn’t have volunteered for something I wouldn’t wear). I thought Emily wrote a good blog post about her process (after the fact) and I was impressed with how she ran it – especially having a closed Facebook group for all the testers so we could see each other’s progress and get quick feedback from Emily on muslins, fitting and the like. The top of this is a cotton-spandex knit from Spotlight, originally bought to make leggings, and the skirt is silk from that same long-ago trip to The Fabric Store as the purple tropical print above. I also modified this slightly for nursing, extending the straps at the front to the waistline and attaching them to the top of the bodice with press studs (I think I’ll go back and sew them on now to make them more secure). I sewed this right before winter and it promptly got too cold to wear a floaty silk skirt so it hasn’t been out of the wardrobe much. I’d like to make another version, View A this time with the plain A-line skirt.

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One chameleon two-piece ball gown. The problem with all the ball gowns made so far is they get worn once or twice then never again, not being especially practical dresses. This year’s was going to be totally different. I used the short version of Vogue V8921, which hits about knee-length, and used the pattern to draft a maxi skirt, gathered at the waist instead of pleated, that buttons at each side seam behind those crossover panels. The dress is made of silk jersey (from Mood, more on that in a moment) and the skirt of polyester chiffon with a burnout floral pattern from Spotlight that I dyed blue. I was thrilled with the execution, which came out as a whole how I imagined, but I was displeased with my fitting skills. It was these photos that made me realise my post-baby body needs an FBA on patterns not a larger size. The dress on its own is too large in the back, so the crossover panels droop badly and pull the side seams to the front. It’s sitting on my sewing desk waiting for some large darts to be put in back in the hope that will fix many of its problems.

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One glorious emerald Anna dressThis was a pretty quick, I-need-something-glam-fast dress to wear to Fashfest and it’s turned out to be one of my two favourite makes of the year. I just feel fabulous every time I wear it! It’s the tried-and-true Anna bodice with a scooped out back plus a self-drafted pleated skirt (if by self-drafted you mean “lie fabric next to ruler and pleat until it’s the right width”). But the thing that really makes it is the fabric: more of that silk jersey from Mood. I’ve wanted to sew with this for years but it’s always been prohibitively expensive – until one late night browsing the Mood website for something else entirely I stumbled across it at 15 per cent of its usual price (A$11 a yard!) and, well, the only question was which colour to buy. I got 3.5 yards each of three colours (I still have a bright red/orange to sew) quick smart. But the next morning when I thought to share this bounty with instagram, lo it was changed to 15 per cent OFF the regular price, per haps alerted by my order? This stuff is an absolute dream to sew and it feels like wearing a waterfall. I’ve worn this dress so much. (Yes, it does need some bra-strap-holding thread chains in the shoulders; I know this but haven’t bothered.)

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One Cotton + Steel + Chalk fab floral dress. Like most of the rest of the sewing sphere, when I saw the Rifle Paper Co. collaboration with Cotton+Steel I had to get some. 2016 has been the year I discovered rayon properly – its drape! its feel against the skin! – so for me there was no question about the substrate and Miss Matatabi only had red left by the time I finally went to buy some. Lucky I love red! I wanted to try out the Cotton+Chalk Rosie dress pattern that came with a Simply Sewing magazine and am happy with the pairing of fabric and pattern. I also love the piping I added at the waist panel. I’m not happy, however, with the fit – I just couldn’t work out the sizing properly and even though I took the side seams in heaps the neckline gapes something shocking plus the zipper bulges. I think part of the problem is the bodice is too long – I’m working on a new sloper so I can try to adjust these things before I get sewing. But these issues haven’t stopped me wearing this a whole lot as a casual dress. (Psst… I can’t remember how I discovered this but Rifle Paper Co is doing another fabric collection, this time inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s out a bit later this year.)

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Two Cynthia Rowley rayon sundresses. These are a really wearable muslin and the actual planned dress, and I’ve worn them both heaps. The spotty one (at right) is the other of my two favourite makes for the year, but I’ve failed to get photos apart from a windy, footless impromptu few at MONA in Hobart. The pattern is Simplicity 1873, which I’ve had for years and made up once before, in a perfectly pattern-matched plaid taffeta that was much too short – a problem exacerbated by a flighty skirt. This time I lengthened the skirt (or maybe used the pieces from view A instead of C?), scooped the neckline out ever so slightly and added pockets (and colour blocked the skirt on the spotty version). There was a bit of faffing around with the seam allowance in the side seam but I’m really happy with the fit. I also love how full the skirt is – the front has three panels, with the seams hidden in the pleats. The orange/purple zebra-esque fabric is rayon from Spotlight, bought originally to make a Sewaholic Cambie with to imitate this dress from an episode of Awkward:

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but I couldn’t face fitting that pattern properly (again), so used it as a muslin for this one. I cut it on the crossgrain for the direction of the orange zig-zags and then didn’t have quite enough for the skirt so one of the back two panels is pieced. I was worried about the weight of the extra seam (it’s about two-thirds of the way down) but it turns out to be a total non-issue. The red spotted fabric is a rayon crepe from Tessuti and seen all over Instagram. I took both dresses on a recent work trip to LA and was secretly thrilled when another of the reporters asked if the spotty one was Gorman (how good is it to be able to reply, “No, I made it”?).

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Miscellaneous un-selfish sewing. First birthday Oliver+S field trip cargo pants (minus the cargo pockets and adding adjustable elastic) made from a worn-out pair of my jeans. Christmas and first birthday Oliver+S Pinwheel tunics and dress. Seamwork Almada using vintage kimono silk for trim.

Not pictured: Tote bags from a Japanese bag book for all the women I give Christmas gifts to. A dopp kit from the Grainline Portside set for my brother. Two True Bias Sutton blouses (and fabrics bought for a third, which totally counts, right?). Metres and metres of birthday bunting. Three MadeIt Patterns Groove dresses. Second birthday Brindille and Twig Pocket Raglan Dress and Big Butt Pants matching set. Two balloon ball covers traced from one a cousin gave us. Bandana bibs for a dribbly teether.

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Fast and fancy festive frock

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I love having a new dress for Christmas. There’s something that feels special about saving a frock up to bust out in celebration of holiday and family and good times. This year is the first time I’ve made such a dress and it was a real last minute, spur of the moment thing inspired by the fabric. It was the usual story for me – in Spotlight hunting down something for another project entirely when I am suddenly smitten with some cloth. In this case, a cream cotton lace with fluoro pink edging on the flowers. Perfect for a twist on the Christmassy classic red and silver, no?

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I’ve been jumping on anything with fluoro highlights lately, partially inspired by this blazer Sophie made, but keep putting the fabric back down on the basis of impracticality of how it would actually integrate with my wardrobe. But this time my frivolous self shouted down my sensible self.

The bodice is my now TNT version of Anna, with all the adjustments made for the purple wedding-guest version. I did re-draft the neckline (again) because that purple one is just the teensiest bit low, such that one must choose one’s undergarments very carefully when wearing it. This was done in the laziest way possible – drawing around my French curve directly onto the fabric – so that I’ll have zero possibility of recreating this particular neckline.

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Most of the design decisions here were made very much on the fly. This was sewn in the limited few hours I had the week of Christmas after accounting for work and the presents I decided to sew up (two Finlaysons and a super-stretchy Kielo that hopefully works as maternity wear) so I was keen to make it as easy as possible. Except for the part where I decided to add in a waistband with piping (the making and sewing of which were brand new techniques to me)… I just wanted something to break up the expanse of lace and figured some solid lines would do that well enough. Plus there’s a guide to sewing piping in one of the bag-making books I own and the techniques are surely just the same?

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Naturally I didn’t muslin this new addition, or take any length off the bodice, or anything sensible really. The waistband was initially about double this width but when I’d got the dress to the point of zipper insertion and actually tried it on that looked terrible. Rather than unpick the skirt and re-cut the length (remember, serious time constraints) I decided to try gathering the waistband to half its width. Not sure what the proper technique for this is, but I sewed gathering lines vertically at roughly 10cm intervals around the waistband, gathered, measured, and sewed the gathers in place. It was not at all exact, hence the wiggly piping lines, but I generally like the effect. Next time, I shall look up how to do it properly. You know, if there is a next time.

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My goodness, this was one of the worst zipper insertions I’ve done in quite a long while. Mostly because although I’ve come around to the merits of basting invisible zippers in place so that seams match up, I didn’t bother with that here. No time to re-insert it though, and I spent most of the day sitting down so no one was looking at my back anyway. The skirt is just a rectangle 1.5 times the waist measurement, gathered and hemmed.

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The dress is lined with cream ponte remnants of the ball-gown lining. It’s so soft against the skin! There wasn’t a huge amount, so I cut the bodice sleeveless (you can see in the photo above how the dress sleeves are transparent) and cut the bottom part as a rather narrow pencil skirt instead of gathering it like on the outer. This creates a peculiar sensation when wearing it, where you can feel the skirt tight around the legs but the outside is still moving freely.

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This dress, she’s not perfect but she is a lot of fun and a testament to how much more confident I’ve become over the past year with playing with patterns and going boldly in my own directions. And that’s a great festive feeling.

Holy double matrimony, Anna-Flora

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Four of my very good friends were married yesterday at two separate locations hours apart. What is a gal to do in this situation?

Make a dress, of course.

Unlike most of my sewing, this one’s been a bit of a slow burn. The fabric has been sitting out on a chair next to my sewing desk for months while I thought up something worthy of its specialness.

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Anna-Flora in action at wedding number one

The internet is a most magnificent place and one of my favourite innovations is the proliferation of people who will track down the exact clothes characters on TV shows wear. Thanks to these mystery people, I have learnt nearly every one of my favourite dresses worn by the Gossip Girls was a Marc Jacobs creation. I spent far too long once upon a time fruitlessly trying to track down the Night Birds dress Blair wore, only to discover it was a season old by the time I saw the show and out of my budget anyway. So I was pretty excited to discover Mood has Marc Jacobs fabrics on its designer roster. This here is an MJ viscose crepe which seems to have come from his Resort 2013 collection (whenever that may have been created). It has a lovely drape and was not as slippery to sew as I initially feared.

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I wanted a fairly simple pattern with a big skirt to show off the slinky drape and not break up the print too much. Naturally, I turned yet again to By Hand London for inspiration. I really do love those bust pleats on the Anna bodice but the skirt had too many panels for what I wanted, so I switched it out for the Flora skirt. Pretty sure I’m not the first to do this! The fabric was not quite wide enough to fit the front skirt panel on so I had to take a wedge out and make the pleats shallower but it’s still lovely and full.

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So, there are clearly several pattern modifications here. Firstly, pockets. Aren’t they the best? I used the pattern pieces from the Cambie I had just made (unblogged because she’s awaiting a bodice modification) and actually worked out the placement properly after the debacle with my second Gabriola skirt. These pockets are going to get a work out, I can tell.

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Look at all that skirt!

Second (and I guess most obvious) was the neckline. I like the original boatneck on Anna but it’s not my preferred everyday option, so I scooped the front out a whole lot. Let’s be honest, probably too much given how often I had to check my bra was still hidden. But I’m pleased with it anyway. She just needs some bra-strap holders sewn in to the shoulder seams to be absolutely perfect.

I think I’ve *finally* got the back bodice pattern adjusted enough so it fits down the centre properly, but the waistline is still a lot lower at the back than the front. I’ve noticed a couple of my RTW dresses do this as well – any suggestions on fixes? Is it simply a matter of making the back bodice shorter?

141108annaflora13Inside I drafted my own sleeve-and-neck-in-one facings and separate linings which was exciting (I get excited by the guts of garments a lot more these days than I ever dreamed possible…). Invisible zipper, machine rolled hem, overlocked seams and she was done. Oh, and I was worried about the neckline and waist seam in particular stretching so I reinforced them with bits of salvaged selvedge of the same fabric.

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All up, I think this is a dress worthy of the specialness of the fabric and the weddings it was made for! And the best part? The way it twirls!

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This is what happens when you twirl too much
This is what happens when you twirl too much