The girls at By Hand London contacted me a little while back to see if I wanted to test their newest pattern and what else was I going to say but yes yes YES! The lovely Flora Dress was released yesterday and to sum it up in one word it's just DREAMY! It features a full skirt with a high low hem and two bodice options including a faux wrap style. I chose the non wrap bodice as this fitted style with the high straight neckline is a feature on many of the vintage 1950s patterns I am attracted to but I've never been able to get hold of one in my size!
The fabric was very kindly sent to me by Susan from Sewbox (who I have got to say was incredibly helpful and speedy!). It's this gorgeous John Kaldor viscose twill which I was concerned might not have enough body for the pleats in the skirt but I just couldn't resist the print! Just to tempt you further it's on special offer at the moment and Susan also has an amazing range of Michael Miller, Liberty and other John Kaldor prints. Pink isn't a colour I usually wear a lot of, especially not dressing fully in but there was something about the vibrancy of this swirly floral print that just seemed perfect for the drama of this dress. It also looks a little 1950s to me which and I could just picture the bodice in roses.
When the fabric arrived I discovered it has that beautiful drape of viscose but had some weight to it so holds the shape of the bodice well. The pattern only calls for you to line the bodice (which means you really need to think about how you're finishing your skirt seams as the high low hem will make a small amount of the insides visible). To give the skirt a bit more oomph I decided to line it fully using a warm pink cotton from my local market. I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and love the flash of solid pink you get from the back of the skirt as you move. The completed combination and volume of fabrics makes me want to swirl my skirt around like a flamenco dancer continuously!
The volume of the skirt (and decision to line it!) does make for a helluva lot of hemming though. I used the By Hand London girls own tutorial for hemming a curved edge including three options. I chose the first option but also really want to try attaching tape as a really pretty one would look gorgeous showing at the centre back dip! Using the first method machine stitching around the edge at the distance of the first fold before pressing helps a high amount with easing in the excess fabric. I used a 1/2" hem on and whizzed round the lining by machine. That viscose was too yummy to ruin with visible stitching though so I hand stitched it. I can't remember what I was watching at the time but do remember it taking 3 long episodes but it was well worth it. It's the best hand sewn hem I've ever done, helped no end by the quality of the fabric which had pressed and help the smooth curved edge so beautifully.
The pattern fit with no alterations in a US 6/UK 10, which is the size I always cut with By Hand London patterns. The only slight change I might make in future is to reduce the width of the back neckline as it very slightly gapes. This is a fairly common thing for me to do with any pattern. I'm fairly short (about 5ft3") and normally have to lop a fair bit off the length of BHL patterns but this one I kept as is. I think it's therefore come up longer than intended on me but I love the length it is, it feels really dramatic!
The instructions for constructing the bodice are great, super simple to follow and as always with clear illustrations. Everything is put together, complete with lining, before sewing up the side seams. These are then sewn up in one, from waist to armpit and back down again, which I totally loved for getting a clean finish. My invisible zip went in perfectly first time (hooray!) thanks again to Lauren's brilliant tutorial and tip to interface those seam allowances beforehand. Once in I used my regular zip foot to attach the lining to the zip and get a lovely clean finish inside as well!
One thing to bear in mind if you are planning to make this is that you need WIDE fabric for that skirt. The skirt pattern pieces are cut on the fold and just (and I really mean just, including the selvedges!) fit on to my 140cm wide fabric. My lining was a bit narrower so I had to do some creative piecing but it worked out fine.
I can see this dress taking on a wide variety looks with different fabric choices. I'd love to make it in a stiffer fabric with real body like a brocade or a thicker cotton sateen to give that skirt some real volume. But I want to make a really drapey chiffon or voile version with a short lining just as much! I think it would look really ethereal and have a gorgeous movement to it. I'd like to try making those little straps super skinny too, with hair up it would look great. I never thought I'd say this but I need some more weddings and special occasions to go to this year so I've got an excuse to make more versions of Flora!
If you feel the need to instantly see some more Flora the other pattern testers have made an amazing variety of dresses. Check them out here: