I'm sure many of you will have seen by now the latest release from By Hand London, the Zeena Dress. I'm also sure those of you who don't live in London will have heard about the little heatwave we've had here recently as when we British get a bit of proper summer sunshine we do like to shout about it from the rooftops! Well Zeena has been my saviour in the muggy heat of the last week or so and has rapidly proved itself to be somewhat the perfect summer dress.
I tested this pattern and as BHL are no longer producing patterns in a printed format it was my first experience with one of their PDF patterns. I had absolutely no problems printing or assembling mine, just make sure to check that your printer is printing at 100% scale and not shrinking anything to fit or your dress will end up too small! There's a post here if you need any tips. From a testing point of view I thought the instructions were as thorough and clear as I have come to expect and include some great tips such as how to tell when you've reached the ideal point to pivot when sewing up the side seams and around the pocket pieces.
What you see here isn't actually my test version of the dress as I felt the bodice on that one was a little too roomy particularly at the neck and shoulders. This is mainly due to my weight fluctuating a little recently and my own personal fitting preferences with a design with a relaxed fit. As I'm quite petite but am by no means straight up and down I often feel like loose fitting clothing doesn't suit my proportions and a bit less fabric hanging around the body makes me feel more comfortable. I also often find By Hand London patterns to be big through the shoulders on me as I am quite narrow and taking a wedge out of the neckline is a common adjustment for me to make.
I cut my usual By Hand London size UK10 when testing but the version you see here is actually the UK8. I chose to use view 2 which has the shorter sleeves, shorter skirt length and lower/wider neckline. I took 1" out from each side of the front neckline which I did by slashing and overlapping the pattern from the required amount at the neckline to nothing at the bottom of the armhole. If you're after a bit more in depth guidance to do this yourself I referred to Sonja from Ginger Makes' tutorial on how to do the same thing to the back bodice of the Anna Dress. I'm so much happier with how the neckline sits now. The only other adjustment I made was to shorten the bodice by 3/4". I'm slightly short waisted so this is probably an adjustment I should make on more patterns than I actually do! As I had my test version to hand this time I took the extra couple of minutes it warranted to get this spot on. I was worried about the skirt ending up too short as it is described as mini length but it's turned out ideal for me personally. The length you see here is as the pattern comes and I'm 5ft 3".
The fabric is actually a very special piece which it has taken me ages to decide what to make with as I really didn't want to waste it on the wrong project! It's an absolutely stunning silk/cotton voile which I purchased in Mood Fabrics when visiting NYC with my sister over two years ago now and before I was a member of the Mood Sewing Network. I was pretty overwhelmed by the amount of choice in Mood (and my non-sewing sister showed amazing levels of patience considering the amount of time i spent browsing on two separate occasions!) but this fabric leapt out at me as something I just could not leave without. I've considered pairing it with various patterns over the last couple of years but nothing seemed 100% right and I couldn't bear to cut into it until I was certain! I wanted something simple that would showcase the beautiful print but also something I would get a lot of wear out of as I didn't want to wear this fabric just once to a wedding. After testing Zeena I knew I had found just the thing and luckily managed to squeeze it out of just the 1.6 yards I had.
The voile is so fine and lightweight that it is very sheer and so both the bodice and skirt needed to be underlined. I found the perfect mint green silk/cotton voile in Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road for £4/m. I've used this before for lining my circle-skirted Elisalex dress and they usually carry a good selection of colours. I'm really pleased with how the mint green backing increases the intensity of the colours in the print. I could have lined it rather than underlined but I thought the voile was so sheer that there would be a risk of seam allowances showing through and decided to keep it as simple as the pattern is intended to be. Underlining the skirt has given it a bit of body but avoided adding too much fluffy volume which a separate lining layer might have done.
Ignoring the amount of time it took to hand baste the pattern pieces to the underlining this is such a speedy garment to sew! The bodice pleats are much quicker than darts and kimono sleeves cut out so much construction time. No faffing about setting in sleeves! The pattern is unlined and the neckline is finished with a simple facing so there's no fiddly bias binding to contend with either. To add to the speed of this project I finished all the seam allowances on my overlocker using a light grey thread.
I had some problems with the facing flipping out even when tacked down at the shoulder seams and to the zip tape at the centre back. I had under stitched the neckline and vigorously clipped and pressed the seam allowances but it didn't want to behave. As I had underlined the fashion fabric I was able to slipstitch the facing to the underlining all the way around and eliminate this problem. The printed voile is so fine that any catch stitching to the outer layer would have shown right through however neat.
Of course no practical summer dress is complete without pockets and these are set into the side seam and cleverly concealed beneath the pleats. This is the one step when I veered off of the instructions slightly as I chose to finish the edges of the pocket pieces before attaching them to the skirt pieces and the side seams after but before putting the skirt together. I also under-stitched the pocket openings which isn't strictly necessary but as I had so little of my printed voile I used the plain mint green for the pocket linings and didn't want to risk them poking out.
What makes this design a firm favourite for me among the By Hand London collection is that it can be so easily dressed up or down depending on fabric choice. Lots of my BHL dresses are party dresses or suitable only for weddings and events rather than being right for everyday wear so I love that this one can be in regular rotation. It's so great to throw on on a hot day as the loose fit makes it less sticky and obviously the silk/cotton content of the fabric I've used is super breathable. It's so great in fact that I've actually already made another in an equally breezy fabric which some of you may have spotted on Instagram last week. I can't wait to share all the details of that one with you soon! What are your favourite fabrics to sew with for summer?