Friday, 27 October 2017

Emerald Green Party Dress

The story of this dress is quite a saga. I almost gave up on it more than once. Which was a surprise to me as although fiddly, I expected it to be straightforward given that I was using patterns I'd had success with before and familiar techniques. But then again I always seem to learn something from every project I tackle! I've had a few press nights and dressed-up events to go to recently and decided my wardrobe could definitely do with another glamorous, feel good dress. And let's face it, this is the kind of sewing that I really, really love. It might seem like my wardrobe is full of dresses but a lot of my occasion ones I made quite a long time ago and now don't fit quite right or just don't seem as well made as they did back then. The curse of improving sewing and fitting skills! A lot of them are also more suitable for weddings and such occasions rather than a night out. And there are only so many times I can wear my favourite jumpsuit around a lot of the same people!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I didn't have time to go fabric shopping so decided to make the most of my stash which has grown a little larger than usual throughout the year. Almost forgotten at the bottom of the basket was this lovely little length of wool crepe in a vivid shade of jewel toned green. The perfect choice of colour as one of the events was press night for Young Frankenstein. I didn't have a huge amount of it, less than a metre and a half I would say. The lack of fabric determined the design choice and I was more than happy to go with a classic strappy, wiggle dress. I didn't have much time on my hands to be fiddling with fit, I wanted a project to sink my teeth into but that would come together smoothly and not be too taxing on a tired brain so I turned to the patterns I already had in my stash so I knew what to expect. I needed up using a combination of two Sew Over It patterns. I always seem to be pretty successful with the fit of these and their Ultimate Pencil Skirt is my go to pattern for that silhouette. I paired it with the bodice from the Rosie Dress which I loved the simple cut and shape of when I tested it a few months back, along with the super skinny rouleaux straps.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I cut between the size 8 and 10 for both patterns FYI which is standard for me with Sew Over It and spot on my measurements. I only made a couple of changes to the patterns (to begin with at least!) as I was very happy with how they had turned out previously. First I took a bit of width out of the top edge of the bodice at the side seams as my first version didn't sit quite close enough to the body in that area for my liking. I believe I removed about 1/2" at the top and graded down to nothing at the waist along that seam. Secondly I moved the darts in the skirt a little so they would match up with the princess seams of the bodice. This takes a little bit of thought and a lot of measuring!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

As I had worked with the patterns before I didn't make a muslin and despite my careful thinking through and confidence in the patterns when I first put in the zip and had a try on the result was a complete disaster. I had wrinkles and drag lines all over the place, it was way too tight around the hips and clinging in all the wrong places. At first I thought it's fine, I'll unpick the side seams and sew them back up with a smaller seam allowance to give me a bit more room. No luck. I'd sewn myself the least flattering thing I'd ever made. I just didn't understand as both patterns had fit so well before and I knew my weight had been fluctuating of late but not to that extreme. I was so excited about the idea of this dress and it was incredibly frustrating to have wasted a fair bit of my precious sewing time on such a mess. The only thing that stopped me throwing it straight in the bin was the waste of that luxurious fabric!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

It took a couple of weeks away from it and a couple of other quick and successful sewing projects under my belt one weekend to make me revisit the dress. I put my original Ultimate Pencil Skirts on and they still fitted well so there must be something else going on. As soon as I put it back on with a clear head I realised. The skirt pattern has a super high waist; very flattering and lovely in a skirt but it's not made to be joined straight on to a bodice. I had way too much length in the waist and everything needed to be lifted up a bit giving me much more room in the hip when the curves of the skirt matched the curves of my body. I folded the skirt up at the waist until things seemed to be sitting correctly and pinned in place. I unpicked the zip, separated the skirt and bodice and took 1.5" off the top of the skirt then reassembled. A vast improvement and such an easy fix! It did unfortunately mean that all my hard work moving the darts to line up with the princess seams of the bodice went to waste at the back but they still match at the front and side seams at least.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I was triumphant after figuring it out and the excitement for the project retuned. Unfortunately the dress wasn't quite done testing my patience yet. After the saga of the fit I had the saga of the straps. I spent one whole evening doing a fair bit of swearing whilst attempting to turn through skinny little straps with my loop turner. To get a super delicate lovely rouleaux strap you need to trim your seam allowance right down. However, if you do that on wool crepe it will fray and spread as you turn those straps out until the seams burst open. I wanted my straps as skinny as I could get them but I had no choice but to make them thicker then intended because of the fabric. A lot of trial and error then ensued figuring out the perfect width and using up the last of my crepe. I almost resorted to using the satin lining or some ribbon but am glad I didn't. In actual fact it would totally work strapless as I could have done with making the straps a bit shorter and when they slip down everything still stays in place. That must be proof that the bodice fits right!

I absolutely love wool crepe for it's combination of weight and drape as well as the way stitches sink into it almost invisibly, but it does need the right handling and treatment. It should really only be dry cleaned and you do need to be careful with the heat from your iron as this fabric loves to shrink. It's a good idea to at least give it a good steamy press before cutting to preshrink a little. There's various tips out there on the internet advising on the best ways to pretreat wool. I got this fabric years back from a Broadwick Silks remnant sale and first used it back then for a Charlotte Skirt. It didn't come out so well because my lack of fabric handling experience meant I didn't get those seams pressed nice and flat and the overall look felt a bit 'bouncy' rather than tailored as a result. This time around I had my trusty tailors clapper to hand and am a bit more liberal with the pressing so I'm much happier!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I used a piece of the Stoff & Stil acetate lining that I used for my version of B5814 earlier this year as it was a good colour match and also nice and strong to attached the boning to. I used the same method of inserting the boning as I did with this dress rather than as instructed in the Rosie pattern. This has you cover the ends of rigilene with small squares of fabric then just sew these ends to the lining. I had some covered plastic boning and so opted to sew it down all the way along the length. I had no problems with the boning in my first Rosie dress but just like the thought of it being securely attached in place. I decided not to line the skirt. For a special occasion dress like this I usually would do but I didn't have any nice soft lining or silk in a good colour to hand and the acetate I used for the bodice was too stiff; I wanted to keep some softness to it.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I'm really proud of my crisp little skirt vent. It must be my fourth or fifth time using this pattern so I should be able to turn out a pretty good one by now! In the end I was so pleased with the dress that I went the whole hog and finished a lot of it with hand-stitching - including the hem. From complete frustration to real pride in the course of one garment!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Emerald Wool Crepe Green Party Dress using Sew Over It Ultimate Pencil Skirt and Rosie Dress sewing patterns

I hope I haven't bored you all to tears with that tale but at least it has a happy ending! I'm so pleased I went back to it and it didn't end up in the bin the first time around. It's far from perfect and the fit could do with some more tweaking if I'd had the patience but I adore this colour and feel super comfortable in the dress, which is an achievement for such a boned and fitted number. I think perhaps my wardrobe could benefit from one in black. I've got one more press night to go to this year and might treat myself to something else new. I've actually spotted a tuxedo inspired jumpsuit which I might try and recreate and think I've found the perfect fabric. Now to hunt down the right pattern(s) to serve as a starting point...

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Navy Rayon Crepe Lois Dress

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

The recently released Lois Dress from Tessuti was an instant purchase for me the moment I saw it! I loved the clean lines and easy wearability. Really classy and contemporary. I'm not surprised to have already seen a fair few versions pop up across the blogosphere. As tempting as it is to pick a beautiful bold flowing print to pair with such a simple design I've learnt over the last couple of years that my most worn garments tend to be solids so I went on the hunt for a beautiful fabric in a winter appropriate colour that I could wear with tights.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

Coincidently at around the same time the lovely team at The Fabric Store got in touch to see if I'd be interested in being a brand ambassador for them over the next few months and sewing up some garments with my pick of their fabrics. It's no secret that I love getting fabric from them (I've sewn up too many items in their merinos and linens to list) so of course I jumped at the chance! I want to use the opportunity to branch out and try some of their more unusual fabrics (I mean it's a shame it's not summer as they've recently started stocking Liberty swimwear) and headed straight on into the rayon section. This rich navy blue crepe was just what I was looking for for my Lois.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

I cut the size 8 and had a bit left over from the 2 metres I had. I could have actually made do with 1.5m as it is designed to be a proper midi length dress but on my petite frame it felt a bit overwhelming so I lopped 6" off the hem. While I like the loose figure skimming fit I think if I made it again I could perhaps do with going down a size. I did debate between the 6 and 8 for a while but was worried the 6 might be a touch too snug. However I have lost a bit of weight recently so it could well end up fitting better in a couple of months! The only other thing to comment on fit-wise is that the neckline is cut quite low but because of the clever design the v neckline sits nice and close to the curves of the body so when wearing the right bra I don't feel too exposed at all.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

It's a deceptively simple looking dress with some great little techniques I've not come across before, which at this stage in my sewing game is quite unusual! It is the first Tessuti pattern I've used and I'm defiantly intrigued to try more as the new experience really pushed me and forced me to concentrate. I'd lost my sew-jo a little as I haven't had time to sew for a while and felt a bit overwhelmed by all the things I wanted to catch up on. I actually thought a fairly straightforward, mindless make would be what I needed but actually the surprise of this being more challenging than expected really got me fired up to sew again.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

I'd definitely recommend having a bit of sewing experience under your belt for this one; especially if you're going to tackle it in a slinky silk or rayon. It's not overly complex and the instructions are great (including clearly annotated photographs) but some of the techniques are quite fiddly and and understanding of how things will come together eventually would be beneficial.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

One of the techniques I'd not come across before was the use of tearaway stabiliser along some of the seams which had the potential to stretch out; like the neckline. You stitch it on before assembling the seam and then tear away the excess. I didn't have any stabiliser of this kind so instead cut narrow strips of lightweight fusible interfacing which has worked out great to give the rayon a bit of strength where it needs it, but you can of course see it in the inside. As a result it's not the most beautiful inside of any garment I've made...yet because of the techniques involved I still feel like it's well finished. If that makes any sense!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

Aside from the relaxed kimono sleeves which are finished with wide bands I have a couple of favourite features of this design.  Firstly the cut of the bodice. The waistband angles up in a v shape to meet the point of the neckline in a style reminiscent of a 1930s tea dress. It's really flattering and skims the body in a lovely way. You topstitch along the waistline and around the neckline right on the edge; worth taking your time over as it looks super professional and lovely when complete! Whenever there is topstitching involved I always take that as an excuse to machine stitch my hem too.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

The other really clever part of the design is that the side seams of the skirt are actually set around towards the back and the shaping over the hip at the sides is created with darts. This means that the side seam zip runs down into the dart which I've never seen before! It was the first time I've put an invisible zip into a side seam in this fashion, starting a few inches down from the closed underarm rather than running right up to the top. I was a little daunted but by following the instructions I got in to go in nice and smoothly but unfortunately couldn't get the waistline seam to match up AT ALL. I'm not quite sure what happened as it matches up perfectly on the side without the zip. Perhaps the rayon got stretched out of shape.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

Also worth a mention is the finishing of the neckline which is dainty, neat and really well thought out. A slightly different technique again to any I have used before but it has resulted in a perfectly crisp and tidy centre front point. Aided of course by the fact that this rayon presses and holds a crisp edge so well! The fact that there is a waist seam is what really helps keep this style flattering. You can see in the picture below that I still have a waistline before the flare of the skirt. Thanks to the winds of storm Brian for illustrating this so beautifully!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tessuti Lois Dress in Navy Rayon Crepe from The Fabric Store

I absolutely love making and wearing dresses in rayon. This style suits something lightweight with lovely movement. Despite the fact that I'm now craving one of these dresses in a rich autumnal print (check out Sallie's for a bit of inspiration) I'm really pleased with my fabric choice. The only thing I would say about it, as is often the case with rayon and viscose crepes, is that it is a little bit see through in direct light. Over thick tights it'll be fine but in the summer I think I'd have to wear a slip which is a shame as rayon is so smooth and cool against the skin. Perhaps I should add making a couple of rayon or even silk slips to my sewing queue!