Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dress #1: Sack of potatoes

May was a remarkably productive month for me! I finished ELEVEN sewn items, plus I finished one knitted jumper. The fact that I'm +4m overall for the year so far in fabric stash (compared to my plan of reducing my stash by at least 50m by the end of the year, insert hollow laughter here) and am 10% over budget for the year so far is surely immaterial compared to this output! Surely? :D? :D? D:

I'm really happy with most of the things I've made this month, with my favourite thing being my dotty double gauze top. I will pat myself on the back as well for having successfully ticked off two of my "sewing skills/experiences/types of garments" plans for 2016 this month: I did some contrast topstitching using proper topstitching thread (on my polka dot skirt), and I also made a woven dress, which is the actual topic of this blog post. Sadly, the dress is kind of a down note to have ended May on, but it's still a tick in the box!

Let me first say that dresses are a real problem for me. Dress patterns make up about a third of my envelope and PDF pattern collections, and I often earmark dress patterns in my magazines or buy back issues because of specific dress patterns. I have whole pinboards devoted to dresses on Pinterest. I have several lovely pieces of fabric specifically chosen to make dresses. And this is all fine and good, but as it turns out, I don't actually MAKE dresses. In the almost-five-years since I started sewing, I had completed exactly three dresses prior to this week, only one of which I liked enough to wear more than a couple of times.

This tally is actually pretty much keeping with my history of dress ownership. Historically, RTW dresses were the very worst garment to try to buy because in RTW my top half and bottom half are 2-3 sizes apart from each other in many shops. I had horrible, HORRIBLE fit problems with dresses as a result. It's therefore always just been a lot easier for me to buy separates, if I am buying clothes. However, I always thought if I could MAKE my own dresses, that part of my wardrobe would blossom. I even went and did a Great Dress Trying-On Experiment a couple of years ago to see if I could identify what sort of dresses suited me best, and then bought/picked out patterns in my magazine collection thinking I would end up with multiple dresses I had sewn myself that would both fit and be flattering.

Er. Not so much.

I have a lot of boring practical reasons why I don't wear too many dresses at the moment, but also, I have to admit a big part of it is that I just feel weird when I wear them. At this point, I definitely could go into lengthy navel-gazing feminist rant, but I'll spare you and just leave it at: as a result of all sorts of things, I often feel very uncomfortable when I wear dresses, like I'm dressing in a costume or like my outsides don't match my insides.

I used to feel this way about wearing skirts as well, but I've found that the more I wear them, the less I feel this way (although I still sometimes have moments of discomfort about skirt wearing). I therefore decided this summer I would make an attempt to make and wear at least a couple of dresses. My practical criteria for these projects were that the dresses should be easy to wear, comfortable, and in keeping with my stay-at-home, semi-invalid lifestyle. In other words, I'm not making dresses for garden parties or weddings, as fun as that would be, but things that are basically the dress equivalents of my normal, very casual wardrobe. They also needed to be suitable for my local weather conditions. I'm most likely to wear dresses on the warmest summer days we have, but that is not saying very much in terms of temperatures -- I'm talking about low-to-mid 20s (in the 70s in Fahrenheit) for the most part. For me that means sleeves are better than sleeveless, and I want to be able to layer cardigans over the top.

Burda 06-2012-140 (images from Burdastyle,ru)

I decided to start with Burda 06-2012-140, a Plus-sized pattern for a pullover dress with elasticated waist. The dress is just 3 main pieces (front, back, sleeve) plus neckband pieces and a strip within with to enclose the elastic. I had previously toyed with making the very similar Simplicity 1796 view A, but I found the reviews of that particular pattern rather unconvincing. As I've had such a run of good luck with Burda recently I was more inclined to try this pattern, despite knowing from the outset that I didn't like the neckline depth. I thought that would be a simple fix, though, so I went ahead and traced the pattern and cut it out of an inexpensive printed navy and white viscose fabric.

Burda 06-2012-140 in navy print viscose

I traced the smallest size, a 44, and left the pattern more or less unaltered. I based my size choice on full bust, knowing that Burda Plus patterns are drafted for a D cup. However, I am actually currently half way between a size 42 and and size 44 by full bust in Burda. Looking at the (dubious) shoulder fit of this dress on me -- and bearing in mind this was the smallest size available in this particular pattern -- I think I might need to consider using a 42 when that size is available for some patterns.

Burda 06-2012-140 Side and back views

Reducing the length of the split at the neckline was, in fact, trivial. I changed that on the pattern pieces, and also did my (standard, at this point) square shoulder alteration. My only other fit change was that I actually made a mistake on the placement of the elastic waist when I was sewing so it ended up 2.5cm lower than it should have been. However, even that feels a little high on me, so it was probably just as well I made that mistake. My last intentional change was to the length. With the original recommended hem allowance, it fell to a very unattractive mid-calf length on me. Midi length may be popular right now but I hate it and think it looks grim on me. I ended up taking off the hem allowance and turning up a total of 5cm of hem to make it more or less knee length.

Another mistake I made was that I slavishly followed the directions as far as interfacing the neckline was concerned. I knew it would be too much interfacing if I did both sides of the neckband, but I did it anyway and the result is that the neckband is overall a bit too rigid for the dress.

The finished neckline, which is nothing like the neckline that is intended in the pattern :|
More painfully, though, although reducing the depth of the neckline wasn't problematic literally everything else about attaching the neckband was. Often what I like best about Burda is that they really seem to have thought about how to put together patterns in such a way that the finish inside and out is neat. With this neckline, this could not be further from the truth. Following the instructions produced an absolute pig's ear of a mess, and while of course it's probably mainly my fault, I'm not inclined to take full responsibility. I was fine with the neckbands, but the application method with the front split bands was absolutely hideous. I did one side and couldn't get a decent finish for love or money. In the end I unpicked it all, which did my fabric no good at all, and bound it with a bit of satin bias tape in navy I happened to have in my box of bias tape. I then hand sewed in a small triangular dart to make the neckline come to a point at the bottom. I feel like this approach rescued the dress from wadder status but it's not nearly as nice as it could have been and I don't love it.

Burdda 06-2012-140 as modelled by me, a.k.a Does This Dress Make Me Look Like A Sack Of Potatoes

Overall, I have to say I don't think this dress is especially successful. I don't really like the neckline, though that may partly be due to residual frustration with how it went together. The bigger problem though, and I acknowledge that this is not the fault of the dress or pattern per se, is that I think it does absolutely nothing for me as a shape. It looks, in fact, like the proverbial "sack of potatoes tied in the middle" on me, and emphasizes (a) my lack of waist; and (b) my extremely rectangular body shape. I think if the skirt had maybe been fuller, or the top less voluminous, this might not have been too obvious.

This has strongly put me off making my planned next dress, which was a view of Simplicity 8014. This has had great reviews and I've seen some lovely versions BUT the view I was thinking of (view C/D) has everyone saying the same: it is very voluminous and looks ridiculous unless belted and worn blouson style. I think that would end up being another sack-of-potatoes look for me. I love view A/B of that pattern, which is more fitted and has a really nice skirt, and looks fab in the versions I've seen made up, but I don't know that I would find that casual/comfortable enough to wear this summer. So now I have actually no idea where to take my summer dress sewing experiment. Maybe I need to look for a similar shirt dress that doesn't have the volume problems of that Simplicity pattern. Alternatively, I could make a wrap dress or a faux wrap, or I could look for something with some extra shaping. 

At any rate, that is a problem I will be thinking about in June. Other things on the June plan are: a pair of shorts, the linen jacket for which I am very (very) slowly tracing 8 million pattern pieces from Burda, probably one knit Grainline Linden sweatshirt/top thing and possibly a woven blouse or two. I am probably most frustrated by my search for a good shorts pattern. I was hoping there'd be something in this summer's Burda or Knipmode magazines, but there's been nothing that's grabbed me so far and the last summer issue is always July (August is often a favourite month for me because it's "gorgeous autumn jacket pattern" month in Burda!). The July Burda preview came out already and I wasn't struck by the new shorts pattern. The Knipmode preview isn't out yet, though.


  1. I love the dress. But you obviously don't feel comfortable in it and that's what matters. I am rectangular as well (42-36-40) and I tend to go for shift dresses that are knee length. My waist doesn't go in very much, so why emphasize it? Toss some interesting details around the top to bring attention to your face, and Bob's your uncle.

    1. Hmm! I will have to think about the shift dress shape. I didn't really try one on because they didn't have any in the shop I went to that one time. I might have to try another Dress Trying On Experiment.

  2. I have always loved dresses but never loved shopping for them because like you, I am 2 sizes apart top and bottom. And as much as I love other styles, I go for fit and flare a lot because fitting all the things (narrow shoulder, full bust, swayback, protruding belly, protruding butt but lack of hips, full thighs) in something like a sheath makes me gag. I've had a couple work out -okay- but fit and flare...or knit dresses!

    I refuse to make that S8014 view D. I saw a couple cute versions, I do not think it will work on me at all.

    I am always giddy for the August Burda!!! Ahhhhh.

    At any rate, you did have an awesome May! So very productive and you got all those fantastic skirts out of the deal :)

    How does the dress "do" when you pull the elastic up to the natural waist? Does it blouse a whole lot??

    1. You did make a gorgeous sheath dress that I have always admired: NL 6261! I actually bought the pattern because yours looked so good on you (and we are not WILDLY dissimilar in shape, despite the height, and uh, butt difference!) As you already know, I think, I bought S8014 because I loved your more fitted version, but it's not really a dress that screams "laze about in me!" to me so I am probably not going to make that this summer.

      The dress blouses CRAZILY when pulled up to natural waist. It doesn't look too bad, because it's actually a very lightweight fabric so it sort of drapes and moves quite nicely. It's not like a crisp cotton standing away from my body. But eh, I don't love it.

  3. i think it looks very good on you - not a sack at all. really nice!

    1. Thank you! Maybe it will grow on me with some time in the wardrobe...

  4. I think your dress is lovely. Have you tried it with a belt? I think a belt would really make it smart looking and define your waist as well.

    I like the look of dresses...on other women. I would like to wear dresses (and skirts) and look "put together" in them, but it just doesn't happen. Plus my feet can't tolerate heels, but flats with a dress make me look dumpy.

    1. Hmm! I will have to dig a belt out and try it, thanks!

      I feel much the same about dresses I think. Maybe they're just meant for other people!

  5. Hi

    I agree with the commenters who think the dress looks good on you - but also, of course, agree that you need to feel good in it. I have the same experience as you of not being able to buy dresses in RTW and hence, feeling weird wearing them. I don't think the reason is one related to anything to do with what one might broadly call 'feminist issues' - at least in my case. Since the age of about 11 or 12 I've been too tall to buy dresses in RTW. Now, in my 50s I finally have the sewing skills to make a dress that fits me - but the fact of not wearing dresses for the intervening 30+ years simply means that dresses feel weird to me. In fact, I'm so used to separates dressing and being able to create combinations that I like when I put them together, that dresses often feel boring to me: as though I don't have enough creative input when I wear a dress. I know MANY people would not agree with this - I'm just speaking for my own experience.

    I DO think it is worth using one's sewing ability to explore these options - so good on you for your pursuing the dress idea.

  6. I remember reading this and thought I commented. Oops. =)

    I like the dress and think it looks good. As Mary said, you have to feel good in it.