An International Anna

So, today's post is a little homage to the glory of By Hand London and their Anna Dress sewing pattern.  BHL, as they are fondly referred to, design some beautiful sewing patterns and they specialise in feminine dresses with a bit of sexy and a bit of edge, but Anna has to be their masterpiece.

I have seen many many Annas all over sewing blog land - not least thanks to the International Anna Party which I'll get to - and it manages to look universally brilliant.  Thin or curvy, petite or tall, in quilting cotton or the slinkiest silk, maxi or midi, the Anna dress is flattering and beautiful.  And because the skirt isn't gathered or pleated but is still very full, she is the perfect canvas for showing off fabulous prints (if you ignore the insane pattern matching you have to do over the SIX skirt panels).  Which is what I thought when I found this glorious print whilst introducing my Mum to Mood back in April.

So, now I'm supposed to tell you what this fabric is.  Well I can tell you it's purple and green and pink with a kind of oversized pixelated floral print.  I can tell you I found it in the silk aisle in Mood, but was then informed it was actually at least partly synthetic and I can tell you that it feels crepe-y and perhaps like a fairly robust georgette but sadly I can not tell you what it actually is because a) I can't remember and neither can my mum and I never write these things down and b) I still haven't pulled my finger out and found a way to know what different types of fabric feel and look like.  Agh. 

Anyway, I found it, I liked it, we bought it and I put it away, half thinking I was going to make an Anna but not sold on the idea.  And then came Elle's invitation to an "International Anna Party".  Her plan was to celebrate her birthday with her sewing friends around the globe by all wearing a hand-stitched Anna to an Insta-party (that's a virtual party on Instagram for all those folk out there who don't spend a disproportionate amount of their waking life glued to their Instagram feed).  And there would be balloons and champagne and cake and PRIZES, so that was it, my unnamed fabric was clearly destined to become an Anna-shaped-pixelated-party-frock.

Pigeon toed dancing - well, c'mon it is a party ...

I have made Anna a couple of times before. Once as an unblogged maxi in black broderie anglaise and once in a knit as a knee length.  I don't wear a lot of V necks so I plump for the boat neckline and I did again here but I wanted to do something different.  I considered replicating this stunning backless dress but couldn't see how this flimsy fabric would cope with this kind of treatment, however, the low back idea would not be shaken.  In addition the fabric warranted the maximum area to show of its general fabulousness but I didn't want to max it so I decided on a mid-calf length.  

Knowing that my previous Annas have been fairly roomy in the bodice, I took some wise advice following my last sizing mishap and made a toile / muslin.  I ended up cutting a size 8/12 bodice and grading out to 10/14 at the waist and hips.  In total I added three inches to the bodice length; half an inch to the shoulder seam, an inch and a half at the lengthen / shorten line and an inch at the waist seam. I used the largest size on the pattern piece for the V neck variation to draw the V back and cut off 15 inches from the maxi hem to get the midi length I wanted.  This was after I had to tape back together the original tissue (fortunately I had kept the off cuts) as in my haste to make my first Anna I had just cut straight into it.  

Feeling incredibly smug and knowledgeable, as soon as I had cut out the fabric I stabilised the front and back neckline and back seam where the zip would be with pieces of the selvage.  It didn't occur to my smug self to do this on the purple china silk I used for the lining as well. It would have made my life so much easier further down the line had I done that.  The fabric is pretty diaphanous so I fully lined the whole dress.  I did this by using the same method I did for my Kleid Tanja which handily means you can finish the sleeves without having to slipstitch.  This trick is so clever and makes me feeling like some kind of sewing illuisionist. 

So all was going great and the fit was looking good and then of course because I got cocky, I hit a sewing snarl up.  I put the zip in - perfectly aligning my waist line seams and tips of the V back I might add - and tried it on and what had been a beautifully flat fitting V back, was now all manner of nasty gapey bubbly ick.  In disgust International Anna got screwed up and thrown in a corner for a week whilst I calmed myself down and found a solution.

I think the problem was a combination of a stretched out lining (shoulda stablised the lining too dummy) and my focus on getting the waistline seam etc to line up meaning the zip was inserted a little high and caused everything to bunch up, I think.  Anyway I wasn't going to unpick the zip - there lay disaster in such flimsy fabric - so google came to the rescue and using this guide, I created a small dart in the lining half way down each side of the back V and then gently gathered the shell fabric to fit.  This means the lining now sits flat to my back and has reduced the bubbling.  It isn't perfect, but if you don't look too closely it works.  If I was to do this again I would move the zip to the side seam as this would hopefully help avoid this situation and also there isn't really anywhere to hide the zip pull.

That resolved, the rest of the construction - all french seams etc - went smoothly.  Although I had to shorten the hem by a fair bit as all the flipping in and out to resolve the pesky neckline and machine attach the lining to the zip meant the unfinished hem frayed like crazy and I had to lop a few inches off.  So its shorter than intended but actually a pretty perfect length.

So I got to wear my dress to the ball and it was such a lovely idea and so wonderful to see the myriad creations this wonderful pattern can become thanks to the creativity of its designers and that of those who choose to sew it up.  If you want to see all the party-goers you can use #internationalannaparty on Instagram or go here.

Some notes:

Please excuse the bra strap peeking out in these pics (and the fact I haven't straightened the back properly when I put it on).  They were taken in haste about 30 seconds before the heavens opened - hence the lovely light now I come to think of it.

They were also taken at 8 am which caused my neighbour returning from her morning swim no end of confusion to see me prancing around fully dressed up with my kids in the street barefoot and still in their PJs.

The shoes are from LK Bennett about six years ago - they look so pretty and match the dress so perfectly but are unlikely ever to be worn with it as they are the single most uncomfortable pair of shoes ever.  EVER.

And lastly ...

I came second in the International Anna Party competition, which I am absolutely thrilled about.  People actually like what I sew - this is amazing!  And my prize was a BHL pattern of my choice (Zeena coming soon).  Which is immensely pleasing.  Major kudos and thanks to Elle and Ute and Pips for conceiving such a fun virtual way to spend a weekend and for inspiring so many to make so many more gorgeous (international) Annas.

See you soon x


Anna

I ummed and ahhed before buying this pattern (the Anna dress by independent pattern designers By Hand London).  It's essentially an A-line dress, which often leave me a bit meh.  Rightly or wrongly, I always think they're a bit dull, frumpy but ironically this is a silhouette I should wear regularly. I'm a bit of a pear so A-lineish skirts and close fitting tops are more flattering on me*.

And Anna takes away the frump.  It's her details.  The bodice pleats, the grown-on cap sleeves, the six or maybe eight panels that make up the skirt and the gorgeous boat neckline. 

I've made her once before in a black poly-cotton broderie anglaise. I made the floor length version with a thigh high split for a friend's wedding and loved the style, but I hate wearing polyester and it's now too big so it hasn't really been worn since. 

But, I could pretty much wear this version every day. I love navy. I adore this fabric.  Although I have absolutely no idea what it is.  I really need to find a way to learn more about types of fabric as I can tell you cotton, silk, poly, knit, wool but after that I'm kind of at a loss. At a guess it's some kind of very stable cotton knit with an interesting, prominent weave and a bit of stretch, which I completely fell in love with on one of my first trips to Mood Fabrics and had to buy despite having no plan for it.  It's heavy and holds it's shape nicely but that also means the neck facing is bulky and there's a whole bunch of irritating fabric on the waistline seam that I need to do something with to make it lie flat.  And looking at these photographs the bulky hem needs sorting out as well.  In fact the whole thing could do with a good press, but it's the kind of fabric that shows all the seam lines if you go at it too hard with the old steam.

Unpretty, bulky, needs sorting out waistline seam, but you can see the gorgeous texture of the fabric.

It was pretty straightforward to make and I'm super chuffed with my first attempt at an exposed zip, which I thought would work better on this heavy fabric than the invisible zip recommended.  I was very pleased with myself about combining this fabric with that pattern and the zip.  Ridiculously so!

So I think there will be more A-lineish shapes in my future. 

My alterations:

  • Added 1 inch to the bodice length
  • Graded up between sizes from bust to waist
  • Swapped invisible zip for an exposed one using this tutorial

Worn with:

  • Suede boots from Aldo
  • A favourite necklace from Cog & Pearl in Brooklyn.

*So it seems that by sewing your own clothes and writing about it, you end up sharing:
a) more photos of yourself pulling ridiculous poses than you feel entirely comfortable about and
b) body details that are potentially TMI. 

In for a penny ...

See you soon x