Oh hello there, LTNS*. And Mara's dress

So. It's been a while.  

(Every time I start a sentence with 'so' now, I can feel the eyebrows of a friend who reprimanded me for such grammatical terribleness hitting the ceiling.

Ah well, it's my party ...)

I've missed this little space, I didn't intend to drop out completely, and I have sewn a few things over the summer, but mainly I've been doing life.  

Life that includes awesome things like the BEACH, and long afternoons of kids playing in mud in the park, and watching Great Britain absolutely kill it at the Olympics, and going on vacation to England and drinking with old old friends, and meeting special babies, and hugging my family.

Life that also includes horrible things like spending three days in hospital with my five year old who, thanks to a fractured ankle earlier in the year, ended up with osteomyelitis in July. She had to endure MRIs and surgery and endless prodding, not to mention the utterly detested IV. And we had only walked into Immediate Care to check out her slightly swollen ankle. 

Thankfully she's recovered brilliantly and is now getting to grips with Kindergarten. Sob.

Consequently, sewing and writing about sewing got pushed from its position near the top of the 'most-important-things' pile for a couple of months.

And now it's nearly autumn and I have all these summery things I want to share, but given that it's still been 30+ degrees and about 80% humidity, I think I can write about summer sewing for a little while yet.

So, (there it is again Mike) shall we take a moment to look at this Mara Hoffman beauty;

Isn't this the most perfect summer dress: cool and breezy but also fitted and spaghetti-strapped, demure yet also not, stripes, mid-calf, gorgeous textured cotton. And feature pockets.  

And also $300.

I almost, almost put it on the plastic.  It's just so pretty.  

But then I saw that 1) the lining was polyester and 2) the stripes didn't match up at the side seams (which for $300 they really should), that 3) the back was shirred and 4) I don't have $300 to spend on a dress, and I decided that I could make a dress that approximated the look of this but didn't have the three things that I didn't like about it.  And for once also save myself a bunch of wonga. 

As an aside, I have to say that the thing that ultimately decides it for me on whether to buy RTW or not is the fabric. Not just the quality and fibre but the print.  It can be very hard to replicate something you see because you simply can't find a print or texture or drape that comes close to the thing you lust after.

But I did find some fabric (in Mood of course) that came within a mile and so I made this:

It's a slubby black and white linen rather than a waffley blue and white cotton but by using the wrong side, it comes close to the lovely fresh blue of Mara's dress.  The linen is a little heavy but actually, I think, works quite well with this style, giving a more structural look.

Next up was the pattern.  I couldn't find a pattern that came close, (although Republique du Chiffon released something similar when I was mid way through construction in May), so I did a bit of cut and shut with an out-of-print top pattern and the skirt from a vintage pattern and pockets from somewhere else.  I want to say Brumby but I'm pretty sure it wasn't as those pockets are so much bigger. This is the problem with it taking a long time to make something and then even longer to write about the details. (Plus having a memory like Dory.)

The top is McCalls 6325 which I remembered from this post and tracked down a copy on Etsy. I based it on view D but obviously added a skirt rather than the hideous handkerchief hem affair (for the record, in case you were interested, I irrationally HATE handkerchief hems). And the skirt was from a dress pattern of my mum's from the late 70s, Vogue 1860, which gave just the amount of gather and flare I was looking for.  (I really have to make that dress in full, it's so lovely.)

And the technical bits:

I made the bodice following the instructions, adding an inch to the length and narrowing the straps being the only real changes.  I followed the instructions for my size, but as you can see the cups aren't a great fit (even though I did make a muslin!) and I should have used bigger, or done something to make them deeper as they're not really form fitting.

I was super careful to match all the stripes across the placket and at the side seams.  I decided not to on the cups, mainly because I liked the way the mis-match on Mara's dress highlights the style lines.

The bodice is fully lined with some white cotton shirting which gives it nice structure.  I came a little unstuck with working the lining around the end of the placket. This doesn't open fully as the view I was making does, and I couldn't find a way to neatly enclose the end of the placket so it's just serged.  It doesn't look great on the inside but it works and actually holds everything securely in place.

The skirt was very simple. I initially thought I would pleat it rather than gather as that is more flattering on me, but the weight of the linen, the contrast of the fullness with the very fitted bodice and the casual nature of the dress changed my mind. I went all out with the stripe matching on the pockets and then gathered it and attached it to the bodice.

I didn't bother to recreate the separate wide band on the bottom of Mara's dress as I'm not entirely sure of its purpose and don't love the awkward break it creates in the stripe.

The buttons are self-covered and are functional, but as I forewent the back shirring and therefore stretch on the back, I needed to find an additional way to get the dress over my hips and / or shoulders, so I inserted a zip on the side seam (rescued from an old dress I might add.) This wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be but I did redo it a couple of times to get my stripes matching.

I hand-stitched the lining to the zip tape and hand-stitched the lining down to the waist seam. And, as I don't really need to undo the buttons to get it on and off, I think I will stitch the plackets together to keep them sitting straight, as they pull out of shape at the moment.

Verdict? I love it.  I need to shorten the straps as they keep falling down and I would like it if they joined the bodice slightly further apart, but I couldn't do that without changing the shape of the bodice top, which I wasn't convinced I could make work. The linen is a little heavy for the dress I had in mind, but the structure creates something quite different that I like.  And I kind of wish I'd used the right side of the fabric as the black and white would have been more dramatic. 

Sewing is a funny thing. It feels like it should be very precise and that you should come out with exactly what you envisaged, but for me it often feels like my 'A' level art projects. Something, namely my (in)ability, creates some kind of math aberration where ingredients in, does not necessarily equal ingredients out.

I think the heat is short-circuiting my brain, so it's probably best I go lie down.

I hope you have all had wonderful summers and wishing you much joy with a whole plethora of patterns and cosy fabrics for your autumn sewing.

See you soon(er) x

*LTNS = Long time no see.

ps: Thank you so much to the sweet-souled lady who sent me an email in the last couple of weeks.  She was just checking in, checking to see if I was OK as I haven't blogged in a while.  We don't know each other - other than through social media - and I was so touched that somebody took time out of their life to reach out. I know in the past I have wondered why someone has been so quiet and not thought to check in.  I wish I had.


A linen Sway Dress

I absolutely loved reading the comments on my last post.  So many of you were so kind about my dress and how I should embrace what I want to wear - because if I feel good then that is all that matters. Thank you! The best bit was reading everyone's thoughts on their own personal style evolution and how they feel now compared to how they felt at 19. I could relate to pretty much everything and it was so lovely to read so many different stories.  Thank you!

The comments were pretty much unanimous in how comfort in your own skin and feeling more at ease with oneself and one’s style seems to come as we get older and we fundamentally give less of a damn as to what other people think, or have realised that, on the whole, people are too busy thinking their own thoughts to pass judgement on other randoms in the street. I absolutely agree with this. I try to wear what makes me happy, which one day (thanks to all the supportive comments) will be a figure hugging red stretch dress and the next will be this linen tent. 

Oh the joys of fickle magpie fashion tendencies.

Last year, for some reason, I tracked down Gray Line Linen in the Garment District and went a bit mad. I say for some reason, as linen and I don't generally rub along that well together.  I'm not a huge fan of the artfully crumpled look - mainly because I just look like I forgot to iron (purposeful forgetting is usually the case when it comes to me and ironing) rather than attractively relaxed and often the silhouettes that linen fabrics are made into - in RTW - are not to my taste.  I do see the attraction of a beautiful soft linen and its breeziness for sticky summer days, but that doesn't, or at least hasn't to date, really translated into garments for me.  So it was especially strange to be buying a fabric I don't love that was not the finest kind, for that read; it's pretty stiff and scratchy.  But I am a sucker for a stripe and a windowpane, so this ended up coming home with me. 

Only to sit unused for a year.

A while back whilst doing the bi-monthly ritualistic ‘let’s match fabric to pattern and daunt myself with an absurdly unachievable seasonal sewing list’, I had a thought to turn this windowpane into a Lexi top until I realised the pattern called for a stable stretch fabric.  I considered inserting a back opening / fastening but crispness is the order of the day for such a pattern and this linen whilst stiff and scratchy would not stay crisp for very long.  And clearly has no stretch.

I can't remember what lead me to the Sway Dress by Papercut Patterns and this fabric as a match instead - particularly as the pattern held little interest for me when I first saw it - but I do know that I wanted to sew this up as something that would work with the stiffness of the linen rather than fight it and the swingy shape of the Sway Dress enables just that - it creates the perfect tent.  Seriously, I could ditch my kids' play tent and just use this. Double duty. And they'd then have room to swing a cat in their bedroom. 

The Sway Dress is quite possibly the simplest dress pattern in the world - no darts, no fastenings, no real fitting to be done; unless of course you're a lanky giant with an absurdly long chest and swimmer's shoulders (without actually being a swimmer), and an all-in-one facing that means no fiddly binding on the neck and armpits.  

May I just draw your attention to that pattern matching down the centre front seam ...

Simple. But at the same time with lovely details; the close fit through the chest and shoulders that tames the tent a little and the fact that you can wear it with the V at the front or at the back. 

... and down the back!

I chose the back and because I needed to make a half inch forward shoulder adjustment, I can't easily wear it the other way.  I could probably have done with a half inch broad back adjustment as well as I think it might pull a little. I did increase the chest length by half an inch. This is as simple as cutting across the pattern piece through the armhole and inserting some paper and rejoining the armhole.  Which is great (unless there are sleeves involved then it gets a little more tricky), as for me this ensures the armhole isn't too tight and also moves the bust point to, or closer to the correct point.  Even though there are no darts here, I can assume that the bust point will be too high for me as this is a standard fitting issue I have.

Going by my bust measurement, I cut an XS in the longer length - even though I don't intend to use a waist tie - as the short length looks like it would be indecent on me. I did end up cutting 4 inches off the hem (better that way around) as the hem length is crucial in this fabric to avoid this being about as flattering as a bin bag.  

It is such a simple pattern and really quick to sew and I could see making it in a very fluid silk would create such a different dress.   Thing number 218 that I love about sewing patterns - the versatility and never ending options from just one pattern.  

I’m pretty pleased with the outcome of this combination of pattern and fabric.  I don’t always get that right, but increasingly I’m learning what does and doesn’t work for a particular style and silhouette. It again, is a very personal thing that relates to one’s own style and the fabrics we as individuals like to wear - I’m defo a natural fibres girl (to be frank, synthetics just make me sweaty) who goes easy on the prints (large-scale florals aside 1, 2, 3…) 

So I’d love to know how you determine whether a fabric is suitable for your vision (recommended fabrics aside)?

And which are you most likely to change to suit - the fabric or the pattern choice?

Thanks again for the uplifting and generous comments. This is truly a special community to be part of.

See you soon xx