Emerald and Violet Garden Dress

It’s been awhile… I always feel a little bad when bloggers come back from a hiatus with apologies and explanations as if they owe it to their readers, but I get it, it’s hard to just jump back in. I don’t even have an excuse – I’ve just been unable to muster the energy to do the photos+post thing. I also have such a backlog of garments to photograph and the inevitable (for me) months of delay before a garment is finally photographed was getting me down. I want to share what I’m doing now, what I’m excited about now! Unfortunately that’s just not a reality for me right now, at least with me modeling, but I’ve made a decision. Instead of the months of delay problem… we now get the purple dress form problem!

I don’t even care, though, when it comes to sharing this dream-come-true dress.

V1395 fullfrontThis is Vogue 1395, a Rebecca Taylor design, made up in a silk-cotton voile from Fabric Mart. This was one of those J. Crew fabrics that so many of us jumped on, and I really love it. It’s soft and light with just a little sheen, and the colors, not at all like the photos, are rich emerald and violet.

Vogue 1395, image from Pattern Review

I live in a place that is completely fogged in for a few months of the year, and I am terribly thankful for the huge windows that let in a ton of light, even in pea soup conditions. They make for really hard photo-taking, though, so much light and so little blank wall space. I doubt this color would photograph well anyway, though. I took photos at night for my fabric stash app and took in-progress Instagram photos at various times of day in various rooms, and they hall have this washed out color. It’s emerald, you’ll have to take my word for it!

V1395 back and sideThe second I saw this dress I felt like it was designed just for me, and I like the design even more now that it’s done. The back is a double layer, with the overlay extending into ties at the front. I love this feature! Some reviewers complained that the wrap at the armhole is too low and you can see undergarments, and that is true. Luckily, I recently made a slip out that will always be worn with this dress. The purples coordinate perfectly, and I don’t mind at all that it shows. Secretly I kind of like it…

Here's the slip, V8888, made out of Bemberg lining, which is by far the most difficult fabric I've ever worked with. It's nice to wear, though!
Here’s the slip, V8888, made out of bias-cut Bemberg lining, which is by far the most difficult fabric I’ve ever worked with. It’s nice to wear, though!

Another common complaint about this pattern is the difficulty of the narrow hems on the ties, especially when made in a slippery fabric. I can guarantee I would have had problems with this on the pointy tie ends on my machine, but I just hand rolled the entire thing. I learned to hand roll hems when making pocket squares for a friend’s wedding, and fell in love with the technique. It is so fun to do, and I couldn’t love the results more. The tiny hem is so neat and tidy, and it has a soft, handmade look that I really like. Handmade is a key descriptor here, this is not a RTW look. Even after pressing the hems flat I think you can tell that this was done by hand. For the sake of durability I also take big enough bites of fabric that you can see the stitching as well. I don’t mind that at all, I’m using stitches and thread to make this, why not let the medium show? I know it’s not for everyone, though.

V1395 hem 2
Here’s a snippet of the tie where you can see right and wrong sides of the hand rolled hem.

So, I love this dress. It’s just the sort of garment I feel like myself in and the little details make it special. I haven’t actually worn it yet because I had to get around to hemming that slip, which I hand rolled yesterday while watching the new Cosmos series. I think it will get its debut tomorrow!

V1395 close

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A Floaty Cocktail Dress

Photo May 19, 7 11 36 PM

It’s been a while since I wore this dress, but it just takes so long to get photos done! I was planning on just rewearing a dress to our spring event because all I want to sew lately is comfy basics. But then Fabric Mart had all those J. Crew silk/cottons on sale, and I saw this teal/black poly taffeta for $1/yard and just added a few yards to the cart thinking that in my line of work I’ll probably use it someday. Then our event chairs announced the theme of the event was going to be mid-century vintage, the taffeta and a large-scale floral J. Crew chiffon ended up next to each other in my shameful fabric overflow pile, Gertie’s lovely cocktail dress popped into my mind, and this it just happened. When everything aligns like that you have to go with it!

Butterick 5882, image from Pattern Review

I bought this pattern during a JoAnn $1 sale because I thought it was beautiful, but it’s not a style I saw myself in at all. Honestly, I never planned to make it. This dress just had to be, though, and I actually do like wearing it. The fabric, which was surprisingly easy to sew and looks pretty good for the price, just swishes and floats around you. It’s awfully fun to wear! The dress came together fairly quickly, and I really enjoyed making the pleated bra part. I’m always drawn to wearing simple shapes, but I am finding that I just love the puzzle of a more complicated pattern.

Photo May 21, 8 10 28 AM

This dress was just a joy. So often sewing can be full of minor struggles, but once in a while you get that dream project where fabric, pattern, style, fit, everything just happens as it should. I was so happy to wear this dress, and I got a lot of compliments at the event from our super-stylish board members.

As pretty as this dress is, though, it does have a problem. Full circle skirt + weightless fabric + a puff of wind from a lobby door opening = me flashing the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. My skirt was up over my ears on all sides. Luckily it was before the night started, I was just greeting a couple of our volunteers (they got a real kick out of it), and I favor the most modest of undies. I don’t really know what to do moving forward, though. I thought about trying to weigh the skirt down a bit, but I don’t want to lose the swishiness or drape of the light skirt. It might just be a strictly indoor dress, and one that I may wear a more fitted half slip under… just in case!

Photo May 18, 12 11 29 PM

Finished: Zara Dress

2014 4 Zara front 2

I’ve gone through a phase of searching for the perfect shift-like dress, something like the Colette Laurel, but from a company I can make fit. I started with the search for something basic, but then that morphed into looking for something with a bit of interest, something like the Zara Dress from Style Arc.

Image from http://www.stylearc.com

This dress came together easily, even with the twist at the neckline. Instructions are sparse and not illustrated, for the most part, but for some reason I’m not intimidated by them like I am by Burda instructions. I did press the pleats fairly well, which I would not do again. The pleats don’t want to fall exactly as marked in real life, and I think it would look much better just being soft.

Unfortunately, this dress just doesn’t work as well as I hoped it would. I used a fairly light double knit with fantastic drape, but I think this style needs a lighter fabric still. Probably not a knit at all. It looks okay from the front and back, but the side view is really bad. Unbearably bad. Belting it helps, but that messes up the drape of the twist. Sadly this is another one of those pieces that forms the (very comfy and work appropriate) base for a cardigan…

2014 4 Zara belt cardigan

Finished: Seamed Black Dress

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I have a beloved simple black shift dress I bought years ago that absolutely can’t be worn anymore, and I recently bought 4 yards of black ponte to replace it and make a couple other garments. Part of the ponte went toward my color blocked dress, and I made a dress not at all like the dress I’m supposed to replace with the rest.

Image from Pattern Review

This dress is riddled with the results of poor choices, but I actually do like the finished product. I used the bodice of Simplicity 1802 and the skirt of Simplicity 1654, which is just a gored circle skirt. My biggest mistake was making this bodice with ponte – that neckline is bulky, despite careful grading and pressing! Also, and this is embarrassing, I didn’t realize this dress had a low v-back until I constructed the bodice. I don’t know how that important detail slipped by, but it foiled my plans at having a nice winter work dress with sleeves. In the end the sleeves looked frumpy anyway so I cut the armscye in a bit to make the dress sleeveless, just guessing where seamline should be. Not a good method, obviously, a well-designed garment doesn’t look like this around the arms!

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Lightened to show seaming (and poor fit at the arms…)

It doesn’t matter, though, because it will always be worn like this with that low v  in the back! So much for highlighting that seaming!

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The dress is very comfortable and turned out well, despite its little issues, and I’m sure it will be worn to death even though it’s not at all like the original plan. Now I still need to make that shift dress…

Color Blocked

This dress has been finished for about a month, but for some reason I’ve been having trouble writing this post. Maybe it’s because I’m just not all that excited about the dress.

I actually was excited when planning this project. I ordered some double knits from Fabric Mart during a 50% off sale, with the idea that I need a few basic work dresses that will withstand my bike commute. I didn’t like the actual color of the blue or purple fabrics when they arrived, but seeing the three fabrics stacked together inspired me to combine them, using Simplicity 1665, a design I was very much drawn to.
Image from Pattern Review
I just don’t think it’s that flattering in real life. The yoke and straps don’t look all that great, and there is absolutely no bust shaping. It’s not a bad dress, but it was definitely disappointing.
It was so cold and windy! Brrr…

It is a very serviceable work dress, though, and I do like it more paired with a cardigan.

I do own more than one pair of shoes… these are just my favorites!

So, there you go. It’s not a great dress, but it’s not a fail either. Meh.

Thanks for all the encouraging comments on my Vogue dress! I’m itching to finish it, but today is my personal deadline for starting that gown. Just three weekends left!

Don’t forget to hand baste…

…when constructing something like this:

to make a seam like this:

Instead of diligently working on that gown I need in less than a month, last weekend I started making Vogue 1350, which has these terrific corner seams in the front and back. It’s my first designer pattern and I was nervous after reading reviews complaining about inadequate instructions for these tricky seams, but I shouldn’t have worried, it’s really not that bad if you baste it!

I’m actually having a blast with this dress. After that year when I hardly made anything, I felt pretty insecure about my skills and gravitated toward super simple patterns. This one really isn’t all that complicated either, but it does require careful, precise sewing, and, you guys, I’m rocking it! I haven’t had to unpick anything yet, and I feel so much more confident about my ability to construct garments. I can still sew!

The party’s crashing us

Finally, photos are taken! I made this dress on a whim the weekend before last to wear to a cocktail party for work the following Wednesday. It had been quite some time since I made a dress, and everything was going pretty well until suddenly it wasn’t. I was up late Tuesday night scrambling to finish, but the dress was completed just in time and I’m pretty happy with it.

Image from Pattern Review

I used Simplicity 1610, which is one of the new summer patterns, and I highly recommend it! I chose the pattern because of the basic design, the sleeves, and, above all, the pockets. I’ve worked enough functions, though not quite such fancy ones, in past jobs to know that I want to have a place to stash my badge, phone, keys, and so on. The dress was very straightforward to put together, and the troubles I had weren’t the fault of the pattern at all.

I cut a 10 at the bust and graded to a 12 at the waist, which is normal for me, with no other alterations except that I sewed the back seam with a 3/8″ SA because I was afraid of it being too small. I usually construct dresses so that the side seams are the last to be sewn in order to adjust fit, but since I’ve never set in sleeves with a pivot point like this I didn’t want a bunch of dress hanging down on that step. Next time I’ll sew the regular seam allowance, as this dress is a little too big, but that actually turned out to be a good thing because I can just slip it over my head without a zipper. It’s also super comfortable, and since staff kind of blends into the background at these events, I don’t really care that there’s a bit too much ease.

So, it’s a great dress, and I’m sure I’ll wear it to functions like this all the time. That said, I’m going to try to never, ever sew anything in a satin again. The fabric didn’t look all that shiny in the store next to the other JoAnn satins, but the more I sewed it the shinier it looked and the more I noticed that it shows every little wrinkle, flaw, stitch, and even the pinked edges of the wispy acetate lining that I used as a facing. To make matters worse, even though the bolt said it was 40% cotton, this fabric pressed like 100% polyester. I felt more and more trepidation about the zipper insertion, and as suspected it was a total disaster. I ended up just trying to squeeze into it without a zipper, and thanks to that 3/8″ SA I could. Phew. Even though staff blends in, I didn’t want my dress to look so totally homemade among the attendees’ designer dresses!

I had forgotten how much fun it is to make dresses, but I also forgot how much I dislike sewing under pressure. I’m not one of those people who can whip up a garment in a few hours, and I like to take my time, go slow, and finish things nicely. There will be more of these parties and other events through the year, and I’m looking forward to making a few pretty dresses that are actually well-made!