Sub-title: DRESS QUEST 2
Part 2 of the independent pattern company sojourn……
After the rather abysmal attempt for sewing for teenage son I swiftly returned to sewing for me and hit a resounding success. The indie pattern company is By Hand, London. The previous patterns by this company were ‘nice’ but not for 50 yr old women and so I quietly admired from afar but this one – timeless, seasonless, ageless, gorgeous!
Now you can add me to this list too.
I checked my real life measurements (as opposed to those I think I have!) against the chart and cut the 14 – my usual size. This is UK sizing but of course, but like most of us, I don’t fall neatly into one size category but I left well enough alone and instead of making muslins, I alter as I sew. OK feel free to criticise in the comments section.
I’ve also previously praised the beautiful packaging, the personal touches and humour in the instructions, the woven label – a very special pattern. Just one tiny gripe and that is there is no line diagram of the design. This may be due to By Hand protecting their design as the clever ones out there could take a line drawing and replicate it without spending money on the original pattern. Whatever, it would be good to see the darts, seams and so on on a simple sketch. I went with the bloggers on this one and scrutinised their photos and devoured their words.
I opted for a rather unusual fabric for my Anna. Most others are made in lightweight fabrics like cotton or rayon but I had this wool in the box purchased for an autumn dress that was, at the time of buying, as yet undecided. While the fabric has a high content of wool (70%), it is lightweight and mixed with polyester; it has chemical creases, rather like pleats (plisse) but not as regular. It is black/grey/navy/ with a metallic sheen, actually I’ve no idea what colour it is – think of gunmetal with a dull lustre – got it? It is different in every photo I took.
My version is for autumn work wear, not romantic dinners, or balmy days by the river, or floaty summer evenings, but in my continued and relentless attempt to scare the new students. I made the V neck and midi dress length but there is also a maxi length and a boat neck variation, and markings for a thigh high split – go for it! As I am emphatically not 20 or 30 something, I lengthened the midi dress by 7″ to fall just below my knees and sewed up the split most securely – I don’t want scare the students that much!
Just look at the little sewing machines on the front of the pattern folder – only one of them is shaded – that means it’s a really easy sewing project – and I couldn’t argue with that!
An invisible zip at centre back is probably the hardest thing about this dress. However, (yeah, there’s alway one) my fabric did not have an obvious right or wrong side and I think I may have mixed up the skirt panels a bit when sewing them together. Not that anyone would notice and I did match up my notches etc, but I’m not 100% convinced I got it right. Look at the plisse on the left side of the skirt and angle of the creases – bit off wouldn’t you say?
The most difficult thing for me in making this dress was NOT pressing! I love to press. I flatten and hammer and batter every seam, corner and hem to within an inch of its life but pressing this just took out the creases. It was like having an itch that I could scratch. Where you see ‘flattened’ fabric in the above photo that is merely my womanly body filling in the ease……
While you’re here, let me tell you about the V neck and wee tutorial to stop it gaping and flopping.
The V is cut across the fabric, therefore rendering it a bias cut, and it will stretch all on its own. See the photos below of the neckline on Doris – waving and gaping. What we want to do is tame the bias and make the V fit neatly to our own shape.
You could sew tape immediately upon cutting to the neckline within the seam allowance or attach a strip of fusible interfacing to hold it in place but I’ve found that my shape and a V neckline don’t always match up. Take the extra time to do this and you will never have a gap or be embarrassed about bending forward in your dress.
Measure from your shoulder seams to the end of the V, double it, subtract 1″ and cut a strip of narrow cotton tape to fit. Pin the ends of the tape to the dress shoulder seams and the middle to the V, folding the tape back on itself at the point. Pull the tape fairly tight.
Distribute the extra fabric evenly along the tape with pins. You could also hand sew a large running stitch and gather the extra fabric to fit the tape – bit like ease on a sleeve insertion.
Look at the photo on the right – just pins and tape and no gaping. Yes, there are wrinkles underneath the tape but magically they vanish.
Carefully machine (or hand) sew the tape in place, making sure to flatten the excess fabric as you sew. Hand stitching gives you much more control of this and I’d advise this method if you have a tonne of wrinkles to get rid of. I sew just inside the seam allowance – about 1/2″ or 1cm.
Usually, at this stage I press the living daylights out of the fabric to shrink it but in this case a light whoosh of the steam was all I could afford to avoid pressing out the fabric creases.
Now that the front has effectively been reduced in size, your facing will be too big! Position the front and back facings over the dress and pinch out the excess at the shoulders. Sew this new seam as usual and trim. Attach the new-size facing to the dress as normal, trim and clip. Under-stitch to keep the facing from turning out. Turn to the inside and press to your heart’s desire. I sew the facing to the dress to within an inch or two of the shoulder seam and then pin out the excess; sew the facing seam; complete sewing the facing to the dress.
The result of this 15 minute exercise can be evidenced in the photos below – tight V, no gaping and absolutely no possibility of gaping in the future. Although you trimmed and clipped and whatever, there is still enough tape to hold the shape and that little bit of under-stitching will help too.
Couture technique in an easy dress – what’s better than that?
Although it looks like there is a waist band – there isn’t. There is a waist seam and two darts extending from this to blossom out perfectly just under the bust – the darts tighten the fit around the mid-rift – their positioning couldn’t have been better if I’d commissioned this design from Paris.
I was so happy with this dress that I couldn’t help myself but add other small details – lace finish on the hand sewn hem and overlocked seams. Yes, this mechanical beast is tamed and purring in my sewing room now. It growls now and again but I have a whip and know how to use it! Hidden (almost) hook and eye at the top of almost perfect invisible zip.
For me, the pattern fits without major alterations, though I will lengthen the bodice 1″ at the front for the next time. Yes, there will be a next time and maybe a next. It is a flattering style that would suit most body types in my opinion and a breeze to stitch together too. And you can make the Anna dress in any fabric you want: a jersey wouldn’t need the back zip, a chiffon would need a slip, a tweed would just need a bit more clipping at the neck edge to lie flat. You can wear it with a belt, statement jewellery or not, boots, sandals or courts – make this your own! This just goes to show how truly versatile this pattern is.
Dare I go so far to say this is THE dress?
Now, if only I could figure out a suitable longer sleeve version……..