Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

M&M – I shouldn’t like it….


Merchant and Mills Workbook : Pattern 1 Curlew Dress

Here’s a sad dress: like a deflated balloon.


Merchant and Mills style photograph

Or rather, more like the balloon in a 100 pack bag of Pound shop balloons that didn’t even get to be blown up and left in the bag to be thrown out the next day with the empty beer bottles, the burned down candles, the tattered party streamers, the popped poppers and the burst balloons that at least went to the party in the first place.

But put a living, breathing (slightly curvy) body inside it and it comes ALIVE!


My sewing plans have lacked focus this summer – I’ve started this and started that and not really finished anything, nor has my heart be in my makes and that is always a bad combination for success. However, I am now the proud owner of the Merchant and Mills Workbook, some linen (ramie?) arrived from Cheapest Fabrics UK, I’ve raided my meagre stash for linen, cotton, muslin and the like and now I’m on a roll……..


The M&M Workbook has 6 distinctive patterns but with variations each one can be made at least twice – so the plan is to work my way through the workbook and I’ve got 4 weeks before I have to go back to proper work. With no vacations planned and the summer weather still very elusive it just might be achievable.

The patterns and variations

Bantam – vest top/dress

Curlew – dress/sleeveless T-shirt/long sleeved top

Saltmarsh – skirt (any length)

Heron – wrap top

Haremere – jacket/coat

Strides – trousers/shorts


The patterns come on printed sheets in sizes UK 8-18 and need to be traced off first but really this is no big deal if you have the paper and a pencil. Normally I cut a Vogue 14 but I’m down to a 12 with Merchant and Mills, so check the sizing against your measurements before you trace and cut.

So far I’ve traced the Curlew dress and sleeveless T-shirt, the Bantam vest and the Heron wrap top.

I shouldn’t like the Curlew dress: it’s bias cut and I always balk at bias patterns – so much fabric needed and the clinginess is generally unflattering; it’s a shift and I like a defined waist; it has a shallow scoop neckline and I prefer V or a deep scoop.


I had this linen and wool mix fine tweed in navy and white, which viewed from a distance looks grey, in my box ready to be made into a Donna Karan Jacket Vogue 1440. I even had the piping made and ready…….but Curlew was calling. Luckily, there was a good 3m so plenty for a bias cut dress and I got it in a sale so not too much lost if it all went wrong. I’m not much of a risk taker – which is why I’m employed and not an employer!


Bias cut sleeves mean I can roll them up when doing the dishes

I followed the detailed instructions to the letter and it was quite refreshing to make the extra effort and add stabilising cotton tape and finish seams and just generally take-my-time and enjoy the moment.


The back has a curved waist seam and that needed stabilised as well as armholes and neckline. The side seams are sewn with the lightning bolt stitch to allow the bias to gently stretch and drape. I let Doris wear the dress overnight before hemming just to let the bias hang for 24 hours.DSCN5422

The result is that I’m overjoyed! Really I can’t explain why I like this dress so much (see above) but it is comfortable to wear: it is a wee bit sexy in that it’s not so much clingy but skimming: it doesn’t have a zip but is a cinch to pull on and off; it moves with me no matter what I’m doing or reaching for: it doesn’t form a “bum” at the back and it totally disguises my sway-back. I might even walk with a wiggle when I wear it …..and I’ve been wearing this ever since I made it.

There are no bells and whistles, no frills or ruffles, no lining or buttons – there’s just a dress.


It’s not pretty or summery or trendy. It’s maybe not even that flattering – there are a tonne of other patterns and designs that I look much better in – but still….


So enamoured, I went ahead and made an underlayer in white cotton voile – the Curlew sleeveless T and a self-drafted underskirt. My version here is not cut on the bias and hence is slightly tight but wearable. The underskirt is fabric-width with an elasticated waist and single back seam, hemmed to sit 1-2″ below the Curlew dress.


The Curlew T-shirt has a slightly higher neckline so that it shows when layered under the dress.DSCN5447

I was tempted (slightly still aim) to sew some darts in the front for a better fit but so far I have managed to leave things well enough alone. Suggestions welcomed in the comments section….

DSCN5448While all those other frivolous party accoutrements have had their day, are long forgotten and are now in the bin – but this Cinderella poor balloon will stay inflated, will float higher and brighter and for very much longer.


80 thoughts on “M&M – I shouldn’t like it….

  1. You see? Grown-up sexy just like I said! Don’t do darts, do jewellery!

  2. Sometimes the simple pieces are the best. It really does look lovely on you. Leave it alone and forget about the darts. Wear and enjoy 🙂

  3. I like it just the way it is–so no darts. You look great wearing it. A real winner.

  4. You’ve made it look like a Ruth dress! It’s sexier than the pictures in the book would suggest possible. I agree with the Demented: choose some fun jewellery as the fabric together with your colouring offer lovely options: silver and moonstone or amethyst or milky blue gems.

  5. Do NOT add the darts. The bias skims beautifully and will only get softer and skim better with wear and washing. What an amazing simple gorgeous pattern. I totally see why you love it and are happy making it. Great dress!

  6. What a stunning dress! Perhaps this is the nicest thing I’ve seen you in and I’ve loved everything else you’ve made. You really suit this easy sort of style… Well done!

  7. Love, love, love! This is the kind of clothing I love wearing the best. This is the sexiest M&M dress I’ve seen:)

  8. i’m going to go against the flow here. but only a little. it IS a gorgeous dress!!! but if you were going to try darts, i think french darts might fit the lines better than fisheye darts in the front.

    you are exactly right about it being a dress that really shouldn’t be wonderful! i would never have expected this, and am now sorely tempted. and i do NOT need a dress. and yet… perhaps for next summer???

  9. Wow Ruth – the dress looks great; YOU look great! No darts needed. You have made me reconsider this book and this bias cut style. Stunning.

  10. What a beautiful classic. I think it’s lovely without the darts, and I think that comes down to your comfort level, and how you feel wearing it. I think it is stunning alone, but it also has that simple style that you can change up with accessories, scarves, jackets, etc. Just beautiful!

  11. I’d be afraid that adding the darts would mess with the lovely skimming that you have now.

    • I think so too Maggie but I wasn’t just used to wearing something that doesn’t have a ‘waist’ . A few days later, now I am and no darts will be made. Thank you.

  12. I love this look on you Ruth………………………simple, stylish and elegant. It really does suit you………………you have the broadest smile on your face and look so happy and relaxed in it. Colour is great too.
    Don’t change a thing…………no darts.

    I am sure you will be making this dress again. Good health in wearing it.

  13. Oh is this a pretty dress! I’ve made one other M & M and loved the style and the finishes. It however is very loose-fitting and baggy. This dress, however, seems to be super stylish! I love it! Thanks for the review!

    • Which dress did you make Sue? I actually have the Park Lane on card but have never made it. I might give it a go now after the success of this one. Thank you.

  14. I think the bias cut makes it – no darts needed. This looks so good on you because it highlights you, rather than the other way around. Understated and sexy at the same time!

  15. You and Curlew are made for each other, especially in this beautiful fabric you’ve chosen. It looks great both ways – with the under-dress and without. Without looks more elegant and sexy, I think. You are a genius for seeing the potential of the dress from the dreadful photograph. I could never have seen that. Nor would I ever choose a bias cut dress – I remember from the “old days” wearing a bias-cut dress that felt like one of those scary Chinese puzzle rings – the harder you try to get it off, the tighter it grips.
    But…seeing this dress on you is an inspiration and I might have to reconsider wearing bias.
    I look forward to seeing what you come up with in a second and third version…and the other items from the workbook.
    Totally inspiring. Thank you.

  16. I agree with everyone else. Elegant, understated, classy. You look fantastic. Leave it alone. It’s great. It really works well on your figure. The colour is good. I am convinced you suit cool colours and this is a great basic, but my hunch is it would look great in other cool shades too. I agree with Sew2Pros jewellry suggestions but I would leave it at that.

    The neckline shape is great on you as your face and hair are curved – much better than a V.

    The white version is also promising although it does look a tiny bit tight, but it shows that the neckline really works, and also that a sleeveless version would be nice too.

    • Hi Kate, the white is definitely only for wearing underneath like a petticoat – it’s too translucent for decency anyway.
      I got my own little style consultation there – thanks.

  17. You look gorgeous! That dress looks great on you and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  18. I lové ! This dress is magic ! And si Nice with the underdress

  19. Wow! Looks lovely. I must admit to being very disappointed when I was given the book as the pictures make it difficult to see what th clothes look like and aren’t always very flattering. Having seen your dress I will have to take it out again and have another look

    • Yes Jane M&M might need to slightly reconsider the photography. While I love the arty sepias and black and whites, sometimes you just need to see a colour image with a happy model.
      But the book is almost worth coffee table status I think.
      Thank you.

  20. Lovely! I am still stipulated down the Merchant and Mills rabbit hole after reading one of your posts . . . . lovely to see something made up – I think this the fit looks great, and isn’t fun when something is ‘just right’?! The colour may not set the world alight, the style may not be the most fitted/flattering (to some), but if is feels good and makes you smile then it is a winner!

    I love the layered look as well, so I would say leave the front darts out and enjoy your new wardrobe items. I look forward to seeing what you make next!

  21. Lovely! I am now going to have to buy the book. And possibly the shirt dress pattern.

  22. Ruth, are there technical drawings of the patterns in the book? It’s really hard to tell what patterns are included from what I’ve seen. Your descriptions are better than those on the M&M site, so I thank you for that.

    • My pleasure Elephun. The book is really quite comprehensive – there are photos, drawings, tech sketches, finished measurements so you can figure out if you’ll fit into the completed garment, excellent written instructions with diagrams, layout plans – the works!
      It’s also a pleasure just to sit down and flick through the book. Thank you.

  23. Another one who think it’s lovely on you. A beautiful scarf or jewellery would really set it off, plus a bright jacket layered on cooler days. Really a very versatile dress. I went to the M & M shop last Summer and all the staff were wearing their patterns, made from their fabrics and they really do have such a great look. Love it. Am very tempted to buy the book myself. Thanks for sharing.

  24. I’m with the herd – it ain’t broke so don’t mend it!
    I need to have a look at the M&M book.

  25. This dress is a real winner and it’s success comes from it’s pure simplicity. The addition of a statement necklace or a scarf would really set it off. The transformation from the the Merchant and Mills style photo to the photo of you modelling the dress is amazing.

  26. I think this dress is gorgeous and looks fabulous on you. I also love the look of the pattern book cover, though I’ve never heard of that company and don’t know if the book is available here in Canada. Please hurry and make half a dozen of the garments so I can see if I’d like to order the book online 🙂

  27. What fun. I love that you did the under dress. Nice option for a change up. I’m so drawn to the M&M designs, but they are very pricey…#64 top keeps calling my name. Do some more so I can live vicariously please.

    • That’s what’s good about the book Coco – 6 patterns all together, although sadly not No. 64.
      Linen is cool in hot climates so you really don’t have a choice but to do make some……..

  28. Very stylish, perfect and subtle.

  29. Hello, just found your blog. And my 2 cents….the dress is perfect! It’s very simple, which allows the wearer to shine. Lovely!

  30. No darts, jewelry instead, or even a great belt or scarf! Think of the variety of colors you can explore in this classic…, coral, saffron, fuchsia, green….you have areal winner here!

  31. Repeat after me, I don’t need darts! The design intention is loose fitting and it is very flattering. I’d love to see the wrap vest layered over this.

  32. You look overjoyed! The dress looks lovely and good idea with the under layer, I would have never thought of that. If you put in darts, would it still be as easy to pull on? I think it looks fine as is.

  33. What a classy look! I love your new dress. It’s very flattering.

  34. Absolutely perfect. Love this look on you.

  35. Oh its just wonderful like it is. You’ve made me re think M&M.

  36. Pingback: M&M – Heron Wrap | corecouture

  37. Hi Ruth,
    I made the Curlew Dress and Heron Wrap Top. Both are wonderful to wear. I had Sandra Betzina fit me for the Curlew Dress while attending her weeklong sewing retreat because the first one I made was a little large in the neckline. Your dress is very flattering on you so do not do anything to it. I also had to add 5 inches to the tie on the Heron Wrap and I love it too. Enjoy your lovely dress and top.


  38. Hi. I found your blog after seeing your fabulous entry in the SWAP 2015. (I think your entry was AWESOME.) I looked at the M&M patterns on their website and passed on them, but I love how this dress looks on you so I’m taking a second look. Congrats on it, and the lovely underdress – two pretty looks!

  39. Pingback: M&M Work Wear | corecouture

  40. I’m waiting for this book to be available here in Canada (spring 2016 I think) – love all these patterns and your dress is simply gorgeous. The fit is fabulous and I agree with other commenters about the darts. Not super necessary but if it’s bugging you, narrow vertical darts front & back would do the trick. Also, some of M&M’s other dress patterns look a bit prison-wear-ish – this one is defo for a real live woman. If you’ve got it (which you clearly do!) you gotta flaunt it. Go girl! 😉

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  43. This dress is a real winner, it looks so good on you. well done you !! I too was drawn toward this dress and with a curvy shape I was unsure. However this dress is amazing on, its comfortable and feel every inch a woman……….. I made mine in linen too I didnt find it easy, and cutting the paper pattern to make a working pattern very tiresome and frustrating, but all worth it in the end. At least now I have the pattern and next time it will be a lot easier ! happy sewing

  44. This looks great and is very flattering on you. I have this book on order, but it’s actually on back order. Your dress is very inspirational.

  45. I bought the book and wasn’t going to see this dress but you have changed my mind. You look really good in it!!

  46. It is very flattering. I have the book and a m thinking of making this dress but wanted to see it on someone first. Love it and will be off to buy some linen in the sales. Thank you

  47. Greetings!
    Your dress looks very beautiful – so classy and expensive. I would leave out the darts and just enjoy it – ‘less is more’.
    Thanks for posting

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