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.