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A Slate blue Drapey Dress for Keeps

I have sewn so many Drapey Dresses that I could pretty much make them with my eyes closed. I made the first prototype version for the Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion in Fabric book last summer, and I even got to cheekily wear it out for a weekend before returning it for pattern development purposes. Then I sewed something like 6 more over the next year, including both the blue and stripey versions seen in the book, and the lovely pink one CL wore to promote the book during her February “Bee Mine” challenge.

But I still didn’t have one in my wardrobe to call my own! It’s definitely saying something about the greatness of this pattern and design that I still even wanted one – I mean, I’m usually sick of a pattern after making it 2 or 3 times!

Having seen this dress in all colours and prints imaginable, it made it all the harder to pin myself down to this “duck egg blue” ponte from Truro Fabrics. Theirs isn’t the cheapest ponte out there, but it’s really nice quality and doesn’t tend to bobble as quickly as others I’ve bought elsewhere. I made this Burda vintage wiggle dress using a Truro ponte three years ago and the dress still looks great, despite constant winter wear.

Designer-inspired Colourblocked Sheath Dress

I started planning this dress way back in the first week of December when I got your opinions on all the different colourblocking options, and it should tell you everything about how crazy busy I’ve been that I’ve only actually been able find the hour or two to make it last weekend.

You may recall the story of this “pattern” from when I made it in a solid, mustard-yellow ponte the first time around – I had a very well-loved ASOS dress that I traced off so it actually wasn’t from a pattern at all. (Others have asked if I’ll release it as a pattern, but it doesn’t really fit with my brand sorry!)

What I didn’t show you is that I tested my few pattern changes afterwards with a version of this pattern colourblocked in random ponte scraps from my stash, shortened to top-length, minus the CB invisible zip, and with a teeshirt-bound neckline instead of a facing.

It actually works quite well as a top (though I think the pieces near the hem could be better thought-out), but I wasn’t quite sold on the colourblocking choices, which were mostly decided based on fabric scrap sizes. It felt a bit… starfleet commander. And that’s a look only Catherine Daze can pull off!

But the original goal was to make another dress similar to the mustard-yellow version, inspired by this Chalayan dress that’s been hanging on my sewing room wall for ages:

I had the perfect teal viscose ponte leftover from a client commission, but I went out and bought a half metre of white and a metre of mustard ponte at Goldhawk Road to make up the other pieces. I really wanted the yellow at the waistline curve, but that would’ve meant having the white at the hem (instant grime!), so I ultimately went with the second colourblocking option!

I finally got a few minutes to cut out the pieces in mid-January (having been ill for the entire Christmas holidays!), but then I had to fly to the States for my Granny’s funeral a few days later, and the pieces were waiting for me when I got back. I finally had two hours spare last weekend to close myself into my sewing cave, so this was a great pick-me-up to get me back on track.

Mustard ponte seamed sheath dress

Like many of my most well-loved dresses, this one was quite a long time in the making. A few years back I’d bought a yellow ponte sheath dress from ASOS that had some amazing seamlines. I don’t often buy clothes anymore these days (preferring to spend my time sewing than fighting my way to the shops, or waiting days for an internet purchase that’s low quality or not quite right), but I really liked this dress, and wore it often despite the sleeves and hem being too short. Inevitably, the yellow also got dingey and pilled over time, but I still liked the overall design.

So I traced it! I literally just laid the dress over brown paper and ran a serrated tracing wheel over the different sections, leaving an impression underneath, just like how I trace patterns. I remember I traced James’s well-loved linen shirt at the same time, so it was a few months ago, and even though I had this mustard ponte in my stash for even longer, it took me a while to get around to sewing it up.

It may look like a complicated design, but it’s actually really quick to sew up on the overlocker, and only the back invisible zipper takes a little bit of sewing machine time.

Here you can see me holding the original dress, whilst wearing my copy!

All the things I loved about the original dress are present here – the figure-hugging design, the flowing, curved panels, the vibrant colour – but the sleeves are nice and long instead of “unintentional bracelet length”, and the hem doesn’t go scandalously short when I bend over!

Designer colourblocking inspiration

My next pattern is off with the pattern testers right now and I’m frantically sewing up final samples for photoshoots, filling in missing illustrations, and responding to comments as they come in, but I’ve managed to occupy my brain with the thought of things I might sew for fun next!

I did indeed wear my traced-from-RTW mustard yellow sheath dress to Number 10 Downing Street last week, and even managed to get some photos with the famous door(!) afterwards, but you’ll have to wait for those until the proper photoshoot is done showing the rest of the dress details in some decent lighting.

But I can say already that I love the dress! It needs some slight tweaking to the shoulder area, but apart from that, my tracing was spot-on, and I’m so chuffed it turned out so well without a muslin.

The crazy seaming really started getting my brain thinking about all the ways it could be colourblocked, though, and I looked up and suddenly found inspiration from a magazine photo I’d cut out years ago and had hanging on my sewing cave wall!

So I rummaged through my ponte scraps and realised that I had the most perfect shade of teal viscose ponte leftover from a client commission, and together with the leftover mustard scraps (and some newly-bought white ponte), I could make my very own Chalayan-inspired sheath dress!

I whipped up a tech drawing in Illustrator so I could play with the different colourblocking combinations, and I’m not sure which I should go for.

I’ve only got 1.2m of the teal and even less of the mustard, but I could buy whatever white I need to make up the rest. I think I have enough to make any of these combos, but I will of course double-check with my pieces before I order the white.

I also finally sewed up a muslin of this short coat from the Sept 2010 Burda (also known as one of my favourite issues Of. All. Time.):

Minimum Viable Dress (and speed sewing tips!)

In the tech industry, there’s a term “Minimum Viable Product”, which means the absolute minimum you can do to get code out the door. It’s not your best work, but it works.

Like half of London, we had tickets to see Secret Cinema’s performance and screening of the first Back to the Future film, where they recreated the entire 1955 town of Hill Valley, California, complete with about 20 business, the clock tower, full fun fair, a cast of hundreds of actors, you name it. We were also all asked to assume an identity (I was “Tiffany Hyslop, developer!”) and dress in 1955 styles. Now, I’ve only got one 1950s dress pattern (which I made into that Porsche dress a few years back) but it’s too big in the bodice now and would require too much work.

So instead, I picked a modern dress with a 1950s feel – the Simplicity Cynthia Rowley pattern (1873) which I had already made in fuchsia and really liked the fit of.

The pink version was the wrong colour for the 1950s and definitely too short, so I bought some striped cotton poplin from Minerva that had the right vibe, and figured it’d be close enough.

A camisole from the ashes of failure

It all started back in March when I received for my birthday both the royal blue ponte knit fabric and a Marfy pattern I’d requested (#2935). I was enthusiastic about both, so much so that I spent the day after my party making up the dress.

The first issue came about when I realised that the pattern was missing a piece for the horizontal waist sash. It was pretty obvious it was just a rectangle, but the dimensions of it would be useful to get the gathering right, so I emailed Marfy, and got the following unhelpful reply when I asked for the dimensions of the missing piece:

“you are right, sorry. The important thing is to cut the piece on the bias so that it will follow the body. You can decide the width you prefer, and you can close it on the back.”

Ummm…

But that was just the start, because the horizontal sash was really the least wrong this about the dress. It’s a basic, long sleeved knit sheath dress with front and back darts and waist seam, but then there’s a weird set of gathers above the bust at the centre front that just reminds me of a vagina no matter how much I look at it, and this created a weird lump of fabric just above the bust that had to be pinched out.

But it goes on, because the diagonal sash was angled incorrectly and way too long, but if it was pulled tight enough, it started to bring the neckline down, too. The length was really dowdy, and overall, it was just a really unflattering dress. Somehow it looked straight out of the 1940s despite being modern, and it’s pretty much impossible to have a fabric that is both thick enough to wear on the body but thin enough to stand up to all that draping. Big, big thumbs down for Marfy 2935. This is actually my second Marfy pattern, and the second that hasn’t worked for me, so I’m kinda washing my hands of the whole company now…

But I still really liked the fabric, and wanted to do something with it to reclaim it, so this monstrosity of a muslin stayed on Susan (my dressform) literally for months. My friend FJ would come by and be like “Is that thing still there? You have got to do something with it or get rid of it – it’s bringing you down!” and he was totally right.

But despite being a big dress, the uninterrupted pieces weren’t very big so I had to choose my pattern carefully – and I pulled out the Seamster Patterns Yellowtail Camisole pattern that I’d bought and printed out last summer but hadn’t quite gotten around to making before the weather cooled off.

I was able to fit the pieces into the Marfy dress (plus it felt quite cathartic to cut the sucker up!) and it was really quick to sew!


Seen here with my Donna Karan leggings from earlier this week…

StyleArc Pamela – the perfect summer dress?

I must be the only sewist on earth without enough casual dresses, but alas, the weather has turned very hot and summery and I’ve taken to just wearing the same jeanskirt and pair of 17 year old shorts (no, really) around the boat while I work from home. I realised I could just make any number of knit dresses, but that’s too easy, and besides, my knit stash is a little low and my woven stash is spilling over.

So I decided to pull out the StyleArc Pamela dress pattern I originally planned to make for my Mexico travel wardrobe last year, and pair it with the same blue linen (blend?) that was gifted to me by Veronica back in 2012.

It’s been ages since I sewed a woven for myself, so of course I forgot that they require pressing, which means heat and steam standing by the iron, ugh! But let me tell you, it was all worth it in the end because I totally love this dress. I think it might be the perfect summer dress, as it’s both casual and a little different, and you can change the look just by tying it either in front, or in the back.


(Yes, I had been wearing the dress all day before these photos – including two lots of treadmill running to whilst shopping for new racing flats!)

I bought the pattern when I was a StyleArc size 14 (I’m closer to a 12 now), so the dress is a little bigger than usual on me, but this works for summer because you can get a looser fit by tying the integrated ties in a bow under the bust. Or, if you want, you can also cinch in the waist by wrapping the ties around to tie it in the back. I’ve been wearing it about 50/50 according to my whims.

There are a lot of great little details in this pattern – the shawl collar extends to the centre back neck, falling nicely into an inverted pleat at the inset corner.

My galaxy-print birthday sheath dress

Happy birthday to meeeeee! I hinted about it last week, but I decided to celebrate the occasion this year by sewing up something special to wear, using a fabric that I’ve lusted over for months even before I broke down and ordered it. My feeling is that if you adore the fabric or pattern (or both!) then the resulting garment is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit.

For this dress I used the Derek Lam-inspired knit sheath from the January 2014 Manequim magazine combined with the most amazing galaxy print ponte jersey which is even nicer in real life, I swear! It’s a digital print on a smooth, white ponte jersey base, and it’s both stable and stretchy, making it the bestest fabric ever (and I have just over a metre leftover! woo!).

It’s been a while since I sewed a Manequim pattern and I’ve dropped in size over the past few months of marathon training to a 42 (Burda 40), so I decided to sew up a muslin of this first to test the fit. The resulting turquoise ponte muslin was very close fitting, and I wasn’t entirely certain at first whether it was too tight, or utterly perfect. So I lounged around in it for a day, decided it was comfortable enough, then cracked on with the final version without any pattern changes.

The final version is definitely tighter than the muslin, though, and I’m fairly certain it’s down to adding the lining layer, even though it’s stretchy! You can definitely see some horizontal pulls in the dress showing it’s a tad too tight, and it’s a struggle to get that waist seam on and off over my boobs, but one it’s on, it’s not uncomfortable, thankfully!

The pattern is really simple – a front bodice with both vertical and horizontal bust darts, back bodice with long vertical darts, raglan cap sleeves, and a skirt pattern with vertical waist darts (the same skirt pattern is used for both front and back). The pattern calls for a long invisible zipper, but as I could easily get the muslin dress on and off without it, I was going to leave it off the finished version, too…

…until I discovered the most perfect purple, metal teeth zipper in my stash! So then I decided I had to use it and make it an exposed zipper feature instead. It was a bit shorter than I’d have liked, but it reached exactly to the waist seam, which worked out nicely visually (though for ease of getting in and out of it, a longer zipper would’ve been much better!).

A sneaky peek of next week

Two big and exciting things are happening next week, and I wanted to give you a tiny peek at both of them so that you’re as excited as I am!

First – it’s my birthday on Tuesday, and I’m sewing myself something special, like I do every year. This year it’s going to be in the form of that Derek Lam-inspired knit sheath from the January 2014 Manequim magazine combined with the most amazing galaxy print ponte jersey which is pretty much the only selfish Me Fabric I’ve bought in six months.

Oh, and I happened to find this perfect zipper in my stash, so it’s going to be exposed in the back!

The second exciting thing is that my next pattern is ready for a launch next week!!

Please welcome the Duathlon shorts into your life! They come in three lengths: Booty Shorts, Biker Shorts, or Capris, and feature contrast side panels with integrated pockets (perfect for your phone, gels, or keys). There’s also optional crotch padding to make cycling more comfortable, and they’re perfect for cycle commuters who prefer to wear skirts but still want some padding (and modesty!), but also for runners, dancers, lifters, and yoga-heads, too.

My "Brazilliant" red Brasilia Dress

I’ve been wanting to make Rachel’s free Brasilia Dress pattern since she released it on Christmas Day, and I finally got the kick I needed, in the form of a big opportunity – ten days ago I was asked to speak at the House of Commons about a new stem cell bill! So of course I needed a new dress, and I figured the red stretch cotton sateen in my stash would be perfect, both for confidence and the connotation with blood.

The pattern is only available in one size (Rachel‘s), but through an extreme act of coincidence, I match her bust, waist, and hips almost exactly, only differing by a centimeter or two. Our lengths, however, are another matter entirely, so I jotted down mine for comparison on the size chart provided:

I was a bit confused as to whether I should adapt the pattern based on the given body measurements or the finished measurements (as there’s a big difference in the lengths between them), so I ended up measuring the pattern myself (which was somewhere between the two given sets) and made this match my lengths.

In the end, I removed 5cm above the waist, added 1cm between the waist and hips, and lowered the front neckline by 7cm (this latter change was just a personal style choice). My bust point was exactly the same placement as on the pattern, though in future I’d shorten the darts so they end an inch or two below the bust rather than right at the apex.

Can you believe this red stretch cotton sateen has been in my stash since 2010? What was I thinking not using it until now?! It really is cherry red and not fuchsia like in these photos, also! The only problem with stretch cotton sateen is that it shows way more wrinkles in photos than it ever does in real like! In reality, this might possibly be the best fitting sheath dress I own.