Sunday, July 27, 2014

a painterly dress

I keep waffling between LOVING this dress and thinking it looks like a 90s thrift store special. Something about the mix of pink and purple in the color palette seems dated, maybe, and sometimes I think I see butterflies in the print that aren't actually there. Butterflies on clothing reminds me of my childhood. But I mostly love the dress. It helps that it's relatively well-made, by my standards, and it fits quite nicely, by my standards. And I do like the abstract floral print. I made it specifically to wear to a wedding so I enjoyed having an excuse to sew a fit-and-flare dress that has more than three seams, is fully lined, and not made of cheap jersey like my usual handmades.

I started with one pattern -- Simplicity 1418 -- but went completely off script as I tend to do. I bought a few of those Simplicity Project Runway patterns on sale at JoAnn recently and then decided they were kinda "meh" once I got home. It used to be I was so bored by the Big 2 offerings that indie patterns seemed shiny and bright, but now I'm bored by indie patterns --at least for dresses-- so it felt exciting to flip through the commercial pattern books and see a bunch of new-to-me stuff that I could gobble up for $1.99 each. But, it turns out they're all basically the same sort of silhouettes anyway with a few questionable details tacked on, like the fake lace-up binding on the back of this dress:

I first made a muslin of View B with the wide cap sleeve things like the yellow dress on the envelope. It looks cute on the model. It did not look cute on me. Getting those sleeves to fit would be tricky. They actually have an elastic casing attached underneath to help the sleeves stay put on your shoulders, but they still kept slipping down into 80s territory and were all gapey in the back so I knew I would have to play too much with the sleeve pattern to make it work. Plus, strapless bra requirement? Ew.

So I decided to make View A.... kinda. Here's what I actually kept about the pattern:
  • Princess seam lines on the front
  • Back pieces with darts and high back inset, though I seamed in the inset instead of attaching it behind the back pieces
  • Side zipper placement

Here's what I changed:
  • Changed the neckline from a v-neck to a scoop neck and cut the front piece on the fold instead of as two pieces.
  • Eliminated facings and edge bindings.
  • Added full lining, which narrowed all the edges since I was turning under seam allowances instead of binding them.
  • Used the half-circle skirt from Simplicity 1651 instead of this pattern's pleated skirt. I assumed that since they were the same pattern line and same size, the skirt would match to this pattern's bodice, and it did perfectly.
  • Added pockets to hold my phone and keys while I'm dancing at the wedding reception, of course.

So, I basically made it more boring! I very nearly bound all the edges in black bias tape as the pattern calls for. It didn't "feel" right, though, so I consulted the smart gals of Instagram because it's impossible to make decisions on my own in this approval-obsessed age of social media. The vote for clean finish vs. black bias tape was 36-to-18, so I had to go with majority. I do think it was probably smarter for this kind of occasion -- black edging would have made the dress more casual and bias tape can look hokey and be difficult to apply neatly. Without it, though, some of the design effect of the back bodice is taken away because the binding is supposed to outline the inset piece. Ohwell.

FABRIC: The fabric is a linen print from Jo-Ann, so probably a third of you own it as well. It's a bit scratchy on its own which is why I chose to line it. The bodice lining is made of some off-white cotton I found in my stash, and the skirt lining is cream-colored Bemberg rayon.

FIT: I was kinda surprised to see that these envelopes are split at size 12 instead of size 14 like other Simplicity patterns I own (so you have to buy either 4-12 or 12-20). Maybe it has to do with the amount of design variations included in the pattern, so they can only print so many sizes. Fortunately it doesn't affect me too much because I only make a size 10 if it's a knit pattern, so I just bought the upper envelope. Choosing size for this dress was a bit of a gamble; they do list the finished garment bust size on the back of the envelope, but I had to consult the actual pattern pieces to find the finished waist size. I fall between a size 12 and 14 for bust and waist, but cut the size 12 to cut down on some of the built-in ease. I got nervous that adding a lining would bulk up the dress, so I sewed the side seams at 3/8" instead of 5/8" and it worked out fine.

I made a muslin and tweaked issues like puffy princess seams, sticky-uppy shoulders (technical fitting term), a gaping armhole and a waist seam that dipped too low in the back. I actually altered the pattern pieces (!!) so the issues would already be taken care of on the final fabric. Yeah, I don't normally do that...? This is one of those patterns that has the option of sleeves vs. sleeveless without any change to the shape of the armhole, which seems like bad drafting IMO. Luckily the front princess seams end right where the gape at the front armhole is, so it's easy to adjust there. I also folded out a small (3/8") wedge out of the back armhole pattern piece before cutting into my final fabric.

CONSTRUCTION: The original pattern has facings, but the facings are supposed to be basted to the garment edges WRONG sides together, then all layers of the raw edges are bound with double-folded bias tape. Huh? What's the point of the facings if they're not there to help finish the edges? I don't know if it's just to provide stability to the neckline or what, but if I were to make this garment without a lining and with the binding, I would probably just eliminate the facings all together. Am I right or wrong on that?

I used a 14" invisible zipper in the left side seam. Sewing an invisible zipper around an in-seam pocket is always an adventure, and since I added my own pockets to the pattern, the instructions weren't included for that. The only tutorial I can find linked to online is from 2008 on the Pins & Needles blog that no longer exists. Luckily I own Simplicity 2215, which uses this method.

The half-circle skirt is cut so that the side seams are on the straight of grain and cross grain, with the center front and center back hanging on the bias. Helps with zipper application, maybe. I had limited bemberg rayon for the skirt lining, so I had to cut the lining with its side seams on the bias and the CF and CB along the grains. I'm not willing to figure out the geometry of why that saves fabric but, it does. I... don't recommend this, if you can help it. I guess you have to even out the hems separately no matter what, but it made it seem like more of a headache because after hanging, the main skirt was drooping too low in the front and back, while the lining was drooping too low on the sides. Zzz hemming. Once I got it even enough, I did a blindstitch hem on my machine, which I only attempt on textured or printed fabrics.

I feel like I'm providing an unnecessary amount of detail about making this pattern, so I'll shut my trap now. Have any you had success with a Project Runway pattern lately? The Project Runway collaboration with Simplicity makes me laugh because Nina Garcia would probably kick me off stage if I sent this dress down the runway for real. Too twee and fashion-backward for Marie Claire, perhaps. BUT ILIKEITALOT.