Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Nettie maxi-dress hack

I love wearing maxi-dresses in the summer, so easy to wear and also so comfortable. Despite this, I only have a couple that I regularly wear, and have put off making them for ages because I find cutting out large pattern pieces kind of annoying. However, with 30˚C predicted by this weekend I need a few more warm weather clothes that I fit into. I'd also seen a lot of Nettie variations floating around the sewing blogosphere recently. These two ideas percolated for a while, and I realised that I could use Nettie as a basis for a maxi-dress. Excellent!

Pattern description

Close-fitting dress or bodysuit, with choice of necklines and sleeve lengths.

Pattern sizing

2-18 (32-44" bust). I cut the 18. Note that I bought the pattern before Heather made the changes in sizing, so this is now the equivalent of the 16.

Fabric used

Rayon-spandex knit. It was a bit flimsy and see-through by itself, so used bamboo rayon jersey to line it.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Yes to the top part, but obviously no to the big ol' maxi-skirt stuck on the bottom.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

I just did a cursory glance through as I make a lot of knit stuff, so I can't really comment on them.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Love: the neckline! Also the fit is nice, snug without being too tight. A couple of minor niggles as detailed below, but don't really dislike anything.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

I quite like bodysuits (hello, nineties me), but I know I'm unlikely to wear one for the time being. However, the neckline is gorgeous, and the fit seemed pretty much what I was looking for. For the bodice of the main dress, I went with the scoop front and mid back neckline, and short sleeves.

Comparing the pattern to my custom block, it looked pretty good. I added 1.5cm length on the front, plus about 1cm width to allow for an FBA, adding notches to keep things aligned (rather than making a dart, I eased in the extra length). I raised the hip curve on both front and back - to me it seems very low as drafted. I took in the waist and added to the hip about 1cm each on the back piece only.

I made a forward shoulder adjustment by moving the shoulder seam forward 1cm. I also flattened the back armscye and scooped the front by a few mm.

A note on the following: Heather's got back to me on my feedback and assures me the sleeve is correct, just mirrored from doing the layout. I'll leave what I originally wrote here though as it worked for me, just ignore it for yourself!

To me, the sleeve head was a little odd. According to the notches, the pattern piece is a left sleeve, rather than a right sleeve (as is usual for pattern drafts, and as per the rest of the pattern), which whilst unusual, isn't a problem as you just mirror it. However, the shoulder point notch wasn't centred, it was towards what was marked as the back of the sleeve, and as drafted there was around 1cm extra ease in the back sleeve head only - normally this would be the other way around. I figured the notches were probably marked in reverse so followed them that way instead... Having moved the shoulder seam forward, this transferred the extra ease to the front of the sleeve head, which was better for me anyway (although for any future makes, I will probably lower the sleeve head slightly and remove the ease from the front portion).

I decided to make the lining as the Nettie dress as given (i.e. with a short straight skirt) to help keep everything in place as well as adding opacity, and then added a simple long skirt portion for the fashion fabric flaring from just below the waist.

I added seam allowances at the neckline to sew the shell and lining together, but didn't actually need to - I misunderstood the neckline finishing in the original. Totally my fault for skipping reading this part, nothing to do with the instructions! I will remove this extra seam allowance for any future versions to open up the neckline a little.

Construction details

In order to save fabric, the front and back pieces were cut in different directions - this is a directional print, but it's very busy and not immediately obvious that they're different, and this way saved about 1.5m... In order to do this, I also needed to add a CB seam, but again this isn't immediately obvious (and I even managed to entirely accidentally do almost perfect pattern matching down this seam).

I thought I was going mad because I couldn't find any instructions about seam allowance. I eventually went with 1cm after consulting the sew-along, but (after making it) discovered this is given in the instruction booklet, but the yellow typeface didn't show up when I printed it out! It's given as 1/4" or 0.6cm, so mine is technically a little smaller than it should be, but it hasn't made a huge amount of difference.

The construction was pretty straight forward, apart from the neckline. The shoulder seams are stabilised with clear elastic on the shell fabric only. (Reminder to myself so I don't need to always do a test: sew this seam with the elastic on the bottom so it catches the feed dogs, and the back piece uppermost so that the elastic doesn't need to be folded if the seam is pressed towards the back as normal. This means that the shoulders are sewn in different directions, but it doesn't seem to make much difference on this sort of stretchy jersey garment if you're careful. Cutting the elastic longer than the seam at each end is also very helpful to keep the application neat, although it adds a little bulk in the neckline and shoulder seams at each end.)

The shell and lining are joined at the neckline as a "shell" and "lining" to give a clean finish, but treated as one layer to join the sleeves for simplicity.

I had originally intended to sandwich a contrast binding between the layers to both stabilise add interest to the neckline. However, I decided against it as I thought it might look a bit odd just having the contrast there (although after having made it, I think it would have actually looked better with the contrast binding, and also been a lot simpler to make...) This left the problem of how to stabilise the neckline - given the weight of fabric in a maxi-dress, I wanted to add something stronger and more stable than just stitching, and stretchier than bias tape. Elastic was the obvious choice.

I used 5mm wide regular elastic (I really don't like clear elastic on pretty much anything except shoulder seams). I cut a loop 10% shorter than the neckline, plus an overlap that was sewn together flat on top of each other, taking care not to twist the elastic. This was zigzagged it to the wrong side of the lining piece just inside the seam line, matching it at quarter points as you would do a regular binding. I actually had to do a lot of pinning to make sure it was even as the bamboo rayon jersey is slippery and the curves in the neckline are quite tight.

The lining and shell necklines were then carefully sewn together on my serger, right sides together and lining with elastic uppermost. I ran the knife down the edge of the elastic (being careful not to nick it), which meant that the left hand needle landed just inside the elastic, fully enclosing it, and making it invisible from the right side (the serger makes a 6mm wide seam). This was then turned right side out, pressed, and topstitched with a narrow zig-zag to stop it rolling. (I really should have taken pictures of all this, but didn't think about it until too late, hopefully the description is relatively clear...!)

I'd already sewn the side seams of the lining (to test the fit before cutting the fashion fabric) before installing the sleeves, so I sewed up the side seams of the shell as well, basted the two layers together at the armscye, and then set in the sleeves rather than sewing them in flat.

The sleeves were hemmed with a 3-step zig-zag to keep them stretchy. I needed a minimal hem on the skirt to keep the length (I'd underestimated a bit how much the weight of the fabric would pull it downwards). I serged the edge to give some heft to the hem, and then simply turned it under and top-stitched with a narrow zig-zag.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I'm definitely going to use the bodice part again, the neckline is super flattering, and (with minor changes) the draft is very good for me. I think it's also a great starting point for more hacks and alterations. I would really like to make the bodysuit, but I don't really know whether I would wear it before losing some weight - maybe for the winter so it's nice and cosy under other layers. I would definitely recommend this to others though - the draft is good and very flattering on apparently everyone who's made this!


I'm super pleased with this dress. I love the neckline and the fit - I was concerned that the weight of the skirt would pull the back waist away from my body, but the cut and fit seems to keep everything in place perfectly. It is pretty close fitting, but snug rather than sausage-y (I'm not sure snug things are entirely flattering for me at the moment, but I don't care, I like it). The mid-back neckline is super comfortable to wear and feels quite sexy too... There are a couple of small errors in the pattern (beware that there are two number 13 matching points when assembling the PDF - although it's pretty obvious which goes where, given what's on them), I have let Heather know about them, and asked about the sleeve. But this is something that is both a drawback and great about independent patterns: there are not the "professional" pattern testers and drafters the big 4 might have (although these still have errors and poor drafts!), but when there are problems, it's much easier to contact the patternmaker and ask questions!

Sewing Indie Month

This is super quick to make (apart from my fiddly way of stabilising the neckline), which has worked out well as I think I've just squeaked in before the deadline to enter this in the pattern hacking section of Sewing Indie Month. Here's a final photo of me looking exceptionally cool and pretending it's hot and sunny:

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Me-Made-May '14

It's that time of year again: Me-Made-May! My last couple of participations have left me feeling a bit disappointed in myself, so I've spent a long time considering whether and how I will join in this year. As you might have guessed from this post, I am joining in again, so here is my pledge:

I, Dilly, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '14. I will endeavour to wear at least one me-made item each day for the duration of May 2014. I will also endeavour to spend a minimum of one hour each day working towards a wardrobe that I feel good about.

I've been feeling very blah about my clothes for a while. I don't really feel like much of what I have in my wardrobe either reflects my personal style or fits my current body that well. I'm working (slowly) towards getting fitter and losing a bit of weight, but I still want to open my wardrobe right now and feel happy about what I'm going to wear that day, whether it's for doing housework, going to the shops, or going out for a party night. This is where the second part of my pledge comes in. This hour will be spent in various ways: clearing out and rationalising my current clothes, making alterations, taking clothes etc to the charity shop or listing for sale online, evaluating what holes I have in my wardrobe and what I actually like to wear, planning what I want to make (or might need to actually buy...), and of course sewing.

By the end of the month I aim to have:

  • Sorted all my clothes into keeping, storing, refashioning, or getting rid of (including donating and selling).
  • Made a start on refashioning.
  • Made a start on selling.
  • Identified key pieces I need to make/buy.
  • Decided on patterns and fabric for key pieces to make.
  • Made a start on making key pieces.

So, let's see if I can make this work. And of course, whilst I'm doing so, I will be following the Flickr group and getting inspired by everyone else who's joining in!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sew Dolly Clackett: the Dilly Dolly Dress

If you've noticed a rash of full-skirted, novelty print dresses and grinning faces on sewing blogs, you're not going mad - it's Sew Dolly Clackett! This adorable idea was dreamt up by Sarah of Rhinestones and Telephones to help the sewists of the world celebrate Roisin's (a.k.a. Dolly Clackett's) wedding. I have a stash of novelty print quilting cottons that I bought when I first started sewing, so this was a perfect opportunity to use some up! I figured this print was appropriate for a sewalong honouring a fellow seamstress, and it's novelty and bold enough to be suitably Roisin-ish but not so in your face that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it.

In true Dolly Clackett style, I hacked a pattern to create a personalised dress. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the bodice from (vintage) Simplicity 5237, adjusted to be sleeveless. If you just take the sleeves off a pattern, the likelihood is that it won't fit that well around the arm, as a pattern with sleeves will have a bit of extra ease in this area. I took about 1.25cm off each side seam (front and back) at the bottom of the armscye tapering down to a few mm at the waist (the first dress could do with being brought in a little at the waist). I also took a few mm off the diagonal seam at each armscye. After wearing it, I realised, I've actually taken a bit too much off the side seams right at the bottom of the bodice, so that the bodice rides up a bit because the smallest part is now a little below my actual waist. (The other solution to this would be to shorten the bodice a little, but that's not so easy once the zip's in!)

Instead of the original skirt, I drafted a half-circle skirt, and added side seam pockets. The bodice is lined in black cotton batiste, but I left the skirt unlined. I referred to Trena's handy picture tutorial for lining the bodice, and the skirt is hemmed with black bias tape (made from the same soft batiste as the bodice lining) to echo the black piping at the top if you see a flash of the inside of the skirt. I finished the hem by hand to keep it invisible from the outside.

Whilst this is obviously inspired by Roisin's style, I added a couple of details to make it my own. At the neck I added black leather piping, plus an exposed metal zip at the back. I like the slightly harder edge these give to what might otherwise be a rather novelty dress for my taste. I had been planning to use the leather piping at the arms too, but decided against it in the end, partly because I thought it might be a bit "sticky" there, and also because it was fiddly and I couldn't be bothered with it...!

The zip was inserted using the method shown over at Pattern Runway, and I added a grosgrain ribbon zipper guard so the metal wouldn't be cold or irritating against my skin. The zip is actually a little short - I can get the dress on and off fine over my head, but can't step into it like I prefer. It's also too tight to get onto Wilma comfortably, so the pictures at the top are actually before it's hemmed - I didn't want to strain the zip putting it back on her again for more photos.

I wanted to find a nice doorway to pose in front of, but front doors of the buildings in town over here all have glass in them, which is pretty, but not so great for a backdrop, what with all the reflections of cars and my photographer. However, I did manage to include a couple of authentic Roisin details: Lady Dragon shoes, and an alcoholic drink...

Here's to you, Dolly Clackett! And here's to many years of happiness ahead with Nic! (And to many more crazy dresses, fabulous shoes, and tasty gin-based cocktails!)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

1960s dress

This is the first of my Vintage Pattern Pledge projects - the one I actually started on before signing up! I had originally intended to make this with a (supposedly) wool-mix suiting fabric, but decided against that as I was concerned the check pattern would look terrible with the combination of darts and diagonal seaming across the bust. Ideally, I wanted to make this up in a light suiting weight fabric, preferably a pretty colour or small pattern. The only thing I seemed to have in my stash that was appropriate and had enough of was this linen-rayon mix. Not ideal, but it actually looks quite nice.

Pattern description

Vintage Simplicity 5237: Dress with close fitting bodice with diagonal seaming, short or 3/4 length sleeves, and flared skirt with gathers and box pleat.

Pattern sizing

18 1/2 (39" bust). This is their sizing for petite. I un-petited it as described below.

Fabric used

Linen-rayon blend, lined with cotton batiste, all from (the bodice and skirt lining look slightly different colours in the photos because they are different fabric - I ran out and had to order more halfway through!).

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Actually yes, quite a lot.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

Yes. Although the instructions are much more succinct than those you get in modern patterns, I think they are generally much better. The diagrams are clear, and also indicate the stitching direction - this is something I was always taught was important, but often isn't mentioned in modern patterns. One thing I particularly like about these instructions was the way of stitching the sleeves: when sewing them in, they have you start at one notch, stitching towards the underarm seam. You stitch all the way around the seam, then when you reach the first notch again, you keep going, sewing a line of reinforcement just outside the the seam line to the notch the other side of the underarm. You can then trim this area quite closely. Neat!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Apart from the un-petiting, and ignoring the sleeves, the bodice required minimal fitting - no FBA here! The shape is very flattering, and quite timeless.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

This was sized for petite. In order to un-petite it I added length across the top of the bodice, front and back, in the top third of the armscye (I didn't alter the skirt to un-petite it between the waist and hip, as I figured the A-line shape was fairly forgiving). I made my usual alteration to the bodice back for swayback by rotating the shoulders and neckline down, and lowered the front neckline slightly.

The sleeves drove me a bit crazy - as drafted, they looked ok-ish with my arms by my sides, but I couldn't lift my arms. I eventually solved the problem by extending the shoulders, raising and reshaping the armscye a little, removing the ease from the sleeve cap, and shifting the shoulder point forward.

Apart from adding in-seam pockets and shortening by about 10cm, I made no changes to the skirt.

Construction details

In order to keep the vintage vibe of this dress, I chose to use a lapped zipper, with the overlapped side hand-picked. I'm really pleased with how this turned out. The hand stitching is much more unobtrusive than machine stitching, and retains the flexibility of the zipper much better. I added a hook and thread bar at the top of the zip.

The neckline is faced, with the bodice lining attached to the facing. The skirt lining was a bit made up on the hoof. In order to give weight to the pleat, I included the lining in it, but made small pleats at the front waistline instead of gathers to reduce bulk. I think one of the layers is a bit off-grain as the skirt hangs with a bit of an odd a fold on one side, but this isn't super noticeable when the dress is being worn and I'm moving around. The lining has a narrow machine hem, and the skirt is hemmed by hand.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I have already sewn the bodice part of this again (you'll have seen a sneak peek of it if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram). It's nice having a bodice that fits really well, although I'd like to find another one with less distinctive seaming - I'm going to look at the vintage half size ones again!


I was really satisfied when I finished this dress, but I haven't actually worn it. Having sewn the second version (which I altered to be sleeveless), I think this is because of the sleeves. I really love the look with sleeves, but it's just not a good combination of fabric weight and fit/style for me. I think I will mull it over a little more, but I'm pretty certain I'm going to take off the sleeves, I really think this alteration will turn it from a dress that may look lovely but languishes in the wardrobe, into a dress that will get worn a lot, which is really what I need more.