Utterly impractical sewing

Remember this? It’s a old Vogue designer pattern I bought earlier in the year because it is everything I love about the 80s.

It hasn’t just been sitting in my pattern collection; I am actually making it up. It’s been quite a journey so far and it’s not done yet. But I have finally got it to the point where it looks like a dress, so I thought I’d post some progress pictures.

The pattern envelope does not lie. The shoulders are seriously wide. Consequently the waist looks tiny. It hasn’t got shoulder pads in yet either, so those shoulders are going to be even bigger when it’s done.

The hip pocket flaps form amazing sticky out fins when the dress is on a body or dress form. My other half said it reminded him of a 50s Cadillac. Underneath them are welt pockets.

The fabric is gaberchino. It needs to be something that is drapey enough for the pleats in the bodice back but has enough body to make the more structured details. I’ve used a lot of interfacing to beef it up in places.

Here’s a better view of the shoulder and neck. The pins are holding the armscye facing in place as I haven’t topstitched it yet.

And here is the back; there is a lot going on there. There are going to be buttons and button holes on the upper back bands and at the collar and the back half-belt. My dress form has a much shorter waist than I do so it won’t be quite so blousy on me.

I still need to add insets under the arms, do a ton of topstitching, put the shoulder pads in, and make all those buttonholes. Oh and hem it, too. There is loads of work in this and that’s without making any effort to make the insides look nice – the pattern doesn’t call for anything special there so it’s all overlocked seam allowances. It’s a wonderful pattern though; beautifully drafted and full of interesting details. It’s been a lot of fun to sew.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the end result is going to be less wearable than I’d originally thought, what with the high neck and the very narrow skirt. But it will be a spectacular dress for going out somewhere fancy in, if we ever get to do that again. And when I finish it I will do my best to get some good photos…I’d better look up some 80s makeup inspiration.

Wearability: sleeveless black dresses

Time for another review of how some of my projects have worn over the years. This time I’m looking at three different black dresses, all sleeveless.

The oldest is Vogue 1410, a Lynn Mizono design. I made it in 2014 and it’s still going strong. It’s a very clever pattern. The insides are finished beautifully with French seams and the hem is adjustable to four different lengths by way of buttonholes and buttons on the inside of the side seams. I added side seam pockets to my version but otherwise made it up as the pattern instructed, scorching my fingers pressing the tiny hems around the neck and armscyes.

Here’s the second shortest length. This is flattering but I find it is a bit too short for comfort most days. The shortest one is much too short to be wearable and the second longest doesn’t look good on me.

When I made this I didn’t expect I’d ever wear it at the longest length, but to my surprise I find this is the best of all. It reveals the lantern shape of the skirt and feels modern and architectural. But best of all it is easy to throw on, requiring no great thought about choice of footwear or matching with other pieces.

The dress has an elastic cord which pulls it in under the bust. When my son was small he found it soothing to play with, so wearing the dress now reminds me of him as a baby.

The black fabric is a little faded after six years; otherwise it’s in good condition. I’ll definitely remake this one when it finally falls to pieces. But I’m going to finish the edges with bias tape next time to save my fingers.

Next up is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. I’ve made this pattern many times, tweaking it in every iteration. This version is made from a dirt cheap mystery black scuba bought in the Birmingham Rag Market. It’s probably polyester with lycra.

It doesn’t show well in the photos but the pattern has lots of diagonal seamlines. This is a great pattern for colour blocking but I have preferred my solid versions. The scuba fabric is perfect for the style: thick enough to provide coverage but still with plenty of stretch. When I wear this I feel smart but still very comfortable. This version has become a staple for work days, especially in winter when I put a long sleeved black t-shirt and thick black tights under it.

I made the pattern again more recently in a grey ponte, slightly thinner than the scuba, and it’s not as good. The grey fabric is showing wear already. But the scuba is indestructible; a good thing because I think I’ll be wanting to wear the black dress for years to come.

The last dress of the three is the least successful. This is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. The pattern didn’t appeal to me on first release but then I read a few blogs where people raved about their versions. What sold me on it was the promise of an interesting shape that was still easy to wear. The bodice only attaches to the skirt at centre front and the rest floats free so it’s a summer-only dress.

I was very pleased with it when I finished it, but the weather turned just then and I didn’t get a chance to wear it until the following summer. And since then, for some reason, it has mostly stayed in the wardrobe. I think it’s a little too fussy for me. The bodice doesn’t stay in place particularly well, and the fabric is too warm to go with a sleeveless style. I normally like a garment with shoulder pads, but they don’t seem appropriate for the sort of hot sunny weather when I’d wear this.

I’m not sure what to do about this one. I probably should have made it out of linen and skipped the shoulder pads but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to part with it just yet so it will stay in the wardrobe a while longer while I try to come up with a way to wear it.

Ultimate 80s

Last week took a rather unexpected turn and I ended up first in A and E and then having surgery. I’m home now and feel a lot better – thank you NHS! And I bought a sewing pattern to cheer myself up so I thought I’d share it because this has got to be the ultimate 80s power dress. It’s Vogue 1376, I think from 1984. The design is by Claude Montana.

Vogue 1376 envelope photo

I’m pretty sure it’s the dress from this magazine ad.

Ad from Vogue (image from Pinterest)

I even found a YouTube video of the Montana 1984 spring/summer show with several models all wearing the same dress.

Here are the line drawings.

Vogue 1376 view A line drawing
Vogue 1376 view B line drawing

I love the pockets. They’re quite fancy welt pockets made using a clever technique that was new to me. The pocket bag is sewn on to the pocket opening, turned through, and then folded up and back to form the welt. There is no separate welt piece so it’s much less faff. And then that triangular flap gets sewn on top, hiding the beautiful welt. Or the not so beautiful welt if it goes wrong.

The pattern doesn’t have a photo of the dress back which is a shame as there’s a lot of interesting detail there. The video shows that the back belt is made of a different fabric which looks like leather. I think I’d stick to self fabric though.

The shoulder pads are immense. The pattern says 2.5cm thick. I think it would take two sets of modern ones to get that height. It amused me to see that at the time Vogue offered a shoulder pad pattern which the envelope suggests as an alternative to buying pre-made pads.

Although it’s obviously very much of its time I think there is a wearable dress in here. Just need to find the right fabric.

Wearability: summer dresses

I keep meaning to write more wearability posts. I blog about garments I’ve made when they’re new, but rarely come back to record how they proved in the long term. The UK has just had the hottest May on record, so this post covers three different summer dresses that I’ve been wearing a lot recently.

I’ve chosen this group of three because they’re the same colour and they’re made from very similar fabrics, allowing me to concentrate on the differences in the patterns.

The oldest of the three is a Style Arc Toni I made in 2018. My original blog post is here. I’ve made the pattern a few times but this one is my favourite version. The dress is just below knee length (shortened from the original pattern length). It’s sleeveless but has dropped shoulders that provide a lot of coverage. The main features are the side drapes and the high collar which runs into a deep and narrow v neck. There are pockets hidden in the side drapes.

A woman in a garden wearing a white sleeveless dress with draped sides and a high collar

This is an easy dress to style. I’ve been wearing it with trainers or flipflops and no accessories other than my chunky titanium bracelet.

It’s great for very hot weather. It hangs from the shoulders and otherwise doesn’t touch the body. The high collar and dropped shoulders provide a lot of sun protection and it still looks fairly smart. What I’ve never managed is to make it work on cooler days; it looks awkward with a long sleeved layer underneath and very peculiar with tights or leggings. Oddly my dark grey version of this dress doesn’t have the same problem.

The one thing I don’t like about this dress is the armscye. It’s not got any shaping; you just stop sewing the side seam at a certain point and put your arm through the resulting gap. I normally sew the side seam up higher than the pattern says to, but even so there is a risk of bra band exposure because the dress is so unfitted. And the end of the side seam is a weak point that takes a lot of stress; I’ve had a couple of my Tonis tear there. It ought to be possible to adjust the pattern to improve this. I shall have a try next time I make it.

The next one is McCalls 7727, a dramatic fabric hog of a shirt dress. Original blog post here. The top half is a fairly standard shirt dress with a yoke, concealed button placket, long sleeves, princess seams, and a stand collar. The unusual feature here is the enormous circle skirt with a high-low hem. The back of the skirt is almost floor length. There are pockets in the side seams.

A woman stands in a garden wearing a white dress with long sleeves and a wide skirt

I usually wear this one with the belt from the photo above and trainers.

This looks like it ought to be a lot of work to wear. The length can certainly be a nuisance: it drags on stairs and sometimes catches on the backs of my shoes. And I always wear the dress with a half slip in case a sudden gust of wind makes the skirt fly up. It’s certainly not for days when you want to fly under the radar. However despite all that it always puts a smile on my face when I put it on. I made this thinking I probably wouldn’t wear it all that much but found it is a regular pick for hot days. I occasionally think about making a version in black poplin too, although the prospect of cutting out those enormous panels has meant I’ve not done it yet.

When I make this again I’ll make the skirt a tiny bit shorter at the back and longer at the front. I’ll also line the yokes and use flat felled seams on the sleeves so when I roll them up there aren’t overlocked seam allowances showing.

The last one of the three, Burda 116 9/2014, is much more recent. I made it in January this year. Original blog post here.

It has long sleeves ending in elasticated bands, a deep shirttail hem, a drawstring waist, and a lot of pockets. The collar is unusual. It’s a band collar but ends before the button placket. The placket itself is concealed and runs to just above the waist.

This one is the least successful of the three. It’s comfortable but I’ve yet to find a way to style it really successfully. The original version in Burda was worn as a dress with bare legs and the top two buttons undone, carefully photographed. In practice that means it’s open almost to the waist and requires a concealing layer underneath, so no good for very hot days. One button undone looks wrong with the unusual collar. All done up is definitely a Look and needs a jacket over the top. OK if in the mood but not easy to wear.

Worn over trousers it tends to look like a protective smock and not a dress. The best thing I’ve found to put with it for cooler weather is my black fake leather leggings. I should have made the dress in black instead of white as it would have been much more versatile. It’s saving grace is the elasticated cuffs – a detail I am going to steal for other projects.

Three white dresses is enough for my wardrobe. When they wear out I’ll definitely remake the white Toni, and probably the McCalls. The Burda won’t get remade, but I’m not throwing it out right now either.

Burda 116 09/2014 modelled photos

Burda 116 09/2014

So we set out last weekend to get some modelled photos of my Burda 116 09/2014 shirt dress. I’d intended to go to the local country park, which has some great locations for photography. But my three year old really wanted to visit a particular playground in a nearby housing estate instead, so here I am disporting myself on playground equipment an attempt to get interesting shots. Kudos to my husband for managing to make a fairly small and toddler friendly climbing frame look dramatic.

The photo below shows a bit more detail. The dress is made from lightweight ivory stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics so it’s more of a big shirt than a dress. I’m wearing it over my fake leather leggings in these pictures. The original Burda version was chambray and was styled as a dress.

Here’s the Burda version for comparison.

The back view is almost entirely plain. It needs a yoke to break it up a bit. It looks a bit wide in the shoulders here but it’s certainly comfortable to wear.

As I suspected the pockets on the bodice are not very useful because there isn’t enough depth below the opening for anything to stay in them. The position is unusual too; they start just at the bust point. They add some interest to the front and that’s about it.

Burda 116 09 2014

The bodice has come out a bit blousey. I added the usual amount of length I do for Burda patterns, so that would be worth checking if you’re making this. It’s possible that the problem is actually too much interfacing in the front bands; there’s a layer in each band and two in the button band so it’s got a lot of body. Next time I’d definitely only interface one side of the buttonhole band.

As for styling this: I think it works with the leggings, and it also looks OK with black tights and a black long sleeved t shirt underneath. I’ve also worn it with my grey Oxford bags. So it’s fairly versatile. I’m not sure I’d make it again as a shirt, but it might be a good summer shirt dress.

So that’s another ticked off my list of favourite Burda dress patterns. I’m putting that project down for a bit, because the next thing I’m tackling is my long delayed winter coat.

More Burda dresses: Burda 116 09/2014

I’ve been working on this shirt dress for about a month now. It’s Burda 116 09/2014. This has been on my Burda to-sew list for a long time, but I struggled to find the right fabric. Burda’s version is in grey chambray. The variant design (tunic length, with a hood instead of a collar) is made in wool muslin – a fabric I don’t think I have ever encountered in the wild.

Mine’s ivory stretch cotton poplin from Tissu fabrics. This makes it more of a big shirt than a shirt dress – at least that’s how I’m intending to wear it. I had the fabric in stash, left over from a very full-skirted McCalls shirt dress I made a while ago, and eventually realised it would work for this. There was only just enough and I had to piece the drawstring casing. It’s so satisfying to only have tiny scraps left over though.

This is a dress with a lot going on. I find a lot of sewing patterns have much less detail than equivalent ready-to-wear garments, but this one can’t be accused of that. About the only thing missing is a back yoke. I haven’t got any modelled pictures yet, but here are closeups of all the crunchy details.

The collar is unusual. It’s a band collar, but it stops where the front placket starts instead of overlapping. This makes for quite a weak point at that sharp inward corner between the band and the placket. I’m a bit concerned it won’t wear well and I think next time I’d add some interfacing there.

There are patch pockets on the front, which I suspect are more decorative than useful, and side seam pockets too.

And then there’s a drawstring at the waist. Don’t look too hard at the buttonhole position; it’s too high. It won’t show when the drawstring is tied though.

The back is plain apart from the drawstring casing at the waist. I think a back yoke would be a nice addition but I’m way too lazy to adjust the pattern.

I love the hem treatment. There is a very deep hem facing which gives a completely clean finish. A weighty hem is so much nicer on this kind of dress than a narrow one.

The sleeves are finished with elastic in a casing instead of cuffs. I like how it echoes the waist.

I’m looking forward to figuring out how to style this. I might try it over my silver jeans or my grey Oxford bags. Lots of possibilities. Ideas welcome!

Knowing when to give up: Burda 116 09/2018

Looks OK on the dressform, doesn’t it? This is my version of Burda 116 09/2018, a fitted dress from my list of favourite Burda dresses. Here’s Burda’s version:

Model photo of Burda 116 09/2018. Blonde woman wearing fitted grey dress.

Sadly however the end result does not look at all OK on me. It’s oddly droopy in most places, and yet tight across the bust.

I did make a few changes which may have contributed to the problems. I used a stable ponte knit instead of a woven. I checked the ease on the pattern and it seemed OK for a knit, but once I tried the dress on I realised I should have sized down and done a full bust adjustment. I also added somewhat unsuccessful hip pockets; the lines don’t harmonise with the princess seams on the bodice very well. And I made the sleeves full length, only I got that wrong too and they are only full length because they’re not hemmed!

This is the dress where I followed Burda’s method for adding length to a bodice by splitting the adjustment above and below the bust point, instead of adding it all below as I’ve been doing for years. Many commenters said Burda’s instructions didn’t sound like a good idea and you were right! Look how deep the armscye is. At least I know now not to bother with that again.

I’m also not terribly happy with the neckline and collar. Burda’s version has square corners and a sharp v, but the sewing lines on the pattern are curved. I followed the pattern without really thinking, and the end result is pretty different to the one photographed in the magazine. It’s not curved enough to look intentional in my opinion.

I’m pleased with my top stitching though. There’s a lot of top stitched seam detail on the back. I skipped the centre back zip as I was using a knit.

I’m also quite pleased with the finish I got on the inside. The lining is black tricot mesh. It was an absolute beast to sew; it slipped and snagged at every opportunity.

But unfortunately I don’t think the dress is savable because of the armscye problem. Everything else could be fixed or lived with, but that would need recutting the whole bodice and I haven’t got any more of the fabric. And to be quite honest I’m pretty much over this one and don’t want to put the effort in! I’ll just have to chalk it up to experience.

Burda 117 02/2012 dress

This dress is an old favourite pattern from one of the best issues of Burda ever. This must be the sixth time I’ve made it, although I’ve altered the pattern somewhat from last time so hopefully this won’t be a totally boring blog post. Anyway. The original is Burda 117 02/2012 which came in a plain black and a colour blocked version. Both had an exposed zip all the way down the centre back seam, no pockets, little tucks at the shoulder seam, and a snap closure at the front bodice. Here’s the line art (curiously missing the zip). The tucks are only just visible as the slight dip in the shoulder line.

Burda 117a 02/2012 line art

I’ve added pockets in the slanted front waist seams, left off the tucks to give a stronger shoulder line, and extended the left front bodice piece (the underlap) to end at the same line as the right front bodice, removing the need for the snaps to hold it in place. That gives a better finish and there’s no danger of anything popping open.

I also made facings for the armscyes this time rather than adding hem allowance and turning under as the pattern suggests. It’s surprisingly tricky to shape the hem allowance to lie correctly because the armscye is pointed at the bottom and on the left side three seams come together there. Every previous version I’ve made had a gap in the hem at the bottom of the armscye, saved only by the fact that knit fabrics don’t fray. Separate facings are a big improvement.

I also skipped the zip. The dress is made of ponte knit and is no problem to get on and off without closures. The zip can look great but I think it’s a bit too much in a plain version. I wanted the seaming to be the main focus.

The fabric is a viscose/poly/elastane ponte from Croft Mill. It’s a mix of dark grey and brown fibres although I think it looks almost purple in these photos. As I write it’s still available here. It’s probably very slightly too lightweight for the style because there is a bit of cling; a heavy scuba works best. But I love the colour.

This dress is the second creation from my probably futile attempt to sew my way through my entire wishlist of Burda dresses. Two down, only another fourteen to go…

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

All The Burda Dresses project

I’ve been feeling a complete lack of sewing inspiration lately, while still really wanting to make things. Some kind of system for choosing projects seems like it might help with that. I have had a Burda subscription for quite a while and I know how to make their draft fit me, so I decided to sew my way through my favourite Burda dresses from the collection.

Obviously there are a lot of dress patterns to choose from in ten years of magazines. If I just put everything that caught my eye on to the list it would be completely impossible to get through it. So I narrowed it down by only including ones which either have pockets or are easy to add pockets to. After that I tried to analyse which are likely to suit my figure. I’ve been finding Doctor T’s series on Kibbe style types very interesting. No style typing system is ever going to work for everyone but this one is useful for me because I clearly fall into a particular Kibbe category and more importantly, I generally enjoy wearing the kinds of things Kibbe recommends for it. (Dramatic, if anyone’s interested: lots of long vertical lines, monochrome colour schemes, angular shapes).

Don’t worry I’m not about to go through the whole list of patterns right now…for one thing it’ll be deadly dull and for another I doubt I’ll actually manage to sew them all. But here are the first three. I’ve made one and two, and the third one is in progress.

The first one is 110 08/2017. It has long vertical lines so that’s an instant win. I added pockets hidden in the pleats across the skirt front. I bought shoulder pads (a Kibbe recommendation) but my fabric choice meant they’d be far too visible so I ended up not using them.

Burda 110 08/2017 line art

Here’s how it came out. It’s not perfect but it’s been getting a lot of wear.

Then there is 117 02/2012. At first sight this doesn’t look like an ideal selection according to Kibbe’s guidelines; there’s too much waist emphasis and it’s not long enough. But I’ve made it five times before and the versions done in solid colours have been firm favourites (the colour blocked one and the striped one, not so much). I think it works because of the angular seaming and v neck. I added pockets in the front seams and left off the shoulder tucks which gives a stronger line. Pictures of all that next week.

Burda 117 02/2012 line art

The one I’m working on now is 116 09/2018 which reminds me strongly of the white dress worn by the character Luv in Blade Runner 2049. So, erm, secret evil replicant cosplay.

Here’s Luv.

Luv from Blade Runner 2049 in a white dress

And here’s the Burda dress.

Burda 116 09/2018 line art

The lines of the dress are not quite the same: hers has a separate collar and the princess seams continue into the skirt; there may not even be a separate waistband section as it is always styled with a belt. But the overall shape is similar. I’m not making mine in white though, at least not for the first version. If it works I might do it again in white scuba just for fun.

I’ll keep posting about this as I work my through the list, although I’m certainly going to allow myself to sew other things in between – I still need a winter coat after all!

Black ruched dress: Burda 110 08/2017

Black is so difficult to photograph! This is my version of Burda 110 08/2017 (the link is to the Russian Burda site because of the recent changes on the US site). Hopefully you can see the details, because this dress has a lot going on. Gathering, pleating, buttons, and believe it or not there are pockets too, hidden in the skirt front pleats. Those aren’t part of the original pattern. They are horizontal inseam pockets inserted in an additional seam added by slashing the skirt front pattern piece along the inside fold of one of the pleats. Once the skirt is made up the pleat folds itself over the top of the pocket and hides the opening.

Here’s Burda’s version. Beautiful, but I bet they had to photograph it carefully. The fabric has to be lightweight and very elastic to work for this design, and when it’s white as well there must be huge potential for accidentally revealing more than intended. I added an underlining to the skirt in my version to get better coverage, and if I ever make it again I’ll do the same with the bodice as well. To reduce bulk at the seams I made separate underlining pattern pieces from a basic pencil skirt shape without any details, and then mounted the gathered and pleated fronts and backs onto them.

Burda 110 08/2017 model photo. A woman in a white dress sits beside a swimming pool

You can see in this back view that my slip is showing through at the shoulders. A second layer would probably have helped with that. The fabric is a lightweight single knit viscose/elastane jersey from Croft Mill. At the time of writing it’s still available. With my pattern alterations I used pretty much every scrap of three metres; I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to cut the whole thing. If I remake this I’ll buy a bit more fabric next time so I can underline the bodice too.

This is a Tall pattern, and the design is certainly proportioned accordingly, with the long slim skirt and cuffs. I found the cuffs came out a little baggy on me and would narrow them slightly another time. I don’t think I have unusually thin wrists so that’s worth watching out for if you’re making this.

What’s slightly surprising about the design is that they have you put in a really long zip, from the neck point right down to the hips. This is somewhat tricky to do: the fabric isn’t particularly stable to start with and then there’s the thick gathered section at the centre back skirt seam to negotiate. The zip isn’t necessary for getting the dress waist over your hips, because the waist’s elasticated anyway and the fabric, as previously mentioned, has to be very stretchy. I can get the dress on without undoing the zip or buttons at all. Admittedly it messes up my hair, but if that’s a consideration then a shorter zip to centre back would solve that and be a lot easier to install.

I like the button detail at the back of the neck. They’re secured with thread loops which are oddly satisfying to make. Pleased with the buttons too; they’re just plastic but they are exactly right for this dress.

This has turned out to be a surprisingly wearable dress. The stretchy fabric means the long pencil skirt isn’t as restricting as it looks, and it’s quite warm. The pockets haven’t worked as well as I’d hoped; the fabric is too light to support much weight so anything like a phone tends to distort the skirt front. I think that could be reduced by adding interfacing, or maybe extending the back pocket into a stay that could be caught in the waist seam. I cheated for the photos and didn’t put anything in the pockets.

I do think it needs a belt to make it look finished, and it needs to be leather (or fake leather) rather than fabric. Or maybe I should add more length to the bodice to make it blouse out and hide the waist seam.

I’m kind of tempted to make this again. White would look great but I don’t have any shoes that would go with it so I’d never wear it. Maybe beige or taupe?