Wearability: epic fails

I’ve finished my vintage Montana dress, but no photos as yet. Time instead for another wearability post. This one is about some absolutely epic wearability failures: things that barely left the wardrobe until the day I threw them out or passed them on. Failures are much more interesting to read about than successes, right?

First up is Vogue 1400, a Guy Laroche shirt dress made in black cotton poplin. It’s a more complicated design than it looks at first glance: there are shoulder cutouts that are not visible in this shot and the breast pockets have a complicated construction that leads to the effect of them floating on the chest with no visible stitching.

But those are details; it’s basically a very baggy, boxy shirt dress. And that’s its downfall: it’s so wide that when I lift my arms the whole thing lifts up. It also needs a belt to look good on me, so every time it pulls up I then have to tug it back down under the belt again. Way too much aggravation for what should be an easy summer dress. It might have been more wearable if I’d made a much smaller size, but somehow I doubt it. It got a few wears and was then passed on to the charity shop. At least the fabric wasn’t precious.

Next is a real blast from the past. This is Burda 106 03/2011. At the time I made this I’d been sewing only a few years and subscribing to Burda for less than a year. I made this one because I was fascinated by the egg shaped silhouette, which at the time seemed very unusual. Cocoon and egg shapes seem more mainstream in 2020, or perhaps it’s just that years of looking at sewing magazines rather than fashion magazines has retrained my eye.

I still like the shape. But my fabric choice was very bad: an online purchase that was billed as ‘linen look’ but turned out to be a very scratchy and coarsely woven polyester. I hadn’t yet realised that sewing with bad fabric is a waste of time and made it up anyway, making a complete mess of sewing the gathers at the neck along the way. I wanted this to wear to a wedding, but in the event I wore another, more comfortable, dress, and this one never made it out of the wardrobe.

I don’t think this is a bad pattern and I’ve kept my tracing. Perhaps one day I’ll tackle it again, if I ever need a new fancy dress.

And then we have this. It’s an amazing Alexander McQueen pattern; it was a free download from ShowStudio some years ago. It’s an unlined jacket with a complex pleated back.

I enjoyed making it and it looks good in the photos. But it’s very slightly too small; the pattern is one size and comes without any indication of what size it’s for so I had to guess a bit and got it wrong. And it’s a fussy item to wear. It doesn’t do anything to keep you warm or covered up, what with those wide short sleeves which aren’t connected at the underarm at all. The pleated back isn’t practical for sitting or lounging. About the only place I might wear this is to an exhibition, on a warm day.

I didn’t give this one away because it was such a lot of work to sew. It resides in a box under the bed. But I’ve not missed it at all.

I think what all three of these have in common is that they weren’t comfortable to wear, whether it was because of fit, fabric, or just the design of the garment. I’m firmly resolved only to sew with good fabric. Fit and design are a bit harder to get right up front.

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.

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.

Wearability: trousers

A while ago I muttered something about some day reporting on the wearability of some of the more unusual designs I’ve made. And as we’ve been unable to photograph any new makes for the blog for a couple of weeks it seems like a good time for that post. I’m going to concentrate on trousers this time around and have picked out three patterns I’ve made in the last 12 months.

The clear winner in the wearability stakes is a surprise: my Burda wrap trousers. This is style 120-112-2013 made up in black satin-backed crepe. I made these in September and they come out at least once a week despite being slightly too large. I think the thing that works so well about these is that they’re unusual enough that they give the impression I’ve made an effort. In practice though they’re just as easy to wear as jeans.

Burda 120-11-2013 front

Second place goes to my neoprene Vogue 1378 skinny trousers. The big problem with these is that they lack pockets and so are not a lot of use for wearing to work. In addition the fit is not perfect: I could do with making the back rise higher. But recently these have starting getting a lot of wear because they are warm and almost entirely waterproof. I need to look out for more of the thin neoprene I made them out of! If I’d made these in a doubleknit I doubt they’d be such favourites.

Vogue 1378

The pair that have barely left the wardrobe are the Apple Peel leggings from Pattern Magic. They’re neither good trousers nor good leggings: too form-fitting to be worn alone, but they don’t work under skirts or dresses either. They also require frequent adjusting! They were a fun experiment but definitely not a wardrobe workhorse.

Apple Peel Leggings front view