Saturday, 14 June 2014

Invisible Cities Dress

Do you ever save up favourite makes for "special" occasions? And then not end up wearing them....?  Or do you save up favourite fabrics for that magical future date when you'll be such a talented sewist that you just *know* you'll be able to whip up clothes that exactly match your creative ideas - only better?

Guilty as charged, m'lud :(

This dress is a good example of those crimes against sewing. The fabric was bought ages ago (11 months ago?), the result of a coup de foudre in Tessuti Fabrics, then lovingly put away. When I finally got around to making something of it - this dress - I loved it. So does that mean I wore it? Hmm. Worn on 1 May as an opening splash for Me Made May. And that's it.

OK, enough of the beating up. My skills are not perfecto, but I'm detetermined to change my ways and sacrifice (I mean sew) more of my pretties. Is it too late for a New Year's resolution? Too early for next year's? And I AM going to wear this dress again and again in June and July and so on.

As you can see this is a simple dress shape but an amazing fabric. I'm calling it the "Invisible Cities" dress because it reminds me of the Italo Calvino classic (reviewed here in NY Books some years back) - not sure why exactly, but maybe because the print looks like it's showing an idealised, fictional city?

I do think less is more when your fabric is a stunner - too many details in the pattern and you lose the excitement of the fabric. In this case, when I bought the fabric I had Anita ponti pants in mind, but the idea just didn't convince me - I was pretty sure it'd be nigh on impossible to position those buildings without drawing attention to the wrong body areas. Finally I realised that a simple dress would be a great alternative with less pattern placement risk. As you can see, I positioned my fabric to give myself a natural belt and belt loops in the fabric design - and I hadn't thought through what this would mean for my tummy, so I now have a lovely glowing tummy builder in my dress. I also didn't have enough fabric to do more than match horizontal lines in the fabric. If I'd had more fabric I'd really have liked to match vertically as well, so that the darker areas on the front hips joined up with darker areas on my back hips.  

Here's the front of the dress, followed by the back, so you can see what I mean about the pattern placement and imagine for yourself what I wanted to do with it:

Here's a close up of my hemline and a side seam (not perfect, even on the horizontal lines, but the pattern print wasn't exactly straight) - and check out the cute architectural details:

I top stitched with just a single line of straight stitching, with a stitch length of about 3.5 I think.

Now, did you notice that the sleeves look awkward when the dress is laid flat? That, my friends, is called over-adjusting!

Let's talk about the pattern I used and how I changed it, and then I'll explain what went wrong with my sleeves. I used this pattern, Vogue 1314, a Tracy Reese designer pattern which is intended for lightweight knits and has a whole lot of gathers, front and back:

This pattern comes with separate lining pieces, which as you can imagine use the same dress shape, with the gathers omitted. So I used the lining pattern pieces for the dress, and the original sleeves shortened (fabric limitations - I even used the selvedges in lieu of sleeve hems!). After measuring myself and checking the pattern measurements (on the pattern pieces), on a size 10 in the shoulders and bust, grading out to a size 12 for waist and hips I made a bunch of adjustments. I added 3/4" to the length above the waist, raised and narrowed the neckline and shoulders, and removed the bust dart and redrew the arm scye. I lengthened the skirt by 3", though half of this length is used in the deep hem. And I narrowed the sleeves and massively reduced the sleeve cap, aiming to minimise gathers in attaching sleeves to the dress. I also drafted a neckline facing (cut out carefully for more pattern matching, of course). On trying the dress on before hemming it, I took the dress in from the hips down, and I can see now that the dress is a looser at the waist than in other areas so I guess with this stretchy firm fabric I could have sewn a size 10 throughout. 

When you remove length from the sleeve cap, you make the length of the sleeve shorter, which means less easing or gathering of the sleeve fabric when you attach the sleeve to the dress - and it's much easier to attach neatly. However (learn from my mistakes!) you need length in the sleeve cap for comfortable arm mobility. If the sleeve cap is too short for your arm, the sleeve will feel unpleasantly tight and will pull on sleeve fabric at the underarm as well as pulling up the outer sleeve length. More of a problem with a woven fabric, but still worth watching out for in stretch fabrics...  

Next time around I'll be less aggressive with the sleeve cap and leave in the bust dart. I'm sure there are different schools of thought on bust darts in ponti or other thick knits, but since making this dress I've been thinking about them as a 3d shaping concept: they're obviously used to shape the fabric, and when you leave them out you always seem to get excess fabric in the front under arm. They seem less necessary to me for small busts (the bigger the curve to fit without a bust dart, the more fabric will be folding on itself at the armpit) but I still think they make a noticeable difference. If you're using a super stretchy thin knit, and your garment is very fitted, your fabric may well stretch enough over the curved bust shape all by itself, but looking back on my own sewing I think they're useful even with a thin stretch merino.  

Here you can see what I mean - I've got a fold of fabric above my bust in this merino top: I should have added a dart!  

My son was kind enough to take photos for me just when finished the dress, so I'd better show you some of his photos too:

And the very serious expression here is due to photo exhaustion:

Overall, even though I made a couple of silly fit issues, I think the fabric more than compensates - I love the dress! 

I'll try to get some more blog posts up soon on my Jaywalk dress (I made a vintage shirt dress, I didn't win but I know I'll wear the dress) and Papercut patterns pleated pants (fitting challenges overcome with a fun design feature), as well as my daughter's Princess dress for her cousin's bat mitzvah (a nightmare make of sequined chiffon and silk), a vintage Barbie suit (I won a giveaway!), and some self-drafted knit tops. I'm way behind! 

See you soon

Gabrielle xx


  1. Your dress looks great on you and I think getting the pattern placement any better would have been tricky.

  2. I like this and think it was a good choice not to make Anita pants with it.

  3. Your dress is really a stunner and much better for a dress than pants. I love the pattern placement for the 'belt' very clever.

  4. Gabrielle Corbett14 June 2014 at 17:29

    Thanks Sharon - sometimes prints are tricky to place on the body! My skills definitely aren't at that level!

  5. I like the idea of using the lining pattern to make up the dress - two patterns in one. Result! And yes, I do hoard fabric thinking I will use it when I get better at sewing - which probably means I'll be wearing an emerald green full skirted ballroom dress when I am about 90. :)

  6. Gabrielle Corbett14 June 2014 at 17:31

    Thanks Christy, can you imagine the potential crotch mishaps? I'm sure I would have ended up with something awkward going on if I'd made the pants...

  7. Gabrielle Corbett14 June 2014 at 17:34

    Thanks Sofie! I'm glad you agree - I'm surei would have been disappointed with pants!

  8. Gabrielle Corbett14 June 2014 at 18:17

    Yes I know - score!!! Ha honestly I do the same! I think you will look stunning in a full skirted emerald ball gown at 90, but it may no longer be your style :). We'll have to do a nonagenarian meet up - I might be wearing acres of silk chiffon if that's ok with you?

  9. I hold on to my loveliest patterns because I can never settle on just the right pattern - I always fear that I'll cut something out and then shortly after think that I should have made something better! I love this fabric, so unusual but not in a kitschy way - it makes an awesome dress

  10. Gabrielle Corbett14 June 2014 at 21:53

    Oh I hold on to my loveliest patterns too - I have some vintage beauties that I really should sew, but of course I want them to be sewn perfectly when I get to them, so I never get to them :(. Your sewing never looks like you should have made a different, better pattern though; I really like your pattern choices. So you must have some real lovelies in waiting!! Thank you, the print is a bit out there but I'm really glad to hear it's not too OTT :)

  11. I think the dress looks great! The fabric is amazing - I'd have had a hard time cutting into it too. :)

  12. You should wear this one often! I love it. The print is gorgeous, the colours too. The pattern placement impecable. And the fitting! I´m telling you, WEAR IT! :)

  13. It looks fabulous, this is amazing fabric. So happy you are using up some of your "good" fabric for everyday. It must put a big smile on your face all day to wear something this beautiful.

  14. I am a sucker for fabric with buildings on it. I have a few in my stash which will hopefully get made up one day! Love this dress, looks great on you.

  15. You look great in this! I've used the lining pieces of this pattern to make a dress too. I think I prefer it to the dress pieces. Your pattern matching is amazing and I love the colours on you.

  16. Your pattern placement is outstanding - love that you've managed to position the fabric to have a faux belt and that you sit on what looks like a church!

  17. What a wonderful dress—wear it often! I love the appropriately named Invisible Cities fabric.

  18. Gorgeous dress. I love the fabric but would have been total intimidated by the print. you did an outstanding job with placement.

  19. Gabrielle Corbett8 July 2014 at 17:40

    Thank you Corinne, it is such a special fabric, and I'm really glad I made myself use it!

  20. Gabrielle Corbett8 July 2014 at 17:46

    Thanks, and yes, I know - there really are too many pattern placement danger zones with pants, aren't there!! I don't think there's a definitive answer on darts with knits, there are people doing both - plus the shape of the arm hole and the sleeve would probably also have an impact...

  21. Gabrielle Corbett8 July 2014 at 17:47

    Thanks Merche, you're so sweet!! I'm wearing it regularly but not that often lately as it's been too cold here - brrrr, send us some of that Spanish warmth please!

  22. Just stumbled across your blog and couldn't believe the Invisible Cities Dress - I bought exactly the same fabric from Tessuti and made exactly the same style!! And I also have the In the Garden fabric and the Vogue pattern that you have made it in. I must admit that I would probably make up that pattern in a softer fabric.


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