Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Winter's Tale

It started with the fabric - I wasn't sure the colours would suit me, but the warm autumnal tones of the sateen really appealed to me. And it was stretchy, which I love, and the price was good, and the yardage perfect, so I bought it.

My first thought was a midi length wiggle skirt, but somehow I find dresses easier to fit than skirts (though how can that be logical?).  Anyway, there was enough fabric for a dress, and then I got fixated on the idea of making something like my Out of Darkness dress, but fully lined and and without the waist pleats. I couldn't be bothered to make small changes to a pattern (a pattern that fits me, mind you) so I went hunting though my stash and came up with Vogue 8766.

I'm pretty sure I got V8766 as part of the deal when I bought a Craftsy dress fitting class that I haven't yet used - the pattern envelope doesn't appeal to me - but if that's the case, oh the irony! For this dress took a lot of adjustment and effort to get to the point you see in these photos, and even with a lot more work than usual it's probably the worst fitting Vogue dress I've made to date (I can cope with the front, but just wait till you see the back!). Yes, I would need lessons to make this dress fit.

Now normally I only make very minor tweaks to Vogue patterns to get them to fit me reasonably well - and yes, either that makes me very lucky or very tolerant of fitting flaws, probably the latter - so I'm wondering if the difference in fit between this and other patterns reflects a difference in the slopers used for the different pattern lines? I guess that would make sense - Donna Karan New York patterns are likely quite different to Vogue Options patterns, aren't they?

I cut the dress out in my lovely autumnal fabric in a size 14 overall, but "graded" down to a size 12 at the shoulders and up to a 16 at the waist. This is a size larger all over than I'd normally sew in a Vogue pattern, but I was trying to be cautious while avoiding making a muslin :).  I cut the same size from black lining fabric, but I added width at centre back, centre front and waist side seams to account for the main fabric having some stretch. The dress pattern tells you to cut out the dress pieces on the cross grain, but I assume that's only necessary for the lace fabrics the pattern is intended for, so I cut my dress on the straight grain (see this excellent straightforward post on grainlines over at The Cutting Class if you'd like a refresher).

And then I raced ahead; no need for instructions! I sewed the shoulder seams and basted the side seams in place. I tried it on. The fit was shocking! There was excess fabric above my bust, the shoulder line was wrong, the shoulders were massively wide, the entire neckline gaped front and back, and there were other mystery drag lines through the bodice despite extra fabric in the side seams. I basted the sleeves in place to check how they affected the shoulder fit, and got myself a strange drop pleated shoulder effect, and no improvements anywhere.

To fix the problems I could see, here's what I did - in stages, with lots of trying on:
  • removed fabric above the bust by raising the shoulder seam several centimetres
  • changed the slope of the shoulder seam
  • trimmed the shoulder size down to fit (I marked my shoulder pivot points with pins in the fabric and added a seam allowance) 
  • added darts in the back neckline
  • took in the side seams  
  • took in the sleeves
  • removed a wedge in the back bodice for a slight sway back
I am not any kind of expert in fitting, but I'm happy with the way this improved the front of the dress, and I THOUGHT I'd conquered all the fitting issues until I saw my photos.

Very nice photos they are too (thank you mum!), except that I discovered that the BACK of the dress just looks disastrous. I was standing with my shoulders back more than normal for these photos, so I wore the dress to work yesterday to test the fit when I'm in office worker slouch mode - and the back fit is definitely a bit better when I slouch.  I guess the squirm and squint over your shoulder approach to back fitting works best for very poor posture - lesson learnt!

I had a look at Pattern Review, hoping for comradeship in the reviews of this pattern, but there were loads of glowing reviews, and evidently I'm in the minority.  Thankfully a blog search helped me re-discover Janelle's posts on the pattern (here and here, though she had a wonderful dress result here).

There are a few sewing details I wanted to show you on the dress, but they're hard to spot on the dress in person. I tried to take some close ups of those little details after wearing the dress to work yesterday, but the days are short and my photos are not good, so I've put them together in a collage with some labels I hope are legible:

And these little details are a few of the things I like about this dress: bra strap holders (why on earth had I never tried these before?), a lovely hard to see invisible zip (yay, I love invisible zips!), darts that align properly between the skirt and bodice (thank goodness for decent pattern drafting!), a darted sleeve cap that would look terrific in a more structured fabric or supported by a shoulder pad or sleeve head, a full lining that doesn't come to the edge of the sleeves (but that one was me and not the pattern), and... oh, one not so impressive feature where the skirt lining hits the outer fabric (that was me again).

In retrospect, I probably should have been suspicious of a dress pattern with this many variations - how can one pattern take so many shapes and fabrics and hope to be good at all of them? I will wear this dress to work because it feels really good on, even if the back fit is shocking, but next time I want this general shape of dress I'm either going to go with a pattern I know or a pattern line that fits me.

Final thoughts?

  • It's got to be easier to remove pleats from one side of the skirt in a pattern that fits than to fit a whole new dress pattern....  
  • A full lining makes a dress lovely and warm in winter
  • Extra width in the lining + ease = lots of comfort
  • Extra width in the lining isn't noticeable from the outside
  • A full lining helps restrain rumples in the outer fabric, but sateen just rumples like mad
  • Bra strap retainers are THE best invention in necklines
  • Shoulder darts rule!

See you soon

- Gabrielle xx
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