I'm not a huge frock wearer. While they make me feel dressed up and fancy, I don't feel quite like my real, usual jeans and t-shirt self. I'm not used to being careful and elegant so it makes me self conscious that I may be experiencing wardrobe or taste malfunctions. It makes me think a lot about how I look and I'm not very comfortable doing that.
But I do like to make a frock now and then - particularly round this time of year when the weather is warming up and parties are coming round. It's also good sewing and fashion discipline to stretch myself now and then into areas that I'm less comfortable in. Sometimes it confirms what I generally hold true - that a particular style doesn't suit me or that a fabric type is NO FUN to sew. Other times I surprise myself and produce something that I wear over and over again.
Over the last few years I have been motivated to try that bit harder for the Christmas dinner held by my incredibly wonderful sometimes employers at Tessuti Fabrics. While it isn't a rule exactly, the reality is that we all like to wear something handmade, somewthing special and while the venue and food each year has been absolutely stunning (Maha this year, Longrain last year and Coda the year before), its the clothes that make the night.
This year I decided to try out a pattern I'd looked at a few times but not made up in Burda Style (8/2011). Because it was a leap for me stylewise I decided to make a toile which is something I totally believe is worth it and I often advise students to do but which I am generally too lazy to do myself. Luckily I had a very large piece of unwanted jersey I was prepared to sacrifice becasue the dress uses 3.5m of 150cm wide knit. I knew straight out that the jersey I had (100% cotton, regular T-shirt weight) was too heavy and stiff for the volume and gather of the dress, but I decided to be thrifty and use it anyway.
I haven't made a lot of Burda patterns, and those that I have have never given great results. As usual I found the pattern instructions scant and at times confusing. The front skirt of the dress is actually folded at the front hem so when the instructions went from referring to the right and wrong sides of the fabric to the inside and outside of the fabric I had no idea if they were referring to the inside or outside of the main skirt or the narrower piece folding back up off the hem. In the end I had to just make it up as seemed roughly appropriate.
The skirt has a number of pleats front and back, but also has elastic through the waist to draw in the significant volume. Only there were no instructions as to how to add the elastic beyond a cryptic partial dotted line close to the waist on one pattern piece marked 'elastic casing'. In the end I tried 3 different methods of attaching the elastic (a casing sewn into the waist seam sitting on the outside, a casing attached to the waist seam allowance on the inside and the elastic sewn directly to the seam allowance on the inside), all of which gave what I considered to be unsatisfactorily lumpy and unattractive results. In the end I made a wide sash to cover the entire waist seam and tied to the side where the front cross over ended. My consultant advisors gave the sash the thumbs up as the saving grace.
The toile also revealed a weird quirk of pattern drafting. The back skirt was longer towards the side seam than the centre back to allow for the partially folded hem where it turned up like the front skirt. Oddly, the extra length was added at the waist not hem, which meant the side seam hung horribly off grain and twisted to the back.
Given the inappropriate fabric I used for the toile, the poor instructions I'd had to interpret, the weird drafting, the funny waist and the fashion leap I had some real reservations about continuing. But those who saw the toile said they really like the dress on me and encouraged me to go ahead with an improved version.
Key to this was fabric choice. I chose a viscose elastine knit that was fine, soft and drapey (33 Shades Only from Tessuti). I adore the dyed finish of this fabric and its multiple shades of grey and had snapped up some almost as soon as it had arrived in store thinking it would make a lovely summer top but I could see it would work brilliantly in the dress. It sewed up really well, and with some knit stay tape even the hems and flat felled seams weren't too hard to manage. I altered the back skirt to move the extra length to the hem where it belonged, lowered the front bodice to accommodate my fuller bust line, removed the centre back skirt seam and added a small box pleat to balance the knife pleats across the back and added a quite firm band through the front cross over and neck to avoid sagging and wardrobe malfunctions.
The fabric in the finished dress is nice to wear - soft and drapey without being weighty for volume - and received a lot of compliments. But I can't say I felt comfortable in it. For a start the sash didn't want to stay nicely in place and I couldn't think of a good way to fix it without ruining the flow of the dress or making the sash hang off a few stitches. I find clothes that require adjusting maddening.
Maybe it was this self consciousness as well as the colder than ideal weather that led me into an eleventh hour machine knitting frenzy to produce a matching cardigan. The dress sleeves are short but too voluminous to fit well under any of my existing cardigans, and besides, none of them had the right feel for an evening out. While I had borrowed not one but two grey versions of the Doublet cardigan by Brianna Read, neither were the right shade of grey. I figured with 33 shades in the fabric I'd be right, but the greys in the dress have a distinct blue undertone and neither of the doublets did.
Then I remembered how last year when I had taken Bri's workshop and knit my first doublet I'd bought some of silk linen to knit a dressier summer version of the doublet in a dark blue grey. Of course I hadn't actually knit it and it was now a perfect match to the dress. So at midday Friday with the clock ticking I cast on. With moments to spare I cast off side one before school pick up, and cast on side two at about 8.30 when the kids were in bed.
Ellen took the photo of me at the top of the post just before I headed out and looking at it I don't think the doublet really flatters me, or shows the dress to its best advantage. I wish I had a doublet free photo for comparison! The (slightly) slimming effect of the sash on the waistline and the volume in the skirt is lost, making me look more apple shaped that I am in reality. Perhaps a warming shawl might have been a better choice, though I love the doublet both from a wearing and design point of view, so maybe I just need to suck it up a bit and enjoy the party!