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Sewing Journey: Fit & Flare Dress

Sewing Journey: Fit & Flare Dress

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You know those projects that end up being more involved and time consuming than you had planned and become an epic journey of learning, failing, and occasionally succeeding? My summer journey involved sewing- learning fundamental techniques while increasing my ability to sew from patterns. Although I limited myself to only “very easy” patterns, I guessed that this journey would be an extended learning process. I suspected that “very easy” would NOT mean anything like “simple,” “fast,” or “predictable.” Truth be told, my unique size and predilection for pattern modification made things even harder than necessary, but who’s counting? Here is my journey…

My first pattern was the “very easy” Vogue pattern V9100 for a fit and flare dress. I was particularly interested in this pattern because it included different pattern options for a range of bust sizes! WOW! (Anyone ever try doing a “bust adjustment” on a pattern before? Yeh, not so easy…) My goal was to modify the pattern to create a 1950’s style jumper, similar to the one Audrey Hephburn wore in Sabrina. As you will see from the pictures and rantings documenting the project, this post is more of a sewing journal than a tutorial. I did not take nearly enough pictures for educational purposes, and honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing… Here is my pattern.

I took my measurements carefully, in hopes of encouraging the sewing fates to shine on me. I wanted this dress to actually become a jumper (worn with a shirt under), so I used the pattern for one size bigger than my measurements. (I did use the correct pattern piece for my bust size, however.) This size-enlargement proved to be my first mistake, as princess seams only fit when they um, fit.

Thankfully, I first tested the bodice pattern on remnant fabric from my stash. I sewed the pieces together according to the pattern directions to see how it would fit.

The bodice “mock up” revealed many issues. Firstly, the neckline needed to be raised, which I accomplished by taping on some scrap paper to the pattern. The straps needed to be shortened; the arm holes needed to be enlarged; and, really the whole thing was too big!

I took the bodice mock-up apart and modified the pieces in an attempt to fix the problems. That done, I sewed the pieces back together and tried it on again. Did I remedy all issues on the second attempt? Ha ha ha, no! I did the whole process several times until I had basically cut the pattern down a size. (lol) My lasting changes included the raised neckline, slightly enlarged arm holes, and shortened straps. This process proved to be a great way to use up lots of remnant fabric, as you can see in this picture captioned “The place where remnants go to die.”

Late in the evening of the first day, I concluded that my bodice modifications were sufficient. I used the fabric pieces from my mock-up as the new pattern pieces for the bodice and bodice lining. The skirt and pockets were then cut from the original paper pattern.

At this point, I was VERY familiar with the construction methods of the bodice. I finished sewing the bodice and lining and started gathering the skirt that night. The next day, I sewed the gathered skirt to the bodice before it was officially ZIPPER TIME. (Aaaah, quake in fear!) Yes, I have a zipper foot for my machine. Yes, I watched excellent Youtube videos on the subject. Yes, it took me hours, and yes, I finally got an acceptable result on the third try. (I didn’t take a lot of photos of this part of the adventure, because Aaaaaah!)

Sewing the zipper in backwards on the second attempt didn’t speed up the process. Discovering that the fabric ripped easily didn’t help EITHER. More Aaaaaaaaah!! I am not sure if this is a normal trait of lightweight canvas or if my chosen remnant was old and decrepit. All I knew was AAAAAHHHHHH!!! Believe it or not, there was a silver lining to this catastrophe. I discovered that the back panels of the dress gaped out from the body at the zipper. The ripped fabric necessitated that these pieces be taken in, which was needed anyway! Weird!!

The black line shows where I cut down the back pattern to avoid that gape.

I was happy enough with the finally finished zipper to take a picture. (It was a VERY exciting moment.)

Learning how to sew the lining to the bodice was another educational experience, although less traumatic than the zipper had been. Sewing the straps (and their linings) together at the shoulder seams was another puzzle for my brain. I took a picture mainly so that I would remember how to do it again in future!

Ta-da, we have a dress! (O. m. g. …)

It was a while before I nerved up to actually wear the dress! I wore it on an errand to pick up my sewing machine from it’s trip to the spa (er, shop for routine maintenance). As you can see from the picture, the dress still has some issues. The bodice is still too big and the straps are too long.

*Sigh* Instead of taking the whole thing apart, I chose to take in the bodice a small amount with hand-stitching. Upon testing of my stitching, I discovered that not only did my hand-stitching rip easily, but the fabric did as well. Thus, the ill-fitting dress with the nasty fabric with now lots of holes in it was archived in the pattern bin and the case was closed. Temporarily.

I took a day’s break to properly deal with my loss before attempting (attacking) the pattern again. I regained my zen by acknowledging the educational nature of the project and being grateful for time to do said project. I obtained some normal(?) weight cotton fabric and began the now well-learned sewing process again. Totoro wanted to help.

I retained many of my pattern modifications, including those for the neckline, arm holes, straps, and back. I did, however, go back to using the pattern for my actual size, rather than the one-size-too-big-that-had-to-be-cut-down pieces from before. Even with all these tweaks, I still had to add some darts in the back of the finished dress to keep the straps from sagging and the back from puckering. (I made this dart adjustment to my pattern for future use, and also plan to raise the height of the back panels.)

Ta-da, we have Dress #2! I chose to wear it as a dress rather than as a jumper for these pictures, as it was quite warm outside! (My apple necklace is a diy from this post!)

I’m pretty happy with this dress, gosh darn it! The low back (at bra strap level) will make this model easiest to wear as the originally-planned jumper. I want to make another dress with a slightly higher back that could be worn as either a dress or jumper.

But I forgot to mention the pockets! Yes, I learned how to add pockets during this sewing journey!! Did you hear me say POCKETS?!

This is either the “Horrah, I Completed a Dress Dance” or the “I Have Pockets Dance.” Either way, you should rejoice with me!

Stay tuned for more adventures from my #sewingjourney. Wish me luck…

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