A few weeks ago I treated myself to a trip to Fabworks Mill Shop in Dewsbury. It’s not far from where I live in Huddersfield, and I was in need of white and black single jersey… that was all I was going to get… (yeah, right, who was I kidding?!).
I am pretty new to the sewing community on Instagram, but following lots of inspiring creators seems to have boosted my own confidence, and perhaps that day I thought I had super sewing powers (which have since eluded me!). But just look at this beauty… With a summer holiday coming up, the first one for many a year which involved actually getting on a flight, this dreamy fabric seemed to call to me, and I couldn’t leave without it. We have all had that experience with fabric at least once, am I right?
And then I made my first of many mistakes. I decided right there in the shop that I would make a dress with it, and as is my character, I ploughed straight ahead and never considered for a second the possibility of perhaps making something else with it (oh, the beauty of hindsight!)… I will be honest, I have thought more than once how it would have made a great Japanese-inspired robe, or maybe the lovely ‘Easy Chiffon Wrap’ cover up in Chinelo Bally’s fabulous book Freehand Fashion (p. 80). But have you ever put so very many hours into a project that you felt you were past the point of no return? I had cut my fabric and begun on the sewing up, I had used literally every scrap—even piecing some bits together for the sleeve facings. I would just have to see it through anyway and hope for the best.
To go back a step, I had two dress patterns in my stash that I thought would work (but hadn’t attempted before), and I decided I would mash the top of one with the bottom of another. This is something I wouldn’t have considered doing before the Instagram inspiration! And for the next challenge, I realised I would have to grade them BOTH up by at least one size each. In RTW, I am a 16 top and an 18 bottom, and I’m 5′ 8″. When I am making my own stuff, I am generally sewing a size 20 and upwards. That’s fine by me, it’s just a number, the most important thing is—it fits! I class myself as a very amateur sewer and have been sewing on and off for around 5 years, but since discovering the beauty of stretch fabrics, I haven’t really had to play that much with grading and fit. With both of these patterns stopping at size 16, the work involved in this project just increased, and I needed to put my grading skills to the test.
I planned to use the wrap-style top in View B from the New Look wrap dress with the maxi length wafty skirt of the strappy sun dress. I managed to get my patterns traced and graded up (which involved a serious amount of guess work), and then I decided I had better google ‘working with sequin fabrics’. Tip number one: Cut off the sequins that are going to fall within your seam allowances. I did try. For about 15 minutes, I sat with my unpicker and then my snips, and all it left me was frustrated and with an even holier fabric than I began with! I abandoned that and set about trying out different stitches and needles. I have learned so much about my trusty basic Janome sewing machine through this project. I revisited the instruction book and remembered lots of info, and I understood it much better than when I first bought it. The best tip I got was to turn the dial on the left of my machine to reduce the pressure of the presser foot—something I have done previously for appliqué work. This, plus a fine ballpoint needle and a looser tension than normal, and I was ready to get sewing.
Oh! Did I mention how petrified I was about actually cutting into this beautiful stuff? And when I did… Oh wow—the MESS! Sequins everywhere. I imagine I will still be finding them come Christmas!
I made a lot of mistakes making this dress. A LOT of mistakes. I made a mistake on the very first seam I sewed in fact! I sewed all the way to the hem instead of stopping at the dot to make the first slit in the skirt. I also added way, way, way too much width to the skirt when I graded up, and it changed the shape of the skirt. In the end, I decided to gather it more at the back, so it is a bit like a bustle. Learning how to grade patterns properly is definitely going on my ‘to learn soon’ list. I learned that unpicking this kind of fabric takes patience, and that I can be patient when I need to be! It was a good thing because the mistakes just kept coming.
At one point, I caught the back of the skirt into the bodice back. It was literally as soon as I had sat down to sew that day. I couldn’t even blame it on being tired!
I can’t lie, this project did overwhelm me at times. I took a break in the middle, and I made a Papercut Patterns Pinnacle top using linen, which was so straightforward in comparison! Then, I made another Pinnacle top in viscose. But with my holiday looming and the promise I had made to write this blog post, I knew I had to recommit to the sequins and see this thing through.
When it came to making the sleeves, I had doubts about whether it really would be too much to add these flippy, flouncy things. Then, I realised I should have cut 4 (2 for the sleeves and 2 for the facings) and had to rummage through the bin for the scraps I had already ditched!
In the end, I have made a dress. I have learned a lot. I have become quite practised at French seams. But will I actually wear the thing in real life? The jury is out… Although it is going in my suitcase—so check my Instagram feed. You never know!
And now there is nothing left to do but show you the blooming dress… so here goes… I am nervous, still a bit shy at sharing my makes, so be kind (I know you are!), and I really didn’t have the energy to pack the cases, clean the house as well as to cover up my terrible acne/roseacea riddled skin, so please take me as you find me. A goal for me is to wear this dress glammed up a bit in the sunshine on holiday—or if I chicken out with that, then at least to wear it as a cover up over my swimsuit, just the once, as a pay off for all those hours of work. Wish me luck!
Find me @lou_who_sews on Instagram. I have been sewing since 2014 and am a self declared amateur, having at least as many failures with my makes as successes. Only joined the sewing community on Instagram at the start of this year, after abandoning the hostility of other social media, and I love being a part of it. Friendly, supportive, informative, inspirational! And that is down to you, lovely reader, so thank you!
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