Today is my birthday! So I sewed a dress!
I’m the ripe YOUNG age of 40!
And, I’m in London!
Um, not in these photos, obviously. We’re actually on vacation right now and I took these ahead of time, since we weren’t planning to travel with a laptop and I thought trying to do a blog post on my phone on my birthday sounded like a drag. So you get a scheduled post instead. 🙂
Each year for the last handful of years, I’ve sewn a dress for my birthday (last year’s was my sweetheart cowboy dress). This year, I knew I wanted to make the dress a little bit more special, because of our trip. And I’ll hopefully be posting photos of me wearing this today on my Instagram, so keep your eyes peeled if you follow me there!
Before I get into this dress, let me pause for a second to say these are the first photos I’ve taken in my sewing area! It’s definitely not the best—I mean, this is a basement, folks. Lighting is whatever natural light comes in two windows, and then mostly fluorescents above me. And it’s a pretty busy background to boot (in fact I moved one of my bins around halfway through the photos, ha ha).
But hey, I love the space and the dress just seemed to fit in, so I went with it. I promise eventually I’ll show off the space properly once I consider it more “done”. It’s getting there.
Right, back to the dress! I picked a vintage pattern I’d never made as a dress, but I’d made it into a skirt, McCall’s 3528. I wanted to use this gorgeous cotton sateen border print from the Gertie by Gretchen Hirsch line of fabric at JoAnn’s. I think this print is from last year. It actually has two borders which is wonderful, as it means you can play with them in different ways! I knew right off I wanted to use the narrower rose border on the bodice neckline, but that meant cutting the bodice on the bias.
Not such a big deal, right? As I mentioned I’ve sewn the skirt from this pattern before, my Doctor Who skirt. It’s literally 4 yards, pleated and gathered. The sateen isn’t quite as stable as a firm medium weight cotton, and it’s a bit drapier and slightly thinner. The idea of that skirt hanging from a bias-cut bodice sent chills down my spine, picturing it streeeetching out of shape slowly but surely. Not on my watch.
I knew I was going to line the bodice, but I wasn’t sure if even cutting that on-grain, would it be stable enough? Because the skirt is still only sewn to the bodice, and then the lining hand stitched at the waist seam, so it provides some stability but I didn’t think enough to hold up 4 yards of fabric. Even if I used a waist stay I just worried about the bodice supporting the skirt. I mean damn, that’s a lot of skirt.
A loooot of skirt!
I hemmed and hawed for awhile and finally decided to underline the bodice with cotton batiste, but with the underlining cut on-grain, effectively removing the bias aspect from the bodice. Sometimes you cut on the bias to take advantage of the bias, but in this case it was to take advantage of the print only (in fact I did my muslin with the fabric on-grain too). I figured this was a good move, if unconventional. Then I decided to still line it because that was my intention from the get-go (the fabric is just slightly sheer), so I’d already drafted the cut-on facing out of the bodice pattern pieces, and frankly I wanted to do it still because I’m stubborn, that’s why.
So to get all this bodice precaution situated, first I used fusible stay tape on both the v-neck front and back neckline and center back where the zipper went, all on the main fashion fabric. Then I stay stitched every single seam on the bodice front and back, again on the main fashion fabric. Then I hand basted the underlining to the bodice pieces so I didn’t stretch them out at all. I laid the bodice pieces on the batiste, basted by hand, and then cut the underlining out. On the left below is a piece being underlined, on the right a piece that was already underlined and cut out.
And then I basted through the inside legs of each dart so I’d make those nice and precise. It helps a lot!
All told, a lot of prep work. Phew. And I don’t know, maybe somewhat unnecessary? But whatever, I did it anyway. Next time if I wanted the bodice on the bias again, I’d probably just underline it on-grain and use facings and call it a day.
But since it’s still this time and not next time, then I lined the bodice with the same cotton batiste as I underlined with, which is a bit thinner than I’d usually go for a bodice lining but I didn’t want to add more bulk. You can juuuust barely see it in the photo below but I did something a little tricksy for the sleeves: I sewed the sleeve hem along with the batiste, understitched and turned up the batiste (so wrong sides facing), then set the sleeve in with the batiste and fashion fabric treated as one. So kinda underlined, kinda lined? When you’re calling the shots, you can do whatever you want!
Overall, I’m pleased with how that all turned out although it was quite a chore for the final look. In the end, the only fitting complaints really are minor: the center front darts that I already lowered could be even lower, and the bodice could fit a bit better around the armholes compared to how I think I remember it fitting in the muslin. But whatever, I’m chalking that one up to all the hooha I went through on the bodice, 3 layers of fabric and the fact that at the last second I had to take the center front seam in 1/4″ from the top to a few inches away from the waist because of an errant leaf that was stupidly placed. And it still fits way better than most RTW anyway.
Other details? I did a centered zipper in the back. I never do invisible zippers, and thought a lapped one would look strange because of the V neckline, and I didn’t want to do a side zipper like the original pattern. I do like a good centered zipper, too.
I added side seam pockets! It’s a weird thing, me and pockets. For ages I put them in all my dresses, and then I just stopped because I rarely used them. For some reason though this year I’m all into adding them to dresses again, and I’ve sewn 3 dresses this spring (oops, this is the 3rd sewn but the 1st I’m sharing) and all have pockets. Pocketsesssss.
And I went all out and also made a matching belt! That’s something I rarely bother doing. Like, almost never. I used a vintage buckle in my stash and 1″ belting that I fortunately had on hand too, since making a belt was something I decided on after I’d already started the project.
I used damn near every inch of 4 yards of fabric to create this dress and had literally JUST enough of the narrow rose border print for the belt. I absolutely love how it breaks up the polka dots and ties everything together! It’s just the perfect finishing touch on this dress!
So, as you read this, I’m probably wearing this dress right now frolicking around London shopping and having a luxurious champagne afternoon tea. What better way to spend my birthday?!!