My partner and I have been together for 19 ½ years—we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this June!—and we decided long ago that Valentine’s Day is not a date we worry about too much. There might be flowers, and I will definitely cook a special meal, but this is as far as we will go. Even though I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day, I cannot let the opportunity to sew a cute dress just go by.
Since we are staying home, I wanted to sew a dress that looked as cute as it felt comfortable–after all, I gotta have some room for the special dinner that comes with a delicious dessert. I found the Portia Dress by Rebecca Page when I was doing my research for free patterns that I could turn goth. I knew I wanted to sew this dress; Valentine’s Day seemed like a good excuse to get it done.
This is the free version of the Portia Dress by Rebecca Page. This pattern is suitable for knit fabrics only, but the full version works for wovens and knits. This version is for a knee-length dress with big, elbow-length sleeves, and two options of back slit, partial and full. The pattern closes in the back with the help of a button.
The size range of the Portia is very inclusive—XXS to 5XL. I selected a size XXL based on my bust measurement. The instructions suggest that when between sizes, to pick the larger size and then reduce the width. I had with the selected size; it fit really well.
I wanted this dress to be comfortable enough that I could wear it while lounging around the house but also put-together enough that it would transition from home to happy hour with a simple change of shoes. I have been using this rayon knit from Joann for a few years now. It is not the best of its kind, but I’ve worked with it many times, so I know exactly how it is going to behave.
The dress sews like a t-shirt. I highly recommend that whenever working with knit fabrics, you stabilize the shoulders and any other seams that are under a lot of stress with twill tape, clear elastic, knit interfacing, or a strip of woven fabric cut on the bias. I used twill tape for the shoulders seams as the fabric I used hangs heavy, and I want to make sure that the V-neck–which is already too low for my taste–is not going to stretch.
Stabilizing the shoulder seams when sewing with knits will prevent stretching and sagging. Just add twill tape, clear elastic, knit interfacing, or a strip of woven fabric cut on the bias when sewing the seams.
Now, for the under-the-bust seam. I followed the instructions from the pattern–they are super clear, and there is even a YouTube sew-along explaining every single step–but I could not get the seam right. I unpicked and sewed it again, but every time, it ended up with puckering at the pivoting point.
The YouTube sew-along is a great resource if you need the support. The sew-along is divided into six parts, and each one is very comprehensive. Start from the beginning or jump to the section you are having touble with.
The instructions admonish sewists NOT to do two things: Cut into the V on the bodice piece and sew the seam in one pass. The only way I was able to sew this seam was by snipping into the bodice V and sewing the seam all at once, from one end to the other. It goes to show: Different strokes for different folks.
The neckline finish was another issue. The instructions suggest sewing the neck binding in one pass. You clip into the V and force the neckline into a straight line. Now that I have mastered V-necks (just kidding, but I’m getting better!), I turned the neckline into a V-neck. I cut the neckband slightly shorter than the neck opening to create some tension and keep the neckline from sagging. The topstitching is not my best work, and I might go back to fix it, but eh—no one can really see it.
The sleeves are quite awesome, so big and flappy. One word of caution: When I raise my arms, my bra is visible from the sleeve opening. Do I care? No. But if you do, you may choose to wear a camisole or tank for modesty.
I used my coverstich to sew the hems. I am so getting the hang of it! I love not having to serge the hem and then sew it. I need to uncover more uses for it, though. This was too expensive of a machine to just hem. I have a subscription to Craftsy, and I will be taking the Coverstitch: Basics and Beyond class as soon as I find the time.
The Portia Dress
This dress looks great with boots as it does with Havaianas (my preferred choice of shoes and one of Brazil’s proudest exports). I am not going to lie to you: On Valentine’s, I will be rocking one of my “fancy” Havaianas. And I will eat a lot of food. And I will be happy to spend another day of my life with the most amazing man I have ever met. Are you sewing anything special Valentine’s Day? Let me know in the comments.