I always sing the praises of winter in Los Angeles. The air gets crisp, temperatures range between the 50s and low 70s, and the sun shines. I love Los Angeles winters because they are the right amount of cold; I can handle it without all the hassles of real frigid weather—multiple layers, heavy coats, pants, snowshoes. So I feel personally slighted when the weather hit the high 80s this week. After so many weeks of nice, cool weather, I feel naked without leggings under my skirts and long cardigans paired with scarves.
I know that I should stop complaining while other parts of the country are fighting below freezing temperatures. Instead, I will take this as an opportunity to debut the Seamwork Benning Dress on the blog. I sewed two Bennings back in May of last year, but I just did not feel like sharing. It is now time to introduce the dresses to society.
The Seamwork Benning is a V-neckline dress with a two-tiered skirt. The waist sits about 2” above the waist. The two tiers are gathered below, and the skirt hits mid-shin. The sleeves are cut as part of the bodice, so no setting in sleeves! The dress has a relaxed fit with no closures. The pattern is meant for light or medium-weight woven fabric.
The greatest advantage of sticking with a pattern company is knowing what your size is. I have sewed enough Seamwork patterns to know that I fall between a 14 and 16 with a lot of modifications. This time, I chose to print the Curvy version of the pattern. I started with a size 14 but ended with a size 16.
Last year, I purchased 10 years of black lightweight rayon from Wholesale Fabric Direct to use when sewing muslins. The yard was pretty cheap–about $5, so Sea the house. I have used this fabric to make a variety of wearable muslins, and apart from being see-through (gotta wear a slip under it) and very prone to wrinkling, it looks and drapes beautifully. My first Benning was made with this black rayon.
The second version was made with rayon I bought back home a few years ago. I had so much of it I was able to sew a Seamwork Georgia and a Benning. It is also a bit see-through, and it also wrinkles like crazy, but because the pattern is quite busy, I don’t need a slip, and the wrinkles go unnoticed. It is a little heavier than the black rayon, but it also hangs very nicely.
I am used to having to make modifications with any pattern, so it was no surprise when I had to make some significant changes to the bodice. The muslin I made with some cheap polyester taught me the following: 1. The shoulder seams were really far back; 2. The gathered skirt was, well, too gathered; 3. I did not care for the bottom skirt. Making a muslin is one of the most annoying yet essential steps in sewing. I sew muslins begrudgingly, but I do it because I’d rather waste cheap polyester than priceless Brazilian rayon.
The muslin showed that the shoulder seams were way too far back on my shoulders. I adjusted them by moving the seam forward. This is really simple to do:
- Decide how much forward (or backward) you want the seam to move.
- Add that much to the back seam.
- Remove the same amount from the front seam.
- Add a notch for good measure.
- True the seams (put them together as though you were going to sew them).
And you are done! You will have to modify the neck facing in the same way you did with the bodice. Easy peasy!
The most obvious change I made to the pattern was doing away with the last tier. I am not a long garment fan; I like my skirts and dresses to hit anywhere from mid-thigh (for when I am feeling sassy) to below the knee (for when I need to go to work). I should sew a third version with the bottom tier, though, just to see how it looks. If I don’t like it, all I have to do is remove it.
I also removed a lot of the gathering from the skirt. Gathers bother me. Too many, and any dress looks like a mumu on me. I have nothing against mumus; I just don’t want to end with one unintentionally. Too few, and it just looks like puckering fabric. I think I got just the right amount of gathers.
I have a cleavage problem. Whenever I am sewing with the intention of wearing the finished garment to work, I need to consider the neckline. Any bend forward motion can cause a wardrobe malfunction. This is why, just by looking at the model wearing the Benning, I knew I would have to raise the neckline.
For the black one, I used the neckline for a size 14. For the polka-dotted version, I raised the size 14 neckline by another inch. This also meant that I had to redraw the neck facing.
When you change the neckline, make sure to modify the neck facings.
The black version of the dress has the original size 16 sleeves. They feel pretty good, but I wanted them to be more tailored. For the polka-dotted one, I raised the armscye by ¾ inch.
I think I might have overfitted it. The shoulder seams roll backward as the day goes by, and I think it is because the sleeve opening is too small. I will make sure to go back to the original size 16 sleeve once I sew another Benning.
This is a very simple dress to sew. There are no sleeves to set in or closures to worry about. The most difficult part is getting the V-neck right.
When sewing the V-neck, make sure that you have marked the seam allowances on both sides of the V. Then, make sure to clearly mark the point where the two lines intersect–the bottom of the V. When it is time to sew, go very slowly. If you think you will overshoot the mark, just reduce your stitch length. This will allow you to be a lot more precise. And if it all else fails, unpick!
Once you have sewn the V-neckline, you can reinforce the V. Then, clip close to the V—but be mindful not to clip into the V. A good press, and your V-neckline will look a-mazing!
The Benning Dress includes pockets. The black rayon I used to sew my first Benning is very light; the pockets hang awkwardly. They bunch around the hip area slightly. I am too lazy to correct this issue on this version.
For the polka-dotted one, I used knit interfacing to stabilize the pocket openings. This resulted in a much nicer pocket and no hip bunching.
When working with lighter fabrics, use interfacing to stabilize the pocket openings. And if the fabric is too light and the pockets will only distort the shape of your garment, it is okay to skip the pockets. Wear an awesome purse instead!
The Benning Dress
No wonder the Benning Dress is one of Seamwork’s most popular patterns. It is easy to sew and very customizable–you can make it shorter like mine, or go maxi with the two tiers. I am thinking of a two-tier black version with the last tier in black lace. I may also make another one in very light cotton as a beach cover. So many possibilities!