Note: I started writing this blog before recent events have completely changed the way we live. I considered deleting the whole introduction, but I decided to leave it as is. There is something comforting about looking back (not even two weeks ago!) and realizing that whatever hardships we are facing now, life was normal (whatever normal means to you) before, and it will be normal again. I will continue to sew and write about what I have made as a way to keep myself sane. I hope you are all doing well, and if you aren’t, reach out. We may have never met, but if we are to learn anything from this pandemic, it is that we need to support and help each other out.
My big February plan was to sew a coat. I made a coat last January, and I adore it, but it was a labor of love. I figured a coat a year is all I can handle. I cleared the whole month of February for such a time- and effort-intense project. I looked through my patterns and after some consideration, I decided to make McCall’s 7373, a cosplay coat. I am still confused about what makes the coat cosplay—it is not particularly costumey, and it does not resemble any character that I can think of. I spent time sewing a muslin and making as many changes as I could think of to make the pattern fit me.
Then, two things happen: 1. The beginning of February turned into the middle of February, and the cold weather started to give way to warmer days. If I started mid-February, by the time I got done with the coat, it would find its way into my closet, where it would stay until December. 2. The muslin I made of the coat looked terrible on me. I was all chest and waist circumference. To get this coat working, I would have to spend too much time, and this takes me right back to reason #1.
I had to go back to the planning stage, this time considering a more Spring-friendly pattern. I could sew a few more Delphine skirts (I have a ton of really adorable Halloween prints that will make the cutest skirts ever); I could sew another Blackwood cardigan; or I could choose something I have never made before, something that would challenge me out of my sewing and wardrobe comfort zone. I looked through my Trello pattern list, and among the dresses, I found Simplicity 8551, a loose-fitting dress or tunic with a strong neo-hippie-romantic-boho vibe. None of these words describe my style; actually, they are probably everything in fashion I try to avoid… but the pintucks just keep calling my name. I had to say yes to the dress.
Simplicity 8551 is a comfortable loose-fitting dress or tunic with neckline and sleeve variations. The front bodice can be sewn with a lace-up neckline or pintucks. There are also two options of long sleeves, bell or puffy (I ignored both and went with an above-the-elbow look). The picture shows the bodice hitting waist height (don’t believe the picture; more on this later), and the skirt hits mid-thigh (another lie, or maybe I am much shorter that the model).
This pattern is meant for flowy, drapey fabrics. The package suggests lighter fabrics like cotton lawn, linen, chambray, and shirtings. I had 5 yards of this lovely black-and-white polka dot rayon that I bought last July. This was part of a major fabric haul, all rayon, that I was able to stuff into my luggage when I came back from visiting my family in Brazil. This fabric feels SO good against the skin, and it is a delight to work with—it does not fray, it is stable, and it presses well.
The pattern comes in two size ranges, 4-12 and 14-20—not the most inclusive, I would say. I should have gone with a size 20 based on the finished bust measurement (46 ½), but I figured that since this is not a very form-fitting dress, I could get away with a size 18. That proved to be a BIG mistake. I ended up using the 18, but I had to make a whole bunch of modifications in order to make it fit me.
I started with a size 18. I have been trying to pick a size based on my upper bust (40 inches) instead of my full bust (44 inches) and then do an FBA. It seemed like a good place to start, especially since the pattern picture makes the dress look like it is somewhat loose-fitting. Thing is, I did not do an FBA for the muslin because I thought that the loose-fitting bodice would give my boobs just enough room to fit. Well, it didn’t. I tried the muslin on, and it felt like a prison of fabric. I could not breathe, my back felt like it was going to rip the back of the bodice, and all the cheap polyester that I used to make the muslin made me so hot that I could not wait to take it off. I almost hurt myself wiggling my way out of that thing. I knew that I needed more room, but instead of going one size up, I chose to add inches where I needed to.
I needed room in the front and back bodices. I also needed to move the darts since they were pointing to my collarbone. I unpicked the muslin and did some surgery on the bodice. I cut through the back right at the middle and added a strip of 2-inch fabric. When I tried the bodice again, it fit much better—I could move and breathe. I eyeballed how much extra I would need in the front to make the upper bust fit better. I picked a point about halfway in the shoulder and drew a straight line all the way down to the waist. I then split the pattern and added a half inch (for a total of one inch overall). Then, I marked the bust apex on the muslin, transferred that marking to the pattern, and moved the darts down to point to the right place.
I am not quite sure where the bodice is supposed to end. The picture on the package led me to believe that the bodice hits at the natural waist. When I sewed the muslin, the bodice was neither long enough to hit my waist nor short enough to qualify as an empire waist. Because I had to move the dart, I could not make the bodice as short as a true empire dress would have it. I removed an inch, following the slight curve of the pattern. Now, it is an empire-ish waist.
I do not like gathers. I don’t like how I can never get an even distribution. I also think that gathers are not flattering on me. I replaced the gathers with three pleats on each side for each skirt panel. They are much neater, more symmetrical, and give me a level of control that gathers never will. I am mathematically challenged, so one of the pleats is narrower than the other three. I did my best to align the front pleats with the pintucks; for the back bodice, I added the pleats to about the same place as the front (there are no pintucks or darts in the back, but it is nice that everything is even front and back).
I used wax-free transfer paper to mark all the pintucks. The problem is, the markings were on the wrong side, but the pintucks were created on the right side. I clipped at the beginning and the end of each line to mark the pintucks. Then, I placed pins running along the markings on both sides of each pintuck, brought the pins together, and inserted a third pin to hold the fold in place. It took forever to pin all the tucks. Once they were pinned, sewing them was easy. A very good press made them crisp and set them in place.
I had to recut the facings three times because I messed up the measurements. First, I cut the original pieces. Then, I added what I thought was the same amount I added to the front and back bodices, but the facings were still too small. Finally, I used the second attempt, pinned it to the neck, and marked where I needed more fabric. I don’t know if it is the fabric that stretched, or I simply don’t know math, but the problem is fixed now. I hand-sewed the facing to the dress for a nicer finish.
Once the facings were sewn, everything else was supposed to be easy. Unfortunately, I did not add enough width to the front bodice, and the upper chest was still very tight. The only available solution was to resew the sleeves using ¼” seam instead of ⅝”. That made the fit a little better, but I can feel—and see—that there is some tugging from the shoulders. I also messed up the length. I figured that a dress this loose should not be too long, or I would end up looking frumpy. I played around with the length and used pins to mark how short I wanted it to be. I was too aggressive in my cutting, and now the dress is quite short. This is not a dress for a windy day, nor one to wear when I need to raise my arms over my head.
I can find a million issues with this dress. The collar does not lie flat (I might add a button). The dress is too damn short. The funkiness with the tight upper chest is pulling at the shoulder seams. The pleats are not perfectly aligned with the pintucks. The fabric is so busy that the pintucks get lost. But I really like this dress. I love the polka dots, the pintucks (I know they are there even if no one else can really see them), and the delicious drape of the fabric. So what if it is not technically perfect? It is cute, and that’s all that matters. I like it so much, I might be wearing it at home until it is safe to go out into the world again.
It is cute! And show them damn gams! (If you’ve got ’em…) And thank you for your compassionate offer for all to reach out – that in itself is a comfort. Keep safe, and I’m thinking of your family in Brazil Paula.
Thank you so much. I am really worried about my family, but I have been talking to everyone on a daily basis, and they are doing well. We are all keeping safe. I hope all is well with you and yours. In the meantime, we’ll just keep sewing.