Every summer, I fly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I spend 4 to 6 weeks with my family. Being able to spend so much time with my parents and siblings is a blessing and a privilege, but being away from sewing is hard. I have tried to fill the creative void left by sewing with knitting but quickly realized that my patience levels are not enough. Three years ago, I decided that the way to solve this problem was buying a vacation sewing machine.
I was able to find a suitable machine for about 100 dollars. I bought a Singer 6160, and I like working with it. It is not my Juki, but it sews well, and it gives me plenty of stitch options. I reasoned that not only was I solving my problem, I was also giving my mom and my sisters the gift of sewing. Unfortunately, the machine spends 11 months out of the year in a box. Until now, I had never sewn a whole project with it. I used it to make a sloper a couple of years ago, and I made a muslin for a corset I never really sewed.
This year, I decided that I have to start planning my sewing. I followed Colette’s Design Your Wardrobe series, and I set a goal of two projects for Spring, the Violet blouse and two variations on a lace top. The Summer Collection, however, was a lot more ambitious. I selected four dresses, and I completed two before it was time to fly to Brazil. I knew that if I wanted to stay on track with my sewing plans, I was going to have to sew one of the dresses during my Rio vacation… without my serger! I packed two patterns, Colette’s Myrna and Deer and Doe’s Magnolia, and I planned to find some nice rayon once I arrived.
After carefully considering both patterns, it seemed that the Myrna was the wisest selection. I had made a muslin back home, and I realized that I could squeeze in and out of the dress without the need for a zipper. As I planned to sew a whole dress without a serger, I decided that going on my first attempt on French seams with a zipper was just too much.
The Myrna is like nothing I have ever worn. I do not favor dresses that have a waistband because I do not have a defined waist. I was also concerned that all the gathering over the bust would draw too much attention to my boobs. But the dress is so damn pretty! It has such gorgeous lines, and its wink to the 1940s just made it irresistible. And, really, what is the worst that could happen? Even if the dress were to be a disaster, I would be getting some great practice on French seams.
I chose Version 1 because I like my skirts and dresses to hit knee length. I did not want to deal with a three-piece waistband, so I used the one-piece one from Version 2.
One of my favorite things about fabric shopping in Rio is that I can get really beautiful stuff for cheap (thanks, exchange rate!). Because Rio is so hot and humid, rayon is king. It is light and breathable, making it perfect for days when temperatures are in the 40s, and humidity licks you like the tongue of a giant cow. For those who love bright, powerful prints, there is nothing like shopping for rayon in Rio. Being of the goth persuasion, I stick to anything that is black.
I found three lovely selections. The first, a solid black fabric, has texture that resembles linen. The second one, and my personal favorite, is black with tiny pink flamingos scattered all over. The third is black with bold white polka dots. They feel delicious and have amazing drape. I am going back to buy more as I hope to make all things with them—starting with the Myrna in the polka dot fabric.
After sewing the Violet blouse, I learned that when it comes to Colette patterns, I can sew a size 14 for the bust and grade up to 16 from the waist down. I sewed a muslin, and the dress fit perfectly—no adjustments needed! I am lucky enough that I have enough room to get in and out without a zipper.
Because I do not have access to a serger in Rio, I had to figure out how to make the inside of the Myrna look as good as the outside. I had never tried French seams before, and that’s because I thought that it would make any project take much longer. It turns out, serging the raw edges is as time-consuming as sewing French seams. I looked up a couple of online tutorials (this video from Profession Pincushion and this tutorial from Grainline Studio are great!) and took some time to figure out how I would piece the dress together.
I started with the skirts. The panels came together super easily. Sewing the dress was a very simple process, and the French seams were quite simple to finish. It was weird sewing wrong sides together. Every so often, my brain would freak out, but it all worked out. The seams look beautiful, all nicely hidden. I got the giggles thinking of them as mummies inside their fabric sarcophagi.
The French seams went so well that I thought I would be done with this dress in no time. But then, the details. My first struggle came with the front seams of the bodice. Since they had to be pressed open, I could not use French seams there. I brought some rayon seam binding tape and used it to finish the front of the bodice (Lilacs & Lace has a great tutorial on how to use rayon seam binding). I will say, I had a really hard time getting the binding to wrap around the raw edges. The binding is super slippery, and even with all the pins in the world, it slid right off the fabric. After a few tries, I was able to get it to stay put by sewing one side, pressing the binding lengthwise in half, and then sewing the other side.
When it was time to deal with the sleeves and neckline, I decided to deviate from the instructions and use the seam binding to finish the hems. That was my biggest mistake. I could not make it work. I stitched the binding to the edge of the sleeve hem, overlapping the ends for a tidy finish, but it just looked wonky. I unpicked the binding twice until I realized that the original idea—bias binding made with the same fabric of the dress—was probably the best solution. Making bias binding without a sew-through ruler was challenging. In one attempt, I sewed the bias binding to the sleeve hems and used a blind stitch for a really neat finish.
The neckline came out a bit wonky, and I have been trying to figure out why. One side lays flat against the body; the other looks a bit wavy, as though there is extra fabric. I first thought that the problem had to do with the hand sewing, so I unpicked the blind stitching and redid it. The wavy edge was still there. I considered undoing the shoulder seam to pull the excess fabric up, but the idea of undoing French seams was quite unappealing. The gathering and the busy fabric sorta hide this problem, so I am okay with the result.
I used a double-folded hem to finish the dress. I sewed a row of stitches 1/4 inch away from the raw edge. Then, I pressed the hem up using the stitches as a guide. Finally, I pressed the hem up again and sewed it. The row of stitches helps as a guide, making the hem look nice and even.
I do not know how I feel about the Myrna. It is, without a doubt, a beautiful dress inside and out. The fabric is gorgeous and very suitable for hot summer days. But because it is such a different silhouette from everything I own, I feel that I have to get used to it. No matter how much wear I get out of it, I am proud of the final product. I took my time, explored new techniques, and learned that I can successfully sew a beautiful garment without my serger. And maybe, one day, I can get someone in my family hooked on sewing.