If you’ve checked out any of the clothes shops recently, you’ll realise that we’re at that time of year again. Every store I’ve gone into in the past couple of weeks has brought the sequins out in anticipation (or hope) that we’ll actually have somewhere to wear them over Christmas and the New Year.
I am not usually one to jump on a bandwagon, and neither am I jumping on one in this case. I’ve been planning this dress since September and I am finally ready to start working on it in ernest. The dress will be a lot of firsts for me so it’s actually quite daunting.
- The first time I don’t use a pattern (sort of). I’ve decided to take a basic block and draft the wrap myself.
- The first time I’m working with sequins. I’ve never had any reason to before so this will definitely stretch my skills.
- The first time I’ve lined something (sort of). Most of my clothing thus far has been fairly casual and not needed a lining. I did try to add a lining to the first dress that I ever made, and it was a bit of a disaster. Hopefully this one goes a bit better.
Since there’s so many new things, and I need it before Christmas, I did second guess myself and ask if I should just buy a dress. And then I checked out the offerings on the high street and realised that if I put a slight amount of work into it I could absolutely do something better. Most of the garments I’ve seen look cheap, the sequin fabric is ugly and the linings are made out of an itchy stretch mesh. Or they have linings hanging out the bottom like this. Some of them don’t even have linings at all so you just have the itchy see through sequin fabric against your skin. I don’t want to end up with a rash by the end of the night, so DIY seems like the best route.
I thought I’d start with the pattern first as that’s the thing that I put the most amount of thought into.
I knew I wanted a wrap dress so I spent ages looking through pattern databases to try and find one that would suit my needs. There were some contenders. I liked the skirt of the Charlianne Wrap Dress by Sew To Grow but I couldn’t find any reviews of the pattern and it didn’t actually come in my size so I vetoed that. I really liked the bishop sleeves of the By Hand London Hannah as well as the lower neckline but I didn’t like the skirt. There were also some Big 4 patterns in the mix such as Vogue 9251, but none of them were quite right.
And then I realised that my sequin fabric was striped, so none of the patterns would have worked to create the look that I wanted anyway!
What I wanted was for the neckline to be cut along a stripe which means it would have had to be straight. The majority of wrap dress patterns have a curved neckline, this is because they go all of the way to the opposite side seam so they need to curve under the bust to make it look right. If I wanted a straight neckline the wrap wouldn’t be able to go to the side seam and would just have to go to the opposite dart.
I decided to do something I’d never done before and draft the wrap myself. I got a Craftsy subscription for a few quid last year and there was actually a course called Patternmaking Classics: The Wrap Dress by Lynn Strobel which was just what I wanted. After watching it I realised it wouldn’t be too hard to draft, I just needed a block to work off of first.
I had a look through my pattern stash for a block, but I’ve actually not got anything that could substitute for one. The closest I had was a shirt dress with pleats and another dress that fit well but was a raglan. I tried to mash the two together, but it just wasn’t happening and when I tried on the shirt dress I’d made from the pattern originally I realised it didn’t actually fit me any more and it was back to the drawing board.
By this point it was getting a bit close to the wire, I wanted to spend the maximum amount of time sewing the dress and the minimum amount of time waiting for things to be delivered. As such, my best option was to get a block like dress pattern somewhere I could get to in person and the only place for that was my local John Lewis.
Unsurprisingly they didn’t have any block patterns in stock. If you’ve ever seen a block pattern the majority of them come in single sizes so it makes sense that a store wouldn’t want to take up so much of their space for something that is admittedly niche. I ended up going for Butterick 6515 which is pretty close to what I needed. It’s basically a dress block with some added flounces so it fit the bill.
This was my first Butterick pattern, and I can’t say I’m a big fan. My Simplicity and Burda patterns both use black ink and thicker lines which is easier to trace, and my Mccalls pattern uses a similar colour ink but slightly darker and thicker too. The most similar in lack of traceability is Vogue, but I feel like the designer elements of a Vogue pattern make me more likely to want to put the effort in.
The pattern comes in three cup sizes (A/B, C and D) and claims to come from a bust of 77-112cm. My measurements would put me between an 8 and a 10 up top, but I decided to size down like I usually do with Big 4 and start with a size 6 A/B cup for the bodice. This was an educated decision based on the finished measurements that are written on the tissue paper. The printed waist measurement on the size 6 was on the cusp of fitting well and not having enough ease, but I thought I’d go with it any way because it would be easy to make the waist bigger if I need to.
Rather than altering the pattern to make it a wrap, I figured it would be easier to diagnose any fit issues if I started with the pattern almost as is, with the only difference being that I would put the opening at the front instead of the back. This would also make it easier to fit as it’s a lot easier to pin yourself into a garment from the front. The back seam of this dress is actually curved and since I wanted to cut it out on the fold I straightened out the back but that was the only change I made when tracing the pattern onto some Burda Tracing paper that I had lying around. I usually trace onto thicker paper but I decided to go with the tracing paper as I wanted to try tissue fitting.
The tissue fitting was not successful. The Tracing Paper was basically too stiff for me to diagnose any fitting issues, including the usual height adjustments which I thought it would be fine to do. I ended just making a mockup in fabric and working off that.
The front of the bodice actually fit fairly well, except that I needed to take about 1cm off length just above the bust and another centimetre at the armhole. A lot of patterns don’t actually have lengthen and shorten lines here, so in order to make sure that I take length off in the same place for all of the pattern pieces I usually draw a line from one of the triangular markings on the side and that’s perpendicular to the grain line, making sure to put the markings back in after I’ve shortened. It was also a smidge tight around the waist and I wanted the finished dress to be a little looser.
I did have issues with the back though. It was really baggy at the top but fit well in the waist. I decided that the easiest option would be to just take a wedge out. This is not the recommended way to do it, the recommended way to do it is to take a portion out either side of the neck around about where the darts sit. The recommended way has the added benefit of not messing with the grain line, which my method did. I chose my method because I was running short on time and it did work, but to make up for the fact that I’d taken a wedge out I had to create a new grainline down my new centre back and adjust the angle of the darts to be in line with that.
I decided that with those changes in mind I would start to draft the wrap. It was pretty easy, I just followed the directions given in the Craftsy class. One thing that I did have to do was bring the neckline in in order to raise the V neckline of my wrap. The Craftsy class recommends taking a wedge out of the waist seam to in order to make up for the neckline being on the bias. I did this as, whilst my neckline wouldn’t be on the bias, I knew that this would help eliminate any gaping. I raised it by 1cm on my mockup, but before I started working on my lining I added another 5mm as there was still a little gaping left.
Then it was time to draft the sleeves. The sleeves that come with the dress pattern are simple straight sleeves that are actually about 3/4 length because they expect you to add a flounce. Before I did anything else I had to add about 10cm at the lengthen and shorten line so that they would be full length on me. I wanted a bit more drama than a straight sleeve so I decided to go for bishop sleeve. It was really easy to alter the pattern for this, you just need to slash and spread the pattern at regular intervals. I decided to split the pattern into 4 and add around 12cm in between each of the pieces. In my mock up I finished this off by using the hem as a casing and adding elastic to it, but in the real version I’ll add a separate casing in the lining fabric so that I don’t end up with the sequins against my skin.
Once I made the pattern I made up another mock up and I was actually really happy with the fit. It’s not perfect, there are a few lines, but it’s basically good enough for me to be confident in starting to make the dress, which is good because we’re at mid November now so I really need to get to work on it. The only change I made at this point was to raise the armhole up by 1cm to increase the range of movement.