If Me Made May highlighted one thing about my handmade clothes, it’s that I definitely prefer separates. So, on the face of things, it seems somewhat odd that my last four makes have been dresses. They don’t really fit into the plan… or do they?! Dresses do have a place in my wardrobe, I just need a reason or an occasion to wear them. Since we’re into summer now and there’s a heatwave a-coming in the UK, easy, breezy dresses are definitely the order of the season. I’ve also got a couple of weddings coming up in the next few months and I need a posh frock that’s going to give me enough room to pull some crazy shapes on the dance floor. The Grace dress from Sew Over It ticks both those boxes quite nicely. So much so that I’ve made three in the space of two weeks!
I’ve been admiring the Grace dress for a while now – the full skirt and bodice is cinched in with a sash which gives it just the right amount of airiness while still looking put together. The pattern is currently only available as a class so when Sew Over It posted a 20% discount on their classes last month I signed myself up straightaway.
The class was taught at Sew Over It’s lovely spacious premises in Islington. Our teacher was Julie, who is probably one of the friendliest, most knowledgeable and helpful sewing teachers I’ve ever met. I feel like I learn a lot from her with every class I take – she’s definitely one of the reasons why I keep going back for more. Anyway, I’ve been having a bit of a scatty time of it recently and arrived at the first class completely unprepared but in plenty of time to pick out some fabric. I went for a light blue cotton lawn with little fishes all over it, figuring that it would be light enough for sultry summer days in London.
One of the great things about Sew Over It is their toiles. They had the full range of sizes for us to try on and Julie was on hand to make fitting recommendations. I went for a 12 but the waist on the toile wasn’t sitting properly – it was fine on the back but the front bodice was coming up a little short as there wasn’t quite enough fabric to cover my boobs. I thought this would mean a full bust adjustment, but Julie recommended simply adding an inch slashing and spreading the pattern directly underneath the armholes and taking a little bit out of the waist. And it worked! No fannying about with pivoting paper for an FBA and I now have a pattern that fits perfectly.
Constructing the dress was really straightforward. The bodice is simple – just bust and waist darts on the front – and the skirt is gathered into it. What really took the time was cutting out the pattern pieces. Fitting and cutting out took so long that I only managed to stay stitch the neckline at the first class before we had to leave for the evening – we all had a hefty chunk of homework to do that week! None of it was too taxing, though some of the understitching on the neckline was a bit fiddly and it definitely helped to own an overlocker! When I went back for the second class, I just needed to finish the shoulder straps, gather the skirt, insert the zip and do the hem.
One of my favourite things about this dress is the way the shoulder straps are finished. Normally I’d just sew them right sides together and press the seams open, but these are a bit different. You fold the seam allowance on the front strap in on itself and tuck the back strap into that. You then pull it through, line up the edges and stitch across the top. When you pull it through it gives a really neat finish – no stitching to be seen!
The rest of the dress came together pretty easily, though I did have a bit of a brain fart about how the zip would be finished. Instead of opening up the neckline facing and overlocking the centre back in a long straight line so when the zip is inserted you have to slip stitch the facings to the zip tape, I overlocked the facing and the back bodice together. Oh well. It’s not quite so neat on the inside, but the zip is functional and, dare I say it, even quite nicely executed.
I didn’t quite get the whole thing done by the end of the second class. I decided to hand stitch my hem which I did the following day sitting in front of Pixar’s Up. I still hate hand sewing, but I have to admit that it does produce desirable results. From the outside at least. The hem is quite deep – almost 10cms. Julie recommended this – the extra fabric gives it more weight which you wouldn’t get with a shallow hem. I think this comes in useful with my later versions. Speaking of which…
For my second Grace I used some dark blue polka dot chambray that I’d had sitting in my stash for a few months. I love fabric but couldn’t find a use for it – I’m not one for denim tops as I live in jeans and am not a fan of double denim, and I’ve already got a denim chambray skirt in the shape of my Cressida. The moral: don’t buy fabric unless you have plans for it. So after getting a bit excited about my first Grace, I knew it would work in the chambray.
I made no further changes to this one, apart from to machine-stitch the hem, so it came together quite quickly. I did have an overlocker-related incident though. When I was finishing the edges of the neckline facing I scrunched up a bit and accidentally put the shoulder strap through the blade, resulting in a small cut of about 1.5cm. When I first started sewing this would have been a disaster and the entire facing probably would have been thrown across the room. This time I just sighed at my own idiocy and sought a quick fix. Since it was just the facing and would be only on the inside, it didn’t need to be pretty, so I cut a small patch out of a scrap and stuck it down with some Wundaweb. I love that stuff. Absolute lifesaver. The cut wasn’t huge, and most of it would be hidden in the seam allowance anyway, so I moved on without any tears or tedious cutting out. I’m growing as a person. What have been your best bodges?
I do like this Grace quite a bit, and if I’m honest, it’s the one that will get the most wear – purely because it’s casual and will most likely be a summer staple. It’s already on my list for my upcoming holiday in a couple of weeks and I can see it having an outing at work on dress down Friday.
For my last Grace, I wanted to change things up a little. My first one is nice enough for a special occasion, but I knew I could do a better job (especially on the zip) and I liked the idea of a bit of contrast. Again, I went back to my stash (yay for stash-busting!) and pulled out this cream cotton lawn with some funny little blue shapes on it from Cotton & Steel. I originally had a plan to make another Tilly and the Buttons Mimi blouse out of it but just hadn’t got round to it, and when I saw it again, my plans changed pretty quickly. I just needed something to go with it, so I picked up some drapey plain navy blue stuff from the shop in Balham. I’ve got no idea what it is, but it frays like a bugger, so by the time I’d finished sewing the flat was covered in it.
I altered the pattern to include a contrast band which I’d never done, but was pretty straightforward – it just took a bit of light maths (which on a Friday night was a bit of a mindbender for me). I also decided that I’d had enough with facings given my previous mini-disaster, so I cut a lining in some light white cotton (also lurking in my stash) and was pleased that I was giving my future self an easier time with ironing.
Again, this one came together easily (it’s not a difficult pattern by any means), but as I was determined to do get a clean finish on this one, I did a lot of hand-stitching. This time, my hem was stitched to the sounds of the Richard Herring Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or, because I’m a cool kid, RHLSTP!) and I finished the bodice lining in front of Gone Girl. I’m pretty pleased with the results – invisible hems etc are really quite satisfying – but man did it take ages! The bodice in particular took a long time, and I found myself wondering if there was a way to machine it together without the stitches showing. I don’t think there is 😦
The last thing to do on all of the dresses was sewing the sash. Is there a more girly accessory than the sash? It just conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland to me. Anyway, because this dress is quite loose at the waist, you do need something to pull everything together and make it look like a proper outfit. It’s a simple sash – just fold a strip in half lengthways, stitch down the open edges leaving a gap to turn through. Turn it right side out, poke the corners out and hand sew up the edges. By the time I had finished with the hem and bodice on my third Grace, I was fed up with hand sewing, so I cracked the Wundaweb out again and used that to seal the opening on my two sashes (lazy, yes, but SHHHH), which I’d made in both bodice and skirt fabrics. It’s nice to have a choice.
Out of the three, I think I love the last one the most. It’s a special dress for a special occasion and will do very nicely indeed at my weddings this year. I’ll see you on the dancefloor.