This is the first time I have designed a dress through the modelling on the stand approach.
In fact it is probably the first dress I ever “designed”. I have made patterns to my own design before but generally these would be a modification of my standard dress or torso block. These were classic designs such as a princess seamed flared dress, or a fitted jacket, where instructions were available from a book or a tutor. My design elements were limited to the length of the jacket or the width of the lapel, for example.
This dress was something I conceived in my imagination, made a sketch, modelled it on the stand, created a paper pattern, and then made it up.
Everything about my circle dress required a conscious decision. Everything gave me pause for thought. Like an old-fashioned recipe book I didn’t have a single picture to give me a clue. When I started out I didn’t know how I was going to construct this dress. I had no idea how I would deal with the yoke, the grain lines, the colour scheme or the chevron pattern. Of course I didn’t know how much fabric I would need, or where to put the pockets, or even if I should have pockets. With the top stitching I needed to decide which seams to top stitch, and with what, and in what colour. So I thank you for your help along the way with your suggestions, and most of all your encouragement.
I have described how I made the pattern for the dress by creating a yoke with a deep V (so the dress goes on over the head) and then draped a right-angled triangle of cloth from the straight grain side seam to the CF, which is on the cross grain. The pattern itself was immense and tricky to handle until I sliced it into pieces.
I adapted the yoke by reducing the width at the shoulder. It now follows the arm line rather than jutting out slightly, and I think this just brought the whole yoke into proportion. In addition I slightly deepened the armhole. I wasn’t sure about this. The original close fit around the arm was rather elegant – now the whole top area feel a bit more blousey. I was worried about showing the bra, which is a slight risk. But it is much more comfortable.
As this was a toile I used cheap cotton lawn in four shades – navy, two brownish shades, and white.
I made the yoke first. The straight grain is along the lower edge of the piece, and I used fusible interfacing to back it. The yoke had to be strong enough to support the whole nine yards (more actually – it feels a bit like a bundle of laundry). I joined the yoke and its facing at the neckline. I put one line of top stitching on the CF seam so that the yoke was not so “white”. I used a brown thread.
The yoke sat on Camilla for a few days while I thought about the skirt.
I made the skirt by cutting out the chevron pieces so that they joined each other with at least one straight grain edge. This made joining the pieces very straight forward and easy to sew. Sitting there doing lots of straight seams, reminded me just how pleasurable it is to stitch on the straight grain. I enjoyed getting my seams nice and straight, and pressing them open. Then I did top stitching – with navy thread on the brown, and brown thread on the navy – along the seams that joined the sections.
The CF, CB and side seams were a little bit more tricky. I had to match the chevrons, and the CF and CB seams were in danger of stretching. But it went together surprisingly quickly and created a nice item in itself. I did think twice about discarding the yoke and asked for your feedback. I nearly left it out, and may well develop this pattern as a non-yoked item. I was really worried how closely it resembles the kind of garment you either graduate or sing in.
The two most tricky bits of putting it together apart from the grain and top stitching were how to finish the armholes and how to attach the dress to the yoke.
I tried bias binding on the underarm but this felt stiff due to the dress fabric being so lightweight compared to the purchased bias binding. So I deepened the underarm style line and made neat facings for them. With the yoke I stitched the dress sections to the interfaced yoke. I then folded the front of the yoke over the interfaced facing, and hand stitched the yoke to the dress. I considered more top stitching, but left it out. It wasn’t the most elegant solution. I think if I made it again I would have to think this through, and see how such a yoke is finished traditionally.
The hem was just turned up and machined. It was a long curved seam, but with a little tension it stitched up OK.
I have worn this dress out to the park on a nice sunny day with brown trainers. I enjoyed wearing it. I even liked the white yoke.
I enjoyed thrusting my hand in the pockets and giving it a twirl. It’s swishy and fun; dramatic and comfortable.
It definitely looks better with the belt but could be worn without one on a different figure, or in different cloth. Thank you Esme for taking the pictures!
I would like to make it again, perhaps in a translucent fabric like chiffon or perhaps a slightly heavier drapey silk. On the other hand the full floor-length skirt looked a bit like a 1950s evening dress, or even a Vivienne Westwood, so I can imagine it in a slightly firmer cloth. With time I could develop this design for a really nice evening gown or even a wedding dress. Whatever. You can tell this dress makes me feel happy!