My daughter had been looking for a sober, navy, knee length, short-sleeved formal dress. In a slim size 6. She had ordered a dress or two online and sent them back.
I offered to make her one, knowing that the love between a mother and daughter can be challenged by a dressmaking project.
We looked in my cupboard for a pattern and suitable fabric.
I pulled out my 1970s patterns – these suit a figure with fuller hips and bust and slim waist.
She immediately picked out Simplicity 6094, a 1973 design.
This classic dress has an attractive A line skirt, simple sleeves and a highish round neck, and is almost devoid of detail, save only for the curved bust dart and CF seam, slightly emphasised by top stitching. I love styles like this, which can be dressy as anything – a wedding dress or a formal evening dress – but equally everyday dresses that are simple and beautifully balanced. I had a speight of buying similar 1970s patterns because I regard them as absolute classics that never date (on eBay for 99p) – they flatter the figure and look classy if you choose a nice fabric. And they are fun to fit. I made a similar one for myself a couple of years ago.
Having watched Marianna use interesting sleeve patterns I suggested Esme might try a more fascinating sleeve, just to lift the outfit out of the ordinary. She agreed, we ran out Marianna’s helpful pdf pattern, then discovered I just didn’t have enough fabric to allow such a fancy sleeve. So we stuck with the classic sleeve. By then I had already eliminated the front seam as I thought the sleeve would mean it wasn’t needed.
Fabric and materials
I had a few nice woolens, in navy and some darker colours (deep purple, dark green) and plenty of cottons in lighter, brighter shades. Our summer being so unpredictable Esme didn’t really want wool in case it was too warm, or itchy. She thought linen would be more comfortable and allow her to wear a cardigan or jacket on more chilly days. However linen is always more informal than wool. In the end we chose a deep greyed off blue. This is one of my favourite shades, and works well with our eye colour. This shade of blue works brilliantly with light grey, but I especially love it with all the pinks.
How to do a first fitting
When making commercial patterns I rarely make a toile. It is just too time consuming. I normally manage by not making a garment too small (measuring both body and pattern first) altering the pattern as required, and leaving the fine tuning to the first and second fittings. If you are fairly confident of the design and quality of the pattern then you can avoid a toile I would say.
I thought it might be worth summing up how I fit a garment, this time made for a “client” rather than myself. I would be interested to hear from others in how they approach this.
- Measure the model. Esme’s bust is two inches smaller than the pattern so I adjusted the pattern to fit through the bust and upper shoulder. I pattern fitted the sleeves which seemed fine unadjusted. I measured the length of the pattern and checked against her desired length. Although she said knee length I measured at below knee just in case she prefered slightly longer when it was made up.
- Cut out the main dress parts only. The sleeves and facings may need altering so leave them until later
- Insert all the tailors’ tacks including the waist, CF and all marks from the pattern
- Stitch in the darts but don’t cut into them. As I know my daughter has a very narrow back waist I increased the girth of the back darts by a small amount, going around the tacks. This meant if the waist was too tight I could have restitched them on the correct guidelines easily. I joined the top front to the skirt too.
- I would normally insert the back zip permanently at this point. Alterations can be made at the CB but I prefer to use the side seams if possible. If you think you will need to use the CB seam for fitting changes then machine baste with a traditional zip.
- Press all the permanent seams as you go.
- The shoulder and side seams are now machine basted. I usually press the stitching but don’t press open the seam.
- Get the model to wear the appropriate underwear and try on the garment.
- Go “round the garment” checking neck; shoulder line; armhole depth; side seam balance; check bust darts especially to determine that they don’t finish on the actual bust point, fit through bust, waist, hips; back shoulder and cross back. Make sure the CF and waist lines are in the right place and balanced. If there is too much fabric pinch it out and pin on one side of the garment, using the darts or side seam if at all possible. If it is pulling work out why and mark the dress so you can let it out at the dart or seam. Ideally you will only have small changes. There was rather too much fabric in the upper back, as you can see above, and the front skirt is a little too full. This will be corrected before the second fitting.
- Get the model to put on the appropriate footwear, then pin up the hem at this stage too so she can see what it looks like. This hem is too deep. We can fix this at the hemming stage.
How to do a second fitting
- Make any changes from the first fitting. Remove the machine basting, press open and finish seams.
- Change the remaining pattern pieces if they are affected by your alterations eg sleeve and facings.
- Cut out the facings and sleeves and finish the garment according to the instructions, except the hems.
- If you already marked the hem at the first fitting, press up to the required length, removing any excess fabric. I leave around 2.5 to 3″ for a hem on this sort on the skirt. Pin or baste at the correct level. Get the model to try on the garment again.
- Check the look and evenness of the hem (again with the right footwear).
- Pin up the hem of one of the sleeves and check the balance and appearance of the garment.
- VIsually check the areas where you altered before to ensure they are correct.
- Remove tailors tacks
I would have put the dress on Camilla to photograph but of course the dress is way too small for her. Sorry I don’t have a photo of Esme in the dress. I may add one later.