Monday, 20 July 2015

Vogue 8646 - a floral sleeveless summer dress

I said that I’d put in a review for the Vogue dress, 8646, I made and put in as part of my finished course project. I literally finished it in class on the evening I handed the project in.

Unfortunately, I handed in all the pattern pieces and the pattern so I can’t take any photos of my alterations to the pattern pieces, but I’ll do what I can. I haven't had my portfolio returned so don't know how I've done and don't have the dress or the toile. I did take a couple of quick photos before I handed it in, though.

I'd had the pattern for a while and was put off making it by the need to use bias binding.  I originally thought this was on the surface and wasn't sure then about my ability to sew it on neatly. Also, I thought matching bias binding would be better than plain commercial tape.

The pattern is listed as easy so I decided I'd stretch myself by making some self fabric bias binding and make the dress. Then I discovered the bias binding doesn't show - what I thought was matching binding at the edges is topstitching. The bias binding is all inside.

I also had some concerns about the skirt when I realised just how full it is - it's a circular skirt with a fairly big wrapover. I initially thought of doing the long sleeved version and bought some blue crepe as I feel it looks better with long sleeves in the block colour. I thought long sleeves with a print would be too much. However, I was attracted to a floral polyester cotton in Chester le Street market at only £2 per metre. So I decided to make the sleeveless version, even though I usually prefer sleeves to hide my upper arms.

I thought I would have it finished in time for my birthday trip to London.  I always find London very hot especially in July and thought a cool summer dress would be a useful addition to my wardrobe.

As usual, I had to start with a toile. I used a similar weight i.e. fairly light plain coloured cotton. From this, I found the crossover neckline too loose - it bagged when it was secured at the waistband - and had to take a tuck to shorten it. The front bodice length was a little short and I lengthened this. For me, these were pretty minor alterations! I realised that the waistline would be a little higher than I'm used to but in the classes I've come to realise that I've perhaps expected my waist to lie too low.  Tutors keep telling me that my waistline is higher than I feel comfortable with. Presumably they're not all wrong!

Unfortunately, a relatively raised waist means that the skirt is shorter than it would have been. The length of the pattern for the skirt appeared to be okay but I'm not used to such full skirts and wasn't sure of the best length.

After deciding on all the changes needed, I transferred these to the pattern.

I washed and dried the fabric.

I then laid out and cut out the pattern, following the layout given.  This was important as being a wrap over circular skirt; I had to be sure the fabric was running the right way. I was fearful I might be short of fabric as I was using the largest size and my fabric was only 115cms rather than the 150cms I'm more used to. However, I managed to cut it out okay. I wouldn't have managed to make the skirt any longer anyway.

I didn't follow the pattern order of construction which, in retrospect, was a mistake.

I did start with making the tucks at the front shoulders and the back darts, as instructed. I finished the seams by overlocking after they were stitched together but left them pressed open. I carried out the easing on the bodice parts indicated. I also sewed the skirt pieces together and overlocked all raw edges.

At this stage, I had to apply bias binding tape to finish the armholes. I did try using my own bias binding but this was not a success and I had to remove it. I made 13 metres (!!) of single fold bias binding by the continuous method, using instructions gleaned from Lauren Guthrie's book 'Learn to Sew with Lauren'. I took pictures of my steps for my own records and wrote everything up for my portfolio. There were ultimately some problems with my bias binding - which looked great! The pressing didn't stay in place well enough, yet my tutor felt the tape had been over-pressed and didn't have the stretch it should have. Perhaps this was the type of fabric.

Part of the bias binding making process
I had found judging where to place the binding very difficult as the edge of the bias needed to lie 3/8 inch from the raw edge of the dress. I decided to stitch another line at aid placement. This proved very helpful. The pattern had a 1.5cms seam allowance and I believe that this often get removed when you're making your own patterns. I continued with my dress construction, using commercial ½" single fold bias tape as instructed.

This is where I perhaps thought too much!  The skirt front edges had to be finished with a ⅝" narrow hem, topstitched. Yet the top front edges were to meet and be continuous with this but there was ½" of bias tape plus a little at the side (the fold and understitching), so I wasn't sure it could be done. I therefore decided to go ahead and apply the bias binding around the neck and front edges. I thought I could then ensure that my topstitching was at the same width with each - at the edge of the narrow hem but slightly in from the edge with the bias binding. I left the end pieces undone for the further work required there but it was difficult to finish them off, later. I wouldn't do that again.

After applying the bias binding, I understitched to make sure it stayed to the inside. I then topstitched as instructed, using the edge of my presser foot as a guide to placement. Then I pressed again.

At this stage I thought everything was looking pretty good.

I decided the skirt was a bit short so to maximise the length, I simply overlocked, skimming the edges and turned the fabric over and top stitched. I neatly mitred the hem at the skirt bottom with the hem along the front edge.

I then returned to the pattern instructions and the order given. Now I had to attach the bodice to the skirt using a double row of stitching and press seams towards bodice. My intention was to overlock the raw edges.

My problems continued here. As I had already added bias binding, this made it more difficult though not impossible to add the ribbon (for the inside ties) as instructed. I then finished off the bias binding.

However, the pattern was clear that the bodice should extend out from the skirt. Their bodice didn't have bias binding yet but I assume it stuck it by 1.5 cm on each side, ready for the bias binding to be applied. My skirt extended out from the bodice by approximately 2.5 cm on each side! I can't work out why. My notches, seams and centres all matched.

This shows the bodice/skirt junction with the skirt extending out from bodice which shouldn't have been the case

I decided to try on the dress at this stage. I hated it!  I felt it didn't suit me, wasn't a flattering style for me and was too short. My husband, too, disliked it. I think the style is too young for me. I felt like mutton dressed up as lamb! I was ready to throw it out.

At that stage, I felt that I had learned a few things from this dress.

·         I need to be more careful with my style choices.

·         Don't try to rush a project even to hand in as part of a portfolio due the next day!

·         Read through and fully understand the instructions. It's okay to deviate from the instructions if that makes more sense and if it doesn't lead to overuse of the unpicker.

·         Patterns can be wrong.

·         I think fabric choice was crucial - I think the crepe (recommended fabric)  would have worked much better than the polyester cotton (I'm not sure there was much if any cotton in it as my needles didn't like it and I could hear that polyester noise as I stitched).  Fabric isn't cheap if it leads to a failed item.

·         I won't try the continuous bias binding method for a while yet but will try again using the single length method. Methods need practice and I can't really expect something to work first time.

·         I should have basted this together much earlier to check for hem length and whether it was even. My excuse was time pressure

·         When trying on, make sure the garment is lying as it will later, on the body, so some closures may need to be pinned closed

I decided, however, to persist. I wondered why I was persisting with a dress I don't even like. Actually, I know why. I hate leaving things unfinished. When I see a problem, I like to try and fix it.

Hopefully fixable problems

So I examined the dress as it was and tried to work out what the still fixable problems were:

The two front edges of the wrapover and wrap under on the dress were never going to work. I had made a reasonable stab at getting the seam width correct so the top stitching would match the bodice but there was no way I could get the topstitching to line up with the bodice - quite simply, there was about 3 cms excess width on both skirt front pieces.

Pressing the waistband stitching upwards meant that my finish was going to be untidy. I didn't like the way they said to finish

The ribbon tie was not in the right place to allow me to manipulate the seam junction.

I couldn't change the length of the dress.

So what did I do?

I carefully folded over the skirt fabric along the front edges to make sure this would match with the edge of the bodice and pressed the fold line in.

I then unpicked my previous topstitching on the skirt and opened out.

I then cut off 3cms from each front edge.

I then turned under and pressed, making an even double hem of what I thought was the correct width. In fact, it could have been narrower as earlier I had stitched the top stitching on the bodice to what I assumed would be a narrower width on the skirt.

At the waistline, I took out the ribbon - I planned to turn the waist seam down rather than up and this would mean that the ribbon was in the wrong place.

I had also added an additional layer of stitching along the bodice skirt seam and had overlocked the raw seam together.

I then carefully folded the waistline stitching down rather than up. This allowed the folded over skirt seam to cover some of the workings which would otherwise have been left exposed. I included the ribbon on the left side of this as before but now stitched at a more suitable spot.

I had to unpick part of the pin hem on both sides to allow a cleaner finish. I folded the fabric back on itself and stitched along the original hem foldline, halfway across, to allow for the fold.

Then I topstitched the skirt at the same width as the bodice, paying careful attention to the junction

I re-topstitched the hem.

I sewed on the other ribbon to the inside

I pressed again, this time making sure that waistline seam was downwards.

I finished all my stitching and cut off the ends

Finished dress - well, nearly

All I needed to do was to add a hook and eye closure to the dress, allowing an overlap. The pattern had you match the centre points on each side. I had marked these but wasn't sure if they remained valid points after cutting 6cms off the skirt width. Clearly that means a smaller overlap than was originally envisioned, but I don't actually think it affects the centre point. I tried on the dress to measure where the closure should be sewn and to take a quick photo for the portfolio.

Thoughts on finish

This dress does not have the quality of finish I usually strive for, but don't always achieve.

Because I don't really like it and because of the rush to finish it, I didn't undo and redo some of the components that could have been done better. I recognise what these are.

It is a learning process though.

I don't like rushing and deadlines for sewing as I am a slow(ish) sewer. You won't catch me going on the Great British Sewing Bee!! I prefer to take my time and do things properly, an option which is not available with 11th hour rush sewing.

Someone once said to me that if the pattern envelope shows only line drawings, beware! What is the garment going to look like in real life on a real model? Not only does this pattern only have line drawings - but both drawings show a belt in place at the waist (though the pattern does not have any instructions for any kind of belt carriers). I think the way they recommend construction means that the waistline seam particularly at the edge closures is the weakest point in the design and the one that could look really bad. A belt would cover that.

I decided to put the dress on now that it was completed bar the hook and eye closure and wear it with a belt. Initially, before I properly fastened it, the dress was lying too far forward on the shoulders, contributing to the unequal lengths of back and front. However when the dress was properly adjusted, the lengths were fine. I took some photos at this point.

The dress is possibly wearable by me though it's too short. The waistline is too high for my taste - it lies above my natural waist at the front and sides and I would therefore want a longer bodice, despite my earlier comments about trying to get used to a higher waistline as this is repeatedly advised by my tutors.

In the class the next night, I sat sewing on a poppet set, rather than the hook and eye recommended, to close the dress - and the dress was finished!
What do you think?



  1. I think you are right about overthinking - sometimes it is best to do what my mother always told me to do - read the instructions! Mind you, I often don't, but with new techniques I often do, and sometimes test on scraps beforehand. I hate time pressured sewing - I will often sew quickly - especially when I know exactly what I am doing, but with new things, I take my time. A sample machinist I worked with once, always took a long time with the first garment, and then she could whizz them up very quickly - once she knew what she was doing. However, despite your ups and downs the dress looks lovely - but I agree, it is perhaps a bit short - but that is personal taste as well. As for style, I guess that is what sewing is all about - sometimes the wrong style is made, but over time you will learn how to translate a picture into visually imagining it on you.

    1. Thanks, Sarah Liz. I was short of time but I keep seeing others running up things in just a few hours! I'm hoping I'll reach that point of properly imagining things on me.

  2. I like it! It's a nice summer dress and the length looks fine too, although maybe a bit outside your comfort zone. Give it a try! After looking closely at your pictures I disagree with you on the waistline issue. Your belt is sitting at your natural waist, that's where belts automatically end up after some moving around. At the pictures taken from the front I can see the waist seam of your dress sitting lower than your belt, most clearly seen on the left side (your right side) The issue is even more obvious at the back. Your bodice certainly isn't too short. When it comes to well fitting garments I don't think the waistline can be put at a place of personal preference, only using your true waist will do! Did you ever try the trick with a piece of elastics tied around the waist? After some wiggling it will sit at your true waist. I always use elastics and a sharpie to mark my waistline on muslins, really helpful!

    1. Thanks, Marianne. Yes, it's out if my comfort zone. Yes, I used elastic around my waist and my tutor marked where the waistline would be. This belt is pretty rigid - and I hadn't been moving around for the photos; I think I pulled dress down to make it longer! But I certainly agree with your comments - I only noticed low back seam when I posted here and hadn't noticed same at front at all! I do know I'm rather asymmetrical. I'm never sure how to deal with my marked back to front waist slope. I hope one day to get my fitting issues sorted; one tutor by the way says it's important for me to balance the slope of my waist so have front a bit higher than ideal and back a bit lower than ideal so the whole thing is more level. What do you think?

    2. I've just magnified the dress front. Gosh! I hadn't seen that at all.

  3. I need to be more careful with my style choices too! That is something that I keep coming back to..I make something and think this is not me. But I do enjoy making it.

    I like the dress -- it is refreshing and very summery!

    1. I feel I'm getting there, a bit! Everything I make adds to my skills. At least, that's the ides. Summer might be over by the time I get the dress back as I had to hand it in as part of my assessment!

  4. I can see you wearing this dress strolling along a beach in the sun....very appropriate for holidays but I know where you are coming from with the shortness. Being a bit shorter will be fine in the sun!
    No matter what the length of the current 'fashions' I wear mine where I am most comfortabl with the hemline.....not too long either of get on a holiday and wear the dress! My problem is that I am just 5' - and an 18 to boot so my dresses tend to be straightforward shifts although I do have a wrap dress unfinished....I may not be happy with it at all given their tendency to gaping at the front.

    1. Thank you, Joyce
      No holiday just yet, I'm afraid. Perhaps a winter sun one, though - we'll see.
      This wrap dress had a good overlap (even though I had to cut some off!) so hopefully won't gape. I'm with you on length.


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