I really did mean it when I said after exams, I’d be back sewing with a vengeance. I consider this statement proven by Exhibit A, the By Hand London Anna dress which I finished completely on my first weekend off!
Though I’ve been sitting on dozens of planned sewing projects, waiting for my break, this wasn’t originally one of them. A couple of months ago, I applied to be a pattern tester for By Hand London. Sadly, I didn’t make the cut this time, but they were kind enough to give me a 20% discount code for their online shop. Unable to resist discount patterns, and wanting to soothe my disappointment a little, I had a browse of their collection. Whilst I saw many lovely things, nothing jumped out at me for immediate purchase until I saw Anna. Recalling the lovely version I saw made up by Bianca of Fabricate, and remembering the family wedding I have coming up, I immediately began imagining the gorgeous possibilities. I needed no further convincing to hand over my money; I bought the pattern straight away and got to work!
Given that I wanted the dress for such a special occasion, I thought I’d allow myself a bigger budget than usual, in order to fulfil my visions of a luxuriant silk maxi dress. If I was going to be spending $100+ on this project though, I thought I’d better have a trial run of the pattern first to check the fit and style, before committing to the most expensive yardage I’ll let myself buy for the foreseeable future. So I decided on a midi length version in this printed cotton voile (on sale at Spotlight!), which I fell in love with as soon as I saw it online. I think everyone knows by now that I don’t really like making things which aren’t pretty, and I really don’t like making toiles, so the only way this was going to happen was if I bought pretty fabric and hoped for the best. I got baby pink voile to line and a lime green zip (because zips only come in hideous colours apparently, and that was the least offensive).
I actually took the trouble to prewash the fabric (something which I’m not usually very good at doing I must admit), knowing that I was going to invest a lot of work into this project and wanting to make sure it wouldn’t be undone by unfortunate shrinkage. Even though it was a “practise” dress, a) I wanted to make sure it would be beautifully finished in the (hopeful) eventuality that it was a good enough fit to wear; and b) because I wanted to practise all the techniques I’d be using on the final garment, like French seams and hand stitching.
My first real dilemma came in sizing: normally, all my measurements fall into different size categories, but it’s usually just a case of checking the ease, picking the closest fit and taking in where necessary. However, this approach wasn’t going to work for the Anna, as there was a good three sizes difference between my bust and waist measurements, and the ease was not very generous. Still, there’s a first for everything – so I bravely prepared to grade between sizes. It’s not a difficult concept in theory, but the Anna presented some unusual challenges – as it’s got the built-in kimono sleeves, it was a little tricky to decide what line to follow where. I ended up going with size 8 around the neckline and shoulder, extending the line out to join the size 14 line at the sleeve, then grading back down to the 8 towards the waist, from the base of the sleeve, on both front and back pieces. I kept the size 8 pleats, and cut straight size 8 pieces for the skirt.
I cut the lining first, so I could make up the bodice as something of a muslin of a muslin (if you will). It turned out to be almost perfect, except for some slight strain between the tops of the pleats and the shoulder seams. I realised what the problem was – I’d compensated for the additional width required for the bust, but not the additional length. I quickly unpicked my shoulder seams, and tried it with 1/4″ allowance – much better! I went back to my pattern pieces and added 2 cm to the shoulder seams, front and back. I could then proceed to cut into my gorgeous green material.
(Side note – I am always deeply suss of yardage requirements given by patterns. I’m too scared to buy less than specified, but I always always have so much left over; case in point, this pattern specified 2.85m for the midi length, I bought three (because round numbers and my need for a safety net), I probably used just over 2 – and that’s WITH being careful with my pattern placement! But hey, now I have enough to make a romper too. Rant over).
So sewing began in earnest! As those of you who follow me on Instagram already know, there was a small incident involving our iron and our house being short circuited (a minor disaster at the best of times, let alone when you’re making a fully lined, fully French seamed, darted and pleated dress in cotton voile!), but Dad came to the rescue and we had a new iron by the afternoon (thanks Dad!). Construction proceeded pretty much without incident; all seams were successfully Frenched, and my slip-stitching of the sleeve hems worked really well (an idea I got from the BHL sew-a-long – their tip for getting the waist seam to match on each side was A+++ also).
Zipper insertion time; I basted it in about four centimetres in from the back seam each side (a reasonably wild guess), and, lo and behold, a perfect fit! I sewed it in properly, finished closing the back seams (another aside – I hate hate hate closing the seam below and invisible zip; I can never seem to do it easily or neatly). There is a method of doing a French seam underneath an invisible zip, but I used it for my ball gown earlier this year and, well, let’s not call it an unqualified success. So I pressed in the raw edges and slipstitched those together to create a faux French seam (while watching Master of None in bed – for those of you with Netflix, I definitely recommend it!). For the hem, I decided on a baby hem, and actually took the trouble of measuring and evening out this time (I’d already put that much work into it…) – but stitching around both hems three times must have been the most maddening thing I’ve done for a make in a while. Still, soon enough it was done!
Yeah this post is picture heavy (sorry not sorry) – but I liked all the pictures my sister took for me so much (thanks again dearest!) that I wanted to use as many as possible. Aaaaaaand given how much work I did to make the insides pretty too, here are some guts shots:
I really can’t express how much I adore this dress! The Anna is an incredible pattern – the design is beautiful, it sews up like a dream and the fit is amazing. In fact this dress turned out so well my whole family is saying I should just wear this one to the wedding! I’m not convinced – I’m still determined to live my dream of a glorious swishy silky maxi dress. Buuuut if I can’t find my dream fabric (in my price range – I’ve already found my dream fabric, several times, going for about $70/m ;_;), it’s good to know that I already have an excellent back up option.
Well! That was a wordy one as well as being photo-heavy – I think I’d better stop talking 😛
Until next time,
Miss Maddy xx