I’m sure many of you were glued to the recent series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was rooting for Chinelo since episode one, and was sorry that she didn’t win – although Heather really did deserve the win with that AMAZING couture gown. All three of the finalists were absolutely brilliant, I don’t know how I’ll cope until the next series.
Anyway, in the semi final, contestants were tasked with copying a favourite item of clothing. Tamara’s yoga outfit was outstanding, and she rightly won ‘Garment of the Week’ for it.
I didn’t plan on doing anything quite so ambitious, but I wanted to recreate one of my favourite dresses.
The navy blue birdie dress I am wearing in the above picture was given to me by Char, one of my besties, after she spied it in a local charity shop. I absolutely love this dress because it doesn’t crease, it’s really light, and it’s so versatile – I can wear it with leggings and heels; shorts and flip flops, or even use it as a nightie if I have an overnight stay. It doesn’t take up too much space when you are packing, and it’s really comfortable. I think originally it was quite a large dress size, but I like the way the extra fabric gathers when the ties are pulled around the waist.
As regular readers will know, I purchased a few metres of a striking, green striped polyester on a recent trip to Abakhan with my Mum. This fabric is a little heavier than the material on the original dress, but it seems quite drapey, and it didn’t crease despite my efforts! I thought this would be perfect for this project.
However, before jumping ahead to the fabric, the first thing I needed to do was to make a pattern. Of course, what every dressmaker needs is a handy roll of flipchart paper! And no, I didn’t nick it from work before you ask – our recent chaotic office move at work meant that lots of surplus or damaged stationery items were being disposed of. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say – the large A1 sheets are really handy for tracing templates.
The dress I am copying from is a simple design – two pieces of fabric, both of which are darted at the waist, and the front piece of fabric is also darted at the bust. The dress also has some simple capped sleeves. After watching the Sewing Bee, I decided to copy Heather’s technique for copying darts onto the pattern – I marked the darts on to the pattern, then folded the paper so that the darts were lying in the place that they would be on the final, stitched item.
I then traced the outline of the dress onto the folded sheet of paper, removed the fabric, and unfolded the darts, to give myself the paper template. I’ve kept the pattern piece, with construction notes, so that I can make this dress again.
To give a bit of interest to the dress, I decided to cut the fabric on the bias, so that I had diagonal stripes. Hopefully, with some careful stitching, this should give me fantastic chevrons on the side seams. Once I had cut the first piece, I then used that as the template, rather than the paper, so that I could ensure the stripes were lined up exactly.
I have also finally learned the lesson that putting time in before stitching saves you time after! The fabric was quite slippy, so, after stitching the darts, I basted the two pieces of the dress together, remembering to also slip the waist ties in at the correct points, so that the stripes matched up properly. That way, I knew when I put the material under the machine foot, that it would attach together correctly.
The original has sleeves and I planned to duplicate this feature, but when I tried it on (in the selfie below) I liked the way the chevrons looked on the shoulders and decided to dispense with sleeves.
Another lesson I learned during this project was how to do a rolled hem. I decided to give it a go after working out that one of the included specialist feet on my sewing machine was a rolled hem foot – if I’ve got one, I may as well use it! It took a bit of practice to get right, but I’m happy with the result. To ensure it stitched neatly, I ironed the tiny hem allowance first, to make a crease in the fabric. This then fitted into the curled channel on the foot, so that the fabric was guided under the needle at the correct point. I used this on the armholes, as I was already happy with the look of the dress before hemming it, so using a rolled hem sealed the fabric using the least amount of material.
When I tried the dress on, I noticed that the neckline gaped slightly – I solved the problem by making a small boxpleat in the centre, and stitching it by hand. It has removed the gaping, and has actually become a bit of a design feature!
Et voila – my finished chevron dress. I’m really happy with the bright, vibrant look and think the fabric choice is really effective. I also like the way the stripes play against each other when the tabs are tied around the middle (made from some remnant strips of material).
I’m delighted with how well the chevrons match up at the shoulders and down the sides, and I think the bias cut of the material really shows off the fabric’s drape well.
The dress isn’t an exact replica of the original, as the sleeves are missing and the length is longer, but I think I will find it as useful, versatile and wearable as the first. I will definitely be making more of this one!