Blue (not for) Christmas

I had actually forgotten completely about this fabric. It was a bit of an impulse buy not long before my Fabricland shut down, a random bolt of stretch cotton sateen in what I fancy to be a slightly purplish navy. When it went on cheap, I bought a LOT. And apparently pre-washed it, folded it and tucked it into stash to be utterly forgotten. Along with a single sock, which re-emerged when I pulled the fabric out as a “fall sewing” possibility way back in October of last year.

Matching it up against a number of dress patterns on my “really want to sew” list, I ended up going with McCall’s M8177, which has the distinction of being the first Big 4 pattern I’ve gone out of my way to acquire since I stopped working at Fabricland. It hits all my (current) boxes—button front (breastfeeding friendly), princess seams (easy fitting), and big, puffy, fun sleeves (on trend, or at least whatever personal trend I’m on at the moment.) I had to actually ask my aunt to pick it up when/if she found it on sale, since I don’t currently have a membership at Fabricland to take advantage of the big sales.

Navy isn’t one of my “core” colours, but I don’t hate it, especially when it’s leaning towards the purplish side of the hue. Which, admittedly, might be a trick of the light or some wishful thinking. I like it, though. And the fabric is on the lighter weight end of the stretch cotton sateens I’ve met, but is still really crisp and, in hindsight, a bit too heavy for this pattern—not so much the main part, but the sleeves with all the gathering.

Cutting out a project this big is a bit of an accomplishment in my life at the moment, and was possible only thanks to my stylish sister-in-law taking the twins one Sunday afternoon. Sewing proceeded in much smaller increments, at a veritable snail’s pace, and then stalled shortly before Christmas when the matching buttons I had found in stash disappeared just after I sewed the buttonholes. All it needed was the buttons and a hem.

One of the things that drew me to this pattern was the sleeves, which superficially resemble the sleeves of my beloved Adrienne Blouse. However, the draft is surprisingly different, presumably because this is a woven pattern, or perhaps because it is based on a set-in sleeve block instead of a raglan sleeve. Anyway, instead of being flat along the gathered shoulder edge, this sleeve has a big, curved sleeve head (to which bias tape is applied to make the elastic casing—not exactly hard but definitely not as near-effortless as the Adrienne version. In addition, there is a tiny pivot point on the McCall’s pattern, where the sleeve goes from underarm seam to across the bodice slightly before turning up to form the edge of the neckline. You have to mark that point, stay-stitch, and slash the seam allowance so the fabric can make that turn. I forgot to mark, and then attempted to figure out where to slash after I had applied the bias tape and elastic to the shoulder. It was neither easy nor tidy to figure out at that point, and I did not do a good (nor symmetrical) job. It’s not exactly a flaw in the pattern, just a different approach, and me being slapdash and not paying sufficient attention to the instructions, but it’s definitely not as simple as the Adrienne blouse approach. That point also pulls like crazy across the back when I move my arms, which I don’t know entirely if that is a fitting issue, error on my part, or innate quirk in the pattern.

I also struggled with attaching the facing, which runs under the bottom of the sleeves and follows that slightly complex shape. Not because things didn’t line up, but I kept getting bits of the sleeve folded into my seam, and I didn’t notice all of them before I had understitched, which was a bit of a nightmare to unpick. Again, it’s not a problem with the pattern so much as my failure to take the time and attention this pattern requires. Probably because I’ve made almost nothing of significant complexity in the last two (three) years.

The pattern includes a deceptively large pocket piece. I say deceptively because, while it is very large, as directed the positioning places a good 2.5” of the pocket bag above the opening, so the actual “effective” pocket is no more than average size. I was initially quite annoyed with this drafting, but I currently have a theory that it was designed to reduce the way an inseam pocket like this can pull on the side-seam, or at least move that “pull point” at the top of the pocket bag up to the waist of the pattern where it’s less noticeable. I still would’ve liked a deeper pocket bag, although they do work just fine and are nicely big enough for my phone.

This is also the first time I’ve had to really reckon with my size changes in a standard pattern size. Throughout most of my active sewing journey of the past 11 years, I’ve measured a size 12 (give or take), often making a 10 at least on top as that gave me better shoulder fit (especially in McCall’s patterns). While I had been giving myself “a bit of wiggle room” in the hips for a while (this is an area where I like extra ease, unlike the bust and waist), this pattern was the first time I made a straight size 14, which is where my measurements put me these days and also looked reasonable compared to the final garment measurements. I was still nervous, mainly about the shoulder width.

I still made my standard alterations: small swayback adjustment and raising the underarm slightly (not sure how much impact this had). I also took in the shoulder elastic significantly, although in a design like this that has a lot to do with the strength of your elastic vs. the weight of your fabric. I did make sure to finish the edges of all my Princess seams separately, for optimal fit adjustment later. (I’ve found McCall’s to have dodgy fit around the Princess seams in the past, and also my bust sits a good inch lower since the twins were born).

The good news is my fit alterations were pretty acceptable. The swayback adjustment could’ve been slightly larger as there are still a few folds there (perhaps because the pattern size is slightly longer in the body than I’m used to) but otherwise the fit is generally good, and I haven’t felt obliged to go in and mess with the princess seam shape anywhere. The only real issue is that pulling across the back when I raise my arms.

I also shortened the long sleeves by about 3”, for more of a 3/4 length, as I prefer that to full-length full sleeves. I should probably have made the shortening smaller, say 1.5” or even 1”, as they’re a bit shorter than I intended, and I don’t think the pulling in the back would bug me nearly as much if it didn’t pull the “wrist” elastic up past my elbows.

Hunting through stash for buttons was a bit more of a problem. I would’ve liked silver buttons, but didn’t have 10+ of any of them. I originally found a group of ten plastic buttons of the perfect shade of slightly purplish navy, although they’re a tiny bit smaller than ideal, but no sooner had I sewed the buttonholes than they disappeared. I held off further progress, expecting them to surface, but they never did, so when I finally had some sewing time in March I made myself sort through the button stash and finally settled on these very boring chunky grey plastic ones. The main feature was that I had enough of them.

I’m a bit torn on this project. I like the resulting dress, despite its issues, and I have been wearing it as much as I can get away with. I don’t know if I would make the sleeved version again since I’m not a fan of the construction there, but the sleeveless version is definitely on the List. Not that I get to a lot of things on the List these days. Especially since at Easter back in April we had a plumbing leak in the basement that basically filled the sewing room with junk from other places until, um, June. Facepalm. Anyway, here’s to hoping for more sewing in the future.

8 Comments

Filed under Sewing

8 responses to “Blue (not for) Christmas

  1. I love it. The color is great and it does lean toward indigo. I might have to dig through my stash and see if I have this pattern.

  2. Having enough buttons of the correct size is a win enough. I am a deep blue fan, so yay. My personal ‘who asked you’ quibble: the pocket is big in the wrong direction by my lights; I’m very team ‘extend the top of the pocket so it can be sewn into the waistband’ and that bulge at the top is wasted space imho. Or YMMV. But look, you sewed a whole thing and it’s really beautiful on you. Who has time to put something in their pockets now?

    • I agree about the pocket… there’s definitely some weirdness there, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or just odd. The extended top could just angle down to the “real pocket part”. But, in practice I don’t notice and they work fine, and at least in this heavy fabric don’t pull noticeably. 🤷🏻‍♀️

  3. The colour looks terrific – and very dramatic shape. I love the square neckline in the back. And good for you for a) sewing this lovely dress and b) so intelligently posting about your sewing experience thereafter! With all you’ve got going on, I’m so impressed that you have the impulse.

    • Well, it’s no accident that there was a good six months from the main completion of the dress to the blog post 😂 Things are not happening in a timely fashion. 😂 But it has been a pleasure to wear, at least.

  4. Nice! And this has become one of my fave colors lately too. I just finished a navy dress today, in fact! The number of buttons is daunting, I’m not sure I’d have been up to the challenge. 😆

    • Well, buttonholes in a nice sturdy sateen like this are not too scary… and maybe it helped that that was ALL I had to do when I finally got around to it after four months? 😅

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