I started this year super motivated and made a list of garments that I wanted to sew (if you watched my Instagram stories recently you might have seen them). This is already the third project to cross off my list. The dress here was one of these projects where once I had started it, I spent every free minute sewing. I worked on it during the week after work. With my husband out of town I came home, had a quick bite to eat and then went straight to my sewing machine for the rest of the evening.
This dress really started with the fabric. At the sewing course that I took last year (where I made this coat), a girl came to class with the most gorgeous burgundy tencel twill fabric. She was a complete beginner and I was amazed that she had found such a perfect fabric for her first project (her dress turned out gorgeous). Of course I immediately asked her where she got the fabric and it turned out that the Brora shop here in Oxford sells fabric cut-offs for a steal. I’ve been a couple of times since and one day they had the exact same fabric, selling it at £5 for 2 meters. It’s such a nice fabric! Medium weight with a great drape. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a shirt dress from it. I don’t own any indie shirt dress patterns but I have a lot of sewing magazines and in the end I decided to use the Elsa blouse from the Victor Maison magazine (6/2016) as a base for the dress.
I have made the pattern once before with some Atelier Brunette fabric (here a pic on Instagram). That initial version did highlight some issues: too tight across the shoulders and upper arms and a collar that was way too big and also not really sitting flat. However, the pattern has some really nice details (like the deep pleat in the back) and I knew that with some adjustments it would be a good base for a loose fitting shirt dress. To address the tightness I actually went up two sizes (to a 42 from a 38); I much prefer a slightly oversized shirt over something too fitted. To address the collar issue I decided to use the neck curve and the collar from the Style Arc Blaire Shirt. I’ve made it a couple of times before and really like how the collar sits.
To turn it into a dress I shortened the blouse to slightly below my waist and added skirt pieces roughly based on one of my existing dresses. The length of the skirt was really determined by the amount of fabric that I had available. To give the dress some shaping I added a drawstring at the waist. I created the channel by simply stitching down the overlocked seam allowance of the waist seams. A draw string of self fabric and two small button holes at the front to slot it through completed it. For some visual interest I also added two simple breast pockets which I drafted myself.
The construction generally was straight forward since I had made the pattern before. Also the fabric presses really well, which helped with the details. I had to unpick the bias bound sleeve placket a couple of times to get a neat finish (I somehow find tower plackets a lot easier). All seams except for the waist seam are finished with french seams and the yoke is constructed with the burrito method. In hindsight, the shoulder seams are probably slightly too bulky in a french seam but it is not too noticeable. The only issue with the construction really was how the sleeves are attached. The instructions tell you to attach the sleeve pieces flat and then join the side seams. Already with the last version I noticed the tightness in the shoulder and also that the sleeve pieces did not line up at the underarm. However, for some reason I didn’t really question it and thought the issues were just down to sizing. This time around I also just blindly followed the instructions to only afterwards realise that I had the same issues. So while the instructions tell you to install the sleeves on the flat, the sleeves seem to be drafted with ease through the head. So I’m not sure if there is a way to add ease by installing a sleeve flat (I only ever do that with set-in sleeves) or if the instructions just don’t match the drafting. In any case it’s really my fault for not thinking while sewing and making the exact same mistake twice. In this version there is enough width across the shoulders so I can just get away with it.
The buttons for this dress were a happy coincidence. I generally don’t have a button stash (apart from buttons rescued from my husbands worn-out shirts) and I just buy buttons for each individual project. I was expecting to do that here too and already started looking for buttons in the shops but couldn’t find anything that matched. Only when I started sewing I realised that I had bought some vintage buttons at a car boot sale last summer and by pure luck they matched perfectly. I love when that happens.
So all in all this was a very satisfying project; amazing fabric to work with and an end product that I am super excited about. I’m always looking for easy to wear dresses that work for the office and outside of work. Long sleeves are always a bonus since I’m always freezing at the office. So this fits the bill perfectly.
Once I have addressed the sleeve head issue, I think the Elsa blouse could be a staple work blouse pattern. I already have some white linen crepe lined up for a third version.