knit shift dress | renfrew meets mccalls 6559 meets laurel

if me made may teaches me anything, it’s that my sewing is seriously out of sync with my blogging. and instagram is just an enabler since my makes are almost always seen there first. but, i have a several project backlog of photographed makes, so there does stand the chance that i’ll actually get them on ye olde blog soon-ish.


a couple weeks ago i had a rare evening out with a group of moms from my daughter’s kindergarten class. naturally i needed to make something new for the occasion… you know how it is. but i should back up… i’ve been itching to add some flowy knit maxi skirts to my wardrobe, and i had a 2 yard piece of black cotton/lycra and thought that would be perfect. i drafted out a 1/4 circle skirt, but alas i was about 1/2 a yard short. i decided to try anyways and make an a-line maxi. chalked it out on my fabric, cut it out, sewed up the side seams and… well it was okay, but it just didn’t totally feel right. it was too fitted from waist to hip and would probably end up not worn very often.

awkward arm pose...

awkward arm pose…

i was bummed, but then i remembered the dinner outing and thought maybe i could get a shift dress even if i had to piece it together. well turns out that a failed maxi skirt is the exact amount of fabric required for a shift dress—no piecing necessary! i cut sleeves and binding from my remaining fabric (which i still had a good chunk of) and had a new dress hours later.

photo 1

so let’s talk about my pattern. you may recall last december that i made a shift dress for christmas out of a heavy sweater knit. i wore that dress a lot, so i knew i’d be making it again. i had hacked it by combining my sewaholic renfrew for the top with mccalls 6559 for the bottom. for this dress, i also narrowed the skirt hem, using my colette patterns laurel as a guide. (side note: why didn’t i just use my laurel—minus darts—for this dress? i had intended to, actually, but i pulled out my renfrew for comparison and i was afraid it would take some serious tweaking to get right. with my renfrew/shift previously hacked, the bulk of the work was already done.) basically all i did was line up the waist marking on the mccalls pattern with where my waist hits on the renfrew. line those two up and you’re ready to go! okay, mostly.

photo 2

one thing that has bugged me on my chevron dress is some excess fabric in the back, and little bit of pulling on the front causing the back to look like it’s sagging. to fix all that, i retraced, narrowing the back piece in quite a bit at the waist. then to address the pulling at the front i added in some bust room by slashing at the bust line and adding 3/8″. this excess i simply eased in when i sewed the side seams, keeping the excess concentrated from the armhole to just under the bust. i would tell you that adding in the extra room was my brilliant idea, but that’s how the mccalls pattern is drafted so i figured it was legit. just note that if you have a striped fabric, start your stripe matching under the bust, not at the armhole!


i finished the neckline with a binding facing, rather than a neck band for a nice clean look. i serged a strip of fabric to the front, then turned it to the inside and top stitched with my cover hem. oh yeah… i bought a cover hem (!!!). we’re just getting acquainted, so i’ll hopefully post more on that later!


and that’s about it! i can see this dress covering all the bases from a casual day dress to an accessorized date night dress for almost any season. versatility at it’s finest!

—lisa g.

colette patterns | laurel

the laurel dress by colette patterns is one of those that took a while for me to fall in love with. i suppose, like many, my reaction was a bit meh initially. however i kept loving everyone’s versions of the pattern, and eventually i decided to buy it. i knew i had to do a proper muslin first because to be honest, i wasn’t sure if this shape would work for me. woof. my first try was not good. i graded from a 6 on top (with a SBA) to an 8 on bottom. it was all sorts of wrong and i tossed it in the corner for a time out.


after a couple days of thinking, i decided to come down to a size 2 up top and grade out to a 6 for the waist/hip. i did a 3/8″ FSA, and removed some width at the top of the zip at CB instead of making a neck dark. ahhh! so much closer! i didn’t even bother with an SBA, and the top portion was basically perfect aside from the neck gape. i still had an issue with the hips area, so i shaved off the top of the hip curve (maybe i have low hips? actually that would explain a lot…) and called it good.


since my fabric is mostly sheer, i underlined the front and back with muslin. my fabric has this really cool woven stripe, and the underlining makes the fabric design stand out something fierce. i sewed it up, and when i tried it on i was still left with some weird upper hip flanges. i ended up taking out the curve of the hip area, and marking nearly a straight line from the top of the curve to the lower notch.


it’s weird. i struggled with fitting CP designs so much in the past—cutting, taping, butchering… as it turns out, a lot of my troubles could have been fixed by starting with a much smaller size.


construction notes:

this is a pretty straightforward make. i certainly didn’t rush through the sewing here, and i only needed two days. many people have omitted the zip on this dress, and i don’t know what kind of contortionists those people are, but there is no way i could get this on and off without a zip! i went with an invisible zip, stabilized with tricot fusible from sunni’s shop. this stuff is the best, and makes inserting zips a breeze! it’s been a while since i did an invisible zip, and it went in perfectly the first time. i do STRONGLY suggest that you put the zip in before attaching the front of the dress to the back pieces. it is a thousand times easier that way.


i did the bias binding at the neckline per the instructions, but the sleeves i simply turned a hem and topstitched. the sleeves are also supposed to be bias bound, but this fabric was already pretty prone to fraying due to the loose weave. i was good and stitched the hem by hand. since i had underlined the fabric, it was super easy to do this invisibly.


fit-wise, the armholes are a tad snug, so that’s something to watch out for. also, it never occurred to me to check the width of the lower edge of the sleeve—also tighter than i would have liked. next time i’ll most likely go up a size for the sleeve and armhole. then, i do have a tiny bit of gaping at the neckline. i had taken out some room at the top of the zip, but i think i could adjust the angle of the shoulder seam to help it sit a little nicer. but all in all i am very happy with how the dress came out.


and that’s about it folks! i suspect i’ll be returning to this pattern a few times since it’s so quick to make, and, let’s face it, shift dresses are everywhere these days!

—lisa g.

denim dress

a while back i got the idea in my head that i needed a denim dress. it seemed like a nice casual and potentially versatile garment to have in my wardrobe, so i picked up some denim at sewfisticated. these people always have a table of $2.99/yd denim remnants and i check out that table almost every time i visit. this one is probably around a 6.5 oz denim—lightweight, but still substantial.


i planned to revisit mccalls 5927, which i made last year in plaid. my intent with making that dress was to fit a bodice i could go back to as a TNT. upon re-trying on that dress the multiple fit issues were very apparent—shoulder seam needed to move out, the back neck needs darts or re-shaping, etc. i had a pretty long list of changes i didn’t feel like dealing with. instead i went back to the hawthorn bodice, which i had fit recently, and fit well. i redrafted bits to eliminate the front button closure, added a back seam for a zipper, and replaced the v-neck with a scooped neckline.


then i wanted to have some cap sleeves so it would easily fit under a cardigan or sweater. the sleeves proved quite an ordeal. i went back to the cap sleeve on the mccalls pattern and tried those, but they ended up a little too “strong shouldered” for my tastes. i mulled over it, then just fidgeted with them until i liked what i saw. so i cut off most of the cap with the pleating and just set it in with incidental gathers. obviously, it’s not perfect and there is either too much or too little ease in the cap, but it really doesn’t bother me. overall, the shape is very nice and i’m quite happy with it!

for the skirt, i pulled out NL 6776 (used perviously here and here) because it has a nice a-line shape and doesn’t take up a crap-ton of fabric. i pleated it to my heart’s content… which. took. forever. to get right. love pleats, but geeze they can be annoying. as you can see, i added a little swoop front pocket. inseam pockets are great, but i’m always annoyed about how the pocket bags flop about. i went back to the mccalls pattern as a guide and went from there.

since this is a denim dress, i took the opportunity to topstitch in white. i considered the more traditional gold, but i also like the look of white on denim. i even used white when stitching the zip down the back, and i did a pretty good job of keeping it straight! while i intended to wear a belt with this dress, the topstitching at the waist gives just enough definition that i don’t feel super inclined to bother with one.


i had anticipated finding loads of things in my closet to layer with this dress, but came up pretty much empty-handed. that’s the problem with an at-waist dress: all my sweaters hit at my high hip, which looks terrible! then i grabbed this cardigan i made a year and a half ago (jalie 2919, unblogged but much loved! p.s. i nixed the ridiculous stitched pleats for gathers at the shoulder). it’s very very long, so i frequently just tie it around my waist. it works okay, but now i think i need a few papercut coppelia  wraps in my closet to pair with this dress for the colder months.

i hope you followed my merry adventures through all those patterns to get to this dress… i thought it was apropos to publish a real frankenpattern mash up on halloween, so happy halloween all!

—lisa g.

colette patterns | zinnia

thanks for all the responses on my last post, it was interesting to hear the wide and varied opinions! after making this skirt, my own opinion is rather torn, but i’ll get to that in a bit.

first of all, i’m very pleased with how this skirt came out. it is just as i imagined and will be great for fall-wearing. the fabric is rayon and perfectly opaque enough to not require a lining. it’s ever so slightly heavier than some other rayons i’ve worked with and has a twill weave on the right side. that twill weave caused a nightmare for hemming! oy. didn’t think i would ever get that hem evened out! i let it hang for two days and it stretched anywhere from 1/2″ up to almost 2″. usually the growth will happen at least symmetrically, but… no. this one was cray cray. add to that the fact that the stitched pleats made it so i couldn’t fan the skirt out and just measure. i ended up putting it on my dress form, measuring from the waist and just hacking away until it looked even. it’s not perfect, but i’m not in the mood to keep futzing with it!

IMG_1707 so what are my final thoughts on this pattern? first the good:

i think the pleated version is nicely drafted. many people are concerned about full skirts and having excess fabric at the waist. to overcome this, the skirt pieces have an a-line shape, and pleats that fan out. this skirt has a 90″+ hem, so really it’s the best of both worlds: full skirt, sleek tummy.

i love the belt loops for being able to add a skinny belt, but they also blend in if i choose to go sans belt.

the waistband is a perfect width—not too skinny, not too fat. i chose not to interface the waistband, but instead underline it with muslin. i can’t seem to get good results fusing onto rayon, it always ends up puckering after a wash or two. underlining gives the waistband plenty of structure while not being stiff.

the sizing seems accurate. and since you only have one measurement, it really should be. that said, i finally got smart and went up a size from what i measured for. i have a fairly high waist, and prefer that my skirts sit an inch or two lower. so, i measured where i wanted the skirt to sit and cut my size accordingly. revolutionary, i know, but with as little ease as this is designed for, i didn’t want to fight with it every time i wore it. plus, being a fall skirt, i may have bulkier shirts to tuck in. plus, plus… i can cinch it in with a belt. i should have raised the pockets though, because now they sit pretty low. oops.


alright, now the less-than-good:

the directions and construction methods on colette patterns continue to confound me. they call for so much hand stitching, basting and frankly, techniques that don’t provide professional clean results. on the pleats, you are supposed to baste them, press them, edgestitch them, then remove the basting. why? because my rayon was kinda funky to work with, i basted them by hand on the front piece (i was afraid that bringing the skirt to and from the machine so much might cause the waist to stretch out). there are 16 pleats altogether, so this is not for the faint of heart! on the back pieces i basted by machine, and everything was fine. however, removing the basting was quite a chore. and i can’t see a good reason for removing the basting, so i’ll definitely skip that next time. or just not stitch down the pleats at all. i think in a nice drapey fabric, stitching the pleats wouldn’t be super necessary if you are disinclined.

and then the waistband directions were a bit strange. you are instructed to sew the edges of the waistband before sewing the waistband to the skirt. however, it is so much easier to sew the waistband to the skirt first, then finish the ends. i opted to skip basting the inner waistband before topstitching, and just pinned and went for it, as is my custom.


also, if you plan to make the belt loops, do yourself a favor and don’t use the pattern piece. it is way too small. i cut mine 1/4″ wider, and a couple inches longer. you sew the belt loop piece lengthwise, turn the tube right side out, then cut into six belt loops. i always find that the ends get a bit beat up in the tube turning process, and then you only have 1/8″ to turn under on each end of the belt loop when you sew it on. that, my friends, is just not enough. after struggling with the original piece for about 5 seconds, i recut a piece so i would have 1/4″ to turn under on each side and that was perfect. you’d think such a simple thing as belt loops they’d get right… weird.

lastly, i bought the .pdf version and there is something wrong in the printing. when scaled at 100% my test square was larger by more than 1/8″. i adjusted the scale until i got the test square right, but then the margins were off. the pattern indicates that the margin is  6″ x 10″ and when the test square was the right size, the margins were not. so… i guess i’m not sure which is faulty: the test square or the margins. i noticed that a few other people had issues with the skirt pieces being too small, so i wonder if the .pdf is faulty. my pieces matched up fine, so… this is kind of a question mark.


i realize this is a lot to say over a skirt, so yippie if you made it to the end of the post! overall, i like the skirt and the pattern a lot. not thrilled about the construction techniques, but i tend to go my own way so this doesn’t make much difference to me, though it may to you, which is why i’m putting it out there. this is billed as a beginner pattern, and the gathered skirt i imagine would be beginner friendly. the pleated version… maybe not so much. with sixteen pleats to manage, a lot could go wrong.

okay, i’m done!

links: zinnia by colette patterns | chambray archer by grainline

—lisa g.

zinnia skirt

i just started working on colette pattern’s new zinnia skirt. i made sure to snag the .pdf when it was on sale and didn’t really plan to make it up quite yet, but the sewing gods have spoken and into my grubby mitts landed a sweet granny floral print rayon. it has those perfect fall colors and i keep saying i need more skirts. it’s a good thing i had mentally noted the fabric requirements, because this skirt takes a lot of fabric! i wouldn’t have thought the skirt needed more than a yard and a half but, this skirt is cut on the crossgrain (directional prints need not apply) and the hem is a whopping 84″-97″ depending on what size you cut. i had 2.5 yds of 45″ rayon and that was just enough. typically i find colette’s yardage totally out of whack, but this one is spot on. of course, if you want to do any print matching—buy extra! for mine, there was no worry and i didn’t bother with matching on the CB seam. hopefully it won’t matter.


since this pattern includes instructions for a lined/sheer overlay version i was curious to see the directions for this, and i’m afraid i was a bit dissappointed. in fact, there’s a tiny detail in the directions that just doesn’t jive. you construct the main pieces of the skirt (pleats stitched through both sheer and lining layer) then you insert the invisible zip through both layers and sew up the back seam, again through both layers. later you are instructed to hem the shell, then trim the lining by 1″ then hem the lining. but… how? if they are both attached down the CB seam? this is not at all how i would approach this.* jen over at grainline has a nifty tutorial where you finish the overlay opening and simply insert the zip into the lining only. the overlay hangs free, then the seams are sewn and finished separately.

now, after i bought the pattern, i happened across the discussion thread on pattern review (whose site is down at the moment… will link up later) and this pattern has garnished some criticism for being too simple, and just another dirndl skirt. now, i’m not sure why people were so up in arms, but i just want to clarify for anyone interested—this is not a dirndl skirt. and, if you do the pleated version, all the fullness should be under control around the squishy belly parts that we don’t need to add tonnage of fabric to. with the pleating action, you wind up with a partial circle skirt. same with the gathered version (as in, it has an a-line shape so there is significantly more fullness at the hem than there is at the waist. while the gathered one is nice, and gets top billing on the cover, i think the pleated skirt is really the star of the show and the reason i bothered to buy the pattern.

now you can probably find cheaper alternatives, and people kept pointing to tilly’s gathered picnic skirt, which is a rectangle, i.e. same fullness at the waist as there is at the hem, but i do like the ability to be able to print off another copy of the pattern if i really need to make up a different size. that, and i trust the indie pattern sizing so much more than big 4. if i look at the waist measurement on colette, i can feel pretty safe that the size it corresponds to won’t end up having 4″ of ease. if i grab a simplicity pattern, i have to hunt down the pattern pieces and measure the different sizes to see which will give me a reasonable amount of ease. obnoxious.

i didn’t start this post in order to pontificate on pattern drafting and who does it better, but each pattern company relies on a specific block that will work for only a small number of people. colette has one block, while sewaholic has another block, and burda, simplicity, vogue, etc has their own block. there is little wrong with the individual blocks—they will fit someone!—but if they don’t correspond to your body type, changes will have to be made. no. big. deal. what i don’t appreciate is the unreasonable amount of ease given by the big 4 (making the size chart irrelevant), which indie pattern companies have handled much differently, and i believe, much better.

anyways, drafting pleats, while not hard, is tedious and time consumming. i’m trusting that colette patterns did all the engineering for me, and i know there are a lot of people out there who have no interest in drafting such a pattern. so, yeah, you pay for the convenience. in fact, i spent last week working on a very basic dress (with pleats!) and it took all week to get the details right. i could have sewn up the dress in little more than a day, but since i was fiddling with pleats and sleeves etc, it was a bit of a chore!

okay, i’m not entirely sure where i’m going with this post, my mind has been a scatter of trying to work sewing time in with the fact that i only have one kid at home most of the week. one who has never had to play by himself until now. and, even though we limit the activities our kids are involved in i still spend a few days doing little but running kids from here to there…

so what do you guys think about the zinnia skirt? love it? hate it? indifferent? do tell!

lisa g.

*after writting this up… i see colette patterns addressed this pattern error and future printings will have the correct directions. i still don’t think it’s the best way to go about a sheer overlay, so do with that what you will!

hey! i made a dress!

in case you haven’t noticed, i’ve been on a  kid-sewing, pant-sewing, shirt-sewing bender lately. i decided to take a small diversion and actually sew up a dress. for me. it’s been practically forever (almost five months!) since i made myself a new dress, so it’s about time!


as ya’ll know, colette patterns released the hawthorn recently (and they have a little contest happening…) and i decided to have a go at it. now i’ve never been an over the top fan of the flat collar (i.e. no stand). peter pan collars… meh. not that i begrudge them, they just don’t flutter my heart like 99.999% of the sewing bloggers out there. but i really like the shape of this dress, and the squared off collar makes it unique and i dig it. however the notched neckline, for some reason i’m just not feeling. no doubt by now ya’ll are either making obscene gestures at your computer screens, shouting at me (i can’t hear you!), or abandoning my blog altogether. i know. basically i’m a horrible person for not loving these details. i don’t know what’s wrong with me!


i kept the collar as drafted, though i did make attempts to draft a different collar with a stand. it could be done, but it was going to require much more work than i was willing to put in at the time. but that’s okay, i’m happy with it as is. i did straighten out the neckline though. i haven’t done a colette pattern for a while because they are drafting for a much different body type than my own, so i have to really be willing to put in some quality muslin time. basically i have to take their patterns and turn them into a rectangle because i have no shape from the waist up. wah-wah. so, serious SBA, forward shoulder adjustment, pinching out some room above the bust, taking in some width on the back, and on and on… i was expecting this, so that’s nothing against the pattern, it’s just what i have to do to wear their designs.


the fabric i choose is a stretch linen. i underestimated the amount of stretch this fabric has, so even though i fit my muslin closer than i normally would, it’s still a little roomy. i could have taken in the sides a little more, but ultimately i’m okay with a dress that i can wear all day and not feel constrained in. the dart tips were a little problematic and wouldn’t press well (probably because of the lycra content) so i just have to live with that. i think i should have done a little more SBA-ing to compensate for the stretch factor and that would have helped them lay nicer. oh well, live and learn!


my only beef with the pattern is all the shoulder seams piled on top of each other. the collar pieces at the shoulder as does the facing. so between the top and under collar layers, the bodice, and the facing, you end up with 8 layers sitting at the shoulder. if i make this pattern again (really wanting a fall plaid version!) i’ll have to reconfigure that somehow. also, the neckline and facing has only a 1/4″ SA. now, i’m all about varying SA’s, but with a thicker fabric, it’s impossible to grade those layers. it may require more stitching to keep everything in place, but that’s just something to watch out for.


i did a little extra topstitching around the button area for stability and to keep the facing in place, and at the waist. i serged all my insides and finished the armholes and hem with pink bias tape, and even though i’ve been sewing all my buttons on by machine lately, it just felt right to actually attach these by hand. it’s easier to properly shank them that way.

IMG_1088by the way, a bias tape finish on the hem is the easiest way to handle a rounded hem. instead of needing to ease the extra fabric in, the bias tape accommodates all that for you! you could hand stitch it in place or, since there was topstitching all over the dress, machine stitch as i did.


overall i’m super happy with how my dress came out! the fitting was fairly easy, but that’s just because i’m more in-tune with the alterations i require. it’s pretty satisfying to be able to take a pattern drafted for a shape so unlike my own and still be able to make it work for me. [pats self on back]


so what about you… have you gone for the hawthorn?

—lisa g.