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What good is a rule if you don’t ever break it, amirite??
Among MANY rules that I have set in place for myself as an adult, thanks to a relatively boundary-free childhood (which is a
memoir blog post for another day), avoiding patterns that don’t suit your silhouette is probably the one that I stick to the most. It didn’t take me long to institute this sewing rule after I made a few patterns that looked great on the models in the photos but failed to turn me into a tall, leggy, thigh-gapped lady in turn. This ‘sewing for your body’ rule of thumb is, as the kids say, mad problematic. I know what “works” for my body and what styles I feel the most confident in, but how much of that is learned and how much of that is my actual opinion? I know I have discussed all of this before in some way so apologies for sounding like a broken record, but I am always finding new avenues into how body image, the patriarchy, and feminism/womanism intersect. I have always been taught that pants or skirts that end at mid-calf are not flattering on short women or women with muscular/thick legs, so I didn’t wear them for years… but is that something I really think is true or did I just internalize it from all the copies of Cosmopolitan magazine I read in my teens and twenties? I just don’t know.
I also recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege to even contemplate these possibilities in a public space without fear of retaliation or judgement; despite my own episodes of body dis-morphia and hangups, I am petite, and this type of body is currency in our culture. My shape adheres to the general standards of what is considered “acceptable” by society and I have benefited from this in all kind of ways, from the work I have gotten in my career to the ways that strangers treat me. It is not my intention to use this space as a platform to speak on behalf of curvy/voluptuous/plus-size/fat women because that is not my experience in the world- I want to support their voices, not drown them out with my own. But I do want to pay better attention to the language that I use and the inner thoughts that I have regarding bodies, my own and other people’s.
How can I show solidarity with all bodies in the world when in private I criticise my own, periodically zooming in on ways that it is not “good” enough? How can I say that big is beautiful! if there are days when I avoid looking in a mirror for fear that I will be disappointed with what I see? Again, I just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to know. Lately I have been pretty good at changing the language I use when I am being critical of my body. Instead of telling myself that I am something, I try to focus on whether or not I am feeling something, and there is usually a connection there. When my internal monologue tells me that I am ugly or gross or unattractive, most of the time I am actually just feeling things like sadness or frustration about something unrelated, and those uncomfortable feelings are manifesting themselves in the way I view my body. Why? Well, I personally think it’s because individuals who identify as women and/or who present themselves as feminine are often taught that their worth lies in their physical appearance. There is some comfort, albeit misguided, in being able to blame our failures, insecurities and anxieties on the way that we look. But I don’t think the answer is simply to stop those “negative” feelings from brewing up inside of us. Uncomfortable feelings are valid and important, and it helps to know where they come from; discomfort does in fact have a place in our lives. But allowing that discomfort to define the way we in turn actually move around in the world is unfair. There should be space enough for us to feel how we feel and still see ourselves as whole, worthy individuals. Of course, it feels easy for me to intellectualize this, but much harder for me to actually start to unpack it and change the behaviors I have had for so many years. But it doesn’t help to start, right? Right!
Which brings me to….THE HANNAH DRESS by Victory Patterns!
I saw the Hannah dress when it was released last year and immediately thought, “Oh cool, another beautiful dress I will never make for myself”. I had a couple of reasons for shooting this pattern down so quickly. One is that I have made two Victory patterns before, the Ava and the Nicola, to practically disastrous results. Both are super pretty designs with a lot of personality, but the sizing of these patterns was way off for me (they fit much smaller than the measurements suggested) and if my memory serves correct, I also thought that the drafting was off; for instance, a lot of my notches and raw edges in one of those patterns would not meet up even after double checking my marks on the initial pattern pieces, and it drove me up a wall trying to figure out what I had done incorrectly.
Mini review alert: On the Nicola wrap dress, I had to do a lot of extra work trying to make the pattern wearable after I completed it- I had to add a lining to the dress because you could see the insides of the skirt very easily since the flap in the front flew open constantly when you walked or sat down in it. The bodice where the two sides met in the middle refused to lay flat for me and kept puckering up in the strangest ways, and it was also placed weirdly low, so I was constantly worrying that my boobs (which, by the way, are not very large) were gonna pop out. To keep the front bodice closed and PG-rated, I tried sewing all these extra buttons and closures I into the dress, but they didn’t work well and I still ended up needing to wear a slip underneath the dress to keep my goodies covered. The sleeves were also a big problem for me. I thought they looked just fine in the images on the pattern but on my dress they were so gigantic that they looked a little clownish. I ended up hacking several inches off the length and the width of the sleeves so that they looked more subdued but they just never felt quite right. I wore this dress only once, tugging and pulling and untwisting it the whole time, before putting it in a give away pile when I konmaried my house last year. Essentially the design had a pretty silhouette but simply was not functional for me.
I don’t have as much to say about the Ava dress because I gave up on it more quickly. Nothing about the pattern worked or fit the way it was supposed to, and the delicate fabric I used at the top of the bodice just got mauled in the process of all my seam ripping and re-sewing. This was the pattern where none of my notches and marks seemed to match up at all. I tried to turn the dress into a blouse by chopping off the bottom because I hated to have wasted all that time, effort, and fabric, but eventually I put this into the give away pile, too.
These reviews, of course, are not a reflection of anybody’s experience but mine: the pattern did not work for ME and the sizing did not work for ME. I made those garments probably about a year or so after diving headfirst into making a me-made wardrobe, so there was clearly still a lot to learn about construction, fabric choice, and alterations, all of which could have been handled more smartly had I been making muslins for every new pattern I made (I wasn’t a consistent muslin-maker back then). But at the same time, I have plenty of makes from that time period that came out beautifully and required a lot less work, so who knows if it was me or the pattern!
I figured that Victory Patterns, gorgeous as they may be, are simply not meant for me (much like the Colette brand). A pattern brand can’t be everything to everyone, and that is okay- I have found my peace with this. But then Heather wrote a whole blog post on her favorite things of 2016 and there was the Hannah dress again, listed with a few words about what an architecturally stunning design it was. Taking another look at the dress for the first time in months, I realized I couldn’t agree with her more. It is so modern without looking too utilitarian, and it offers such a cool and simple way to experiment with color blocking and pattern combining. And at the same time, while remarking on what an interesting build the dress had, I could not for the life of me figure out how it was made; there seemed to be a bit of magical construction incorporated in the design. I was intrigued!
So ok, yes I thought the dress was really cool initially, but being reintroduced to it months later by one of my favorite sewing bloggers/designers pushed it into Let’s Pin It On My Pinterest Page territory. But what about my unsuccessful history with this pattern company? And more importantly, what of the fact that this design will make me look like I am wearing a potato sack because I am short and curvy and I am not supposed to wear garments that minimize my shape, I am supposed to wear ones that define it?
Who came up with that “rule”? Who says it’s true? And who is enforcing these antiquated ideals, anyways??
Oh, right. Me. I am my very own self-appointed fashion police. And if I am the one to blame here, that means that I am the one who can change it.
So I made the Hannah dress! And you know what? I think I like it! Not gonna lie, I am still getting used to this shape on me. When I finally tried it on after completing it, I could hear my brain immediately trying to pick it apart and criticize the way it looked on me, but I realized that that talk in my head is a loop of recycled material; it didn’t really have anything to do with what I was actually seeing in the mirror. And what was a I actually seeing?
Well, the dress looked a little tight in the shoulder/bust area meaning I should have gone up at least one size there (this was an obvious oversight on my part since my past dresses with this company were also too small). But it didn’t feel uncomfortable. The length was perfect since I shortened the front and back pattern pieces by an inch, and I loved the way the dress dipped lower in the back than in the front- it gave me the chance to show a little leg without feeling too exposed. The excess fabric from the folds and pockets of the side panels gathers right around my hips, and since I have always thought my hips were out of proportion to the rest of my body, extra fabric weight in that area is not something I have historically felt comfortable with. But seeing myself in the mirror wearing the dress, it was impossible to say that it actually looked bad. The dress didn’t have so much ease that you couldn’t see and feel your body move around in it. And it didn’t look like a potato sack on me at all.
The only thing I would change would be to go up a size. I cut out a size 2 in the bust and graded to a 4 in the hips, but I would try a 4:6 next time (I could probably even get away with a straight 6). The other thing I would change is…the color.
I was inspired by this cool color combo I saw on pinterest and bought my tencel fabric online thinking it would be a close enough match, but you know how computer screens are. The blue was navy-er than I anticipated and the brown was WAY more yellow/gold. And what does that leave you with? A DAMN AUBURN TIGERS INSPIRED DRESS!!!! For the record I am not into football at all (although I was a cheerleader, and probably a terrible one at that!), but I do rep ALABAMA as a rule. ROLL TIDE ROLLLL! One is simply born into these rivalries, and though I had no choice in the matter, the loyalty still runs deep. I feel completely conditioned at this point in my life because whenever I see an orange and blue color combo, Auburn is what immediately comes to mind and distaste is immediately what I feel. It took me halfway to finishing this dress before I realized why I wasn’t liking it very much- it’s the colors! I felt both ashamed that I had picked them out and ashamed that they mattered that much to me. Although I like the way this dress design looks and feels, I have no idea if it’s going to actually get much wear since I have such a negative connotation attached to it. All I kept thinking as I was making it was “God, this dress would be so perfect in pink and grey!” Maybe if I can get my hands on some more of this beautiful Tencel fabric in those colors I can make it happen!
Anyways, construction of this dress was super fun! Even though the whole time I was making it I had no idea what I was doing, hahaha. This pattern is like a complicated road map that doesn’t really make sense until you are in the middle of the journey and putting all the pieces together. All the design elements and notches matched up on this pattern, even with me grading to a different size at certain parts, and the details are pretty fantastic. Making the hidden button placket was my favorite part. It’s got a lot of steps to it, kind of like a zip fly on a pair of pants, but once you get to the last bit of it and start to see it all come together, it feels so exciting. The sleeves and collar are finished with binding that is sewn to the inside which resulted in a very clean and professional look, and like many Victory dresses, the hem is faced and then folded up and sewn a few inches above the actual bottom of the dress. I think this is a cool design element but it doesn’t work for all fabrics- the flowy-er and more lightweight your textile is, the more puckered and wonky the stitching at the hem has a tendency to be (at least in my experience). Thankfully I used tencel for this dress which has a medium weight, and it handled all of the stitching for this dress really well.
Aside from that, there isn’t much to say about the make- it was a far cry better than the other designs I tried to sew from this line, which might be because this dress doesn’t have much shape to it so there is less room for fitting errors. As mentioned above, I definitely think there will be another dress like this in my future, which is exciting since I know I can go up a size, I understand better how it’s constructed, and I can find a more suitable color combo for my tastes. But the most exciting thing is that I have proved to myself that these arbitrary rules I have been applying to my sense of style for so many years don’t necessarily hold true. I think it’s a great thing to have a firm idea about what we think looks good on our body and what we feel good in- without these notions, TnT patterns wouldn’t even exist! But there is a murky line between the stories we have been told our whole lives and the stories that are actually true. It feels important to continue to test them, to never accept them at face value, to keep redefining what beauty means to us and to separate what we see and feel from what we have learned. Being an adult is sooooo hard. But I am determined to look REALLY GOOD while I struggle through it 😉