Floral Maxi Stella Dress

I made this dress back in October but it’s only just now making it to the blog. I know I will wear this dress and overall I think it looks nice, but this is not my favorite make. It’s the Stella Shirt/Dress by Named patterns, and if you hunt deep enough into this blog you will see that I have a fairly complicated relationship with this pattern  brand. I LOVE the ideas, looks, and styling of all their pieces, but I have found that their sizing is always off on me, their construction methods can be questionable, and their finishes are not always super clean and professional looking. For me, this is one of those brands where I have to read through all the directions first so that I can alter or embellish the details they do (or don’t) include; I just don’t trust that the final project will look as finessed as I prefer. This, of course, is just my personal opinion- lot’s of people love this brand and make beautiful garments from the patterns, and I don’t dislike them enough to not to ever give them another try, but nevertheless, whenever I finish one of their garments I’m usually disappointed about some part of the process.

My hands-down absolute favorite thing about this dress is the silk I used from The Fabric Store. I LOVE the colors, the pretty floral design, and the large print. The silk is transparent, so I used a dark navy opaque lining for the dress underneath at the bodice and the skirt, and thankfully it doesn’t distort the print or colors. This fabric was packed along with my sewing machine, a few patterns and a couple other cuts of material on one of my last trips to Vancouver in 2017 where I knew I would be sequestered for 2 weeks without much to do outside of work. I had a blast with my traveling sewing station, filling up my off days with making in my hotel room, but this dress was unfortunately the only completed project that was worth a damn. I burned The Pennywise Paperbag Waist Clown Pants after I snapped some hilarious pictures of them for instagram, and the raw silk hoodie I made from a McCalls pattern is being gifted to one of my sisters-in-law as I type this (it just didn’t come out nearly as cute as I had hoped). The lesson I learned here was that I needed to spend more time planning what projects would accompany me for future trips instead of throwing a bunch of patterns I had never sewn before into my suitcase and hoping for the best. Nothing but TNTs for my foreseeable #sewnawayfromhomes!

Construction for the dress was pretty straightforward. Initially I didn’t plan on sewing the lining into the dress and instead planned to just wear it as a fully transparent shell with a slip underneath, but once I read through the directions and realized that the elastic casing at the waist would look very visible and sloppy in my see-through fabric, I changed my mind. I took a trip to a small indie fabric store in downtown Vancouver (whose name escapes me at the moment) and hunted for some proper lining fabric. Thankfully I found some, but not before feeling very annoyed that the person manning the shop barely even made eye contact with me, much less gave me a hello after I walked through the door and spent at least 10 minutes perusing the bolts in the shop. And no, the store wasn’t crowded; during this trip I was the only person in the shop for the majority of my time there, and it’s a very tiny space, a fraction of the size of Dress Sew (whose very busy employees still find time to give me a quick hello even when the store is at its most crowded). Honestly I wasn’t too surprised by the shade- Vancouver might be the most unfriendly city I have ever lived in, but I figured that the ties to the sewing community would lend this small shop to at least extend a quick greeting or some kind of acknowledgement- and by the way, this happened each time I went into the store over the span of a couple months- but no such luck. Anyways, I found what I needed even though it was of pretty poor quality, one of those super stiff linings that feels like it’s made of paper- I would have much preferred to purchase from Dress Sew but they were closed and this place was right across the street.

As for the design of the dress….I’m on the fence about it. When I initially completed this dress in Vancouver with nothing but a poorly lit yellow-hued bathroom to view my handiwork, I thought it looked great, but I think I was mostly responding to the pretty fabric. Once I got back to LA with a mirror with better visibility, the whole thing just looked off. Initially I picked this design because I knew it would be simple to lengthen the dress to a maxi, and I had been wanting one of those easy-to-wear-Boho-inspired dresses that I could pair with some heeled boots and a cute hat. But standing in front of my mirror, nothing about it looked relaxed or easy. The stiff lining underneath gives the silk more body than the dress I was going for needs, so it tented out a bit at the bottom and came off looking much more formal than I anticipated.

But the worst part was the bodice. I just…really am not crazy about it at all. I loved the idea of the raglan sleeves but these are drafted with so much ease that I feel like I am swimming in them. Maybe they wouldn’t look so weird to me if the rest of the bodice was a bit more fitted, but unfortunately it isn’t, so the whole bodice piece feels much too big and billowy on me. Ultimately I felt like this dress could fit a body several sizes larger than mine as long as the length of elastic at the waist was altered, and this matters because maxi dresses don’t quite work on me if they aren’t well-fitted; an overly blousy dress with a floor length skirt can make me look like a kid playing dress up in her mom’s closet if I’m not careful.


The only thing I could think of to save this dress was to chop it off at the knee (which is closer to the length of the original dress’ design- perhaps shame on me for attempting to hack it into something it wasn’t meant to be?…but also, you never know til you try!) Once it was re-hemmed it looked MUCH better, the blousy effect on top now balanced by the shorter skirt on the bottom. Proportions, amirite??? I still think the armscye is way too big, I don’t like the elastic casing finish on the hems of the sleeves, and the neckbow is awful! When tied, it won’t lay properly against my collar bone, instead it droops down (and my silk is very lightweight so it’s not the culprit) and the area where the bodice pieces meet directly underneath the bow gapes open, which I hate. Thankfully the bow mostly covers that peekaboo area up, but I still find myself fiddling with it to keep it in place. It’s just another reason that this dress feels like it’s drafted for several sizes larger than my own.

This isn’t the dress that I was envisioning in my head, but as I said, I still like it and I know I will get some good wear out of it. The colors and the print are so fun and it feels very feminine while also feeling comfortable (that elastic waistband basically makes this outfit nightclothes with heels). I want to try the look that I have inside my head again, but perhaps with a button down dress with a full flowy skirt, and regular sleeves? Not sure if I have anything like that in my pattern arenal or if I should just hack it, but I was gifted some beautiful rayon from Workroom Social for Christmas and I think it might be a match made in heaven.

Vogue: 0 Me: 1; A Tale of Two Cut Outs

It wasn’t just the cut outs that pushed this make into WTF territory, it was the armholes, too, but I am getting ahead of myself…

yep, basically how the whole process of constructing this dress went.

I was inspired to make this older (I think it’s out of print but it’s not vintage) Vogue 8900 pattern after seeing it on Ada Spragg’s instagram and falling in love with it. Everything about her dress is perfect- I loved the bright yellow color, obviously. I loved the weight of the fabric, which seemed sturdy and firm, offering some interesting contrast to the delicate cut-outs and shoulder baring silhouette of the garment. And I was also intrigued by the princess seams on the front of the dress, which start off parallel to one another in the bodice and then move towards each other in the skirt, creating hourglass lines on the backdrop of a slightly flared A line skirt. A lot of interesting features in one garment, but subtle enough to not appear too overwhelming, in my opinion.

I chose a fabric from my stash that I had just recently picked up for my monthly allotment at The Fabric Store, a barely mid-weight silk cotton in a beautiful large navy and white floral print. I fall in love with pretty much every silk cotton I get my hands on and this one was no different- it sews up with the ease of a regular quilting cotton, but it has a different kind of texture- soft and silky and crisp, with the tiniest bit of texture to it. It’s hard to explain how it feels between my fingers, all I know is that I love wearing it and working with it.

I knew to make a muslin before I cut out my fashion fabric since Big 4s are big on me and this garment in particular is designed to fit like a glove. When I announced on IG that I would be making this dress, Ada let me know that the cut outs were positioned in places that would make it difficult to wear a regular bra without it peeking through, so I was even more convinced that the dress would need to hug my bust and waist so that I could go braless without the fabric sagging or bunching up anywhere.

I cut out a size 10 graded to a 12 in the hips, sewed it up and tried it on, and it was even bigger than I had imagined it would be. The bodice was pretty much a perfect fit and I didn’t make any adjustments there- in comparison the waist was a pretty good fit as well, but the hips were much too roomy. There are a lot of interestingly shaped panels to this skirt but it didn’t make the adjustments too difficult. I left the side seams intact and instead focused on adjusting the princess seams in the side front and the side back panel pieces. The two curved seams in the front needed the most tweaking because subtle changes in those lines seemed to affect the fit most dramatically, and I also wanted them to mirror the lines of my own body as much as possible. Since these patterns tend to be drafted for someone several inches taller than myself, the “hourglass” seams on the front of the skirt just didn’t align with the curves of my own body, so I had to completely re-work them, but I was fairly successful with it in the end. I left out the bias strip cut outs on my muslin since I was only muslin-ing for fit. Next, I marked the lines of my new seams on my muslin dress, took the muslin apart, and transferred the new seam lines from the muslin pattern pieces to my paper pattern pieces in case I ever decided to make this garment again (at the time I thought that I certainly would, but now having experienced the cut-outs from hell, I’m not quite sure…)

I cut out my fashion fabric and constructed pretty much the entire dress before I got to the cut outs, which I assumed would be a piece of cake to finish. Now technically, the only cut outs are the two holes on either side of the waist, but since the armholes and the neck hole all required finishing with bias cut strips of fabric and almost all of them gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble, I am referring to all the holes in the dress as cut outs. The instructions in the Vogue pattern suggest that you sew the short ends of the bias strips together to create a loop, baste the long edges of the bias tape together, then sew the loop to the edges of your cut outs, topstitching down. I immediately side-eyed this method of application because for one, it leaves an unfinished raw edge on the inside of the garment, which is simply unnecessary (and to me, kind of defeats the purpose of using bias tape), and two, I had just never done it this way before, which is important to note. Sometimes you try a new-to-you technique for a familiar application and learn a better way to do something, and other times you try a  new-to-you technique and realize why you are never instructed to do things that way in the first place.

My bias tape application usually encases the entire raw seam and then is sewed down to the inside of the garment with a seam allowance related to the width of the bias tape. So this technique was…weird, to say the least. But, being trycurious, I decided to try this new-to-me method; I figured that maybe it would provide a detail or certain amount of ease that I simply couldn’t envision at this point. I did however decide to forgo stitching the bias tape closed into a loop before sewing it to the dress- I knew the chances of it being the exact right measurement of my cut outs when sewn closed was pretty low, and this is the only smart choice I made throughout this whole process, because my instinct was right- the bias tape ended up being too long on every single cut out. I am more comfortable with the method of sewing the tape down as you go, leaving an inch or so free on either end, then the sewing the tape together and stitching down when you have only a few inches of tape left to close the loop.

Anyways, I did it Vogue’s way and it was awful. The size of the cut outs on the waist were simply too narrow to accommodate the curve of the bias tape without skewing the hole’s shape, so the tape stuck up and out instead of laying down flush to the skin. I thought, ‘hmmm, maybe I need to cut off some of the binding in the seam allowance by serging the raw edges so there is less fabric in the outside curve of the tape?’, and then I proceeded to do exactly that. Serging the edges did not help it at all, and now I had two cut outs with significantly less seam allowance left, so continuing to work on them with the original pieces would be tricky (eventually it would turn out to be impossible). I put the side cut outs on hold and moved to the armholes to see if I could figure them out. A normal armhole, of course, is fairly easy to apply bias binding to- I have never had a problem with them before, but because these armholes are drafted into the shape of a racer back and curved deeply in the front, the openings are way more dramatic than standard armholes, which makes sewing bias tape onto the curves difficult to do successfully, giving me the same problems the cut outs did. For this bias tape application I decided to use a technique I was more familiar with, which was sewing the raw edge of the tape to the outside of the opening, then folding the other side of the tape over the seam allowance, thereby encasing the raw edge. I left about 1/4″ of the tape visible to the right side of the garment as shown on the pattern envelope, as opposed to folding the whole width of tape to the inside and top stitching down.

You can imagine my surprise when I completed one armhole and realized that this technique didn’t help at all- the armholes, in fact, looked worse than the side cut outs (look at the IG shot above!!!! THE HORRORRRR!!!!!) The edge of the armhole stood out from my dressform stiffly, refusing to lay flat, and it even did some weird swirly thing where it puckered and gaped and made the armhole look stretched out (thank goodness I stay stitched my openings from the start, otherwise this dress might not have made it). Now I was running out of ideas. The way that the holes were behaving made me think that I needed to cut notches into the deepest part of the curves, but the pattern was drafted for use with bias tape, so why would you cut notches into bias tape?? And at this point I had vastly decreased the amount of SA included in the pattern because of serging my edges off the side cutouts, so I had even less room to work with.

I took a deep breath. After making a plea on IG and not getting any info that helped (except for Ada confirming that yes she had ignored the Vogue instructions for the bias tape application but no she hadn’t had a problem getting her tape to lay down flat, though she had used a much different fabric than mine) I could only think of one other thing to try out. I had ruined my bias strips with the shoddy application, and I was out of fabric so I couldn’t make any more strips that matched the dress. Instead, I used some 1/2 inch white single fold bias tape from my stash. I sewed the edge of the tape onto the raw edge of my cutouts (trimming the armhole openings to match the width of the side cut outs which had been trimmed when serged). At the deepest curves in the cutouts, I very carefully cut tiny notches into the outside edge of the bias tape, about halfway through the width. Then I topstitched the bias tape down to the inside of the garment.

Thankfully this method actually worked! Of course it is nowhere near as clean on the inside as I would like (I tried to take pictures but they turned out really blurry!), but on the outside, the cutouts lay down beautifully, which is all I cared about at this point- I just wanted the dress to be wearable! And when I started having so much trouble with the bias tape application, I thought there was a good chance that it wouldn’t be.

So here we have it, a dress that looks pretty cool after all is said and done, due in no small part to a Make-It-Work moment. The fit of the dress in the bodice is perfect- it doesn’t feel tight or constricting, but it looks fitted and the dress doesn’t bag out or sag anywhere. The skirt does have some weird puffiness at the seams right at the hip bones, but I can’t tell if it’s because the seams needed to be taken in more or because the fabric has so much body, and from what I can tell you can’t even see the puffiness looking straight at the dress, I can only see it when looking down at my hips when I am wearing it. Not a big enough issue to try and fix. I think that overall, the dress looks great, and since it was so close to going in the Butthole Bin, I just want to cut my losses and enjoy the save. I wore it to Mimi’s sewing conference a couple of months ago and then again at SDCC for our interviews and panels for our new Amazon animated show, Danger & Eggs, and it was a smash hit both times! I’m really happy with it and I feel super fancy wearing it, just so long as no one asks to see what it looks like on the inside…


Fit For A Costa Rican Wedding

Recently released, the summery Vogue 9253 immediately caught my eye (and the eyes of a whole bunch of other sewists)! I love the sexy slit down the front of the dress paired with the fairly modest coverage everywhere else. With billow-y kimono style sleeves and a paneled skirt that gently flares out, ending at the shins, I knew it was right up my alley- a garment that allowed for a flash of skin without making me feel too naked. It’s helmed as a ‘Very Easy Vogue’ pattern which I would agree with- the instructions were straight forward and the techniques understandable and easy to complete. I love it when a dress looks a little bit more complicated than it actually it is to construct; although there isn’t anything about the line drawing that looks super intense to sew, it still has a bit of a wow factor.

A few months prior to this make I had picked out a bolt of this soft rayon from The Fabric Store. Claire was toying with the idea of wearing a caftan to a wedding we were attending in Costa Rica over the summer (read: toying with the idea of asking me to MAKE her a caftan), and because this fabric was super lightweight and a bit sheer, I thought it would be perfect for such a garment, seeing as how caftans usually require so many yards of fabric and can get bulky with the wrong weight of material. Well it turned out that Claire wasn’t as into the fabric as I was, and there were only a couple of yards left on the bolt anyways (not enough for the caftan pattern she was interested in), so obviously I snagged it for myself. It is so rare to find a bold, striped-type print that runs all the way down the length of the bolt- I thought this would match well with the panels of the skirt- and I also loved the colors and abstracted leopard-ish design. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would make with it, but I imagined it would be a breezy summer maxi dress.

Several times I pulled out the fabric and draped it over my dressform, wondering what it wanted to be, but I never felt quite inspired. I was a bit stuck on the fact that the fabric was so sheer and I didn’t have very much of it, so I wasn’t quite sure how to best utilize it. And then, lo and behold, this pattern fell into my lap and I thought that the two together would make the perfect dress for a destination wedding in hot-as-hell Costa Rica. I figured that I could get away with the plunging neckline since this wouldn’t be a traditional church wedding (and I did, although I checked in with the brides first, lol).

To handle the sheerness of the fabric, I underlined each pattern piece (except for the belt) with sheer white cotton voile, and it worked well, allowing the dress to retain the drape and lightness of the rayon. I didn’t make any drastic alterations to the pattern for size as I usually do with Big 4 since it was drafted as XS-XL, and instead I just made a size XS and took in the extra ease throughout the bodice and waist when I inserted my zipper. It worked beautifully and I ended up with a garment that fit well but was also very comfortable (I can use the belt to tighten the waist a bit more if I am ever having a day where it feels looser than normal.

Favorite things about the dress? The pockets! I don’t remember exactly what I did to accommodate the attached voile lining when constructing this part of the garment, but whatever it I did, it worked beautifully and doesn’t provide too much bulk in the pocket area. I also love the ease of wear of the kimono sleeves, which are not set-in to the bodice, allowing a lot of freedom of movement at the shoulders. I was worried that it would be so humid/sweaty at the wedding that the fashion tape I was using to keep the deep neck of the V in place between my breasts would slide off, but surprisingly that did not happen and the bodice stayed in place for as long as I wore the dress (which was throughout the ceremony and to the end of dinner, but when it came time to start dancing, I had to have an outfit change to fully live my best dancefloor life. For the record, the little knit jumper I wore for dancing was LITERALLY soaked with sweat in about 7 minutes, and wore it/continued to dance in it for the next three hours. I was obviously a disgusting mess by the end of the night, my hair completely plastered to my head and a big blister on my foot from trying to dance in Birkenstocks- DON’T ASK!- but then we all jumped in the pool and had a midnight swim to cool off, so it was worth it! Pura Vida!!!)

As far as appropriateness for the wedding, the design and print of the dress worked great, but I ignored the fact that rayon makes me SWEEEEAAAAAAAAT so much, so my armpits were basically raining down my sides during the ceremony. I have no idea why. I have 3 or 4 rayon dresses in my closet, and although they are some of the silkiest, softest garments I own, they all have gigantic pit stains in them when I take them off. The only other fabric that behaves like that on my body is polyester, but rayon is derived from plant material as opposed to plastic, so I would have imagined it would behave differently in practice. Aside from wearing a too-hot fabric in a hot climate, I was really happy with this dress and I’m really excited to wear it again, perhaps for a red carpet event before the weather turns cool.

Although I would normally style this dress with heels, I knew I didn’t want to be burdened with that kind of shoe for this wedding, which was held on the very lush, grassy grounds of the hotel we were staying at. The thought of three inch heels digging into grass and dirt was just about as horrifying as trying to walk in those same shoes on sand, so I quickly (like, the morning of the day we left for CR) whipped up a pair of strappy leather sandals that I thought would match the tropical vibe of the wedding and go well with my dress. I normally give myself a lot more time to make sandals, but this was around the time when my brother was in the ICU and very, very sick, and I was kind of just running on auto-pilot and hoping to get everything done that needed to get done, while also feeling guilty for going on the trip in the first place. Sigh. That’s a story for another day. The good news is that my brother has recovered and is doing great and I finished these shoes in time for our trip! I really love how they turned out. Even though I love wild and funky shoes of all kinds, I am a real stickler for simple, neutral-colored designs, so this pair fit right in line with my tastes and let the dress shine.

The wedding of course was BEAUTIFUL – it would be impossible for it not to be, as the brides are two of the loveliest people I know and they were intent on throwing a fun, non-fussy ceremony/party from the start. And obviously Costa Rica was gorgeous (even though the bugs FEASTED on me, no matter how much spray I slathered myself with!) Claire took me to visit a chocolate farm where we got to see cocoa transform from fruit to nib to candy, we saw beautiful beaches, spent hours watching hummingbirds at war on the porch of our airbnb in the Cloud Forest, and I had more arroz con pollo than my heart (and stomach) could handle. And then two days before we left, my brother’s health took a dramatic turn for the better! It was an emotional trip to say the least, but I am really happy I was able to go and witness my friend’s lovely union and get out of the country with Claire for the first time in too long!