As soon as I saw Mimi G wearing her newest SewSewDef pattern, the Jessica Dress, on her instagram feed, I was in LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOOOOOVE. This is one of those patterns that I have lowkey been searching for for the longest, to no avail. I have seen lot’s of comparable patterns, but nothing exactly like this, and this dress is EXACTLY what I have been looking for. The silhouette is so simple and familiar, yet it seems to have slipped out of the collective designer-hive consciousness…til now!
I love that it has a button band, I love that it has a sweetheart neckline, I love that it has princess seams, I love that it is tea length, I love the positioning of the bodice on the body, I love the patch pockets- I literally love every single thing about it.
Mimi’s first showing of the dress on IG was at the drafted tea length in a beautiful orange+gold+red Ankara fabric. She styled it with a pair of jeans underneath and I was just head-over-heels for it, but later on she posted another photo of the dress in a softer, drapey yellow fabric that just barely skimmed the ground, and it was just the most elegant and romantic garment ever. The big patch pockets, crisp in their initial Ankara incarnation, folded in on themselves in the flowy fabric, offering a bit of unexpected drama and sweetness to the whole look. Again, head over heels! I love a pattern that can pull double duty to look like two completely different dresses when made up in different fabrics. Ahh, the magic of sewing!
Needless to say, I stopped pretty much everything I was doing to move the Jessica dress up my project queue (I had been in the very middle of my Suits Me Refashion at the time), but I soon realized that I didn’t have the perfect fabric for this dress in my (admittedly meager) stash. I almost chose a fabric that I was only so-so about just so that I could have the satisfaction of completing the garment, but thankfully I stopped myself before I actually cut into anything. If I have learned NOTHING from the past four years of sewing my entire wardrobe, it is to NOT WASTE TIME sewing something in a fabric that I am not madly in love with. Sure, there is the rare occasion when a fabric that has presented itself as uninspiring can be elevated when paired with the perfect pattern, but it’s unlikely and, in my opinion, simply not worth the risk, especially when you are as stoked to sew up the pattern as I was this dress!
I suddenly had a memory of seeing this really fantastic shark print on the IG feed of an indie fabric/crafting store that I had the pleasure of patroning when I lived in Savannah last year. Although I live too far away now to shop there in person, I have continued to follow Fabrika’s instagram because it is inspiring, full of humor, and beautifully curated. Fortunately for me, it turned out that the print I had mentally catalogued in that gigantic filing cabinet in my brain for random information was yes, still in stock, yes a good apparel weight cotton, and yes, able to be shipped off to me in California. WHAT LUCK! Actually, it wasn’t luck at all- the staff at Fabrika is incredibly kind and helpful, and they seemed more than happy to sell to me over the phone. The truth is, I don’t take great customer service for granted at all anymore; you only need a couple of botched orders and infuriating email exchanges with what is arguably one of the most well-known fabric stores in the US to fully appreciate when a company knows how to treat customers with respect and gratitude.
Anyways, why was I so in love with this fabric? Well, it’s navy and white for one thing, which is probably my favorite neutral pairing (looking at my memade wardrobe, I’m starting to think that I use navy the way most people use black). Plus it has sharks, and sharks are infinitely cool! But I also love that, at first glance, you almost can’t tell that the print is comprised of sharks at all- they are so integrated into the swirly waves of the ocean around them that their gnashing teeth and hungry eyes don’t overpower the overall print, which keeps it from looking like a novelty quilting cotton (no shade if apparel made of novelty prints is your thing, though!)
The fabric is a pretty great weight for this dress- since I live in LA, it’s gonna be hot for a long time, and what would normally be a dress only good for the latter part of spring and all of summer is gonna carry me DEEP into fall with the aid of a jacket on top. It provides the same crispness and volume as the fabric that Mimi’s ankara print version does, which I love.
This is the first SewSewDef pattern that I have worked up, and I think it’s really impressive, particularly compared to the Seamwork patterns, which also come free with that magazine’s monthly publication. Seamwork has gorgeous designs and patterns, but unfortunately the drafting, much like the Colette brand, is really really off for me. I got a subscription to Seamwork a couple of years ago as a Christmas gift, and so far, every pattern I have made that wasn’t a simple knit top has needed a significant amount of work to make it look wearable and decent. In general, I think that the “Sew this project in only three hours!” concept kind of works against the brand- I consider myself a proficient sewist and I have never completed a dress from woven fabric in three hours that was worth a damn. But that sew it quick concept has nothing to do with the pattern drafting, which is my main beef with the brand, and why I bring it up here- because the SewSewDef pattern drafting is excellent!
They aren’t drafted with a lot of ease which is what I personally prefer, so I based my size off the finished measurements of the garment and made myself an XXS in the bust graded to an XS in the waist and the hips. While I was constructing it I kept second guessing my sizing and worrying that it would end up being too tight, to the extent that I even went back and opened up a couple seams to give myself a teeny tiny bit more room. Turns out, the drafting was perfect as-is, so I had to go back and add those tiny increments back to the seams before finishing it up, lol.
I made a few changes to match with my own preferred finishings which was easy to do, but honestly, this pattern came equipped with everything you could want to make a lovely looking garment. I omitted the facings for the bodice and instead lined the whole thing in self fabric, then under stitched it to keep the lining from popping out. I applied a strip of interfacing to the front center bodice pieces since I got rid of the interfaced facing, then stitched in the ditch on the outside of the garment at the waist seam to tack down the inside lining. Lastly, I added a bit of stay tape to the tops of the front bodice pieces at the seam to keep them straight and stiff since they looked like they had the tendency to lose their shape, as many curved bodice seams do.
Weirdly, I had a lot of trouble with the pockets! The pattern doesn’t come with markings on where to place the pockets and instead suggests to complete the dress and try it on before you decide where you want them to go- this was smart since everybody’s arm length and pocket preference differs, but it took me a long time to make the decision. In part because my fabric is bold and in part because the pockets are so large (the pocket is drafted as one size), I just couldn’t find the right place for them to sit without looking overwhelming and gaping out. I decided to make them smaller in both length and width and that totally did the trick. I also thought that pearl snaps would look really pretty (and be quicker to create) on this dress instead of making buttonholes and sewing buttons down the whole length. Yes, it meant a last minute trip to Joann’s, but it was also clearly a good decision- I love them! And it just occurred to me that I could have kept the original pocket size as is and simply added a snap to the tops to keep them from gaping out! Ah well, free tip for anyone who has the same issue as I did and doesn’t want to redraft the pocket 😉
Looking at the completed Jessica dress that Mimi was wearing in her IG pic, the design seems much more complicated than it actually is to make; it’s deceivingly simple! There were a couple of things that I particularly enjoyed about the construction process: for one, I appreciated the absence of a separate button band for the bodice; The buttons (or snaps in my case), are just applied to the interfaced edges of the front bodice pieces and is much less time consuming to construct than, say, an archer button down (which I have made about 20 times over the years). Easy peasy! I also loved the way that the bottom hem and button bands are assembled. You face the right sides of the button bands together at the bottoms, sew across the short ends and flip them right side out, then turn up the hem and sew in place. I am so used to the hem being the very last thing sewn on a garment before it’s completed that it was really refreshing to get it done with so early on.
There were one or two places in the instructions that were a little confusing, and I’m not sure if it’s because I read them wrong or because it was a typo. They didn’t mess me or my dress up, but it would be something for a beginning sewist to pay close attention to, lest they be led astray. Other than that, this dress is SUCH a winner for me. The gorgeous final result, the beautiful drafting which required no alterations (which makes me REALLY excited to dig into a couple of her other patterns knowing that I won’t have to spend a ton of time adjusting the fit), the versatility of the design- I am dying to make this in a soft, flowy white fabric next year!- the fact that I have been lowkey looking for this pattern for so long, the sweet fabric I was able to get from a brick and mortar fabric store hundreds of miles away- this dress was MEANT to be in my life 🙂