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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.

70’s Print for a 70’s Pattern

As you may well know, The Fabric Store has been carrying Liberty prints for a while now, and when I first saw them in person, the selection was both thrilling and overwhelming. Liberty has long established itself as the go-to fabric supplier for all things floral, but I soon found out that delicate flowers were not the only thing they were good at; as seen in the cityscape fabric for this dress I made last year, Liberty can do modern and abstract just as well as they can do feminine and organic. They carry large and small prints, both quaint and sophisticated, in a bigger variety than ever before, and although they have plenty of woven silks and cottons in their arsenal, they also have a growing selection of stretch knits, which is what I always gravitate towards. Truth be told, sewing with silk still scares me, and while I have had successes in the past, the overwhelming outcome of my silk projects has been abysmal.

Despite my history with silk, I knew I needed to get over my fear sooner than later because the three yard cut of Liberty silk Cynthia sent me (Cynthia is one of girls at the LA shop, and she is SO helpful and intuitive about picking out fabrics and prints! Call them for all your fabric shopping needs!) was just screaming to be sewn into something spectacular. I am astonished at how technically busy this print is without it feeling overwhelming or loud. The beauty of this fabric is a real testament to the individual who designed the print; the color combo is mostly monochromatic with subdued hues of browns, mauves and greens, and the shades of brighter colors in the print are used so sparingly that they don’t feel splashy. But the real star of the print for me is the line work used. The shapes are not exactly flowers and they aren’t exactly paisley- I don’t really know what to call them. When you look closely, the print of the fabric looks more like intricate doodles squeezed together and delineated by color. However you want to describe it, I think it’s stunning. Usually when working with a busy print I feel pretty nauseated about halfway through construction, but that was not the case with this one at all- each seam gave me an opportunity to discover something new in the print and my admiration for the beautiful color palette just continued to grow the further I got along in my process.

Anyways, I have tried the method of cutting out silk in a single layer sandwiched between pieces of paper to keep the fabric from shifting to varying degrees of success. The biggest con with this method is that I hate wasting all that paper, and while it’s certainly better than cutting the silk plain, I still found it tricky to keep the paper and the silk layers together throughout the process. On top of that, this method only applies to cutting the silk- sewing with it still takes a tremendous amount of care (some people suggest even sewing your silk pieces with a layer of paper sandwiched in between and then gently tearing it off the fabric through the perforations, but I have never had the patience). For this dress I nixed the paper idea and took a cue from one of Lladybird’s blog posts suggesting the use of a spray fabric stiffener on your silk projects. I have read that using a gelatin soak on silk works much the same, but I was impatient and eager to get started on this project sooner than later. I hung my Liberty fabric over my backdrop, sprayed the entire yardage with the fabric stiffener until it was damp, then let it dry. When I checked on it an hour later, the fabric was totally transformed; it had a stiffer hand, no longer flowed and draped as it had before, and behaved like a lightweight cotton. It was so easy to maneuver that I was able to cut it on the fold easily, and the threads of the silk didn’t shred all over the place as it has a tendency to do, either. But the best part was that it sewed like a dream! No more wonky seams and sliding fabrics- everything stayed in place and over the two or three days that I worked on this pattern, the fabric stayed stiff and crisp. To get it back to it’s natural, silky state, when the dress was completed I soaked it in water and a little bit of eucalin soap for about 10 minutes and then I let it air dry. The next day after a gentle ironing, it was good as new! So easy!

The pattern I used for this dress is a vintage Butterick that was gifted to me by the lovely blogger Amelia when we met a couple of years ago at a panel discussion about diversity in the media (I am pretty sure I have mentioned her generous gift before!) I actually had planned on using a different vintage pattern for this project, but when I opened the pattern I realized it was missing the entire front pattern piece, so I chucked it in my paper bin (I always re-use old pattern paper and envelopes for wrapping) and settled on this one instead. This was probably a blessing in disguise because I think the Liberty fabric suits this pattern even better than my original choice.

 

Vintage patterns are SO. FREAKING. GREAT. I mean, the instructions can often be wonky, and sometimes they use weird techniques that are either unnecessary or completely outdated, but a lot of the time the designs and approaches used in construction are super clever and feel fresh since modern designers don’t utilize those methods anymore. One of the elements I was most taken with was the way the sleeve cuffs came together. I assumed there would be a placket of sorts with buttons and holes on either side to close the cuff to the wrist, but this pattern used a much more simpler yet still effective technique. There is no placket at all, rather the cuffs are positioned so that there is extra room between the edges of the sleeve, and that excess fabric is simply folded in when the buttons are closed. This detail wouldn’t work on a bulky fabric and definitely has a more feminine effect than a regular placket, but it works beautifully on a lightweight flowy silk such as this.

But the real drama of this dress for me is in the collar, which is created with a standard placket and drafted to flow up the side of the neck. This detail coupled with the puffy sleeves and the gathered cuffs at the wrist gave me a very Designing Women vibe, which technically was an 80’s show but some of the clothing still seemed inspired by a little 70’s glam. Normally I am weary of the sizing on Big 4 patterns, but I seem to have a little bit more luck with vintage patterns, and the shape of this pattern offered a lot of wiggle room since it wasn’t meant to fit closely to the body. Because of this, I didn’t make a muslin and the fit turned out great.

I did however shorten the sleeves considerably, because even just eye-balling the pattern piece I could tell they were gonna be way too long. The end result was just perfect but I had to redo my sleeve insertion a couple of times; because the sleeves are gathered to create a poofy effect around the shoulders, there was a lot of easing that needed to happen, and my ease wasn’t very even on one of my sleeves. It’s possibly that I should have taken off some of the seam allowance at the shoulders to take up some of the extra fabric in the sleeve head, but instead I just very carefully tried to even out my gathers and make sure they were concentrated at the top of the sleeve as opposed to the front or the back. This part of the dress does not look perfect, but it doesn’t bother me and the sleeves feel comfortable.

The only other change I made to the pattern was to add elastic to the waist. As drafted, the pattern is meant to be worn with a belt wrapped at the waist to cinch in the extra fabric, and while I loved the look of the belt, I knew that, because of my waist to hip ratio, that free flowing fabric around my waist was never gonna sit right and I would be fiddling with it all day. I knew that elastic would give the same effect while keeping the gathered fabric in place, particularly with such a lightweight fabric. So I cut a strip of fabric the length of the waist of the dress and the width of my elastic (1/2″) plus room for folding over each edge. I sewed the casing onto the dress, inserted my elastic, and closed the hole up at the side seam, making sure to spread my elastic evenly across the waist. It worked like a charm. I also put belt loops on either side of the dress because I knew I would still want to wear a belt with it and I wanted the belt to stay in place since they have a tendency to ride up on me. The belt was made of several strips of fabric sewed together and then turned inside out. I used to serge all my inside seams for finishing but I am becoming a strictly french seam kind of girl when the seams are suitable and the fabric is a woven. It makes the end-product look so luxurious and I am convinced that it stays looking neat on the inside for much longer. For this dress, all inside seams are french, and I used bias tape to finish the sleeves with a hong kong seam.

 

I thought that this dress was transparent when I first saw the fabric so I wore a slip under it when I wore it to the TCAs this past week, but turns out that it wasn’t really necessary- the fabric is so busy that you can’t even see the shadow of my body underneath it, which is important to know if I ever decide to wear this in warmer weather. I love love LOVE how this dress came out- it is even better than I imagined it would be! It feels glamorous and it got so many compliments when I wore it for the first time, and it also looked surprisingly good on camera (they say you shouldn’t wear prints or multi-colored garments on camera but I think it totally depends on what the fabric looks like- again, the color combination of this silk really makes it magical!