Working Some Seamwork

I was on the fence about sharing this project on the blog because I made so many adjustments and changes to the pattern that it seemed a little unfair to put it, the Catarina Dress, and my final garment in the same category. Maybe if I had gone into the project with the intention of hacking it, I would have taken copious notes and been able to share the process with you all. Instead, I found myself knee deep in a sewing project that seemed determined NOT to work out for me, and I was too far in to document each twist and turn of my journey. The good news is that I refused to give up the battle, and after a several-hours long sewing blackout where I wouldn’t stop my work even to use the bathroom or eat, woke up on the other side of it with a wearable, dare I say very cute dress. But it was work, y’all. Oh boy, it was WORK!

I knew I was taking a risk by even attempting the Catarina in the first place. Colette patterns, which is the mother of the Seamwork brand, have never, ever worked on me. And that’s not an accusation; I understand that not every patten company uses a block that suits your size or shape, and I feel very lucky to be able to fit into most patterns I want with a minimal amount of adjusting. But I find my fit issues with these brands particularly frustrating, simply because the aesthetics of Seamwork and Colette patterns are so damn lovely! The styling is great, the designs are great, they use a diverse selection of models for their photo shoots, they write articles about beauty standards and feminism and intersectionality and gender non-conformity; they exude so many of the principles that I hold dear in my own life, so my past inability to easily make their patterns fit my body type drive me up the wall. But this doesn’t mean that I wont give it the old DIY try every once in a while!

The Seamwork patterns differ from the Colette catalogue in that they are intended for beginner sewers for quick and easy makes; the Catarina dress, seen below, is meant to take about three hours from start to finish.

Mine took about 8 hours.

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The original pattern of this dress has simple lines consisting of a blouse-y bodice, an elasticized waist, and a slightly flared skirt. The most time consuming part of the make (besides completely taking the dress apart and starting over, in my case), is constructing the bra straps of the dress. The lingerie-inspired straps are what initially drew me to this pattern, and although I had made them many times before for bras, I thought the instructions were clear and efficient. I only had two yards of fabric allotted for this dress, which was much less than the pattern called for, so I lined the bodice with a plain natural cotton instead of my fashion fabric and I finagled the skirt pieces to fit with the remaining fabric I had left.

It wasn’t until after piecing the basic components of the dress together and trying it on for fit that I realized how hideous it was on me, perhaps because my fabric, a mid-weight apparel cotton from an etsy shop called IndianStores was thicker than the silk used in the pattern photos. Or perhaps because the fabric allowance for the waist is bulkier than what suits my shape. Whatever the reason, the dress was completely unflattering, reminiscent of Ariel from The Little Mermaid when she wraps the shipwrecked fabric around her body with rope, thinking she looks real cute.

(Except I KNEW I wasn’t cute!) The obvious issue was that there was way too much fabric in the bodice, so I decided to omit the elasticized waist and make the garment fitted. Which meant inserting a zipper. Which meant cutting my back bodice piece right down the middle. Thankfully there was so much extra material built into the bodice that using some of it for my seam allowances was not a problem at all. For the front, I initially tried to create two pleats at the bodice to take up some of the extra fabric, but it remained too poofy and my torso was still swimming inside of it. At this point I thought, what am I spending so much time on this?? I should just ditch this project and start over with something else! But I was so in love with the vibrant print of this fabric that I couldn’t bear to waste it, and I also wanted to live up to my previously stated resolve of being thoughtful about all my sewing projects. Clearly this dress was going to take much more time and effort than I had planned, but if it came out successful in the end, that would be worth it, right?

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So. I sewed my two front pleats down so that they essentially turned into open-ended darts at the top where the bust forms. I cut the back skirt into two pieces for the insertion of my zipper, cut out some of the extra fabric at the skirt and bodice back, and then used a french seam to close it. Sewed the gathered skirt onto my now-fitted bodice. Inserted the zipper. Hemmed with my coverstitch machine. And voila! Several hours after the suggested finish time had passed, my dress was complete, it actually fit me well, and I was able to wear it to a bittersweet goodbye party for my friends, Alex and Mary. I got a lot of compliments on the dress that afternoon, and the frustration of grappling with this make was still fresh, so my response started out as “OMG thanks, but this dress was such a pain in the ass! It was supposed to be so simple, but…” and then I saw the boredom creep across the listener’s face, and I realized, for perhaps the millionth time, that compliments are meant to be appreciated, not deflected.

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The truth is that yes, this dress required a lot more work than I was prepared to put into it, but look at how beautiful it ended up! When I look back on my sewing journey, I can’t deny that I have gotten so much better at fixing things that aren’t quite right. A few years ago I probably sewed one awesome garment for every two sewing fails, but the odds have changed dramatically. These days it’s rare that I make something that is so poorly conceived/fitted/designed that it has to go into the Butthole Bin™. Part of that is because I spend a lot of time making muslins to correct any potential issues, but another part of that is because I am getting my 10,000 hours in. And now, the catalogue of beautiful Seamwork patterns that I am subscribed to doesn’t seem so daunting anymore; a challenge as opposed to an obstacle. Any beginning sewist who took on one of Seamwork’s patterns would definitely be able to take pride in what they completed, and a more intermediate sewist would be able to use their skills to elevate it. I think that’s where I am now in my journey now- ready to expand my knowledge and take my makes to the next level in whatever way the project speaks to me. This is surely what Ariel would have done if she had been able to make it to a class at Workroom Social, right?

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I KNEW I should have ironed this dress before we took these photos!

As always, thanks to Claire for the great photos!

8 replies
  1. Renee
    Renee says:

    You trademark Butthole Bin (insert crying laughter emoji). The fabric is amazing. I see why you didn’t want to let it go. I’ve seen the dress in person and it’s gorgeous on you. It feels so good to sew and be able to figure out / save a project.

    Reply
  2. Donna
    Donna says:

    Your dress turned out so fresh and pretty! I love Seamwork patterns for all the reasons you’ve listed but struggle to get them to fit my shape.

    Reply
  3. Liz
    Liz says:

    I LOVE the fabric…but I’ll be honest I literally had sympathetic anxiety when you described cutting up the back in order to insert the zipper!

    Reply
  4. Meris
    Meris says:

    Ah yes, this is what I should have done with the dress. I had the same “swimming in fabric” fit issue. I love your fabric choice!

    Reply

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