Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Late-Summer Style

The summer heat is here, and it's the perfect time of year for a cool, cotton dress like Butterick 5455, which I finished just in time for the arrival of the weather.

Here it is (pre-worn and pre-wrinkled, of course) from the front and the back:

And here's a close-up of the bodice and the piping detail:

For this dress, I used a vibrant grass-green stretch cotton sateen from EmmaOneSock.  It was a bit pricey, but not much worse that the going rate for sateen in the local stores, and I adore this color.  The pattern calls for a fully lined bodice.  Since I had a summer dress in mind, I opted for a lightweight cotton lining rather than rayon, which is much cooler and more comfortable in warm weather.  I also bought an extra half-yard of the lining fabric to use for Hong Kong finishes on the unlined portion of the dress--more on that in a bit.

For the most part, I cut a straight 16, which fit well, but it took me three muslins to get a fit I was satisfied with for the bodice front.  Here are the alterations I ultimately made.
  • I lengthened the shoulder strap on the bodice front, which was inexplicably short on the original pattern and pulled the shoulder seam forward.  To do this, I just used the cutting line for the top of the shoulder strap on the size 20 and extended the size 16 armscye and neckline edge up to meet it.
  • I did a version of my "curvy girl" alteration on the lower edge of the bodice and the top edge of the waistband.  I think this alteration will become a standard for me with empire-waist styles, and I describe the process in detail here.  In short, I pinched out the excess fullness below the bust, then slashed and spread to remove it from both the bodice and the waistband pieces.  Since I only removed about 3/4 inch from each side, the overall shape of the pattern pieces didn't change drastically, but the fit was much improved.
  • I pinched out about an inch from the armscye to keep it from gaping, then used slash-and spread to redistribute that fullness to the pleats on the upper edge of the bodice.  Having done that, I refined the armscye curve, making it slightly more shallow, to get more coverage in the area where my bust is fullest.
These are pretty straightforward alterations, but the pleated bodice on this dress made things a bit more complicated.  The bodice has no darts; all of the fitting is accomplished by the pleats on the upper edge.  So when I removed fullness under the bust and from the armscye, I had to redistribute it to the pleats.  To do this, I marked an approximate bust point on the pattern piece, then slashed through each of the pleats to the bust point.  Then, I slashed the areas where I wanted to remove fullness--the armscye and the lower edge--through to the bust point.  As a result, when I removed the fullness from these areas (by overlapping the paper and taping it closed), the slashes through each of the pleats were spread open, increasing their size slightly.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures of this, so hopefully, if you're interested in making this alteration yourself, I've described it well enough to set you off on the right track.

I changed the order of the construction slightly for the bodice, so I could sew the neckline and armhole edges by machine.  I used the method I describe here, which requires you to leave the side seams open until the very end, and it worked beautifully.  Honestly, I don't know why you'd do it any other way. 

This was my first time using piping, and I really like the effect on the finished dress, even though it was somewhat time-consuming to make and apply it.   I also put a lot of effort into the finishing on this dress, which is part of why it took me so long to complete it (almost 4 full days of sewing!).  I used Hong Kong finishes for all the seams in the skirt.  I'd never done them before, but they're not at all hard, and the finished effect is fabulous.  I recommend the BurdaStyle tutorial, which is clear and well-illustrated.  I think the extra time was totally worth it: just look at the inside of this dress!  I admit, I'm almost more pleased with the inside than the outside at this point.

I love the style of this dress--it strikes me as on-trend, without being "trendy" (if that distinction makes any sense).  It's easy and comfortable to wear, and because it's cotton sateen, it dresses up or down easily, and I can wash it in the washing machine.  It's modest enough to wear to school (especially on a hot summer day) and sexy enough to wear for a special occasion.  I'd love to make another one, but I think I'd need to find just the right fabric--perhaps a bold print--to keep it from feeling redundant in my wardrobe.  And I'm already planning to adapt the pattern into a tweedy wool skirt for the fall--wouldn't those pockets be fabulous?


  1. Very well done, J! The dress fits you well. Maybe one day I'll return to this pattern. =)

  2. Thanks! You're the one who inspired me to tackle this project in the first place :-)