Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Work Dress

So titled because the "Poorly sewn, too big in the waist, but very comfy and practical dish-washing, bread-baking, garden-weeding, clothes-folding child care dress" was too long for the title.

I have had the idea for this dress for quite a few months, but other sewing and just life in general has gotten in the way of sewing for myself.  Mostly, I've been sewing for my girls, sewing kneeling cushions for my church's communion rail as well as helping 4-H members with their sewing projects.  I thought that being a stay-at-home mom would mean more staying at home, but turns out that moniker is a misnomer -- nearly every day I've been in the van heading somewhere with a kid or three in tow.  It's fun, really, and I love it, but I am amused at how little a SAHM actually stays at home.
Once the cushions and the 4-H projects were done, I started on this dress.  Have you ever had any project where you had a vision, then halfway through the project, you second-guessed yourself and went another direction only to realize that no, your first idea was really the best?  That is how this dress happened.  Unfortunately, it shows.

I wanted a work dress -- one where I am comfy and cool while cooking, cleaning, gardening and doing laundry.  I wanted an easy fit, but some shape.  I don't want it to twist, bind or constantly need adjusting.  I want pockets - deep ones for my phone and whatever else I carry from room to room.  I wanted the skirt to be long to cover the legs and full enough I can curl up with a kid on the couch and not worry about rearranging the skirt to cover me.  Didn't need to be trendy but something I can also wear for a quick trip to the school bus stop, grocery store or pharmacy.

I was tired of trying to fit pants, skits droop with the weight of everything I dump in my pockets and a dress just seemed like a simple item to just throw on in the morning.  The original concept was a princess seamed dress with a button front, pockets and a vee neck but no collar.  I doodled a lot of ideas, but this is what I kept coming back to.

I started with Connie Crawford's princess blouse block  CS1301.  A few years ago, I attended a sewing expo where she was teaching classes and I got a custom fitting.  Two years ago, she came back to teach a class at a local college and I attended and was refitted then.  I bought both the darted blouse pattern and the princess seamed blouse block later.  Just recently, she added a pants block and a skirt block to her line and I bought those as well (I know I said I was tired of fitting pants, but hope springs eternal).  She also has a t-shirt block, but I have a good pattern for tees in my Ottobre collection, so I skipped that one.

I love the concept of block patterns -- probably due to my experience as an application developer.  In my work, I would pull in coded and tested routines and reuse them in my own programs.  It made writing code and testing so much faster in getting to a final product.  This works the same way -- you use the bodice and sleeve that fits and either draft your own collar, cuffs and openings or use them from other patterns.  Once you have a well-fitting block (aka TNT or Tried-n-True), you don't need make every adjustment to a new pattern.  Of course, you will still need to fine-tune the fit depending on what fabric you are using and what additional elements you use, but your starting point is so much nearer the finish line.

The princess block pattern includes five pieces:  the front, front side, back, back side and short sleeve.  I made a muslin of mine in a quilting calico when I took the classes and it still fit pretty well.  I opted to face the neck and openings as I wanted something both simple to wear and simple to sew.  After looking at the pictures, I think I will make some changes.  I decided on a button-front opening

The five pattern pieces.  The sleeve is actually borrowed from my CS1201 pattern -- they are identical.  These have been traced onto posterboard for future use.

For the skirt, I used Pattern Master Boutique to draft a gored skirt with trouser pocket and a button-front opening.  The idea was that I would print off the skirt and use those pieces to extend the blouse block into a dress.  However, I got antsy when I had the skirt pattern printed off and taped up and decide that I would make the skirt first as a skirt and the blouse separately so that I could have two pieces and could mix and match with the rest of my wardrobe.  This is where I got derailed with my plans.

The skirt was bad.  It was so bad I didn't even take pictures.  I put way too much ease into the waistband and it was huge.  I tried to fix it by opening up the back waist band and inserting elastic and that just made it worse.  The front hung down because it was still too big and I was constantly pulling it back up.  I had already started on the blouse, so I decided to go back to my original plan of a dress instead of separates.

I removed the waistband entirely.  I marked the bodice at the point where I wanted to attach the skirt and pinned the skirt to it, matching the center back, front and side seams of the skirt to the bodice.    I had to resew some of the skirt seams so the skirt waist fit the bodice.  It worked, though the skirt seams didn't come close to matching the princess seams on the bodice. I did a pretty poor job of pressing them as well.  Sigh.  My 4-Hers would not be pleased.  I also didn't sew the button placket the same way on both items, so they don't match either.

More pictures:

Close-up of front, with mistakes. 

 I am happy with the pockets, though:

Back view:

I don't like the excess fabric above the waist.  I would prefer to see the fabric flow smoothly down the back and over the rump.  I think that if I deepen the back seams by 1/4" to 3/8", that should help:

My dress form is somewhat lopsided, hence one seam got more pinned out than the other.

So what does it look like on me?

It's....okay.  My sewing is terrible, my buttons on the skirt are wonky, but the dress mostly fits and is super comfy.  I've worn it all day, the pockets are quite adequate and for its purpose, it will do nicely.

Just for grins, I wanted to see if I liked it with a belt.  However, I don't have a belt that would work, so I cut a piece of 2" elastic and pinned it:

I didn't catch that I missed buttoning one button until after I was done taking pictures.
Again, it's okay.   I may have to look for a new belt when I go out the next time.

Will I make it again?  Yes, with modifications.

1.  Deepen the back princess seams.
2.  Adjust the width of the skirt panels so they match up to the bodice panels.
3.  Flatten out the curve of the skirt seams so that they don't pucker.
4.  Merge the pattern pieces together so that the bodice pieces and corresponding skirt panel are cut as one piece.
4.  Deepen the V of the neckline or add a collar.  The current neckline is too high and looks weird.
5.  Do a better job sewing and pressing.  I know better.  Really I do. I may use this dress next year when showing my 4-H members what not to do.

For now, I have back-to-school sewing for the Diva to do and that pants block I just got....


Bonnie said...

Loved your post. Our thoughts are very much alike for blocks (slopers). Once I get one that fits great, I have a million ideas for it. I love to mix and match block tops & bottoms to make dresses too.

See me @

SewPaula said...

Thank you! I finally got a chance to check out your blog as well -- you've made some great items! I will be adding your blog to my Feedly so I can keep up with what you sew.

Tami said...

I like it, and the process you went through to get to your finished project was very interesting. I have a 4-H sewing group also, and sometimes am very thankful that my sewing isn't being judged at the fair like theirs is!