Bridesmaid Betty

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My sister Alice got married last weekend, so this is what I wore to be one of her bridesmaids.

(I have a feeling that technically I was a matron of honour rather than a bridesmaid, but no one knows what that means, so I’m sticking with bridesmaid.)

Alice and her new wife, Kate, let us choose our own dresses. The only rules were that it had to be a dress, and it had to fit with the day’s blue/turquoise/silver colour palette. We don’t live close to each other so we each chose our own dresses and only saw the others’ dresses on the day. (If I can get one or two of the professional photos to share I’ll try to remember to add them here.)

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The pattern

I opted to make Sew Over It’s Betty dress, which probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a simple darted bodice, with a slash neckline at the front and a V at the back. It fastens with an invisible zip up the centre back, and the neckline and armholes are finished with a combined facing. The pattern is fabric-hungry because it has a knee-length circle skirt.

In cotton, this pattern is a great first dress for a beginner sewist. There’s nothing very tricky in the construction, and the darted bodice is the one that most fitting tutorials use as an example. The instructions are pretty clear and there’s also an online sewalong.

What I really love about this dress is the possibilities it offers. Sew Over It have released an add-on pack, with a scoop-neckline variation and a set of sleeves. But you could also try drafting these at home, add a lining or attach this bodice to any skirt you please. There are so many great variations and hacks around to choose from.

The fabric

First time out, I stuck with the suggested fabrics and chose a medium-weight cotton in this gorgeous swallow print from Guthrie & Ghani. I squeezed mine out of 4.3m, despite lengthening both the bodice and the skirt.

Fitting

I made two toiles to get the fit right – you can read about those here. In the end I made the following alterations:

  • added 1″ to the bodice length just above the waist
  • added 1″ to the skirt length at the bottom
  • graded from size 12 at the shoulders to size 14 at the waist
  • did a 2″ FBA and moved the bust dart both up and back from the apex
  • removed a tiny 1/8″ from each outer shoulder as a sloping shoulder adjustment
  • 1/2″ swayback adjustment at the back waist
  • removed a little vertical distance from the right side at the waist seam to allow for my shorter side
  • re-drew the facing pieces to mirror the changes to the bodice.

If I were making it again, I’d also tweak the fit at the back a little – possibly a narrow back adjustment or taking larger back darts. And I’d increase the sloping shoulder adjustment on my right.

If you need to alter the bodice of this dress to make it fit you, the pattern doesn’t help you much. There are no lengthen/shorten lines marked, and nor are the bust apex or the natural waistline. Not deal breakers, and one or two tutorials are on the SOI website, but a similar Big 4 pattern would include these markings.

Construction

The instructions tell you to staystitch the back neckline, but I’d suggest you also do this to the front neckline and the facing.

If you can sew an invisible zip, you can make this dress. The trickiest part is the facing, which doesn’t feel intuitive the first time you try it, but does (honestly) work in the end. If you’re struggling with the SOI instructions, you could try reading this Threads tutorial, which also helped me to get my head around it.

I made two small changes to the inside. I finished most of my seam allowances on the overlocker, but for the facing, I used some pink bias binding I had lurking around. You’ll need to make sure that your bias is really lightweight so it doesn’t add bulk, but it adds a nice contrast in a place where you’ll see it every time you put the dress on.

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Secondly, I decided to overlock and then hand catchstitch the hem rather than turning it up twice and machine stitching it as the instructions recommend. I’ve had problems in the past machine stitching curved hems – they tend to creep sideways on me, creating diagonal wrinkles in the hem. A machined blind hem would also work well in a medium-weight cotton like this, especially if you tack it in place first.

I gathered the excess fabric in the hem curve using my overlocker. I don’t have a special gathering foot for it; I just fiddled with the differential feed setting, practising on scraps until it produced the right degree of curve. I used this to finish the edge and gather (just ever-so-slightly) in one, then pressed it up with plenty of steam ready to stitch. The handstitching was a pain (did I mention this is a humungous circle skirt?), but I do think it gives a nicer finish, and I had some TV to catch up on…

The wedding went off without a hitch – apart from the actual hitch, of course.

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And one of the best things about a full circle skirt is that there’s enough fabric for a four-year old to hide behind!
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What’s on my sewing table?

Although I’ve been quiet on the blog this month, there’s plenty of sewing going on. Some successful, some less so. Here’s what I’m up to this week:

Bridesmaid Betty

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I’ve just, just finished handstitching the enormous hem on this, and it’s all ready to photograph. I just have to decide whether to take my own pictures for the blog, or see if I might be allowed to use the professional ones from the wedding.

A short-sleeved Fairfield shirt

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This was originally intended as secret squirrel surprise sewing for Mr Wardrobe’s birthday last week. It’s almost finished: there’s just a bit of finishing on the collar to do, plus the hem, buttons and buttonholes. But there’s one small problem. When he tried it on, we both remembered why he doesn’t own any short-sleeved shirts – they actually don’t suit him. His arms look weirdly stick-like and this shirt really brings out the geek in him. So now I need to either abandon it, or find another Mr-Wardrobe-shaped owner for it. I might see if my Dad would like to try it on…

Returning to the scene of a previous blunder

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Now that 1990s patterns are pretty much vintage in the sewisphere, I dragged out the first pattern I ever attempted (with disastrous consequences, all the way back in 1992) and it’s starting to look quite appealing again now. Since I currently own exactly zero pairs of shorts, I thought this might be fun to try again. Only this time I’ll be making view C in a lightweight tawny linen, rather than View B in a rose-print rayon challis type. (SO not a good fabric choice for a first project – if only my teenage self had listenened to her Mum.)

Stepping up my skirt game

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Having worn out my favourite RTW denim skirt this year, my wardrobe definitely needs skirts. So I’m planning a few as we move into autumn. First up, this gorgeous red heavy wool crepe is going to become view D from New Look 6346 – a straightforward flared skirt pattern with a contoured waistband and invisible zip. I was eyeing the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern orignally, but I already had this one, plus it’s more economical on fabric so that swung it for me.

Knitting plans

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It’s time for a new knitting project, so I’ve spent some time on Ravelry this week, trying to work out how best to use some yarn oddments I have stashed away. I have four different balls of double knit (one cotton, one alpaca, two merino/cashmere blend) lurking in my stash and absolutely no idea what to do with any of them.

So that’s the next few weeks taken care of, then. Do you keep several projects on the go at once, or do you limit yourself to just one UFO at a time?

 

 

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Bridesmaid Betty – fitting the bodice

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Since my sister asked me to be one of the bridesmaids at her wedding next month, I’ve been pondering what to wear sew. I’ve finally settled on the Sew Over It Betty dress – a full-skirted knee-length dress with a straightforward sleeveless bodice, designed to be sewn in lightweight woven fabric like cotton lawn.

I like the neckline (front and back) on this dress, and once I get it to fit, I’m hoping I can hack this pattern around to make a few variations later. Lisa Comfort has dozens, apparently!

So task number one was to toile the bodice to make sure I could get it to fit. My measurements are currently 39-32-43, so I started by sewing the size 14 with no alterations. Here’s how that looked…

From the front, you can see there’s some puffiness in the front bra strap area, between bust and shoulder. The neckline is sitting quite wide on the shoulders, and it’s obviously too short – take off 1.5cm from the bottom edge and I’m suddenly wearing a crop top rather than something that lands at my waist. On the up side, the bust darts are almost exactly in the right place, so I won’t need to move those.

From the back, again it’s too short; the back looks slightly too broad overall at bust level – a sign that my ‘girls’ are dragging the back piece fowrards; and there’s more sagging at the sides of the upper chest area.

From the side, you can see the side seam is bowing forwards at bust level, but the armscye looks more or less OK, other than the puffiness at the upper chest.

(I’m sorry these photos are a bit grainy – the lighting wasn’t ideal yesterday and I’m still learning how to deal with that.)

Looking at these pictures, I decided to make three changes:

  1. Go down to a size 12, grading out to a 14 at the waist
  2. Add 1″ to the length
  3. Do a full bust adjustment to increase the circumference at the bust back up to the same as the size 14

There’s no lengthen/shorten line marked on the pattern, so I drew my own – about 1″ above the natural waistline (also not marked – grrrr…), perpendicular to the grainline. At this point I also made a note on the envelope to buy a longer zip than it says in the instructions.

For the FBA, I used this excellent tutorial from Mary at Idle Fancy. There are lots of FBA tutorials around, but this one has a kind of all-in-one method so you don’t have to trace off the pattern multiple times. And Mary also reminds you that for a larger bust, you may want to position the dart points further away than the standard 1″ that works well for a B cup.

This time around I also trimmed off the seam allowance on the front and back neckline, and around the armhole to get a better idea of where these would sit on me. Toile number 2 looked like this:

I’m almost happy with this. The length and bust fit well, with fewer draglines pointing to the bust. The only area that’s not working is the upper back at the sides. This could be a couple of things – I usually need a swayback adjustment, but I don’t think that’s the only thing.

In the past, I’ve made narrow back adjustments, but looking at this, I’m wondering if I need a sloping shoulder adjustment.

Or do you think it could be something else?