Today the heatwave has finally broken here in Somerset, but I’m sharing the perfect dress for summer. Here’s hoping I can get plenty more wear out of it this year! Although I don’t really want any more days as hot as yesterday, thank you very much. That was the hottest June day in my lifetime and I could happily go another 40 years without seeing another one like it.
Anyway, enough about the weather. On with the sewing!
In a Nutshell:
The perfect vintage-inspired maxi dress for a heatwave!
The Knit Sweetheart Top from the Gertie Sews Vintage Casual book by Gretchen Hirsch. I made it once before as a black tank top that got loads of wear during Me Made May, but this time I hacked it into a maxi dress with the aid of my knit maxi skirt pattern, drafted using this tutorial.
Some kind of viscose/polyester/lycra blend (?) jersey I bought a few years ago from Fashion Fabrics in Bath. I’m guessing viscose because of the drape, and there’s definitely lycra as it has considerable four-way stretch. The fact it’s beginning to bobble after only a couple of wears makes me think there’s polyester in there too, although viscose can bobble too. I think I originally bought it planning to make a cardigan, but soon realised it wouldn’t be suitable. Since then it’s been sitting in the stash until I finally felt brave enough to make something this bold!
Changes I made:
- An 18mm swayback adjustment. This was really easy to do using the shortcut method at the bottom of this blog post (under the heading “More for pattern geeks”), and it’s worked perfectly.
- I dropped the bottom centre pleat by 1.5cm both to line it up with the pattern, and to make the pleats more centred on my bust as I think this looks better than having them just at the top. I spaced the centre pleat so the three were spread evenly.
I had a few hiccups sewing this dress, mainly down to the misbehaving fabric. Believe me, pattern pieces this large in a fabric with such an obvious print that needs lining up are not something I’d like to try again with a slinky, stretchy fabric like this. Cutting out was a total nightmare! In the end, the fact the spots were printed on grain did help get things lined up fairly well, but they’re still not quite perfectly symmetrical at the front neckline. Oh well.
Then the fabric caused problems by puckering where the clear elastic was sewn in at the shoulders. I was going to leave it, calling it a “gather” and hoping it would give a vintage vibe, but then I realised I’d sewn an overlocker seam allowance rather than the full 1.5cm. Next time I make this pattern I’m going to cut my pattern pieces down to trim off the full seam allowance! When I redid the shoulder seams I put the differential feed down to 1 (for the first go it was at 1.5 which I’d tested and was perfect for two layers of fabric without the elastic) and that made them lie flat.
The other thing this fabric really wanted to do was grow on me. I hung the dress up to “pin” the side seams (I use Wonder Clips whenever possible), working from the armhole down. I’ve found this makes a more accurate seam in stretch fabrics than doing it flat as both pieces of fabric are being pulled by gravity, just as they will be when worn. Here’s a pic to illustrate my method:
Yes, if I had a dressform I’d use that, but I still get great results with a good ole coathanger 🙂
When I reached the bottom of the side seams one side was about an inch longer than the other at one side, but I trusted my clipping, evened up the hem, and the finished dress hangs beautifully.
Once the dress was all seamed I had to figure out how to finish the neckline. My original idea was to use a black cotton lycra for binding, which has more body and should have helped to stabilise this stretchy fabric. However, when I tried the raw edge dress on, I just loved the way it looked as it was:
I figured that a black binding would have been too much, and the people of Instagram agreed when I shared that pic. I contemplated making facings–perhaps an all in one facing like a partial lining, but I couldn’t get my head around how to do this without unpicking all my seams and I didn’t have enough fabric leftover anyway. So that left using the main fabric for the binding, which meant I would have to stabilise the edges to stop them stretching out too much during wear–the weight of all that fabric makes this a real concern in a way it wouldn’t be making a top.
I’m so glad I have some knit interfacing in my arsenal. If you love sewing knits and haven’t tried this stuff yet, give it a go! I cut 6/8″ strips (yes, I know I hop between metric and imperial but in my defence, I just happened to be using my imperial ruler to cut them out!) and fused them to the neckline and armholes, making small cuts to help the interfacing conform to the curves:
The single layer of interfacing gave just enough support without adding too much bulk (I experimented with using interfaced strips of binding but that was too much) and after that sewing the binding was relatively straightforward, thankfully. I used the method detailed in Gertie Sews Vintage Casual which is time consuming but has become my favourite knit neckline finish for a smooth result. It doesn’t look all that great on the inside as you can still see some of the interfacing peeking out, but I don’t care. No one else ever sees the inside, after all!
I used the interfacing again to stabilise the fabric at the centre front before sewing the pleats in place. I pinned the pleats, fused the interfacing to hold them in place, then sewed. This gives a great finish and I’m confident the weight of the dress won’t pull and distort the stitches now.
The final head-scratching moment this dress gave me was when it came to hemming. I knew I’d get stretching and a horrible finish with a turned and stitched finish of any kind (believe me, I’d experimented!) and I was almost resigned to leaving it as a raw edge, but I wasn’t sure how well this lightweight fabric would hold up. And then I remembered the narrow rolled hem finish on my overlocker, and decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a go. And wow, it was the perfect finish! I can’t recall exactly why I stopped using this hemming technique, but I suspect it might be because I’d only tried it on wovens and I suspect it’s really only suited to lightweight fabrics that don’t fray. Ones like this, for instance. And, as luck would have it, I had the perfect shade of red in my overlocker thread stash. Woo hoo! Dress finished, at last! Hemming only took me 4 minutes 😀
Time taken: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Despite all the challenges sewing this supposedly simple two piece pattern, it’s become a firm favourite of both me and Andy. He likes it so much he’s even suggested I make another in a floral fabric! It’s just about the boldest thing in my wardrobe and certainly gets noticed, but I don’t mind that. I love the slinky silhouette that is bodycon at the top, but just loose enough where I tend to carry weight on my hips and thighs. It is perhaps a little too conforming over the tummy area and I certainly can’t eat too many cakes when wearing it, but I’ve just signed up to run my first 5k and I’m hoping a month of training for that should get my stomach a bit flatter again. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with rocking a rounded tummy anyway. It’s totally natural and feminine and anyone who says otherwise is plain wrong 🙂
The dress could be just a touch too long and I might take it up an inch or so if this starts to bother me, but for now I love the way it grazes the top of my feet. I also love the neckline and those bust folds–so flattering and has just the right amount of vintage charm without feeling costumey!
My only real problem with this dress is the quality of the fabric. It looked and felt lovely before I started sewing and wearing it, but then the white base started to grin through on the binding. And then after a couple of wears I found bobbling under the arms. I suspect I’ll only be willing to wear it out of the house this summer, and by next year it will look so ropey it will be relegated to chilling out around the house wear. But that’s okay, because I don’t have any maxi dresses for that purpose so it will be a welcome addition to my chilling wardrobe 🙂
Changes for next time:
I’ll definitely make this dress again in a better quality fabric. Next time I want to scoop the armholes a little lower like I did on the third iteration of the pattern, my striped, cap-sleeved tee (not yet blogged, but due next week). I might even add the cap sleeves as they’re great for keeping the sun off my shoulders while still allowing plenty of air circulation under my arms. I reckon this would look gorgeous in a bold floral print, just like Andy suggested!
Based on the original pattern being £1.75 as I paid £17.49 for a book with ten patterns, and I’ve now used this pattern three times.
I’m guessing I paid in the region of £6-7 a metre, and I had 1.5 metres.
Clear elastic and knit interfacing from stash.
Total cost: £10.58 (ish)
A pretty good price for such a gorgeous dress, even if it doesn’t last longer than one summer.
One last pic, where I was photobombed by a half naked Gabriel… AGAIN!
So, what do you reckon? Would you wear a dress like this? And have you ever tried extending a favourite top into a dress? If so, how did it go?
And if you liked this dress, check out my freshly blogged striped tee version of this pattern here: https://annajosews.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/striped-sweetheart-top/