As the weather warms up, as the sun brightens our days, as the evenings stay light for longer, my creativity is waking up. I did my usual thing to kick-start my sewing, and booked myself on a course. Naturally, it wasn’t a face to face course, we’re not out of the lockdown just yet! But I didn’t know how a Zoom course would work, so I thought I should at least try one.
Claire Tyler has a wide selection of Online Sewalongs. I picked the Nina Lee Mayfair Dress course. This pattern is right in my wheelhouse. It’s designed for jerseys, so it’s comfortable, and it looks smart so it will work for when I have to go back to the office (one day…). And it’s got an interesting neckline, so it works for all those Teams meetings while I’m still working from home. It’s got a stand up collar, grown on to the front, with loose pleats, that give you the fullness for the bust, without darts.
Image from Nina Lee Patterns website
At the start of our Zoom, we had a bit of social chit-chat, much as you would in any face to face course. There were six of us, and the others had all done quite a few of Claire’s courses, both in person and online. We turned to discussions of which version of the dress we were planning, and what fabric we were using.
I was using a fairly recent purchase, a viscose jersey from the Textile Centre – we all know what I’m like with a floral print! It’s light-weight, with a beautiful drape, and it has 4% elastane, giving it really good stretch recovery.
Pretty but a little bit edgy, maybe?
I was going for the knee length dress with the 3/4 sleeves, basically the blue one in the image above. I don’t like having fabric flapping around my wrists! I was seeing this as more of a transitional Spring/Autumn dress. Some of the others, including Claire, were making the maxi version with short sleeves, as a billowy Summer dress.
One thing that some of the others were doing was adding in-seam pockets. I’m one of those weird sewers who doesn’t actually care one way or the other about pockets, so I wasn’t planning on adding any this time around, but I did pay attention to what those others were doing at the time, so if I decide to go ahead with pockets on a new version of this dress, or indeed any other dress, I’ll know how to go about it.
The first thing we did was check our own measurements against the finished garment measurements, to make sure we were cutting the right size, and to see what adjustments we would need to make. The great thing I discovered when I was buying the pattern was that Nina has expanded the size range for her patterns up to a size 28! Hooray for not having to do a massive grading exercise! I thought I’d have to do some kind of FBA, but when I measured up the pattern pieces, and compared them to my own measurements, it was all looking fine, no FBA needed. As it turned out, the main adjustment I needed was to lengthen the bodice of the dress, by a massive 15cms, to cover my expanse of bosom. That was straightforward enough. Claire checked in with everyone to make sure they were clear about what their adjustments were, and made sure we knew what we were doing. Then it was a matter of cutting it out, and marking it up. That always seems to be the longest part of any sewing project.
The cutting out revealed something I hadn’t realised. I had assumed I had 3m of my fabric, because that’s what I’d ordered, when I bought it. But it turned out I actually had 3 yards, i.e. 2m75. That would have been enough, if I hadn’t had to add the extra length to the bodice. I was wondering if I’d have to go for the short sleeves (as per the pink version above), but I decided I could get away with cutting the waistband tie pieces on the cross-grain, using the bits left over from cutting the front, back and sleeves. This wouldn’t have worked if the fabric was much less stretchy along the grain that across it. Fortunately there was a reasonable 4-way stretch, so I could keep those mid-length sleeves. I’m a bit annoyed with the Textile Centre, but I should have measured the fabric as soon as I received it, and raised it with them at the time, so it’s my own stupid fault. And there was a workaround, so it was ok in the end.
We got started with the collar, which is probably the trickiest bit of the whole dress. And as I said, it’s a nice feature. We had to create pleats, and then do one of those seams where you have the shoulders joining straight onto the collar, which involves some tight pivoting on the intersection between shoulder & then we had to sew the collar facing to that seam. Nina’s instructions use the burrito method, but there’s quite a lot of fabric to try and roll into it, especially for the ladies doing long dresses. So Claire suggested either a straightforward stitch-in-the-ditch join, or just hand-stitching the facing down. I love a bit of hand stitching so that’s what I opted for. We finished the session with the centre front seam, and that was it for day 1.
Day 2 had us working on the gathered front. The instructions that come with the pattern say to use an elastic to create the gathers t, or to gather in the traditional way with thread. One person had already tried the elastic method, and she’d found it a bit fiddly, but also she pointed out that the elastic would be straight against her skin, so she was planning on unpicking that and doing a traditional gather. I think once she’d mentioned that, most of us decided to go with a thread gather. Then we created the belt, and attached it over the gathers. The last major jobs were then to attach the sleeves (flat), sew the side seams and do all the hemming. Claire was demonstrating how you could use a coverstitch machine to do the hemming, but I was going for a basic twin-needle hem. Claire had some really useful hints for working with twin-needles, to avoid “tunnelling”, including using a specifically stretch twin-needle, lengthening the stitch a bit, and the big lightbulb moment for me, loosening the tension on the foot (using the little wheel at the back of the machine). It worked an absolute treat! Nice flat twin-needling.
And here’s the finished article…
I love the neckline, the soft pleats are so gentle and flattering, and the collar stands up which lengthens the V for those of us with short necks.
I’m now treating this version of the dress as a wearable toile, and I’m planning to make another. I’ve got my major alterations done, and now I can fine-tune the details. I want to tweak the length of the shoulder seams, as the shoulders are a bit dropped on this version. Claire has shown me how to do that, and I think I can stand to lose 3 or 4 centimetres there. And if I’m shortening the shoulder seams, it will mean the sleeves shift up, so I will probably have to lengthen the sleeve pattern. I’d also narrow the sleeves a bit, as I like them a bit more close-fitting.
I always love the social element of doing courses, and I feel like this was a reasonable substitute for being in the same room with other people, given that we have no other choice. It kept me focussed and “on target”. It’s nice to see other people’s sewing spaces. – some of them had beautiful sewing rooms! I don’t have a lovely sewing room, with cutting table, and shelves full of stash. I have to do my pattern adjustments and my cutting out sitting on the floor, and my sewing machine is in a different corner of the room than my desk and laptop, so all that people would have seen of me is my wall most of the time! I was perfectly able to ask questions when I needed to, but once I got working, it didn’t really feel like I was working “with” everyone else in quite the same way as you do when you’re all together. Hopefully we’ll be back to that soon – I’ve got a Sewisfaction Swimming Costume workshop that’s been booked since January 2020, and keeps having to be reorganised, so I hope it will be sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, thank heavens for Zoom, and the internet, for giving us the next best thing.