The dress now standing on Platform One
Choo choo … is that yet another incarnation of the Lady Skater pattern on the tracks? Okay Pattern Police, hands up, I'm afraid it's guilty as charged. In my defence, this dress is the ultimate quick fix for a bored wardrobe and in theory can be cut out and sewn in less than two hours – who's not gonna swoon at those sewing stats? This time I fancied changing up the silhouette a little more for an even shorter bodice length in combination with a wider skirt to create more of an empire line to the finished garment.
Great plans, huh? That was until I saw this print on the Minerva Crafts website at a low price and fell immediately in love. Stretch cotton jersey? Check. Some of my favourite colours? Check. A cheeky take on a trad print? Check. The yardage was in my shopping basket and purchased before you could say stash attack. I waited patiently for it to arrive. (That's a lie, I don't do anything patiently, rather I fidget a lot and look at the slowly 'moving through treacle' hands on my watch face repeatedly, whilst waiting for the sound of the postie as he leaps up the stairway into the studio). Two days of fidgeting later it arrived, and I ripped open the parcel to see the jewel like colours (delight!) and reached in to pull out said fabric. Oh dear. Disappointment with a capital D.
I like things that feel nice. I like gossamer silks that float like clouds, rippling lakes of satin, plushly piled velvets and american cotton so soft it feels like butter. Long ago I eschewed acrylic yarn for merino, alpaca and cashmere when I knit, simply because I can't bear to invest time and love to make something that doesn't feel gorgeous when it's finished. I am a wanton, sensuous creature and am seduced by texture, softness and handle. Imagine then, my horror, when my beautiful new stretch cotton jersey print came out of the parcel as stiff as board. What's more, it didn't appear to stretch. At all.
An eternal optomist, I rationalised that maybe it was because the fabric had a lot of "dress" in it. Surely a round or two in the washing machine would see it right? I chucked it in at 40 degrees and hoped for the best. I tried to kid myself that the fabric was softer post tumble (I washed it twice just to be sure), and maybe it was a tad (clearly I had now reached the denial stage), but it still had very little give. I wondered if perhaps I had inadvertently stumbled on some top secret military grade camo fabric, with specially woven bullet proof kevlar fibres in the mix. Trouble was … I still loved this print!
In the end I threw caution to the wind and stomped off to the sewing shed to see if I could whip it into submission. I cut out my new shape Lady Skater super quick, adding a couple of inches to the length (bye bye pudgy knees), shortened the bodice and added an extra inch to the top of the skirt piece, as well as adding in another couple of inches to the skirt width at the hem. Twenty minutes later I was ready to sew. Woo hoo.
This was the moment it went a bit wrong and my story turns into a sewing version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You see, I had three different coloured threads to choose from on my overlocker/serger as I started to sew. I lined them up on the table and gave each one due consideration. There was the black thread, "Oh no", I said, "that is far too dark!" Then there was the white thread, "Oh no, that is much to stark!" and finally there was the cream thread, "Oh, yes, that one is just right!". So I set about my seams with the cream thread loaded, and other than having to tug resistant necklines into shape (not enough stretch for that darned neck facing) it seemed to go well. In fact, an hour in and I was almost done with all the serged seams. Great, I thought, I'd better check the fit and try it on. To be honest it was a bit of a squeeze. This dress requires fabric with around 20% stretch, and my fabric has about 1%. I did, however, manage to wrestle my way into the bodice and once on it felt alright (truth be told it was a little like I imagine women who bound their breasts and pretended to be boys in the 1920s felt, but hey, I bloody love this print and I AM GOING TO WEAR IT, okay!?) It was not so bad once I acclimatised to the fit, and I was pleased with the new cut that my pattern fiddling had created.
Then, as I gave another test spin in the mirror (please tell me I am not the only one who pirouettes and twirls in half finished garments like an over-excited child?) I noticed these weird little marks across the top of the shoulder line. Uh oh. And then I realised that where the fabric was under tension from having almost no stretch you could see the cream thread of the overlocked seam. Only tiny pinpricks of the light colour, but the more I looked, the bigger they appeared. As I pulled the dress off to more closely inspect all the seams, I realised that this was a problem on every single seam, from the neckband to the skirt and well, everywhere. I had two choices – chuck it in the bin and deny any knowledge of the fabric's existence (camo fabric? I don't know what you're talking about) or sorting it out. So I pushed my overlocker aside, reached for some navy thread and my trusty sewing machine and redid every single damn seam on the dress half a millimetre inside the line of the serged seams. It took quite a while, but to my delight it solved the problem of the pale thread show through. Result.
As you can imagine, my patience was wearing thin by this point and I think my twin needle hem suffered as a result … the tension definitely needed a bit of tweaking as it is still raised up like a mini mountain, even after liberal application of a hot steam iron. However, I have decided to overlook these minor flaws, because I have a brand new dress made of magical non-stretchy stretch jersey! And that my lovelies is a rare find.
Despite the rubbish weather, new dress and I made friends by going on a mini outing up the lane to our vintage village steam railway. I even donned a little matchy neckerchief for the occasion (contrary to popular belief, not only the preserve of ladies called Lurleen who live in Nashville). After weeks of rain here in England it was heartening to see the spring primroses bravely peeking their heads above the soil, even though it was pretty breezy (by the way, please excuse my poor Marilyn Monroe impression with the skirt). Only eighteen sleeps to Spring!