I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Colette patterns new dress design 'Wren' a few days before the release date earlier this week. It's the first time I've received anythin garment related in advance like this apart from a little proof reading and pattern testing for friends and the occasional indie designer so it felt like a total treat. It was without obligation- no pressure to blog about it but as I sewed it up and I liked the result I thought I would share as I usually do.
Colette describe it as a 'fitted surplice dress' which I think means that you pull it on over your head- it's a knit dress and there's no closures. It has a wrap style bodice and there are sleeve/sleeveless options and two skirt variations- fitted and gathered a-line. It's described as a beginner pattern, which I could agree with for version 1 but I think version 2 requires more intermediate skills. I was a little unsure when I saw the pattern cover, I liked the style but it seemed more suitable for summer weather here in the UK- I am currently planning lots of maxi length garments with long sleeves! I was also a little wary of such a deep v- I find them a little revealing of a rather skinny area on me. My daughter saw it and she was very taken with it so I made it for her. I had some good quality viscose elastane jersey from Plush Addict (this colour way is sold out but there's a black/white dot version. It's quite lightweight, has good recovery and drape so is perfect for the full skirt style. Fabric options for the different styles are discussed in here at the Coletterie.
Before you sew any knit garment it helps to get organised. I used my sewing machine and my overlocker. For my sewing machine I needed:
- Walking foot
- double needle for stretch fabric
- 75 needle for stretch fabric. For any knit fabric with elastane, I find a stretch needle rather than a ball point needle gives me better stitching and is less likely to skip stitches. Matching the size of needle to the weight of fabric makes a big difference too.
- two spools of navy thread
- one bobbin of YLI Lingerie nylon thread- this is not essential, I had it in my stash and it has a little more stretch than Guterman sew-all poly
I usually end up making at least a bodice tester for all dress/top patterns as adjustment is usually needed for both of us. This is the bodice , size XS without sleeves made exactly as described by the pattern. On the left (as you look at the pic) you can see where I've pinched some of the fullness from the side of the bust and under the arm- the right side is unchanged and you can see the bagginess.
The bodice design has a clever addition, a neck band which although it is placed diagonally on the bodice, the hemmed edge is cut along the straight grain of the fabric so it helps to give it some control. it's also gathered at the top shoulder. The pattern gives instructions to hem the V edges and this worked OK- the weight of the skirt will also give a little weight to these edges but they were a little insecure on a smaller bust so I remembered Sew U Home Stretch and a scoop neck dress I made with an elastic finish and stitched ¼" elastic to the right side of the neck band edge before turning over and hemming it with a double needle as before. My top tip for this is to sew slowly- I have more details about this technique here and you can find out more tips here at Coletterie.
This is the same bodice with the sides narrowed- I removed ⅝" from the top of each bodice side edge and graded down to the bottom of the seam. This removes 2 ½" from the total chest area and is a way of fitting a small bust in a jersey top without using darts or a small bust adjustment. A similar thing is discussed at Colette here for armholes and bust adjustments. I also removed the same about from the armhole end of the sleeve, grading into the usual seam at the sleeve hem.
The neck band edge lies flat when she stands straight but if she moves around, it wasn't really snug enough to feel secure as you can see on the pic below.
It's easy to add elastic to necklines and sleeveless armholes. I control the fabric with my left hand and hold the elastic straight but not stretched with my right hand, the blade is not engaged. Make sure you leave long tails of elastic at the beginning and end; it is much easier to control the fabric with them!
The edge with the elastic (left) is then turned pressed over to the wrong side, lightly pressed on the right side and hemmed with the double needle (right).
Top Tip- sew the left neck band edge (as you wear the garment) first as the right neck band edge will be the more visible and your stitching will improve on the second edge!
The bodice is quite straight forward. You need to sew slowly and handle the fabrics carefully so as not to overstretch the fabric and when you sew the sleeves into the armholes, be careful the fabric underneath the sleeve doesn't get trapped as you sew. I love the fit of the bodice, it's very soft and feminine.
Adding elastic on the neck edge gives the V total security when worn and keeps the V from falling too low. I used it on the back neck too, it wasn't totally necessary but I think it gives the dress more support if it is hung on a hanger. The only other change I made was to add twill tape on the back bodice shoulder seams to keep everything stable.
The skirt section is a gentle A-line shape with a gathered waist. The gathering is created by shirring- zig zag stitching ¼"clear elastic around the skirt waist. I used clear elastic when I made the Skater dress. It's great for stability but I find it a nightmare to sew. I used a Sharpie marker instead of pins to mark it into quadrants following the pattern instructions and zig zagged it into place but it is very tricky to do evenly- as you can see below.
It doesn't seem to matter too much as the right side looked fine and once the skirt is joined to the bodice some of the elastic is sheared off by the overlocker blade. If I make this again, I think I will gather the skirt in the usual way and join to the bodice without the clear elastic. The finished waist seam was a little bumpy but pressing helped. I'm not sure how I could make it totally smooth.
Here's some shoulder and neck edge detail pics-my favourite part of the dress.
My daughter is really happy with it. Comfortable, easy to wear, casual enough to wear out with her friends- she wore it on a trip to see Suffragette with me last night- and dressy enough to wear for college interviews, to work etc so a useful addition to her wardrobe.
This pattern is on offer for a short time at Colette and you can find it at the usual UK suppliers here and here. There's a #wrenfaire competition at the Coletterie- the best part of this are the amazing tips people are passing on in the comments- my favourites are:
1. Cut drapey knits on a pool table to stop them sliding about and
Read more tips in the comments here.