Sunday, 3 August 2014

Alder Shirt Dress View B Grainline Patterns: Review

I made the Alder shirt dress (view B) a few weeks ago and it has already been washed and worn many times which gives you an idea of the success level of this pattern!  This is a very picture heavy post- I know I always like to see a pattern made up in lots of detail.  Thankyou to my daughter as usual for the photos and taking my directions- it was a very bright morning hence the averted gaze...

This is my first Grainline pattern. I love Jen's style and the clean look of her designs but this is the first pattern that I thought suit me.  I bought the PDF version. There are paper versions being printed but to be honest, by the time they reach the UK summer will be over and I know I will be tracing a pattern either way and I feel the PDF gives me more options and is cheaper!  Jen is a professionally trained pattern maker.  She studied pattern making (via an initial photography detour, listen to this Modern Sewciety podcast for more info!) and she worked in a wedding dress studio making patterns and dresses before going fully independent as Grainline.  All this adds up to a professional and skilled designer and sewist who knows what she's doing.  I haven't made the Archer pattern- I don't wear that  shirt style very often, but I have seen so many successful versions of that shirt, especially in Me Made May 2014, and I have referred to the sew along when adding collars and stands to shirts and dresses.  

Let's talk about the fabric. I used Robert Kaufman Dotted Chambray Union.  This has been a popular fabric amongst sewing bloggers and any links I checked in the UK were sold out. It is light, soft and floaty: an utter pleasure to wear on a hot summer's day, but a bitch to sew. The dots are warp threads woven into the fabric. Each dot is made up of four floating threads which continue floating on the reverse and come up to form the next dot.  This makes fabric snag very easily- hard in a house with a cat and a dog and my generally careless ways. I took a lot of care with it.  Working with it is a bit like working with shortcrust pastry: it didn't want to be over handled.

Some details: I made a test bodice. I have to make a test bodice with every pattern, the only exception has been the Wiksten Tova which fitted size S first time.  The bust dart came out very low and pointed downwards. I used other bodices that I have made with a similar dart to raise and very slightly narrow the dart.  The pattern is cut for a relatively small B cup in my estimation. I am an A cup. Initially I cut a size 4 pattern based on my bust measurement, 33".  I usually cut a smaller size for my top half and a larger size for my waist and hips and blend the two, but as this pattern is looser at the waist and hip I ended up cutting a size 2 throughout and taking the waist in by tiny ⅛" at each side. The waist is a little more fitted than the style probably intends but it works best for me. The waistline is in the perfect place for me.  The seam allowance on Grainline patterns is ½"by the way.  If you wanted a more fitted look the bodice could be taken in further at the side as the skirt section is gathered so is easy to adjust and make a little smaller.

The instructions are cleanly drawn and sufficiently detailed and for anything I felt I needed to check on I used the Archer sew along as the construction is the same.  The shaping is different: don't think that this is an Archer shirt with a gathered skirt, it is a lot more fitted and the armscye (fancy dressmaking speak for armhole) is cut for a sleeveless dress and fitted perfectly first time- no bra reveal, or weird underarm gapage.  The latter is very important for a woman over 40...

The original length of this dress is on the short side, too short for somebody who hates above knee hems with a vengeance. I used the size 18 hemlines and tweaked the side seams to match up the front and back.

It is an intermediate skills based pattern. The collar is very nicely constructed, especially the under collar which is cut on the bias and slightly smaller to make it roll under- great attention to detail. The Archer collar sew along post is a great reference.  

I used snaps over buttons, my usual shirt dress preference.

I did need to take a little care adding the pockets- apart from obviously needing to be very precise about placement- lopsided double pocket placement is going to look a little odd- you need to place the pocket allowing for the dart and the the curvature that will be going under it basically don't just pin the pocket on the bodice lying on a flat surface, I used a towel to create a little bust form under the fabric as I pinned.

The trickiest section is probably the inset seam where the gathered skirt meets the bodice.  
This is sewn with a similar technique to the Tova inset placket. As my fabric was delicate, I added a little light cotton fusible interfacing on the reverse and then reinforced the corners just inside the seam allowance (just like a Tova). It strengthens the fabric for carrying the weight of the skirt in that corner and for the snip that releases the seam.  Having done this for this version I would repeat it even with a stronger fabric.

I added side seam pockets- this style was practically begging for them.  I used the pockets from the Darling Ranges dress.  There is a seam notch on the Alder pattern that works as a natural marker for pocket placement.  I used Liberty lawn for the pocket facing.  I try hard not to make the pocket close-ups look like lady parts but its hard not to think it, especially when I have put the idea in your head...

I used the same fat quarter of Liberty to make bias binding for the armholes and I also added it at the hem.

I seriously love this dress.  There is an everyday wearibilty about the style that works perfectly for me.  It is fitted enough for me not to feel frumpy but loose enough to work in and travel in hot weather carrying bags and wheeling suitcases.  It is my go-to travel dress.  The sew along which includes some style variations starts this Wednesday.  I am planning to make a turquoise green Betsy Liberty lawn version for this summer using an ebay yardage bargain and also contemplating a darker maxi version in this as an Autumn transitional dress that I could slip a skinny jersey top underneath. I can also imagine some gentle tweaking to make a fitted shirt- I might end up buying the Archer so I can combine the two in a well fitting shirt. Happy days x

sib blog


  1. Great review, thank you! I've made a shirt up in that fabric, and as you say, it can be ..... Recalcitrant! But a beautiful finished product.

  2. Fab dress for the summer.
    I like the dotted chambray- the texture is lovely, even though the fabric is 'recalcitrant'.

  3. Lovely dress. Great post. X

  4. Great pattern review Kerry! This looks like the kind of dress you could live in all summer long, love it!

  5. you look great in it (and I am giggling over the lady parts pockets!)

  6. Sweet dress ~ love the detail of the pocket and hem ~ you're looking lovely as always!

  7. So good, Kerry! Nice to hear about what it's like to wear, too - sounds ideal. I'm looking forward to the sleeved variation in the sew-along. (Btw, I usually restrain myself from pointing out typos because I know it's really annoying, but you have 'garage' where I guess you meant 'gappage', and it's conjured a very strange image for me!!)

    1. Thankyou Nina- I have a feeling autocorrect is responsible for 'garage'- I don't want 'garage to be the new 'thigh gap'!

  8. That is just lovely... I want to commission you to make me one ;-) Looks fabulous with your clogs. Jealous, me?

  9. Very nice, and love the splash of colour in the pocket

  10. I've been giving this pattern some thought, until I saw your post. I wasn't sure if it was too loose. But I love your version. You look great in it. It's convinced me to give it a shot.


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