Melange: Bridgetown Backless Dress + McCalls M0525

Several months have gone by, but I finally promised myself I would get this posted today. It's snowy outside, but not as cold as when we took these pictures. If you scroll down you'll see that is was leafy and green in early fall when this garment was actually finished. This was my daughter's choice for her high school homecoming dance. I thought is was a bold one...first of all long flowy pants in a sea of short dresses, and then the bright red, super-saturated color of the Rifle Paper Co Les Fleurs rayon for Cotton and Steel. The look was topped off with vintage Kork-Ease platforms (not the snow boots she's wearing in these pictures) which gave it a seventies, comme Halston vibe, without being costumey.

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We used a combination of patterns, starting with the Sew House Seven Bridgetown backless dress with its dramatic draped back (perfect for the substantial, yet drapey Cotton and Steel rayon that I love to sew with). We then looked to McCalls M0525 for the flowy pants part. We has this pattern in in the stash having sewn the short, off the shoulder romper variation earlier in the summer).

We choose a size 6 for the top and a size 8 for the bottom, figuring it would be an easy adjustment to fit them together, as both patterns have elasticated waists. Then miracle of miracles!....They fit together perfectly, so we skipped the muslin part and forged ahead. or course this was also necessary because the garment was completed the day before the dance. (In my defense Homecoming was the very first week of school this year.)


The only adjustments we made for her petite 5'3" frame were 1) shortening the bodice and 2) shortening leg length for a 5'3" frame, though less than usual to account for 3" platforms. We added a drawstring to the elastic, softly tied to add a little detail to the front. Add big dangly earrings, a bracelet, and platform shoes and you can go straight from your volleyball match to the dance (which is why we didn't get any pictures taken last fall).

Would I sew this again? In a heart beat! The fit was so easy given the drawstring/elastic waist and lots of ease in the silhouette.  It was really easy to sew, and I think it looked quite elegant. (It would be beautiful in velvet)  I also think it would be flattering on lots of body types.


What would I do differently? I stabilized the seams that wrap at the back with thin strips of very light weight interfacing. Because these were cut in the bias, I was afraid they might stretch and become distorted and "baggy". This turned out to be overkill with this fabric, which would have been stable enough to omit this step. In the end, I think the stabilizer inhibited the drape a little. Despite this unnecessary step, we were both happy with the way it turned out.

Do you have examples of melange or Franked-Pattern sewing from your experience

Pattern Review Simplicity 8124 by Cynthia Rowley

I find myself sewing a lot less from big 4 patterns lately, but I think I've purchased almost every pattern by Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity (and even sewn up several of them). I bought this pattern last Spring, in part because it reminded me of a white eyelet floor length dress I had (and loved) back in the late 70's. I held onto it but was a little skeptical. First of all, at the time, my daughter wasn't interested in it and second of all...well, I had some concerns.

As you can see from the pattern envelope cover, and from the shots in the pattern catalog, the dress is extremely full and a little stiff looking, sort of like a very short tent. While I'm usually not too put off by the styling of the pattern cover photos, this one was a little extreme (and what is the deal on those shoes?). I love the color of the dress, the model is adorable and she looks like she's having fun, but what will happen if she has to bend over, or, heaven forbid, she gets caught in a gust of wind? I just wasn't quite sure the pattern was going to work. Nevertheless,  when Lucie's request came in for an off-the-shoulder dress this Spring, I remembered this pattern.

I looked at other reviews on the web and all makers lengthened the dress, several chose to make a size or two smaller than their usual, and to cut down the width of the front and back pieces to reduce the volume. I decided to use a different tactic, and used a softer fabric with more drape hoping to reduce the volume that way. I choose the Ranchero Rayon Chambray that we have over in the shop. It's a beautiful indigo color with obvious twill weave and a little sheen. Rayon is also cool to wear in the summer which is another plus. After reviewing the desired length (my daughter is 5'3" and I figured the model is probably 6') and the length of the pattern pieces, I eventually dove in and cut the pattern out in a size extra small with no adjustments! ! ! 

It's a super easy pattern to make, taking less than an hour to serge together once I got started. I used 1 1/4" elastic instead of the recommended 1" because that's what I had handy. I think it looks ok, but I'd use 1" elastic if you have it. I shortened the sleeves a little for my petite client. We also hemmed it up with the deep (4" hem) as pictured, but then decided it was too short. I had to let it down by an inch and a half. All of the hemming took longer than any other part. I also added little rouleaux straps that fall over the shoulders. These button to the inside of the dress where the sleeve meets the front/back. I think they add a nice detail to the "simplicity" and a real bonus is that they make it possible to hang the dress on a hanger, as you can see below. Here is a shot of the dress posing with our Purple Clematis which is blooming beautifully this year.

Once again on a mannequin as my real life model (#24) is unavailable for a photo shoot, because Volleyball! They are playing their last tournament of the year in the Wisconsin Dells this weekend.

Here is another photo (below), taken at the Artrageous Adventures Studio (2121 W 21st St, Minneapolis), where I have a pop-up shop and a place to teach classes for the summer. I'm there lots of mornings, evenings, and also by appointment. If you're in the "downtown Kenwood" (Minneapolis) neighborhood, give a call or stop by and say "Hi." 


Here is a close up of the button-in rouleaux ties that can be removed or tucked in and also serve as hanging loops.

I also put a label in the back as this definitely one of those garments where it's difficult to tell the front from the back when you put it on.

Overall, I recommend this pattern. I think it would also make a cute top or romper. Next time, I will add a little length to allow for a deeper hem. If I use a crisper fabric I will definitely size down again and cut it narrower. As usual, if I can get some pictures of the dress on a living breathing person, I will let you know.

Have a great weekend,


Pattern Review: Simplicity 8335

It's May Day! We had a cold, rainy/sleety/snowy one here, but that doesn't mean we can't start sewing for Spring anyway. I made this sweet summer top two weeks ago. I used Simplicity 8335 and a lightweight checked voile. The pattern is a "Learn to Sew" pattern and I guess I would rate it as an advanced beginner pattern (but a good one for learning) because it requires setting in a sleeve, a ruffle and a combination ruffle, and flounce for the "statement sleeve."  The most difficult part was probably the curved hem of the sleeve flounce. All of those descriptors make the top sound awfully girly, but in the end it doesn't look ruffly or frilly, just Springy and cool.

S8335 front
S8335 back

This was a birthday gift for my daughter, so I just made it up without any fitting because it was (kind of) a secret. I made up the size extra-small, based on measurements and RTW sizing (once again forgetting how small big 4 patterns are compared to ready-to-wear). I shortened the top by about 3 inches and the length of the sleeve flounce by about one inch to make it petite. The top went together very nicely. The sleeve was easy to set (at least in this fabric). I thought the directions were a little more detailed than usual, perhaps because the pattern is labelled "Learn to Sew!"

When she tried it on it the length was good. but turned out to be to a little too small. It was especially small around the upper arms (my daughter plays volleyball and she does have muscles!). Luckily, I had fabric for a do-over. So we tried again, this time cutting a small, with medium arm scythe and sleeve, keeping the length adjustment the same. This one had to go together in time for the school band trip to Nashville the next day, which it did....

So the answer for the smaller top is to send it to my niece, who is quite a bit smaller. The fit of the style is forgiving, so I think it will look cute even if it is a little big on her. I did add the optional tie to the back, which will help keep in on her shoulders. It's a nice detail. The pattern can also be made without the sleeve flounce and includes instructions for a crossed straps detail at the back.

I would definitely make this pattern again in voile, lawn or double gauze. I think it would look even cuter in a softer fabric, but the version on the pattern cover in gingham is cute too. It just stands out from the body quite a bit more. In terms of fit , our main issues were the usual petite length adjustments as well as upper arm circumference (which I did not see coming). Also, when sewing for larger sizes, keep in mind that the pattern has no bust darts, which might effect fit for some body types.

The pictures I include here are of the smaller top, which is now on it's way to Columbia, Missouri (I suspect it's warmer there). When I can get pictures of either of the girls modeling I'll post them for you to see. Both of the girls tell me they like the styling, so you have the thumbs up from two teenagers, one in the North and one the Southern MidWest.

Happy May Day to all of you!

Winter Formal in Velvet

Winter Formal was last weekend. It always helps to plan ahead when making a dress for a special event. This something most sewists have learned the hard way (and which we experienced last year with alterations up until the picture taking for the tafetta dress picture below). This is especially true when making one for a "client" (AKA daughter) who is petite AND super picky about fit (wonder where that comes from?...). So, it was over Christmas break that we settled on blue velvet for the fabric, and eventually found an "uncrushed", non stretch navy velvet with a nice weight, that I think is made of rayon. Velvet is temperamental to sew on, slippery and rather unforgiving of mistakes. It doesn't press very well, as the pile is easily crushed. therefore, we wanted a somewhat draped design that minimized structure, need for interfacing and ironing.  The Rose City Halter Dress pattern from Sew House Seven with its adjustable tie tie neck and gathered skirt fit the bill. Two great things about this pattern are 1) POCKETS and 2) the fact that the dress can be worn with either a strapless or halter style undergarment.  It also helped that we had made and altered this dress before. The first time was a "wearable muslin" in cotton Carolina Gingham, which allowed us to make pattern alterations. We then"checked our work" using the altered pattern for another Rose City in Les Fleurs rayon from Cotton and Steel. So, we had the fabric we wanted and a lovely pattern that we knew fit. You can read about these makes and my pattern review for Rose City on my September 23 post.

I researched everything I could find about sewing velvet and settled on a strategic plan that basically consisted of lots of pinning and basting. I tried to minimize pressing, using steam and finger pressing when possible. If I had to press, I tried to do it gently and from the wrong side. I inherited a special high pile press cloth for velvet. I have had this ultra-niche tool in my tool box for many, many years. Of course, when I wanted to try it, it was no where to be I just used a scrap of the velvet, "furry" side down as a makeshift press cloth when pressing from the right side was necessary. 

Pinning was made more fun by using these sweet flat-headed tulip shaped pins from Tulip, Japan. I love how they look all in a row like a little spring garden brightening up a cold Winter day. I have heard these pins described as "life changing". They are beautifully packaged,  long and very, very thin. They cover a lot more ground than your usual pins. You can also iron right over therewith a hot iron and they don't melt. Because they are flat, they don't leave a divet in your fabric either. Love them! (For all you Canadians out there, there is also a Tulip pin with little red maple leaves).

Basting was made more fun by experimenting with different stitch patterns (it is officially "Embroidery Month", after all) and by using many .different colors of thread  (I emptied nearly every almost-empty bobbin in the house). If you're going to do a lot of basting, you might as well turn it into embroidery practice!

The dress was lined with vintage black silk from my grandmother's stash, except for the pockets with were lined with pink satin (originally purchased to make a tangle-preventing pillowcase...)


The hardest thing about working with velvet for this make was inserting the zipper. I used a regular (not invisible) zipper and hand sewed it. I usually enjoy hand picking a zipper, but the slipperiness of the velvet made this task a little troublesome. I couldn't think of a stick on stabilizer that I would want to leave in and was scared to try any dissolvable. With some extra fiddling, iIt came out looking fine I think.


I love using vintage or antique notions when I canI also used vintage pink rayon seam binding (original cost on package was 13c) and sewed the hem by hand. Lastly, I used purple rayon seam binding to make hanging loops to avoid stress/stretching when the dress is hung. These were 10" lengths, folded into to loops and set into the inside upper edge of the back about 3 inches from the side seams.

 I was quite pleased with how the dress turned out  (especially with the lovely pinky-nude pumps my daughter picked out). In the end making the dress, might have been easier than finding the shoes to go with it...



If any of you have tips or tricks for sewing velvet, I'd love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you.




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