This is the third pattern in the Tilly and the Buttons book Stretch!, teaching you skills in sewing with knits by taking you through a series of progressively more involved patterns. The second pattern was the Frankie T-Shirt which I hacked into a smart top with lace sleeves. The next pattern is the Freya Sweater and Dress, with a fitted bodice and sleeves, mock turtleneck or cowl neck versions, optional ruffle and A-line skirt for the dress. I decided to go with the plain dress version, which was my first knit dress.
Stabilising with clear elastic
The more I sew, the more I see the importance of good fit. I can put up with a dodgy seam or hem but if it doesn't fit well, it won't be comfortable and it'll hardly get worn. I therefore often make toiles and share my entire fitting process which I have done with this dress in a separate blog post.
This is only my second knit bodice so I have much to learn about how knits behave, and what I've learnt is that they all behave differently! In some ways they are easier to fit because of the stretch, but if I were to sew the same pattern again in a different fabric, I'd consider basting it together first using a larger seam allowance for alterations.
As my post explains, I generally need to size up for the bust as I have a larger upper than full bust measurement. Although my cup size is small (size A in RTW bras), a large rounded back and ribcage often means I need a full bust adjustment. More details are in my post, including my experience with tissue fitting, photos of my two toiles and the adjustments I made, as well as a possible way of doing a rounded back adjustment without a centre back seam or shoulder dart. It also explains why I put a back waistline seam in.
I used a lovely teal ponte roma from Croft Mill which feels such great quality. It has a lovely drape and smoothness to the touch, different to the knits I used for my Bibi Skirt and Frankie T-Shirt which felt more structured and with more of a matt texture. When I pre-washed it at 40 degrees and low tumble dry, it came out looking exactly the same and not a crease in site.
I found it very difficult to work out which was the right and wrong side of the fabric and was worried I’d get it mixed up so once I'd chosen, I labelled the pieces as soon as I had cut them, pinning a note to the back of each piece.
Stabilising with clear elastic
The book gives several suggestions for what to use to stabilise the shoulder seams. I decided to go with clear elastic as I could see this was needed for another pattern later in the book. I used Vilene Framilastic T6 which I pre-stretched after seeing this tip from Melissa Fehr.
I used the lightning stretch stitch on all seams, finishing them with a 3-thread overlock stitch which worked fine over the elastic. This was my first time using clear elastic but I can see me using this quite a lot as it is so thin. In fact, I decided to use it on the neckband too as mentioned below.
I basted the neckband using a chainstitch on my coverstitch machine with a 1cm seam allowance. I now often use chainstitch to baste as it is so quick to unpick, a tip I learnt from SewLibra on the Patternreview.com forums. Once I was happy with it, I used the lightning stitch with the 1.5cm seam allowance and so I could unpick the basting easily.
I tried this over my head and it went over fine but I was aware it took some stretching, so I decided to add clear elastic to this as well. It was a little more tricky since the neckband was already sewn, so I stitched it to the back of the bodice part of the seam and pinned the neckband seam out of the way.
I used a 2-thread coverstitch to secure the neckband seam in place. This involved going over the two bulky shoulder seams which didn’t go smoothly at all for me. I kept getting skipped stitches so I tried the hump jumper which was better, but still not quite there. In the end I got the best result by pulling on the fabric at the back of the machine to feed it through as evenly as I could, and tried to sew at a steady speed over the bulky seam. This still left a few skipped stitches which I then secured with hand stitching.
I basted the sleeves with chainstitch to check the fit, and ended up doing a narrow bicep adjustment as shown in the Final Fitting section of this post. The sleeve length was just right for me after this adjustment, and I coverstitched the hems in place.
I had lengthened the skirt by 12cm to have it fall around the knee. After trying it on to assess the length, I decided to take it up by an additional 2cm. I put the dress on my mannequin and used a laser level to mark the hem as shown here on my Liberty Zina Wrap Skirt, using a coverstitch to secure it.
I found it a big challenge to fit this dress, and can see there is still more for me to learn in terms of fitting the bust and back. The construction process was fairly straightforward and well explained in the book. Although I like the dress, I can't see me making another but I would certainly think about making several of the top versions as it would go with so many things and be great for layering.
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Tilly and the Buttons book Stretch!
SewLibra video on basting with chainstitch Patternreview.com
Related blog posts
Rounded back adjustment without centre back seam or shoulder dart