Fitted sheath dress in a graphic Ankara fabric

This is the dress I completed at the Crafty Sew and So camp, weekend before last which feels like a dreamy distant memory already, since I’ve been buried deep in work projects ever since. Thank goodness I realised the importance of taking a simple no-brainer project with me as I had anticipated a lot of chat and I didn’t want to be getting stressed out by fiddly details… or miss out on all the goss!

Sewing a sheath dress is a good test of fine tuning a fit as woven fabric has no forgiveness whatsoever! And I’m pretty sure I’ve nailed it now. It feels like it fits in all the right places and its amazing how that feeling transmits a confidence when I wear it. Well I can hardly blend into the background with this graphic print in any case!

I was hoping the Ankara fabric, with its strength and weight, would give good structure and I wasn’t disappointed. If you’ve sewn with it before, you’ll appreciate how your shears slice so accurately through the threads and the joy of ironing those sharp seams – especially helpful when pressing those understitched facings. They are so never going to pop out!

The dress pattern is simply a front and a back piece and an all in one facing to finish the armholes and the neckline. The zip is at the left side – something I learned from sewing a lot of vintage dresses and a method that means the back piece stays as one so there is no need to pattern match across a zip.

I would normally have tried harder to match across the side seams but I was working with a remnant here, left over from this crazy cowl skirt project, so I was limited with my placement options. Very happy that I used stash fabric though!

And whilst we are on the subject of side seams, I’d like to draw attention to the sweary label that Manisha from Manisha’s Fancy Fabrics kindly and appropriately gifted me from Sew Me In (explicit) Labels. Because, despite the simplicity of this dress, I had to unpick 3 seams at least due to distraction of talking and mostly laughing my head off. In case you need any confirmation, sewing alongside likeminded makers who share as much passion about dressmaking, is incredibly good for the soul but a little bit detrimental to productivity!

This won’t be my last sheath dress for a number of reasons:

  • Its a lovely no-brainer of a sew, once the fit is mastered
  • It uses precious little fabric
  • Its can be office-appropriate in a suiting fabric, casual in a cotton, dressy in a satin
  • It can be customised so easily

Thanks to Dan for these lovely photos. We were in Charlotte Street, and very much drawn in by the blue of the shopfront. We haven’t been up town for a long while and it was good to see the buzz is still there, with lots more pedestrianised areas for al-fresco drinking and dining.

Keep tuned for some more of my pattern drafting adventures. I’ve got a few plans up my sleeve!

Bring on the summer, I’m sundress ready!

Janene is posing with her right hand on a low white wall with trees and bushes in the background. She is wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses and smiling with head back

I had absolutely no plans whatsoever when I placed my order for this delightful Robert Kaufman cotton poplin fabric, which is usually a very bad mistake. Rash decisions with no end goal ultimately end up with more material languishing in stash mountain for a considerable amount of time. But I had to have it! I don’t generally like novelty prints but I think this can be classified more as graphic print or typographic print – very appropriate for a graphic designer anyways! And I absolutely love it!

Janene is leaning against a tree holding a piece of grass, wearing her handmade sundress

When it arrived I was in awe of its texture. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with cotton poplin before – the cottons I’ve worked with have been much smoother and crease a whole heap more. You can see the weave of the threads on closer inspection of this one and it’s got a marvellous matt quality to it.

Janene is posing straight on with both hands on hips wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses

It feels very similar to some vintage batik fabric I used last year for a sheath/shift dress and I love how that one feels against my skin. So after much deliberation, I decided upon something much the same – fitted for sure but with all this roasty toasty weather we’ve been blessed with, I also liked the idea of baring my back and cutting away the shoulders to air a bit more skin!

Janene is posing with her back to a low level wall alongside the river with trees and bushes in the background, wearing handmade dress and sunglasses and smiling

But I had to get my skates on. Not only did I have a Minerva review deadline, there was an Insta hashtag challenge I was determined to join in with, too.

So typically, I decided to make things just a tad more difficult for myself by designing, self-drafting and sewing my own fitted sundress!

Janene is posing in her handmade dress and sunglasses with one hand on hip and the other in a mock salute

I traced my existing sloper template to include princess seams and a V-neckline, increasing the underarm curve slightly above the bust across the side front where it meets the centre front piece seam and the ‘strap’ that is graduated to the shoulder and meets a back extension to form a buttoned halter-neck.

I created a facing for the whole of the top half to the waist. I did consider making it shorter but I may add a lining to the skirt section at some point.

To finish the seams, I trimmed and pressed the seam allowance to the side and topstitched alongside the joins to create a kind of faux flat felled seam finish.

Close up detail of the bodice section to show the faux flat felled seams

It’s not a bad fit for a first trial. I did do a mock up of a shortened version and its seemed to fit just right but its amazing what issues a little real life walk-around brings to the fore.

It transpires the back section collapses a little and could probably do with a bit more support. Maybe some interfacing would have given more structure or perhaps I need to add bones in the side and centre back seams? Or maybe I just live with it. What do you think? That said, I love how effortless it is to wear right now and I don’t particularly want to have to sit so upright in it all the time!

Back view of the dress that Janene is wearing to show that it is collapsing a little.

Needless to say, I’m not deterred. It’s so perfect to pair with espadrilles and I’m sure I’ll be donning trainers with it at some point, even flapping around in flip flops – DM’s too, probably. They’ll all go well with it, which proves its very much my kinda dress!

Janene is sitting on a log in the shade wearing her handmade dress, sunglasses and espadrilles. She is looking into the distance with her left hand on her shoulder and the other on her lap.

By the way, the fabric is called ‘Out of Print’ and if you like it as much as I do, here’s a link, but you’ll have to be quick. I don’t think theres many metres in stock.

Thank you so much to Minerva of course for gifting this lovely material as part of the Brand Ambassador programme. And also to the lovely ladies of Instagram (@sewing_in_spain, @Rocco.Sienna and @SewSarahSmith) who are hosting the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge which involves sewing a summer dress before 21st June. There are so many great entries already which have totally inspired and spurred my project along – do have a looksee! Sometimes deadlines are a good thing… Yay! I did it!!

Janene is walking towards the camera but looking to the side, holding a blade of grass. She is wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses and espadrilles.

One more thank you to my Daniel for finding this ideal little suntrap along the river and for taking these fabulous photos.

Blackmore 9266 So-Easy!

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

I’ve been neglecting my vintage patterns of late. But that did allow for some exciting rummaging and little squeals of delight when I found some treasures I’d completely forgotten about. And I just love that ‘aha moment’ when found pattern meets perfect stash fabric. Proper romance that is!

This is Blackmore So-Easy 9266. Not sure if it’s 50s or 60s as it’s not dated. The instructions were a little more explained compared to the last 40s Blackmore pattern I used but I enjoyed making both just the same.

vintage blackmore 9266 sewing pattern

I knew this dress wasn’t going to fit straight out of the packet. It was already too small and any dodgy fitting on this was going to shout from the rooftops. So it needed time and patience to grade it up properly and work through 3 toiles before I was ready to cut into the real stuff.

Once all the adjustments were transferred to the pattern pieces – grading up, shortening the back bodice substantially, taking out some excess from the overbust and increasing the waist – it was fundamentally a very easy to sew dress.

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

There’s no lining. The bodice is simply faced at the top edge. I must remember to tack this down in a couple of places on the inside, as the photos totally reveal how it peaks out at the back if it’s not poked in to start with.

I do so love recreating an original vintage dress but I should know by now how the drawings on the cover cheat so much! The skirt on the cover looks tapered and very fitted but in actual fact, not only is cut straight, it has a wide kick pleat allowance which gives the visual appearance of being even wider at the hemline.

I took it in quite substantially to arrive at this shape – like 4 inches each side seam! – and I sewed the kick pleat down too. I hated the granny hemline. Not flattering on my vertically challenged frame for sure. This does, however, mean that I have to walk very lady-like and in heels and therefore one helluva lot slower than normal. Not such a bad thing when for most of the time I’m rushing around like a lunatic with giant strides in Docs or trainers.

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

The fabric is bark cloth. Found in a little basement fabric shop in Waterloo ages ago. I love the texture so much, the colours are fabulous and it sews up beautifully. I made a Martini dress from bark cloth of the vintage kind but I have to say, this modern weave was definitely more grain-stable and less prone to stretch. It’s not usual to find this stuff in any old fabric store. Certainly a void of it in the Goldhawk Road. So if anyone has a link to a favourite UK store, please let me know. By the time shipping is added to the original Hawaiian brands, the price is rocketed!

Now, I would just like to touch upon the issue of straps. Fally down straps!! I felt sure that I had sussed the right width, length, the right position and before sewing them down, I walked around the house for a few hours with them pinned to make sure of their position. Ulitmately the ends of the straps would be sandwiched between the facing and the top bodice so better to get them in the right position first. I thought I’d cracked it. Made sure to sew exactly as pinned. But the buggers still fall down!! It really is the bane of my strappy-dress life.

vintage blackmore dress

To be fair, It doesn’t help that I’ve got sloping shoulders. But I do think also that I made the bodice a touch too wide for my over-bust and so the straps sit too close to the edge of my shoulders. Another little adjustment to bear in mind for next time.

Clever lady Clare, from River Elliot Bridal also had a great solution which was to sew a narrow elastic inside the strap to generate a little more grip. Must give that a go too.

I’m hoping the stormy skies keep at bay and glorious sunshine keeps coming over the next few months so my current favourite newbie gets more outings. But all the same, the fickle in me is furiously flicking through the collection to find the next new fave to make… because I can!

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

Photos by Daniel James Photography
Location: Hammersmith
Shoes: Lola Ramona