So much love for the self-drafted Dolce dress of dreams

Remember that divine Dolce fabric I was compelled to buy, back at The Stitch Festival 2020? Well it just got stitched up. And boy oh boy it didn’t disappoint. 

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it at the time. But I knew it was going to be fabulous, even if I simply draped and cinched with a belt! It’s an Italian cotton metalassé according to the selvedge – a cotton and lycra Jacquard according to M. Rosenberg’s web listing. But all the same a quality weighty, textured stretch fabric of dreams. BTW, I pre-washed at 40 degrees and those colours still popped! And heads up, there are 3 singular metres left remaining on their site if you’re a sucker for a crazy-ass in-yer-face designer print as much as me!

Despite the try-hard distraction of the print, the texture of the metalassé holds it’s own

Ultimately, I decided to let the design speak for itself. Any clever design lines were going to get lost and I wasn’t going to jeopardise one bit of that amazing artwork if I could help it. That meant no darts, no pleats, no tucks, no waist seam. Mmmmm. A full length maxi dress for ultimate impact. That is the end goal. But first to trial a short sheath to test the fit. I bought enough to have a long and a short version, psychically of course!

I’ve drafted a few woven dresses in the past, for me and others, but I’ve only recently worked a knit sloper. So earlier this year I practised on some turtle neck rib-knit tops to test the fit – see black one here, and red one there. All I had to do was extend the bodice pieces to a dress length and omit the sleeves. I didn’t want a turtleneck but I did want a jewel neckline so I didn’t alter that much either.

Though I was happy with the results I knew that the template might not translate in this weightier stretch. Comparatively, the rib-knit was light weight and had way more stretch. I should really have trialled a sleeveless version too but impatient me couldn’t wait any more and I just went for it.

The pattern pieces simply consist of a back a front and some self binding for the neckline and the armholes. And cutting it out was a joy. Not only because is was dead quick with a rotary cutter and all, but it was so satisfying – no slippage, no stretching… just a lovely little satisfying crunch as that blade sliced through!

I first sewed the shoulder seams, after applying my favourite iron-on stabilising tape [aff-link] to limit any stretching, then I sewed the side seams using my overlocker. The first try-on highlighted a bit too much ease in the armholes so I nipped 1cm (so 2cm in total) off the end of the shoulder and graduated to zero at the neckline. 

Happy with the rest of the fit I pondered the effect of facings over bindings. I have a love-hate relationship with separate facings – they always flap around and need ironing flat. The only ironing I don’t begrudge is pre-cutting out, and not post assembly! I much prefer an all in one neck and armhole facing that curves over or under bust. But this fabric is quite heavy and I feared the result would be too chunky.

So I decided on bindings which would mean trimming the seam allowances back a bit to allow for the additional 1cm wide strips to sit comfortably.

Looking at the back I can see that  I would need to lower the armscyce next time. It’s comfortable and all but the knock on effect of taking out the ease on the shoulder has raised the underarm. Not a biggie though. That leopard over my shoulder is a dammed fine distraction!

As you might imagine, the thing that took the longest with this dress was consideration of placement. Both back and front are good. Like stupendously good! There was no pattern matching necessary. It was just plain choice. Well, and the want to not decapitate the chap on the front! I decided I didn’t like the idea of someone on my back but I did like the possibility of the back side being prettier than the front. So that’s the way the cookie crumbled.

We had such fun taking these shots yesterday. Dan had recently been on a walk shooting birds along the Grand Union canal and suggested it might throw up some lovely backgrounds for the shoot. He wasn’t wrong and I was very humbled by all the wonderful comments from passing strangers, about my dress. It’s so effortless to wear. Though not quite the weather to wear without tights yet. No-one needs to be blinded by the intensity of my pale pins so soon into the year! In any case. It’s very short. I’m sure the world isn’t ready for my pants either!

More is more, when it comes to tights!

We walked to Westbourne Park, with a cheeky peek at some market stalls in Portobello along the way. Couldn’t resist this odd fabric from a vintage stall. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what this is?!

If you can bear to watch this space for another year or so, who knows what kind of crazy dress this will turn into!

And there we started our walk, all the way to Paddington basin where we sat for a lovely lunch and a cheeky beer or two in a beautiful Victorian pub. 

A bus ride back through the remnants of a demonstration in Hyde Park was quite exciting. A few more beers and a takeaway to round off a fabulous day of doing what we both love. Bring on the sunshine – we want more London days like this!

So a gazillion thanks to Daniel James Photographic and not forgetting Dibs who blogs at Dibs and the Machine , sells incredible designer fabric at Selvedge and Bolts and who was instrumental in making me buy this fabric in the first place!

Shift in the right direction!

ooobop self-drafted shift dress

I’m so happy right now. Doesn’t take much – just a shed load of sunshine, some quality time with the fam and success at last with the fit of my shift dress.

In case you’ve missed any part of me whittling on about this process, my mission has been to achieve the best fit I can using my own dress pattern with minimal seam lines – ie a darted dress with both front and back pieces cut on the fold – so as not to disturb the print of a very boldly designed fabric that I have in mind to sew next!

self-drafted shift dress in a vintage batik fabric

The fabric I used here was the best test so far because it too required careful pattern placement. You can see the first version I made here and I just realised I didn’t even get round to blogging the second so here is an actual shot, instead!

Self-drafted dogtooth shift dress

I was gifted the gorgeous batik fabric a few years back, by a lovely friend who had inherited it from her parents. When she saw it featured in my instagram post she was so happy to see it again and so pleased that it was being put to good use. I kinda felt duty bound as I remember her telling me that her parents used to travel for to Thailand and Indonesia  quite a lot in the 60s and 70s for work and that they always returned with gorgeous authentic fabrics. Proper sentimental value and vintage, too!

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

This piece in particular is undoubtedly a hand-blocked batik. Though this is based purely on my own research and I could be wrong so please correct me if you think different.

It wasn’t very wide but I knew it would be perfect for the third trial of my shift dress, knowing I was very nearly there with the fit. I wouldn’t have risked it otherwise!

It’s such a fine quality cotton. Actually feels so natural against my skin, which is an odd thing to say but I have worn cotton before that doesn’t feel nearly as good. And it completely stood up to a stroll in 24° of Shepherds Bush sunshine today.

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

I was intrigued by the selvedge of this fabric. Why would it have just one edge of border decoration? I put out to the wonderful, ever obliging sewing community on Instagram and the very clever Meg from @cookinandcraftin suggested it was very likely to be used for a hemline and a centre front detail for a sarong when wrapped. I loved knowing this and was determined not to waste this detail so I set about cutting my pieces on the cross grain in order to make the best use of the design.

ooobop_self-drafted shift dress in batik

But I hit a snag and realised just in time that the cross grain had absolutely no give at all, and considering the style and fit, it could have been a disastrous move. So I cut on the long grain, as I have trialled twice before (if it ain’t broke and all that) and cut the border separately to seam along the hemline with a generous seam allowance which is overlocked and pressed down on the wrong side. It actually helps to add a bit of weight to the bottom of the dress too.

ooobop shift dress and shades

I made a few other tweaks to the pattern since version 2:

  1. I widened the shoulder straps by 1cm having struggled to pull the dress through the facing during construction, as per the ‘burrito-method’! The fabric I am going to use for the next one is much thicker and I don’t want to risk damaging it or pulling out any stitches in the process.
  2. There was still an element of pooling at the back (swayback issues as usual). And even though I added a quarter of an inch more at the hips since last time – with some improvement – it didn’t seem to solve the issue as much as I’d like.
  3. Then, just this morning, I saw that Cortney from @s.is.for.sew on Insta detailed how she lengthened her back darts to resolve a similar issue. So I moved the bottom point of the diamond dart down 2.25″ and continued the widest part down longer before tapering off. It worked a bloody treat!

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

ooobop batik shift dress

And so I do believe I’m ready to cut into that prize D&G fabric that I got from The Stitch Festival 2020 – only dilemma now being, how the hell do I choose my favourite placement of the design? I anticipate this being the longest part of the process!

Dolce and Gabbana fabric at M Rosenberg's stall
Dolce and Gabbana fabric at M Rosenberg’s stall

Thank you as always to Daniel for these amazing shots down the alley of the Laundry Yard in Shepherds Bush, London. For anyone who knows, you’ll know what a brave move this was!

Self-drafted Batik shift dress by ooobop