The Serena Maxi dress from the current Simple Sew patterns collection is exactly what I've been looking for since last summer. We had a bit of sun this weekend so was seriously hyped up to get this thing made!! The pattern features a shirred back (oooh!), a lined bodice (ahh!), spaghetti straps and a gathered skirt. I made a few changed to the pattern which I'll discuss as we go along.
This stunning geometric crepe was a lucky find in Direct Fabric Warehouse in Chesterfield last summer before it closed down. It had summer dress written all over it! It's been sat in my stash waiting for it's moment to shine since July. It was when I saw Emma at Crafty Clyde's Serena Maxi Dress that I knew this Simple Sew pattern could be the one.
I cut a size 8 from the pattern. With the shirred back in mind, I thought making the dress a little smaller rather than a little bigger would be the way to go. As the bodice is lined I wanted to be as accurate fit-wise as possible so that if I had to make any adjustments I wouldn't have to unpick the lining (more on that later....). So to start I made a toile of the bodice. This consists of a front, two side back panels, a shirred back panel and straps. For the proper thing, you will need to cut two sets of back panels and two fronts so that you can whip together your lining.
I shirred half the back panel just to test the fit. A few handy tips for shirring:
-Handwind your bobbin with shirring elastic. You should be able to find shirring elastic in all haberdasheries.
-Set your stitch length a little longer than you usually would. Somewhere between 3 and 4 should be fine.
-Sounds daft, but make sure your elastic is on the wrong side of your fabric when you start sewing so it's not seen!
-Leave long tails at the end of each row. I find this helps so that when you stretch your fabric out when you're done your elastic won't ping!
-Also to avoid any pinging at the end, I like to stretch the fabric out a little, both behind and infront of where I'm stitching. This seems to keep the tension of everything in place and creates nice even lines.
-While we're on the subject, make sure your rows are evenly spaced. I like to use the width of the foot to make sure each row is equidistant from the last.
I find shirring SO satisfying! Though also a little frustrating when your just want to get to the end and have a perfectly shirred back. Then you're bobbin runs out! Agh!! Also what's great about shirring is its elasticity means you can get away without adding any sort of fastening or opening! Yay!
The bodice was a good fit but needed a few changes.
Firstly the straps were too long for where I wanted to wear it. I wanted the back to sit just where my bra comes to, so I made sure I marked on the straps the perfect length to keep the back where it needed to be.
I found the neckline gaped a little, as did the underarms, so I pinched out excess fabric and pinned it to fit. I took the toile off (SO many pin scratches on my back this weekend!),and then penciled in the adjustment lines. I took about 1 cm out of the centre front that I tapered down to the waistline and about 1.5-2cm out of the front bodice at the side seams (leaving the side back panel the same size).
My shirred panel seemed a little loose, though it was hard to tell with it being calico and having only shirred half of it. I decided to take out 5cm on the fold, as I could easily pinch that much out and I really didn't want the back to sag.
Lastly I drew these changes on to the paper pattern and cut it to the new size.
NB, please note that theses fitting issues were not faults in the pattern. Every body is proportioned differently so inevitably some pattern changes need to be made, especially with a bodice that is meant to be so fitted.
Whenever I make something, there are two changes I alway seem to make... TIGHTER and SHORTER. I'm not sure what this says about me!? But it's certainly a recurring theme. As lovely as the pattern looks, I wasn't going to kid myself that I would wear a maxi-dress. One day I'm sure I'll be all over it, but until then, it's minis for me. The pattern features these sexy slits for peeping you knees out of on a lovely summer day, but as a mini, I needed to omit these otherwise it was going to look a bit weird.
Really, I just ended up drafting a new skirt, but don't let that sound daunting. It really wasn't! Also if you like your skirts long and your knees peeping then it's all good, you should go for it! Instead, I measured the front panels of the paper skirt pattern (74cm), minused 3 for seam allowance of the slits I was omitting, then drew a rectangle with this as the width, tapering the sides out a little (but not too much). I made it the length I was looking for, plus a bit, as I ALWAYS overestimate how much I want to cut off! The skirt is gathered into the waistline, hence why it is so much bigger than the actual waist of the bodice (I toyed with the idea of pleating instead of gathering but when it came to assembling, the drape of the fabric looked so lovely when it was gathered, there was no question).
For the back, I measured the actual back diameter of my toile and used the same pattern piece, only making sure the width was the same as the bodice back. I didn't want to add further gathers into the dress where it would be all rouched up by the shirring anyway.
I didn't bother to toile the skirt (don't have all day and running out of calico!), so next thing I cut out my fabric! Deep breath!!!!!
The design of the fabric is very linear, with rows and diamonds and crosses. I knew this was going to involve some pattern matching! Pattern matching has a special place in my heart, it drives me crazy but I love the challenge (remind you of something?), so I'm always up for having a go. Especially when I know the results will be beautiful (!). Before cutting out I made a little list of all areas I wanted to match.
Firstly and most importantly the bodice HAD to be symmetrical. I picked out the part of the fabric design I wanted to run down the centre front and then cut this out singularly, flipping the pattern piece over after having cut half to make sure the design was super duper symmetrical.
I wanted to match the side back panels to the bodice front. They are cut at a bit of an angle so I knew only part of the design would match up, but again these two panels needed to be cut from the exact same part of the fabric design.
I noted down I wanted the side seams to match up, but sadly I did not have enough fabric to make it work. It was a squeeze to cut the skirt pieces out so just had to take them how they came. I DID however make sure that I cut the front skirt so that the centre front of my bodice would match nicely with the little diamond at the top of the skirt! Yay!
The only difference in construction between making the toile and making the real thing, was the real thing involved adding a lining to the bodice. This piece was cut exactly the same as the shell, with darts and back panels added on, then stitched to the shell with a 1cm seam allowance before turning wrongside to wrongside.
So I stitched up my bodice, confident that my toile alterations would result in perfect fit. Well. I threw a paddy Saturday night when they didn't!!! There was still a noticeable gape at the underarms! I put it down to the difference in toile fabric to garment fabric. So I left it for the evening and had a little think. The answer I came up with to begin with was making the underarm seam allowance larger and therefore removing the fabric that was gaping. This made the situation A LOT better, but still not as good as it could be. My solution was to add some tiny darts at the underarms to take in the left over fabric. As both sides of the dress are so symmetrical it was easy to replicate what I did on one side to the other, making sure the dart point stopped at the same point on the design! Coolio. It made all the difference. I then pressed the dart up and topstitched it.
I whizzed up the side seams of the skirt, then added some gathering stitches to the front only. I pulled these until the fabric of the front skirt fit the width of the front bodice. I pinned then stitched. I then pinned in my back skirt to the back dress, pulling out the shirred fabric as I went so that the widths matched up. I stitched this in and admired my handiwork! Just one little alteration to make and that was to unpick and match my centre front diamonds up perfectly! Well worth it!
I'd left attaching the straps to the back of the dress until last. If you follow the instructions there's a proper opportunity to get them sewn into the back so the ends are hidden in the lining somewhere. This is great but I just knew if I did that I would want to change the length. So instead I waited until this point and stitched them down to the back of the dress where the panels meet the shirring. The more observant of you will spot the symmetry of the design on the straps too!
Predictably I cut another load off the bottom, predictably I almost had a hear attack when I thought I'd made it too short.... Every time!!! Did a real narrow hem though and Phew! the length is fine!!
I'm so proud of my Serena Summer Dress! My Mini Maxi! Thanks Simple Sew for another lovely pattern! Now just bring out the sun...
Location: Beauchief Abbey
Currently listening to: Numb Hand, True Widow