I cut this dress out about seven months ago. WHOOPS. It’s McCalls 6696, and just about everyone has made one.
I know it was that long because I remember cutting it out in my last house, and that it was after S and G had moved in because I didn’t have a dedicated sewing room anymore. The cutting process was therefore fraught because I couldn’t use the kitchen floor as I had used to do for large patterns (too much through-traffic) and had to use the floor of what used to be the craft room but was then a combined study/craft effort. And it was hard. And the light was not so good in that house and this fabric is both floaty and black, so there are a few things a bit off grain, which made me cranky when I realised but turned out ok. I also know because I commented on Mary’s post about the autumn/spring of shirtdresses about how I had the pattern cut up and was going to sew it up soon, intending it for that sewalong. Whoops, again. I know I didn’t start it much earlier than that because I bought the fabric after seeing Mary’s first one and falling in love. I HAD TO HAVE a voile 6696.
The fabric is black voile from Lincraft, and I got it at one of their half price sales. It’s actually very nice. They only had black, white and an insipid lavender. I considered getting white and dying it because what I really wanted was a teal dress but decided to try the black first and I could always go back. Can’t go too wrong with black (unless you have to sew it mostly in the evenings in autumn, which I did…). I bought 3.5 metres for a total of $18.87. I used pretty much all of it. The buttons are Lincraft as well, I don’t recall how much, they’re the basic cheap line but I did have to buy two packets because there are 11 buttons on this.
So it took me about 7 months to get this sewn up. In my defence, it was quite hard in that house to find the sewing time, because I had to kick other people out of the room and there wasn’t anywhere much for them to go since the house was so small, so I felt bad doing that for long periods of time. And I wanted to sew this right, so that meant it took time. I did sew a muslin. I was looking for photos of that and I can’t find any but I CAN find, a week after Mary’s post, photos of the house we now live in. So I guess that was the week we bought it! Well no wonder I didn’t sew this dress up, then.
As I was saying, I sewed a muslin. I definitely took notes but who knows where they are now. I remember cutting a size 16 or maybe 18, based on finished garment measurements, and finding it too small. I think my reasoning was, although the pattern has cup sizes, I am still larger than a D. So I would still need an FBA. And then from memory, I found the fit of the size 16/18 D cup close enough except too small at the side seams. So I cut out a size straight size 20D, with the vertical bust dart extended 1”. I see Mary did exactly the same thing, I think we have a very similar torso. I did the bust darts at the old house, tacked them properly and everything, and stay stitched things it said to. Which did NOT include the neckline, and I think it should. It does tell you to stay stitch, but not until you’ve assembled the whole dress, just before you attach the collar, by which point there’s been plenty of opportunity to stretch it. I will stay stitch it after cutting, next time.
I was always intending to get back to this and I’ve been slowly picking up sewing steam so I am sure I would have gotten to it soon – except that I still have some craft camp projects I would like to finish so I can blog last camp’s projects before the next one! But this dress got bumped up the queue for a nerdy reason. This’ll get a bit convoluted.
I’ve been a fan of the comedian Paul F Tompkins for a long time. Comedy is my favourite entertainment, podcasts are my main consumption of media, and PFT is my favourite podcaster and second favourite comedian (Sandra Bullock is my first favourite, make of that what you will). PFT is guaranteed to make me laugh, or more accurately, gasp ‘what? What is happening??’ through laughter, which obviously is even better. He also dresses VERY nicely. My cousin M is also a fan, and she’s a big fan of the Thrilling Adventure Hour, which is a podcasted live show in the style of old time radio. Specifically, we’re fans of Beyond Belief fan (in fact that she maintains the BB part of the Thrilling Adventure Hour wiki). The Thrilling Adventure Hour is coming up on its last shows, two of which will be in Sydney next weekend. We’re going, naturally.
One year ago, PFT posted this. It’s a recreation of a jacket from Jaws, apparently – I’ve not seen the movie and tbh most of the things I know about Jaws are from hearing PFT talk about it on podcasts, which he seems unable to prevent himself from doing.. M sent the photo post to me saying I should have that outfit, since I 1) always like PFTs outfits 2) like things with anchors on (I like nautical stuff but not like full on sailor suits so anchors on not-blue fabric is PERF). I wondered if I could find the fabric. She found it. It’s Sarah Jane for Michael Miller, the out to sea line which I should have spotted right away (sewing nerd fail). I bought some. And I spent a year wondering what the right outfit would be to recreate the feel of a three piece suit in a form that I would actually wear.
If you’re guessing I decided on M6696, you’d be right.
So for ages I thought I’d just sew it up when I finished the black dress. And then when we booked the tickets for TAH in Sydney I thought I’d sew it up to wear there. And then three weeks ago I thought ‘oh shit, that’s soon!’ and pulled out the black dress to work on as a wearable muslin before starting the anchor dress.
This meant the progress was a little bit rushed. Unfortunately there was a bit less ‘doing it right’ on this than I had initially intended. On the OTHER hand, it’s actually a finished sewn object, so, swings and roundabouts.
The actual sewing process was pretty straightforward. I did most of it over a day a couple of weekends ago. I did some changes, and I gotta say it was a good thing I’ve sewn a shirt before because these instructions were CONFUSING. I sandwiched the top yoke, and I also sandwiched the bottom of the bodice in the waistband. Then I French seamed the skirt onto the waistband. I French seamed everything else too, because the fabric is light and a bit seethrough, and mildly ravelly – no problems with it while sewing, or even unpicking, but it will definitely unravel in the wash. I also did the collar like Andrea’s tutorial. Basically I did the construction like the Kwik Sew shirt I made.
The hem is folded over 1cm and then folded up 4cm and top stitched. I’m wondering about taking it up a bit further in future makes, but I haven’t decided yet if I like the length or not. It’s a bit longer than I usually would make my skirts but I might be into it? It is pretty crinkly in this fabric, I did iron it before wearing but in future I’ll spend more time steaming the hem in particular because it’s pretty creased still. And the collar is sitting funny – it was fine before but I think I steamed it at a wrong angle. I’ll have to pay attention to that. In general, though, I like to wear natural fabrics and that means some creasing. If Queen Vic herself can’t beat creasing I don’t see why I should try.
I also had initially planned no pockets, because I was planning French seams and didn’t want to deal with that ish. Then when I pulled it out again I decided no, definitely, pockets are necessary. So I sort of worked that out myself and they don’t really sit quite right. It looks fine when worn, but if you look at the pocket you can see it wants to cave in on itself before the seam. I’ve done some googling and found a better method (that is to say, any method at all), and I could probably go back and fix it but I’m worried I’d make it worse and the fixes would be visible – this happened a few other places where the voile made fixing things hard. Nowhere very visible but the pockets would be, so they’ll stay that way for now, but hopefully next time I want to sew pockets into French seams I’ll feel better equipped.
Then I ran into some troubles. For one, the button band turned out to be too small somehow. I’d cut it too long initially, and then when I trimmed it I guess I trimmed it too short. So it technically fit the dress but without room to turn over, when it catches the hem, which is how I didn’t notice it until it was sewed on – it looked like it fit. So I extended the button band which will be at the back, since that was even shorter, somehow (??) and then I just sort of… fudged it. I ended up having to fold the hem up a little bit under it on one side, so the hem is a bit wonky. Whoops.
I also mucked up the button band width. I didn’t fold it over totally uniformly – I suspect it was cut a bit wonky (should have used my rotary cutter for the shifty, light fabric), and then I just folded the edges in half instead of actually making sure it was straight. So it gets a bit wider, right at chest height, just where you would ideally want a flaw like that, right? To make matters worse, when I folded it over and top stitched it (instead of catch stitching. Who has time, right? Turns out it probably would have been quicker…) I missed a bit. It caught ok (because I top stitched twice, after missing the first time. So much for being careful!) but the edge had folded out instead of under, so the raw edge was sticking out. At this point I was a bit frustrated about other fit issues which I haven’t covered yet, so I just trimmed it off and called it a day. Except that where I trimmed it at the bust, turns out I also trimmed the seam allowance of the bodice. And so it only had like a 1mm seam allowance. So it ripped. ARGH! I ironed on some black interfacing and zigzagged it down the seam line and S, who is picky about these things and has good eyesight, says you can’t see it. It’s black, I believe him. I was going to take a picture of it for full disclosure but despite fussing over how it looked before taking photos, I totally forgot about it. So I guess it’s fine!
The button bands are also a bit flimsy in general. The voile itself is light, obviously, and I initially interfaced it with a medium weight interfacing, which is white. When I went to sew it up I noticed I’d forgotten to interface one button band, and decided I’d use black interfacing on the outer button band, to prevent it showing through white at the buttonholes. It does peep through at the collar so I think this was a good choice, but the only black interfacing I could find is a bit light. So the band is a bit softer than I think is ideal. But the other areas are appropriately interfaced. Still deciding if I should use the same weight for the anchor dress, which will be quilting cotton and therefore heavier. And the waistband does drag a bit, I think through a combination of the back waist being too low, and just being a lightweight fabric.
Ok now to the fitting woes which had me frustrated and sewing sloppily.
It’s impossible to try this on until the button bands are on, because of the construction order. Well you could just before you sewed the bands, I suppose, but then you’re not quite sure how much extra to allow for. It was looking pretty good as I went so I put the bands on. Then when I tried it on, the waistband was tight. It was juuuust ok standing, although tighter than I think a dress I’ll need to wear with a slip should be. But when I sat down it was no go. Button popping awaited!
I measured where it was when I was comfortable and decided I’d add 2.5” to the waistband. Then I last minute decided I’d just cut a size 24 waistband, which is 4” bigger, because I somehow became convinced I’d need the extra room. I guess once again, I have no idea how big my waist is. I had juuuust enough fabric to recut the outer waistband, slightly off grain. I pieced the inner. I had to unpick the waistband from the buttonband, the bodice, and the skirt, because of the way I’d sandwiched it all together. I was still doing things properly, you see! I should know better. I just eased out the back skirt pleats to account for the extra room, which was pretty easy except for right at the centre back, where one of the bigger pleats grew about .75” longer than the other. It wasn’t very noticeable at that point, in fact I didn’t notice it! Not until later. As for the bodice, it has so much room in the gathers that I just basically let the gathers out to almost nothing. I had been worried about how poufy the back was (a common complaint with this pattern) and I thought, I would make it up buttons and all and see how it sat. If it was still poufy after ironing I could maybe pleat them instead.
When I tried it on it sat ok but I couldn’t be sure without buttons etc. I was worried that there was too much room in the top bodice (no photo of this – too hard to hold it together and photograph without flashing you) and maybe I needed to bring the shoulders up, or maybe I needed a small FBA or maybe a hollow chest adjustment… I decided I’d do the buttons, because the button band wouldn’t change, and I’d see how it sat once it was actually buttoned up.
So I did that, BLESS my new sewing machine (who I have yet to introduce to the blog) and her delightful automatic buttonholes. Eleven neat buttonholes, and one quite pleasant evening of sewing later (I quite like hand sewing, although I was sick of it by the tenth button), I had a complete-but-flawed dress!
I tried it on, and the bodice sat PERFECTLY. Just perfect. All the fit flaws totally disappeared. Funny how different a buttoned dress is to holding it closed, huh? (duh). I was so thrilled, this fit me basically out of the packet, once I got the size selection right! The shoulders are in the right place and everything (although I suspect the armhole of being too low). But. The waistband was now clearly too big. LE SIGH. 2” too big, to be precise. Should have gone with my first instinct. And the back was poufy. The too long waistband was also making the back hang really low and weird. I did try to take some photos of this but it was night and just too dark. But basically it was a sack at the back.
I couldn’t face unpicking the waistband and buttonband again and I was also worried that the fabric would fray too much. So I hacked it. I pleated the waistband in the middle, and hand-sewed it shut. TADA! This created a little pleat in the back bodice and another skirt pleat. It’s just slightly off centre because of one of the back pleats being longer than the other – once I did the centre pleat, it became really obvious. So I just folded it until it looked right.
At the same time I also catch stitched the hem to sit a bit neater (but still curved up, curses) at the centre front, and catch stitched the collar where the turn and top stitch hadn’t quite caught it, despite all my pinning. Next time I think I’ll just catch stitch, since it appears I’m going to have to anyways. I don’t know why I can’t manage to turn and stitch like that, but I can’t.
Next time, I will cut a size 22 waistband and back skirt. And I will take a wedge out of the bottom of the back bodice, for a swayback adjustment. I will pleat the back bodice instead of gathering – maybe a nice neat box pleat. I might take 1” of width out, tapering up to nothing at the top, but tbh, I do need almost all the extra width at the back – just not at my swayback. I don’t know that there’s a neat compromise there. I’m debating fussing with the armhole, because I suspect it will be more pronounced in a thicker fabric, but I’m not sure I feel like futzing with a sleeve/armscye adjustment. I guess I could raise it a half a centimetre or so without too much ripple effect. Famous last words? And with the thicker fabric I think I’ll take some ease from the sleevecap. I love the little gathers and puffs here, but not in a thicker fabric and I think probably it’s not really my style, in general.
I also think it does need an FBA, looking at these photos. There’s strain at the bust and underarms, so I think a small FBA, shifting the horizontal dart an inch to the side, and raising the armscyes by a half an inch would solve that. That said, all these things are cosmetic, it feels VERY comfortable to wear. I hope that stays true in a heavier fabric because I’ve already cut out the next one so it’s too late for those adjustments! But there WILL be a next time.
So. A very imperfect dress. But I love it. Every time I’ve put it on I’ve picked it up feeling disheartened about the flaws, but when it’s on I fall in love again. I think it just looks so good – and it’s exactly 100% how I want to look all the time. It’s totally in my style wheelhouse. Another black dress, totally boring, but I feel like a million dollars in it. And despite the flaws and corners cut I feel very proud of how I persevered on this and got it done.
Unfortunately it’s also a light, floaty, see through dress, and it’s FREEZING here right now. I’m going to have to make a slip for it, I’m considering also making a version of M6559 in a fleece-backed merino knit I got from The Fabric Store when I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago – I meant to buy one length of fleecey and one not, but mixed up and got 6 metres fleecey instead! That may have been a blessing in disguise, because if I make a ‘slip’ out of it, I could wear this dress in winter and be WARM! Although I am wearing only a black bra under it in these photos and I think it’s fine. I’d still probably wear a cami for work but I don’t feel immodest at all. I always wear bike shorts anyway so my lower half is properly warm and modest.
Oh, also, it’s already covered with cat hair. Sigh. But I LOVE IT ANYWAY!