Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Dresses

So, with Easter coming up quick and my cruise coming up the week before, I thought that I had better get my girls dresses done before the cruise. I am hoping that I will have enough time before the cruise to do some sewing for me and maybe time before Easter when I get back to make an Easter dress for me!

Now that I have taken the Moulage class from Kenneth King, (thanks for setting that up!) I have a lot more desire to sew for myself. I have been working on the slopers from different pattern companies to help make self fitting go faster, but that is another post for another time....

Meanwhile, back in the sewing room....

For my 10yo, I decided to pull a pattern out of my stash, Larken from Maja's Heirlooms. She wanted a dress that could be worn with a jacket and I thought that this dress, with Blair, also from Maja's Heirlooms, would fit the bill nicely. So, I ran to JoAnn's, the only fabric store close to me, and picked some coordinating quilting cottons. That would become mistake number 1. Normally, I would choose batiste or lawn for something like this, but since I knew that I wouldn't have time to hand smock the dress and it wouldn't work with machine smocking, I didn't worry about the fabric being thin enough to go through the pleater.

So, a quick description of Larken from - "Larkin is a slight A-line dress with a bishop style neck on the front and sleeves. Short sleeves are finished with elastic and long sleeves are smocked at the wrist leaving a ruffle. The dress closes in the back with buttons."

I chose the short sleeve option, finishing the neckline and sleeves with elastic, and according to measurements, size 10.

I must note that the quality of paper that the pattern is printed on is nice and the instructions come in booklet form. That said, I traced out the pattern and cut it out on my pre-washed fabric. The dress went together very nicely and quickly. But, it must be noted that the instructions are sadly lacking. Fortunately, I have been sewing enough that I do not need the instructions, but I do tend to read them, usually not until I have finished the patter, just so that I can rate them. This pattern, I would normally rate as good for beginners, but the instructions are so vague that I get the impression that they assume you know what you are doing. Also, I found the instructions for the back facing particularly poor and if followed, would not give a good result.

Once the dress was together and all I had left to do was put in the buttons, button holes and embellishments (this pattern just screams for embellishment!), my daughter wanted to try it on. So....

Even pinning it on her for the photos, it is too tight across the waistline.

The sleeves are huge! The fabric that I chose does not work for this pattern! It is too stiff by far to look nice! Maybe they would have laid down a bit if I had smocked them, but since I didn't... There is no way they would fit into the sleeves of a jacket. Also, it is noted that the dress does not fit! It is a tad too tight and shorter that my daughter would like. So, I would recommend going a size larger than the measurements suggest on this pattern. I do not plan to finish this dress for a while and if I do, I will give it to someone with a smaller child.

In conclusion, I do plan to try this pattern again, using a thinner fabric because I do think it is a fabulous design and the pattern does come in a large size range- 10-16 in one envelope. I will also, at a later date, post instructions for the back facing on how I think it should be done.

With that dress scrapped, we had to work fast! My older daughter had picked some fabulous charmeuse from and it was on it's way for her dress. I grabbed my JoAnn flyer and found that Butterick patterns had gone on sale that day, so we searched online and my 10yo picked a pattern and told me what color she wanted. I had the pattern, the fabric serged, washed and all the notions lined up before she got home from school! Yeah me! (For the fabric, I chose a cute seersucker and lined it with broadcloth, they had the same fiber content, so I thought they would work well together.)

She chose- Butterick 4385

We chose view D, size 12. I must say right now that usually patterns require way more fabric than what is actually needed. This is not the case with this pattern, lay and cut carefully to have enough. Also, the fabric requirement for the contrast band is not on the back of the pattern and you must have this fabric, even if you decide not to make the band from contrasting fabric as the requirement on the back is not enough to cut this piece. The requirement is listed on the instruction sheet and is an additional 7/8 yd for size 12. I did not notice this in my rush to get through the store and it required an additional trip the next day.

I did the jacket first. It went together perfectly in just about an hour. I did the short sleeve version and I really like how cute it is. One complaint about the instructions is that they have you construct the fashion fabric and then sew the lining fabric front and back together, sew the lining to the fashion fabric around the edge and then SLIP STITCH the lining sleeve head in place. Well, bag that! Literally!

Here is what I did-

- Sew shoulders together on both fashion and lining.
- Sew the sleeves in flat.
- Sew fashion and lining fabric, right sides together around the outside edges.
- Sew the sleeves together at the hem.
- Turn right side out through the side seam.
- Sew fashion fabric side seams together, going as far into the lining as you can.
- Press everything and slip stitch the rest of the side seam lining together.

Why hand sew more than you need to? I know this is about as clear as mud. I am getting a camera to keep by my machine for better documenting. If you don't understand a step, let me know and I will try to make it clearer.

For the dress- It also went together really fast! My one big complaint with the pattern is that it is drafted for someone with a B cup. My 10yo does not have a B cup. I checked and the size 7 isn't much better. So, be prepared to take out some of the shaping.

I constructed the fashion fabric, basting the contrast band and pinned the shoulder straps on for the first fitting. At that point, it was really easy to make changes. In addition to taking out the B cup shaping, tightened the shoulder straps quite a bit (she doesn't like anything too low cut), this caused the contrast band to go up into her arm pits, but it is cut on the bias. So, it was easy to lower it under the arms and then lower the back by 1". (I used the contrast band as the top of the dress rather than folding it over as the pattern indicates. With the bias shaping, I can get away with it.) I also took in the side seams about 1/2" and the back about 3/8". It seems I took in a lot, but I am glad we chose the size 12 because around the tummy area was perfect and the length was perfect.

From there, it was easy to make the same changes to the lining before sewing it in. I also did add the little netting underskirt. It gives a lot of fullness to the skirt and if I make this pattern again, I think I would leave it off. It seems almost too full for the skirt.

After seeing this photo, I checked, and the fold in the bodice is because of how she is standing with one hip cocked out. She is such a ham!

(After seeing this photo, I think I may add another hook. The zipper should have been longer, but I bought the size the pattern called for and even lowered the back some. Can you imagine if I hadn't? I could have raised the zipper, but was in a hurry and didn't.)

On reading the instructions, I noticed that in the drawings, they ignore the fact that there is a contrast band and it looks like they are showing you to sew the lining to the top of the band as opposed to the bottom. This might confuse some beginners, but remember that the fashion fabric and lining are cut from the same pattern pieces and are therefore sewn in the same way. They also don't show the band in the drawings for the finish work. In skimming the instructions, I felt like they were taken from another pattern and just pasted there.

All that said, I do recommend this pattern with the caution to beginners to be aware of the mentioned errors. This pattern is really cute and goes together really fast and I also recommend it for those that are just getting into doing pattern alterations as some will be required for this to fit a child, but they are really easy to do. Just pin out the fullness on the bust line, before sewing in the lining and just make the same changes to the lining and you will do fine.

BTW- Proud momma note: My 10yo is part of the Honor's Choir for her school. After the concert the other night, a tribute to Elvis, the director handed out awards. Out of 50 students, my daughter was named Outstanding Performer of the Year!


  1. Just wanted to let you know that we like your version of B4385 so much we posted a link to your blog from our Butterick Patterns Facebook page. It's a very thoughtful review. Thank you.

  2. I just noticed this comment. Thank you!! It was a pleasure to sew!

  3. I am making this dress and could use some help. I have questions about making the chest more flat and how to get the zipper in. I can't find how to contact you. Could you help me?