Stepping out of the comfort-dressing zone
Apologies for the blog silence over the last month – if you’re reading this then you’ll probably have spotted the reason why. We’ve been busy overhauling the ClothSpot website – with little time left for sewing, wardrobe planning or even writing about it.
It’s the perfect example of how a style crisis can creep up on you – life just takes over. The challenge some mornings is to find a clean pair of pants and a bra that doesn’t have the underwire poking out – achieve that and frankly, everything else falls by the wayside. Over the last month or so I’m afraid I’ve been living in the familiar old jeans and T-shirts again and – oh dear…
We’re now well into autumn – those lovely glowing leaves are finally drifting to the ground and getting soggy in this morning’s heavy rain. The heating’s been on for a while and we’re all layering up. These days I don’t step outside without a scarf and gloves – and the scarf usually stays on for the rest of the day.
Despite all that backsliding and comfort-dressing, I’m completely inspired by the fabrics that have come through the ClothSpot workshop this season. Aside from the luscious coatings and classic suitings, I’m particularly taken with our lighter-weight wool twill fabrics as well as some of our crepes, too.
Those wool twills – of which we found a supply in a range of colours (two for starters, although we’re going to indulge in more, I’m sure) are perfect for a little simple autumn-winter elegance. They’re 100% wool and have rippled in from Italy. Originally intended for a high-end UK-based designer (we’re not being deliberately mysterious – we’re just not allowed to say) we’ve managed to pick up some bolts that were surplus to requirements. They’re certainly not surplus to ours – and amidst all the digital distraction of the last month or two, I’ve finally managed to have a play – determined to cast off the oversized knitwear indoors at least.
A simple wool dress – the pattern hunt
Whether I call it a shift, a tunic or just a wool dress – I crave the simplicity of putting one garment over my head that would dress me for the day – plus tights, shoes etc. No co-ordination required – just a straight-forward garment that ideally would be as uncomplicated to make as it would be to wear. A little bit of elegance wouldn’t go amiss; nothing too tight but not a tent either. I don’t want anything too fitted as is to be a work garment and I can’t drape a mannequin, heave around rolls of fabric or sit comfortably in a fitted bodice. Sleeves are an essential – as is a pattern that can land above the knee as I find anything floating around below there just too impractical. I fancy a bit of a collar – or at least not a plain round neck – and a design that perhaps has a little bit of interest to it.
The reality, inevitably, doesn’t match up. A week on from my initial idea, having trawled through every pattern book and website I could find, I begin to feel a bit like Goldilocks. I remember the same problem a couple of years ago hunting for a cardigan. On that occasion I sought a cosy affair with a collar, long sleeves, pockets and fastenings. Like my dress pattern hunt, the Holy Grail, apparently.
Most of the designs that I like the look of are meant for knit fabrics – and I really am set on our lovely wool twill. Of those meant for woven fabrics – well…this is what makes it to my shortlist.
Not sure about that waist seam cutting me across the middle.
If I was looking for a shift dress, then this might have been the one – but no collar and perhaps a bit plain without a handy white swan to perk things up?
Pleats into a dropped waist? Well, hello again 1982 – but not with my hips in 2017.
Would it be too much to ask for a dress with a back as well as a front? This might be appealing to my inner librarian but it’s November for heaven’s sake.
OK – let’s give this one a go. It has a raised collar band, some buttons and some shape.
As our wonderful technical partners have discovered over the last month or so, I do have the capacity to morph into Little Miss Picky on occasion. I decide that ‘good enough’ will have to do in this instance and I get on with it.
The tricky bit
It starts so well. Based on the BurdaStyle measurements the pattern is true to size. The front is pleated from the shoulder so isn’t particularly fitted, but the upper back width is usually the critical point for me and this fits nicely. As it happens this dress is lined – I’d been easy either way, but the lining in this pattern is an integral part of the structure of the dress given that it has front facings and a collar stand. I opt for our ‘Simply-draping black crepe-de-chine fabric
as the lining as I’m aiming for maximum drape without any stiffness. The lining isn’t an issue until it comes to those pleats into the collar stand.
Oh me, oh my.
I am a great advocate of tailor tacks when I mark up a pattern and I’m certain I marked those pleat lines so accurately. However achieving a satisfactory and balanced drape with the pleats from the neckline is a bit of a tussle. Without a mannequin it would have been impossible to ensure the pleats fell from the neckline as opposed to looking and feeling as if I was wearing a scarf. With the lining too, there’s quite a lot of fabric to fit into the attachment point and it’s testament to the resilience and pliability of the wool twill that it survives at least four attempts (more on one side) to achieve a good line.
I’m still not convinced I have it 100% right but I’m also aware of the danger of revising this single element to destruction. I re-invoke the ‘good enough’ clause and move on.
The confusing bit
All goes according to plan until I come to a grinding halt on the front fastening. I’ve mentioned before the zen-like state one has to enter in order to make sense of BurdaStyle’s instructions. As far as I can make out, the front opening of my simple wool dress is fastened at the top with three visible buttons. Below, there are three concealed buttons which fit into buttonholes worked into the front facing of the right-hand side of the dress.
As I reach the front buttonhole stage I realise that the last of those three buttonholes is in the same position as the top one of the three buttonholes in the facing. I go back to the pattern and, sure enough – there are only five buttonholes marked on the front pattern piece. This surely contradicts the haberdashery requirements where it states that three flat buttons are required for the concealed fastenings, as well as three visible buttons.
Whether this is a pattern error – and that 6 buttonholes really are required – or whether I’ve missed some critical piece of understanding is irrelevant. I now have a buttonhole inside my facing, exactly where I need to position the bottom of my three external buttonholes.
It’s too late to reposition the internal buttonholes or add another lower down, without dismantling the entire front of the dress. NOOOO! I am so not doing those pleats again!
Initially I decide to top-stitch the lower part of the placket together with a vertical as well as a horizontal line of stitching but after three attempts at this, the dress just isn’t hanging right. I therefore decide to reposition the top three buttons and then add another four buttonholes to the front, thereby making the dress a completely button-fronted affair without the partial fly-front placket effect.
The good news (Yes! There is good news!) is that the wool withstood the repeated unpicking-and-restitching with aplomb. A careful press later and you wouldn’t have a clue about the trauma it had undergone. I just wish the same could be said for me.
My (not so) simple wool dress is comfortable to wear. The front pleats sit well enough in the end, and I like the collar stand. It’s evident that for me it’s a style that works better either with shorter hair or with my hair up – otherwise there’s just too much going on around my neck. Although lined, the dress isn’t too hot and it moves well as I do all the things I need to do during the working day. Plus – pockets!
I’m disappointed though, that despite the suggestion in the model shot on BurdaStyle, there’s nowhere near enough shape cut into the dress for it to look as I might have hoped. I suspect the strategic use of bulldog clips in their photograph – and perhaps if I wanted to spend the day posing around like a catwalk model then there might possibly be moments when you might see a little bit of shape. Most of the time however, I don’t feel it looks particularly elegant – a concern compounded by the way I wear it.
The thing is, I like my legs to be warmly tucked away in the winter – and open-toed boots (as worn by the BurdaStyle model) do even less for me than ‘cold shoulder’ tops. I won’t bother to ask if I’m missing something here. It’s just stupid. Especially in November. Full-length images however, suggest that my ‘flat & black’ approach with opaques and brogues clearly isn’t working. The dress itself is an inverted triangle shape – my sturdy legs and practical shoes striding out below seems rather out of balance. It makes me feel a little like Miss Trunchbull – or at the very least, Head Fabric Monitor.
I suspect my simple wool dress requires styling with a little more elegance. Full-length boots and/or charcoal tights have been suggested – and boots are what I went for here – although they’re not particularly practical for work.
Any other ideas – including alternative patterns – would be gratefully received, as ever.
I’ll continue the search for a stylish and practical winter work outfit – meanwhile enjoy the new website!