There are times when I yearn for an easy life. Loudly and with some regularity. The yearning lasts just as long as it takes someone who knows me to point out that:
- I have a low boredom threshold
- I’d probably invent something to relieve the boredom pretty quickly
- Could they not be around when that happened, because they’d rather stick with the devil they know.
However rude that might be ?, it’s probably true. There are times when I relish the idea of sailing away on my treasured Mustard Sofa of Books and Dreams for a lifetime.
However once I’ve recuperated there for an hour or three, I’m usually ready to look for trouble again.
The same applies to my wardrobe. Of course I could spend my life in jeans and a shirt or some other form of daily uniform – but I know that’s not for me. Eventually I’ll get that sinking sensation of being trapped in a persona that doesn’t fit; not all the time, at least. Last time that happened it led to my Style Crisis series; proof, if any were needed, that I’ll crack.
Like most of you, I find joy in creating my own garments that suit and fit me. I hope and plan for them to last but that doesn’t mean they won’t vary in style. My clothes vary from day to day along with my mood, my diary and the weather.
Pragmatic wardrobe priorities
The problem is, there’s not always time to make the garment I’d like to have. So when I come across the perfect item in the shops, occasionally pragmatism gets to outweigh purism in the wardrobe department. I particularly love the serendipity of a good sale rack.
A case in point. Earlier this year in the space of 30 seconds I rescued two pairs of trousers from the same sale rail that amazingly, fitted perfectly. One pair from Modern Rarity, the other from Weekend MaxMara. Lovely fabrics, great colours, one printed cotton, the other a classic plain wool. 70% off. And did I mention they FITTED PERFECTLY? I suspect most of you have spent many an hour toiling the perfect trouser pattern. I certainly have – and I have worn the resulting trousers day in, day out. But when fate dangled two perfectly-fitted pairs in front of me, ready made – well – I’d done enough trouser fitting to recognise their value.
Both pairs of trousers have been worn several times already so gratifyingly, their cost-per-wear is rapidly decreasing. The wool pair featured underneath my polo-neck top last month.
If you’re new to the concept, cost per wear is a calculated by dividing the cost of a garment by the number of times it’s been worn. It takes account of quality as well as price since a more expensive item might well cost more but last longer. (There are honourable exceptions to this formula such as garments purchased or made for a special occasion. However the calculation serves as a useful prompt to consider giving away a posh frock for re-sale or donation.)
The last time I’d bought an item off the rack was a Whistles shirt dress at the end of last summer. It’s done duty as workwear, casual wear and even delivery-room-wear for 48 hours in January. It was purchased in the sale for £37.50 – they usually retail at around £120. I’d say its cost-per-wear is well below the 50p mark by now.
About that Whistles shirt dress
I’ve been eyeing these up for some time now. Whistles do a variety of versions; Jigsaw too have their own interpretation of a similar design.
The shirt dresses appear in mid-weight viscose twills in the late summer, floatier fabrics in the warmer weather and heavier wools in the winter. They come with variations in sleeve length, but all have a dipped-back curved shirt hemline, and a pleated front falling from the shirt-style opening. They also feature cleverly-cut French darts (i.e. steep darts falling from the bustline at the front to the hipline at the side seam) incorporating inseam pockets. Not only do these darts provide some subtle shaping, they also conceal practical pockets. The yellow version below isn’t the fabric I have but it illustrates the design.
Not only do they cross seasons depending on the fabric used, I’ve also found that these shirt dresses can be layered over leggings and/or t-shirts in colder weather. In the summer they work just as well over bare legs and sandals as they do over opaque tights and boots in the winter.
Creating my own shirt dress
I’ve sewn shirt dresses before but the simple, practical elegance of this design appeals, as does its ability to re-invent itself according to the season. I decide to have a trawl through the pattern pages to see if I can’t find something similar. My criteria:
- A simple loose-fitted pop-over shape with no buttons
- A collar
- The ability to add, subtract or adapt sleeves
- Some form of shaping
You can see my candidates in this Pinterest Board – but the winner was this ‘Autumn’ dress by Style Arc. (I know. Autumn. But Style Arc are Australian so it all makes sense).
There were two criteria it didn’t fill. It doesn’t have sleeves – nor does it have darts to shape.
On the sleeve front, it’s worth noting that the Whistles version doesn’t have shaped sleeve heads. Upon close inspection, the sleeves are simply drop-shoulder sleeves added on to an extended armhole – which is ready and waiting in this pattern. An easy fix. Likewise, shaping could also be added in very simply by drafting a French dart to the simple shirt-like cut of the dress. I decide to take the plunge.
Making my ‘Autumn’ Dress for summer
I’ve had my eye on our linen mix ‘Alhambra’ fabric for some time. I adore the colours in this – and if I learned anything from my Italian foray last year, it’s that hot weather deserves some serious colour. I decide that for a summer version, this is the fabric to check that box; it would be cool and breathable too.
Like all the Style Arc patterns we’ve used, this one goes together very easily. There are only six pattern pieces. Collar fits collar stand which fits the neck. Seams and notches match. And then…I hit the pleat.
Pleat problems averted
The most seductive delight of this pattern design is surely the dramatically-draping cross-over pleat, falling from the yoke at the back. It looks very simple in its construction – and indeed it is. Not quite as simple however, as suggested in the erroneous diagram in the Style Arc instructions. A visit to a couple of sewing blogs soon showed me where I was going wrong but it still took me a while to get my head around it.
At this point I should explain my shirt dress has become our latest ClothSpot kit. I’ll explain all the reasons for that in my next post – but as a result of our decision, I was able to take time to deconstruct that pesky pleat and come up with a simpler way of explaining it. My explanation is based around the fact that the pleat is essentially an inverted box pleat – but one where the folded edges overlap, instead of butting up to each other.
To find our more, click here for our step-by-step guide as well as the Sew-along for the whole dress.
My finished dress
Here’s the final result!
I wore my dress over cropped leggings, simply because my legs haven’t seen a ray of sun this year and so my knees really aren’t coming out any time soon. However this would be a very easy pattern to lengthen.
I also found that when the dress hangs straight, the back pleat helps shape it by softly pulling in the side seams. Cunning stuff!
I was taken aback with my choice of our ‘Alhambra’ fabric on a number of fronts.
First, be aware that the bands of thin stripes are loosely woven and therefore fray easily. I found the solution was to overlock my pattern pieces right away; also I needed take care not to over-press those parts of the fabric. Also, the bands of stripes are not symmetrical (as you can see in the yoke below) so I attempted to balance the stripe distribution rather then get hung up about matching them. I could have cut the yoke along the grain but I wanted a contrast in stripe direction. The pattern repeat in the stripes is 50cm.
For all that, as I worked with this extraordinary linen, it struck me more and more as a work of art. The different weave structures give the fabric amazing structure, but without stiffness. The way the back pleat falls in this fabric is almost sculptural, rather like a futuristic 60s cocoon dress or (at another extreme) reminiscent of an 18C sack-back dress.
My choice of fabric is probably not indicative of how most fabrics would perform in this design, but I’m rather in love with it. When I wear it, the dress naturally sits a little way back on my shoulders. I especially like the way this accentuates the fall of the stripes down towards the back of the dress, echoing the lower back hem.
So here we have it. Not at all the garment I expected when I set out – but I really couldn’t resist those colours, those stripes…
How would you have managed the stripes? Thoughts welcome – I haven’t been a great stripe-wearer in the past so this has been a step into the unknown.
Meanwhile – I do love the design – and when the weather briefly warmed up this week, it was wonderfully cool and comfortable to wear.
As mentioned, we’ve launched this pattern as our ClothSpot Summer Shirt Dress Kit. Next week I’ll post about the back-story to that – including the appearance of Judy, who (whisper it) I’ve persuaded to step out from behind the cutting table…
Thank you for dropping by – let me know what you think!