Land of eternal sundresses

To the sewers out there – do you have one pattern that you keep coming back to time and time again?

I used to buy patterns with the idea of using them once, perhaps twice.  I never really looked at the variations on the cover, because I knew that I only liked ONE of them, and that would be the one I would make (if I made it up at all….).  When I started drafting my own patterns, it was a similar fate.  The empire waist, ruffled front long dress was made in tone-on-tone black striped spandex stretch velvet.  It was never made up in a short version, never made with long sleeves instead of the cute cap/puff sleeves that I originally intended.  The crossover blouse was made up in soft grey knit, never extended to a dress length, never made up in alternating colour blocks.  With the exception of my super-simple dress pants (which I’ve made up in about ten different solid and pinstriped fabrics over the years), my ‘perfect’ t-shirt (which has never once been made up in anything that resembles an RTW store-bought t-shirt) and my corset patterns (which each have been made up multiple times) it’s pretty rare for me to use a pattern more than once or twice.  (Three times if we’re counting a muslin version too…)

McCalls 5659

But… then I found McCalls 5659.  It’s just a simple sundress.  Nothing all that special really.  It has a front and back yoke, with a pleated dress section that hangs in an a-line.  It’s short, but not too short, and even the variations on the pattern themselves are minimal.  It offers inseam pockets or patch pockets (which I’ve never added).  It shows an embellished yoke and a plain yoke (I’ve only ever done the plain version).  There is a hem border on one variation (which I’ve also never done).  Yet, I’ve made this dress up a number of times.

The first variation added an extra pleat to the back, and subsequently all of the following versions have adopted that pleat, but in the first variation I enlarged the hem, adding black godets to the hem.  I didn’t end up repeating that, though I do love this first dress – made up in a fabulous grey, white, black and pink print.  Every time I get a compliment on this dress, I point out that the print is girls with tattoos.

The second variation was a black, ivory, and two shades of grey geometric flower print.  I trimmed the hem in super-wide rick rack, and loved the weight the trim gave to the hem.  (Big wide hems like this do tend to get floaty on a windy summer day!)

The third was a bold red/pink/white/green poppy floral print.  I loved this fabric (and still do!).  The hem got more super-wide rick rack, but this time on the inside, so it looks like a little black scalloped edge.  One of those things that I’m sure only I can see.  The second and third dress variations have gone on vacation with me to a few warm places, and have regularly been far preferable than standard shorts-and-a-tank-top that make up the majority of my warm-weather travel wardrobe.  (Plus, being simple cotton, they wash up in a hotel sink nicely!)

At Dressew in Vancouver I picked up some ‘must touch me’ purple striped silk.  Shades of grey and mauve and purple and pink all muddle together in this fabric.  I also picked up some brighter solid purple silk – which became the lining for this dres and the accent piping and bias trim around the armsyce.  I’ll admit, I’ve only worn this one a few times – it’s so precious feeling, that I tend to reserve it for special occasions.

I’m almost finished the fifth and sixth variations as well – the fifth is another poppy print, this time bright red poppies on a red background.  It’s bold and bright and happy – just right for summer.  Since I liked the rick-rack hem so much, I repeated it here too. I couldn’t decide until the last moment if I wanted a contrast yoke or a yoke in the same fabric – so cut both.  This way, the black yoke is lined with the fashion fabric.

The sixth is a black and purple Hawaiian border print I brought back from my first trip to Hawaii.  I found the fabric among a few others in a very old and worn-out looking fabric shop on the side of a road in a small town.  There were rolls and rolls of fabric to choose from, but I stayed away from the bolder, more garish Hawaiian prints in favor of this one which has large leaves on one end (the hem) and small flowers on the other (the neckline).  I love the way the fabric pieces together to form almost a necklace of flowers in the yoke of the dress.  The hem on this one is more black rick-rack.  I think I’m really the only one that notices…

That’s not all though… I also have cut out a mauve embroidered silk (just waiting for the right lining) and a blue-on-blue Hawaiian print rayon (waiting for it’s solid yoke).  They’re both sitting, nicely labeled in the dining room right now – waiting for their respective parts to join, and move from their pile on a chair to under my needle, and then up into my closet.  They will be versions seven and then eight of this dress… more, I think, than any other pattern I’ve used before.

If you want to try this pattern too – I’ll give you a few hints:

  • I found adding the extra pleat at the back gives nice fullness and still stays within the fabric width for me.  ‘Your mileage may vary’ based on your size and the width of your fabric.
  • The pattern recommends self-bias for the under arms.  I don’t see the point of this generally, as it will rarely be seen, and since I’ve used cotton for most of these dresses, and solid yokes.  I’ve generally used purchased pre-made bias tape instead, except with the purple silk dress, where I used the lining fabric for the trim.
  • Easing the dress onto the yoke almost always ends up with weird shapes.  Instead, I sew the dress to the yoke starting at each shoulder and moving into the center.  When I get to the pleat area I stop and go to the other side.  Then I manipulate the pleat into shape, and sew it down to the yoke as well.  Smooth!
  • For the facing, I straight-stitch where the fold line will go – this makes it easier to gauge.  However, I don’t turn, press, and then hand-stitch the whole thing down – too fussy!  I turn the yoke right sides together, and sew from each shoulder as far towards the middle as I can. Then I turn back, and hand-stitch the small opening closed.
  • To keep the yoke clean and crisp – a nice contrast for the puffy, floaty skirt portion – I top stitch the neckline, as well as the yoke line from the right side.

I haven’t started an embellished yoke yet – perhaps that will end up being variation nine?  I also have some gorgeous black batiste with ivory embroidery that I’d love to make up in this dress as well, and think that a white eyelet one would be super-cute as well.   Ahh.. so many dresses, so little time to sew!

I thought I’d share with you sewing on the rick-rack trim to the hem to create the little scallops:

Sewing down the trim to the fabric.

Step 1: Serge the raw edge of the hem. With a straight stitch, sew the trim down in the center of the trim, to the RIGHT side of the fabric, along the hem fold-line.  If you don’t have a serger you can zig-zag this edge, finish it with french binding, finish it with hem tape, cut it with pinking sheers, turn-and-stitch, or whatever other seam-finish you prefer.  Ideally I would be a bit closer to the serged edge than in this photo.

With the hem folded back but the trim NOT folded back. I did this on one of the dresses I made, but prefer it the other way.

Step 2: Fold in the hem

With the hem and trim both folded back

Step 3: Flip the bottom half of the trim to the back.  Press the hem.

Top stitching the trim while also securing the hem in place.

Step 4: Top-stitch the very top edge of the trim to the hem allowance and body fabric – catching the trim and the hem in one.

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