Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Miss Anya Stretches It Out: Lady Skater Dress

Happy 2014, friends! I hope your new year has started off well - full of conquered resolutions and stretchy post-holiday fabrics. In a combination of both notes, I've already had a sewing breakthrough this year. I, Mary Danielson Perry*, just sewed a knit dress.

I know what you're thinking. But knit fabrics are hard, Mary! They stretch and warp and have caused many a poor sewist to wander the moors in sorrow for wavy hems! You're completely right, of course. Knit fabrics are finicky beasts...unless you have a serger. Thanks to one dashing professor, I am now the proud owner of a Brother 1034D. The bearded one gives great Christmas gifts, non? I've had my eye on this model for quite some time, as it's the perfect blend of cost effectiveness and functionality. After my first project using her, I can totally endorse the reviews: this little machine is a wonder. Every seam is not only perfectly finished, but it was a breeze to thread and get started on. Joy!

Of course, I started on a relatively simple pattern. This is the Lady Skater dress from Kitchsy Coo, which was recommended as an ideal beginning knit pattern. It's a knit dress with sleeve options, a gently flared skirt, and banded neckline. Not only did it seem easy to construct, but it looked heavenly on dozens of body types.  For as terrifying as knits are purported to be, a sure bet pattern like this one seemed the way to go. I opted for a 3/4 sleeved version with coordinating neck and arm bands, then sewed the dress up exactly as instructed.

For fabric, I used a rayon jersey bought with a coupon at JoAnn Fabrics. It's a lovely sky blue, with white polka dots on one side and stripes on the other. After reading every knit fabrics tutorial online, I knew one thing was most important: finding the stretch of the fabric when cutting. A stripe that ran the length of said stretch was so helpful! Even better, I could use the striped side as my bands, to add visual interest to an otherwise plain dress. Sweet!

So, let's talk cutting knits, shall we? After extensive research on the matter, I decided the best way to handle this cunning fabric was to cut on a single layer. Knits want to slip and slide, as you handle them, so cutting on one layer ensures that your pieces are symmetrical on the grain. Sure, it took more time than a folded layout, but the other option was pinning down my fold line. I'd rather take laborious than tedious any day. I also used a rotary cutter, to prevent warping with the sheers, and a carp ton (Yes, carp ton. It's a better visual, right?) of pattern weights. It worked perfectly! I'm definitely Team Single Layer, when it comes to knits.

As for the sewing, that's where knits earned my love. From first seam to hem, this dress took me two hours to construct. Two hours! That's with a beginner's learning curve included. There were no darts to sew or pleats to fold, just serging seams together left and right. It would definitely have been more labor-intensive on a traditional machine, but I used my serger for everything but the hem. It was, well, fucking awesome.

Fit-wise, I made a straight size 7 in this pattern. It's a little big in the waist, but the bodice and sleeves fit perfectly. I totally didn't see that coming. No FBA? Really? Knits are so rock awesome. Honestly, if I don't need an FBA for this pattern, I can't see anyone needing one. With a properly stretchy fabric, it should fit sublimely on a myriad of body types. There's a six inch difference between my high bust and full bust measurements and it still worked well. 

Most of this dress was made with a simple serger seam, as mentioned above. The only step I really had issues with was the neckband, which I had to repin a few times to make sure it stretched evenly on the front and the back. Knit bands are cut smaller than the openings they cover, so it took a bit of coaxing and estimation to get it correct. However, once it had been well pinned, it was a breeze. I just ran it through the machine and - voila! - instant fabric finish. The hem was a bit more complicated. Upon the advice of Patty the Snug Bug's fantastic knits article, I invested in some Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite. After applying this magic strip to the hem, you peel the backing off, flip it up the prescribed amount (in this case, I opted for 1/2 inch, unlike the pattern's suggestion of 1 inch), then press. It stayed in place beautifully, while I did a simple zig-zag stitch around the hem. Too easy! 

So...that's it. I made a knit dress! If you have fireworks handy, set off a few in my honor, will you? That's the most terrifying thing on my Sewing Skills to Conquer list checked off. The instructions that came with this pattern, however, are delightfully vivid. There weren't too many missteps to make with such a simple piece, but any possible ones were headed off by the manual. It was an easy, satisfying sew. For my next knit project, I'm considering making a mock wrap dress a la Duchess Kate's engagement frock...in illustrated fox print jersey. Nothing says sophistication like animated vixens, don't you agree?

This is my superheroine pose. Something about the polka dots, stripes, and comfy fabric makes me feel like I could fly up, up, and away at any moment. Just call me Super Sewist. 

Now, after all that gushing, I have a confession to make: I don't actually wear knits, kittens. I've always been a woven girl. Give me a cotton voile or silk twill any day! Before this polka dot jersey, there wasn't a single knit fabric in my stash. Sure, I knew knits were comfortable, but that's what pajamas were for, right? Fashion doesn't need comfort! Such thinking is, of course, ludicrous. Now that most of my days are spent sitting at a computer, typing at furious speeds, I understand the appeal of knits. I don't always want pretty lined cottons digging into my side boob, you know? Unfortunately, my addiction to wovens meant that my only knit wardrobe options were camisoles and sleepwear. Answering the door at four o'clock in your pajamas gets really judgmental looks from the mailman. So, this whole Lady Skater project was not only a pattern test, but a fabric test. Would I feel comfortable in the slinky, clingy, comfy world of knitwear?

Spoiler alert: I totally do. This dress is amazing. It feels like pajamas, but looks like a grown up outfit. I can twirl and move and do jumping jacks in this dress. The silhouette is classic, but the fabric is down right space age. I looooooove it. I want a million of these dresses. More knits please! If you're also on the fence about taking the knit plunge, I can't recommend this pattern highly enough. It's deceptively cute, for such an easy make. You'll be converted, I promise.

The details...

Things I Loved:
  • The ease! No darts. No pleats. Just serging. What's not to love?
  • The banded neckline! It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I adore the striped bands with the polka dotted main fabric. There's something very comic book superheroine about the pairing.
  • The fabric! It feels like pajamas, but looks like real clothing. Genius!

Things I Changed:
  • Nothing. That's got to be a first. 

Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Change sleeve options. As much as I love the 3/4 sleeves on my version, I would love to have a couple short sleeved versions in my wardrobe, once summer rolls around. This is an ideal Texas summer dress. 

Notions & Fabric:
  • 2 yards rayon jersey - $16 (Note: For the 3/4 version, 2.5 yards is called for, but cutting on a single layer reduces fabric waste by quite a bit. You can totally get by on 2.)
  • Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite

Construction Time:
  • Two hours. Holy carp! 

Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. 

*I'm trying the unhyphenated double-barrel last name out, before deciding on any legal changes. On one hand, family unity makes sense, on the other I'm not giving up my last name completely or sounding like a nursery rhyme, but I don't want a hyphen. So, two names! No hyphen! I'm going to be saying "You know, like Hillary Rodham Clinton" a lot, methinks...

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