Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Miss Clara Plants the Night Flowers - McCall's 6696

Good afternoon, my dear vixens! Today, a rare and wondrous thing is happening, I'm showing you a dress I made last week. To those of you who plan out blog posts weeks ahead of time and are extra-meticulous about scheduling, this probably doesn't seem like a big deal. I am not that fastidious of a blogger, however. Usually, I make a thing, get absurdly excited, photograph it the very next morning/sunset, and throw it on the blog. 

Last week, however, I made this McCall's 6696 and let it linger. It was made in a fit of anxiety, before my dissertation defense. There was no more practicing to be done, no more prep to be written, and I wanted--no, desperately craved--something to do with my hands. A certain beloved bearded one even compared me to a hawk circling a family of tasty, defenseless mice. The words "glinty eyed" and "terrifyingly focused" were used more than once, in the soothing tones of someone talking to a stray tiger. 

I'm told all these pre-defense comparisons to carnivorous beasts are normal. I'm certainly going to pretend they are, anyhow.  Luckily for us all, I had this dress to funnel all that terrifying focus into. By the morning of my defense on Tuesday, I had everything but the buttons and button-holes done on this beauty. Well done, nerves!

This therapeutic fabric, a pink rose print on black cotton poplin, was bought on Goldhawk Road during my last trip to London, in the summer of 2012.  I came back with an embarrassing twenty-one meters of fabric from that trip, but have only made two pieces so far. The other fabrics--all florals, of course--just sit in my closet, waiting for patterns tempting enough to bring out the scissors. After the success of my first 6696, I knew this one would be a worthy sacrifice. 

With three meters of 50'' fabric, I had barely enough for the full-skirted view of this dress. The back bodice and inside collar bands had to be cut in pairs, instead of cut on the fold, but neither change bothered me overly much. Even better, this fabric is impervious to fraying, which meant bringing out the pinking shears for the inside finish. Woohoo! I used to never pink things, but after snooping inside some handmade vintage pieces, I've come around on the simplicity of that finish. 

Elsewhere on the inside of the dress, I used pink cotton shirting for the waistband facing, yoke facing, and bias bound armholes. As is glaringly obvious from the dress guts picture above, I cut the bodice back on the selvage and left that finish alone. That pop of white inside might bother some, but I love the efficiency of using selvages, whenever possible. Plus, let's be honest, I have a soft spot for those damn dots. (This selvage dress remains the coolest thing ever sewn.)

The buttons for this project were cannibalized from my first Darling Ranges dress, which after one season became completely unwearable. The fabric not only shrank, but thinned out enough that, when my pocket caught on something, the whole right side ripped open. Sigh. Sam convinced me not to throw it out, during my last closet purge, insisting that I could probably use the buttons for something. Lo, behold! I still loved these decorative little black buttons and they were perfect for the femininity of this fabric. 

Construction on this dress was time-intensive, but pretty blissful. The fabric pressed and sewed beautifully, the collar turned perfectly, and it was exactly the sort of detailed project I needed. Once again, I top-stitched the entire collar, collar stand, and button bands, to avoid even more hand-stitching. After buying an edge stitching foot a few months ago, I'm a total top-stitching convert! I love the added detail and it's so, so much quicker than slip-stitching for hours.

The only real difference between this dress and my last 6696 is the fit. Instead of using the straight 22 D-cup bodice, then grading down to a 20, I used the straight 20 everywhere and performed an FBA. The bodice fit is just a bit better and required no after-the-fact dart manipulation. Huzzah! No one else noticed the bust blousing, but I was so happy to banish it. Additionally, I raised the armhole an inch, to prevent the dreaded bra peep. The fit is so spot-on now. Go Go Gadget Happy Dance! 

Incidentally, while I was sewing this up there were some pattern issues I realized didn't get mentioned in my original review. First off, there is a discrepancy between the number of belt loops you're supposed to cut and how many markings there are on the waistband. It says you need four, but you definitely need six: two on the front, two on the side seams, and two on the back. I checked the pattern line drawing and everything. Six, six, six! Additionally, the center marking on the collar band is not actually on center. This doesn't matter much, because you should always double check your center, before you sew anyhow. Make sure your two bands are in the same position up front, then you're golden. 

Hey Mary! Why is your hip-to-waist ratio so insanely large?
*turns to the side*
*Bootylicious mysteriously begins to play*

So, that's it! Another shirtdress. In case you're not sick of this pattern already, I just finished a third one for my Mood Sewing Network project this month. That maniacal cackling you heard was, indeed, mine. Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses, I am in you!

Oh, and just one more thing...


This dress must be very good luck, y'all. The papers are signed, the fanfare has begun, and I'm officially Dr. Mary Danielson Perry. Thus the real nature of my radio silence around here. It wasn't so much the fortitude of my willpower, but the whirling frenzy of my revelry! I can't even tell you how happy I am to finally be finished with that process. Thank you all again for your good wishes! Sewing has been my outlet through the past few years and it means so much to have a community to share that passion with.

In other words, you rock and I love you all!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Miss Clara Goes Back to School: McCall's 6696

Good afternoon, lovely ones! Are you reveling in the aroma of newly sharpened pencils and, that most hallowed of after-school snacks, spiced apple pie? If so, color me jealous! Not only is summer still kicking here in Texas, but for the first time in 24 years, I am not headed back to school. Next Tuesday, I defend my dissertation and, if all goes as planned, write The End on my life as a student. Those final two degrees won't be conferred until December, but for all intents and purposes, I will be done done done

It seems only right that I go out in style, don't you agree? To that end, I made this schoolhouse appropriate piece: a classic shirtdress in reproduction feedsack cotton with a contrasting collar and buttons. Not only does this dress revel in the primary colors, but there were tons of fun skills to practice during its construction. How academically delightful!

First off, let's talk pattern, shall we? This is McCall's 6696, or as I like to call it: The Shirtdress of Joy and Wonder. For the last five years, I have hunted for precisely this dress pattern. Not only does it have a properly constructed collar (Huzzah for collar bands!), but separate waistband and button placket pieces, a wide pleated skirt, and a cup-sized based bodice pattern. It is a brilliant, thoughtful design, with nary a shortcut in sight. Perfectionists rejoice! 

But Mary, you ask quite reasonably, this pattern was released over a year ago. Why are you just now sewing it up, if it's the holy grail of shirtdress patterns? Surely, if you were that excited about it, we would have seen 100 versions already. You're not exactly known for restraint, Blondie. 

Well, kittens, it's simple. I'm a lazy, lazy seamstress. Sure, I loved the idea of those eleven perfect buttons and hand-sewn facings, but that shite takes time.  Nowhere during all the hubbub of wedding plans and schoolwork did I feel like devoting so much time to one dress. Why make one perfect shirtdress, when I could make four perfectly fine sundresses? Slowly, that phase of delusional laziness passed, however. 

This week, I made a shirtdress.

This photo is not just to show me staring off into space, contemplating the mysteries of life.
 Check out that print up close! So cute, right?
Well, I made a wearable muslin of a shirtdress anyhow. 

In my wise older years, I've become a devotee of legit muslins, but for shirtdresses, I really like to see how everything hangs with buttons and interfacing complete. So, I tissue fit the bodice and reached for a cute cotton fabric. This feedsack reproduction print was one of the first pieces of fabric I owned. In a moment of crazed generosity, my mother let her newbie seamstress daughter steal it away. It's a miracle this fabric wasn't sacrificed to incompetency in those early days. Many of its compatriots were not so lucky. 

This fabric is definitely a quilting weight. Though it has a nice drape and is soft to the touch, it's also pretty weighty and takes pressing beautifully. For unlined dresses like this one, I actually prefer such fabrics, as they can stand on their own. I have way too many cotton lawn dresses that don't get worn, because when unlined, they feel like nighties instead of real clothes. 

As for the pattern, I really enjoyed sewing this one up. I absolutely love all the skills that go into a shirtdress, especially collar and button placket construction. As long as I'm not rushing through, it's such a calming, rewarding process. From cutting to buttons, this took me five days to complete, with about twelve hours of sewing total. 

Of course, I didn't do nearly the amount of hand sewing instructed in the pattern. This pattern has you hand-stitching the collar band, button placket, waist facing, and yoke facing down for an invisible finish. That's all fine and dandy, but I love top-stitching on shirtdresses. It's so much fun! So not only did I forego a yoke facing entirely, but I top-stitched the entire button placket and collar construction. The waistband facing and hem were the only two things catch-stitched by hand. Which just proves I can't follow instructions at all, because the hem was supposed to be top-stitched. Rebel seamstress cannot be tamed! 

The order of operations on this dress was actually way interesting, y'all. Instead of hemming the button placket and dress together, the dress hem is finished halfway through construction, before the placket is even added. So, if you're planning on hemming the dress less than its prescribed 2 inches, know that the placket piece will need lengthening. Otherwise, this was totally straightforward! Other than top-stitching, my only other major process change was to use Andrea's collar construction technique, which I highly recommend. 

Fit wise, this dress was a total experiment. The pattern claims that, using the different cup size front bodice pieces, that I could achieve a perfect gap-free fit. Tissue fitting seemed to prove that claim out, so I graded from a 20 at the shoulders, to a 22 D-cup bodice, back to a 20 for the waist and hips. (My current measurements are 46-34-45.) This was a wearable muslin, after all, so why not test the road without an FBA?

Y'all, I'm flabbergasted. I am going to take some tweaks next time around, but this is an astonishingly good fit for a pattern straight-from-the-envelope. I lengthened the dart about an inch, after my final try on, but that's the only fit alteration taken here. There is a little bubbling at the dart tip, shown in the close up below, but a bit of flat pattern reshaping should fix that in future versions. Originally, the darts ended way, way, way before the standard 1-inch from bust apex, which is what's causing that. Even with the lengthening I did, they're maybe a half-inch too short. Honestly, I might size down to a 20 and do a standard FBA next time, because I'm persnickety like that, but the dart will still need lengthening in that version. 

If you're new to fitting adjustments, however, and still haven't mastered the FBA, this is definitely a pattern to explore. With the multi-size cup options and a little dart tweaking, D and DD women should be able to get a pretty nice fit with this pattern. That's such a lovely accomplishment in a shirtdress, especially if you're used to the gaposis of RTW sizing!

In the end, this was exactly the dress I'd dreamed of. The waistband nips in perfectly and I love the belt carriers, whereas the skirt has a lovely, gentle flare. Best of all: no gaping button band! Huzzah!

Pepare yourselves, friends, because this will probably be The Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses. McCall's 6696, you are my sunshine. Well, in addition to Sam, who is my main sunshine and who will actually be getting collared shirts of his own next week. Amazing, I know...

The Details

Things I Loved:
  • The collar! They may be more fiddly, but the classic collar construction of a placket band, collar band, and main collar looks so much better than the shortcut alternatives. 
  • The buttons! My love for sewing buttons and buttonholes knows no bounds. They're so cute and so much fun!
  • The length! At 5'8'', it's rare that a pattern hits me in exactly the right spot, but this just-below-knee length is perfect. 
  • The pockets! They're a little shallow for my taste, but constructed in a way that binds them to the waistband. No flapping about here!
  • The self-bias armhole finish! Always such a cute detail. 
  • The waistband facing! It's so fun to see the right side of the fabric on the inside, for a bit of contrast.
  • The back! Some people haven't loved the amount of blousing in the back bodice, but it didn't bother me at all. I suspect that in the larger sizes, this is a less noticeable effect. 
Things I Changed:
  • Lengthened the darts by an inch, for a better fit. 
  • Omitted the yoke facing, because this is a wearable muslin and my heart just wasn't in that detail. 
  • Top-stitched the button placket, collar, and collar stand, instead of hand-stitching them.
  • Hand-stitched the hem, instead of top-stitching it. 
Things I Will Change, Next Time Around:
  • Alter the fit a bit more. I will conquer those darts! 
  • Add the sleeves, which are a very classic length. 
Tips & Tricks:
  • Once again, I cannot recommend Andrea's collar tutorial enough. I initially had planned to go by the book on this one, but chickened out at the last minute. Her order of operations is so sensible! 
Notions & Fabric:
  • 3.5 yards of main fabric
  • 11 navy buttons
  • 1/2 yard of navy twill for collar

Construction Time:
  • 12 hours

Fun fact: The buttons I chose are crazy slippery! As a result, I spent half the time taking photos of this dress with one button unbuttoned. This picture is one such victim.