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. 

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