Friday, December 12, 2014

Miss Kimberly Paints in Watercolors: BHL Kim Dress

Perhaps I've watched Indiana Jones too many times, but I'm a big believer in the quest. Whether it's hunting down just the right Christmas present for Great Aunt Myrtle, or searching for the perfect set of long-lasting, colorful pens (Ahem: Triplus Fineliners), I love a good mission! To that end, I'm often sewing with a quest in mind, trying pattern after pattern until discovering my platonic version of a garment. I've found the classic shirtdress, conquered the A-line skirt, and--most recently--sewn the perfect party dress.

That last one really shouldn't have been so difficult! Yet, as a plus size woman, party dresses have forever been the thorn in my sartorial side. Your ready-to-wear shopping experience may differ from mine, but buying basics isn't that much of a trial for me. It still sucks, admittedly, but I at least have success. If I'm going to buy RTW, I know that Loft carries my favorite jeans, Talbot's stocks the coziest sweaters, and Asos Curve produces my favorite coats. Fancy dresses, however? I have no go-to. Inevitably, dresses for plus size woman are boring shifts, overly embellished horrors for mothers-of-the-bride, or ill-fitting polyester disasters. It was shopping for a party dress that led me to sewing, in the end. I just couldn't take one more bout of shopping for something pretty and ending up with another black dress.

Nowadays, I sew a ton of dresses, as you know. After years of settling for mediocre RTW pieces, I can't get pretty fabrics and floofy silhouettes out of my head. Every time I put a handmade dress on, it's striking a personal victory against the body-shaming, unwelcoming fashion industry. Unfortunately, my number one battle remains the cocktail dress. Striking a balance of sexy and sophisticated proves a continuing challenge. Inevitably, I sew a silk wiggle dress, love it in photos, then never reach for it when an event comes up. If I analyze why, a simple answer emerges. I want to be sexy, sophisticated, and not horribly self conscious all night. I hate worrying about panty lines or squeezing myself into some stretchy torture device disguised as shapewear. Y'all, I would throw a bonfire just to burn my Spanx and roast marshmallows over their stretchy corpses. The easiest way out of this conundrum would be to use a luxe fabric, with my tried-and-true dress pattern, Simplicity 1873. Yet...I long for extra details and a bit of sass.

Enter By Hand London's newest pattern: the Kim dress.

When BHL reached out to their testing pool with this pattern, I squealed out loud in delight. There are two Kim variations: a square-necked princess seamed bodice with a tulip skirt, and a sweetheart princess seamed bodice with a gathered, pin-tucked skirt. Jenny actually sent me a message not long after, making sure I'd gotten this e-mail, because the gathered view just screamed "Mary." She was right. So, so right.

Y'all, this is the party dress of my dreams. Not only does it mix sex appeal with sweet design details, but it has a fairly expansive size range. The Kim dress goes up to a UK 20, which translates to measurements of 45-38-48 inches and 114.5-96.5-122 centimeters. That puts me (46-35-46) at a base size 18, so I jumped at the chance to test this baby.

Today, I'm sharing with you that first version of this pattern. Usually, I keep my tested versions of a garment on the down low, because I prefer to blog about finalized patterns. However, since most of the testing pool loved Kim's fit, there aren't substantial changes between this version and one that comes in BHL's envelope. Ergo, I can review it like a real dress. Huzzah! Of course, because this is a quest, my Kim isn't perfect quite yet.  For testing purposes, I sewed as close to the original pattern as possible, which meant choosing a size 18 and performing an FBA, but nothing further. Thus, there are some changes I plan on making the next time around, but we'll get to those.

First, let's talk design, shall we? As you can see, I chose my initial love: the poofy-skirts, divinely feminine View A, sweetheart neckline and all. The bodice is lined in jade cotton batiste and there is a 22'' invisible zipper at the center back seam. Honestly, I was trepidatious about the princess seams of the bodice. Though I'm now to the point where they turn out well, I still find the fitting and sewing of princess seams to be in an utter pain. All that clipping and pressing and smoothing! Egads! Scarier yet, Kim's princess seams didn't come in from the armscye, as is most common, but from the sweetheart neckline itself. This, it turns out, was actually a plus. Since the curve of vertical princess seams is less drastic, the FBA was infinitely easier. After moving the bust point down just a hair, the whole process was a breeze and my pattern pieces didn't distort whatsoever. Considering the end results I'm used to, that was a miracle!

Fabric wise, I chose this beautiful watercolor floral from Hancock Fabrics. It was lovely, had a nice weight, but fluid drape, and was 100% polyester. I usually sew with natural or semi-natural fibers, but couldn't get this gorgeous print out of my head. Each time I visited the store, I would pet it a little, wishing it were silk. So, I bit the bullet and bought it anyhow. It proved really easy to sew up, except for one step: those pintucks. That's the only area of Kim that really gave me fits. I spent hours marking and sewing those pleats, friends. Part of it was the fault of the fabric, which wouldn't hold a crease at all, but the other was the sheer expanse of the gathered skirt. It goes on for eons.  The directions suggested marking certain points, then eyeballing it and using the grainlines to make sure each pleat was even. Call me a perfectionist, but I couldn't handle the unknown. Instead, I marked straight lines in chalk across the entirety of the skirt, and used them as exact guidelines. It worked, but I needed a few glasses of wine at the end of the night.

The rest of Kim was a total cake walk, thank heavens! All the pieces joined beautifully and came together with zero fuss.

Fit wise, the Kim is pretty great for practically out-of-the-pattern. It hits my waist at the right point, hugs my bust in that lovely princess-seamed manner, and is a great hem length for a fancy dress. Next time around, I do plan on making a few changes, though. The neckline is just a hair wide on me, showing a bit too much bustline for comfort, if you catch it at the wrong angle. I'm all for sex appeal, but would like to not worry about scaring children, you know? The shoulders also have a tendency to slip, which is partly a fabric issue, but something to be addressed. So, my game plan: move the straps in by a half-inch and raise the entire neckline by another half-inch, then shrink the armholes a hair. That will keep the sexy silhouette, but make wardrobe malfunctions much less likely.

On the whole, I'm inordinately pleased with the Kim dress. All those little design details really elevate it from the usual fit-and-flare dress. It's the ideal mix of sexy and sophisticated--just the dress pattern I've been looking for! The best thing of all, however? No Spanx required. That requires a happy dance, y'all. So, tell me, what is your go-to party dress pattern? Will you be making one for the holiday season, this year? I just ordered some of this damask velvet from Mood, for a wintry Kim, because I couldn't resist another fancy dress.

Note: This pattern was given to me free of charge, in exchange for testing it and providing accurate feedback. In addition, this post originally appeared on the Curvy Sewing Collective, but I like a record of my projects on Idle Fancy.

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