Making a dress, Des Anges-fashion.

Having had a fit of pique in John Lewis and purchased an unfeasible quantity of grey and black striped jersey at a knock-down price (I suspect the knock-down price was eventually what motivated me), with the intention of “making a dress” with it, I then unfortunately had to follow through.

I am far from the world’s most adept seamstress, in part because I was raised by a former pattern-cutter and diligent maker of clothes who wouldn’t let me anywhere near the industrial Singer whose hum still haunts my dreams, or the (left-handed and therefore impossible for me to use) extremely sharp and very heavy sewing shears whose snip snip also serenades my memories. Less poetically: easier for mummy to do it than me. I’ve thrown together the odd garment (and very odd they are too), and a pirate costume, but these were at least five years ago and after I sliced a lump out of my hand in the careless trimming of fleece I left the sewing machine alone aside from repairs.

And so it was that when I came to cobble together this frock that I’d forgotten the most important components of sewing:

  • Procrastination
  • Swearing
  • Bloodshed
  • Hanging threads
  • Contempt for written instructions.

The pattern in question is V8280, a Vogue Easy Options wriggle dress which I had to buy in the size far too small for me a few years ago for reasons to tedious to go into here but which involve a flight to Sweden.

The intended garment

The first obstacle the debonair and dashing seamstress (that’s me, by the way) must face is figuring out where the glazed fuck she left her dress patterns in the post-firebombing Dresden tribute act that is her shoebox-sized flat. Appropriately enough they turned out to be on top of a box, on top of a wardrobe, in an actual shoebox. These were retrieved with the assistance of Tall Boyfriend, who stood on a chair.

I’d already decided that my previous method of pattern-cutting (clear the floor, pin fabric to the carpet, repeatedly stand on pins, knacker knees and back trying to cut something which is pinned to the floor, cry, cut chunk out of hand) was not going to be sufficient this time, and so I loaded everything I though I would need into a carrier bag and tramped off through the park to my dear friend Maud’s house, because she has a table. Technically I also have a table but it is about the size of a man’s palm and has three computers and a bookchair on it.

This led to special ingredient #1, procrastination. Laying out the fabric, lining up the stripes, and discovering that as I didn’t have sewing weights I would have to use coffee and sugar in jars all seemed very productive, so I then sat around having a chat about nothing in particular for rather longer than I should have. Then I repeatedly laid the paper pattern out the wrong way (this part is meant to go against the fold; this part is supposed to go this way to the grain of the fabric) because I was too busy having a charming and fruitless chitchat about fuck-all.

I was transported back to childhood by the sound of shear-snips, rolled up my cut pieces still pinned to their patterns, and slogged off in the dark through the park once more (stopping, because it was a clear night, to look up at the full moon and whichever stars the North London sky was prepared to let me see); when I got home, of course, I had another lengthy procrastination session because it was “too late”, and I decided I was going to watch Warrior instead.

I think I was justified

The following day I put Tom Hardy aside (temporarily) to move onto contempt for written instructions.

The dress I was constructing was made from jersey. This immediately rendered lining a pointless waste of time, energy, money, and my very limited patience, so I struck from the instructions any reference to lining. I also hate “ease stitching” because I’m never convinced I’m doing it entirely right, and therefore ignored most of that, too. Had I not made this dress once before I would probably have ignored the darts and ended up with a baggy mess, but not this time. Score one for diligence against my inherent laziness.

I then proceeded to sew one of the armhole caps the wrong way wrong and have to unpick it, leading to to the star (but by no means the finish) of swearing.

Swearing continued, accompanied with hanging threads, through the construction of the bodice, then the skirt. This culminated in a brief moment of giddy triumph when the instructions claimed I need a zip, and I didn’t have a zip, and I wasn’t fucking going to get a zip, and I realised that the material was probably stretchy enough to let me pull it on and off without any sort of fastening. So I displayed further contempt for written instructions, and forged ahead.

Bloodshed occurred when I had to rectify another mistake with the shoulder-pieces, twisting sections inside out to sew them down and succeeding primarily in stabbing myself repeatedly in all my fingers with sewing pins.

It was only while hemming that I realised my contempt for written instructions had perhaps been a touch misplaced, and that in order to stop the front of the bodice from flopping down over my breasts like a sad bloodhound’s jowls, I would need to sew up the bodice to the armholes a little higher. This would, however, result in no longer being able to pull the thing over my head, and then I’d need a zip after all because there was no way corset lacing (my go-to closure because banging grommets into cloth only requires a hammer) was going to work with unreinforced jersey!

In the end I opted not to sew the bodice to the sleeves but rather have strategically-placed poppers covered up with the lovely buttons I’d bought to be decorations down the front. This required swearing and bloodshed as my  needlework is not the most coordinated and it was getting on for 11pm by then.

Successfully rescuing my frock from hubris, I continued with my original plan of sewing on some lace ribbon I bought from Etsy.com around the waistline to cover for the fact I can’t line up stripes with any level of success break up the monotony and stop me looking so much like a blimp. This involved a multitude of hanging threads and swearing but was at least thankfully very light on the bloodshed as my fingers were starting to go numb by then.

the finished article

None too shabby, although I suppose there are those who might say that ladies of my not inconsiderable girth shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes (to whom I say “bugger you”). This was sized up from a UK14 to my size, a UK22, by guesswork alone, and the fact that I got such an entirely accurate fit from it amazes me no end! The hanging threads still need trimming, and I’ve a suspicion one of the buttons will escape at an awkward moment, but I think that’s gone a lot better than my adventures in cooking ever have done.

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4 thoughts on “Making a dress, Des Anges-fashion.

  1. I have to thank you for this very entertaining read. You so brightened my otherwise dull lunch break! I think you did amazingly well. Stretch jersey is never the most compliant fabric. I need to learn about grading. My G&H approach has never been as successful as yours! I love the shape of the neckline. Hope it hasn’t put you off further sewing projects 🙂

    1. Hooray, I’m glad my grim battles with my cheap sewing machine are entertaining, one does one’s best etc! Despite my “oh god what on earth am I doing” approach it’s a very serviceable pattern and the sleeveless version (the one I made last time) looks lovely in satin.

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