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Sunday, November 8, 2009

McCalls 5535: From hot mess to hot stuff

I'm such a sucker clothes made out of knits, especially dresses. I think they're so much more comfortable than most garments out of woven fabric and I'm much more apt to wear an item when I'm comfortable in it. So, even though knits are notorious for being tempermental, especially for new sewists, I'm still determined to learn how to sew knit fabrics and sew them well. Which leads me to this pattern - a loose fitting, empire waist dress from McCalls that is rated "easy."

I first tackled this dress about a month and a half after starting to sew. I got an inexpensive poly jersey print from Michael Levine ($3/yd) so in case it was a mess, I wasn't screwing up expensive stuff. It was my first commerical pattern that I was using and since I remembered bits and pieces of pattern language from when my mom used to sew clothing, I thought I would be okay. And really, I think this pattern is drafted well. It was my first time messing with facings and setting in a sleeve and with the help of a sewing reference book, the dress went together pretty smoothly. The problem came when it was time to put it on. It was a potato sack, no joke. :/

When selecting my size, I looked at the body measurements at the top of the pattern, sized down one size, and that left me at a 14. Pattern sizing is much like bridal sizing so the idea that I was making a 14, when I'm usually a 6 in RTW dresses really didn't faze me. However, I had no idea about finished garment measurements and how important it was to consider those when selecting size. Based on those measurements, I should have cut an 8 because of the amount of design ease for this particular dress. Compounding the potato sack issue, was the choice of sleeves. I liked the look of the peasant sleeve (view A) in the photo, but actually sewn up, I thought it was just too much, especially with such a busy print. Really folks, this dress was just awful.

The dress was obviously off to Goodwill, but instead of throwing the pattern away, I started my first garment sewing class a few days later and we immediately reviewed how to read a commercial pattern and how to select your size. Buoyed by this knowledge, I headed back to Michael Levine, picked up some more fabric and started again. This time, the dress went together that much faster and it also fit so. much. better. I decided to add the plain long sleeve (view D) instead of the peasant sleeve, but it still seemed off. I eventually chopped off six inches of length leaving them a little shorter than a 3/4 sleeve and that was much better. I also took ~1 inch off the width of the sleeve, tapering to the original seam allowance at the top, to get a closer fit.

I'm really happy with the final result. This dress will be great at the office, running errands on the weekends or going out to events depending on my shoe and accessory choices. I wore it today to Girlie's baby shower and thought it worked well. I was really comfortable, but also felt really put together.


  1. I think I say something like this every time, but I still can't believe that you can make clothes that you can actually wear!

  2. Ditto what Weemo said. SO cool Amber!!!

    I really like the way that dress came out!!

  3. Also next time you make something too big forget good will.. think of me! ;)

  4. Since this is not the first time you've ended up with something too big for your little frame, I'm glad the class is helping you figure out the right sizing.
    And I couldn't agree with you more about knit dresses. My closet is full of them, and yet I can't stop buying them!

  5. I kind of feel like I say this everytime too, but I'm so impressed!

  6. So cute! Looks incredible, I can't believe you made that!

  7. Good job, Amber! I love the way the dress came out. :)