Tag: etta

My Week in Sewing: Bodice Block

My Week in Sewing: Bodice Block

This week I’ve been working on a bodice block.

A bodice block has been on my list for such a long time, and my recent experience trying to fit the Etta dress bodice to my asymmetrical body made me so disillusioned with the idea of fitting a pattern that I finally decided it was time to start on a block. If I can get a block right, then I can compare it to patterns I make in the future and get a clear idea of what adjustments I need to make. Plus, I’m very excited about the idea of drafting my own patterns using the block as a starting point.

I’m actually using the Etta bodice pattern as a base for my block, as I already have the pattern, and it’s shift dress with a bodice that’s reasonably close to what a block pattern would look like:

I chose the high back neck version rather than the V-neckline version that drove me crazy before. To convert it into a basic block I’ve raised the neckline on the front and back, and removed the back neck dart – I already know from my fitting journey that I have a flat upper back so it won’t be missed. I also moved the closure from the back to the front by drawing in a seam allowance at the front centre and adding in the centre line at the back. This makes it way easier to fit (just with pins) and I don’t need to bother with zips. (I wasted loads of time on zips with my Etta).

So far I have done three rounds of fitting on one toile. I failed to photograph it on my actual body, so you’re going to have to use your mind’s eye for the next few paragraphs. Sorry friends 🤷🏻

First I did a toile with my standard shoulder slope modification. To do this, I cut out the armscye, lower it parallel to the grain by 1/2″, and then redraw the shoulder seam line. I do this on the front and back. It’s a dead easy adjustment that took me ages to discover – but now I do it on every pattern.

I sewed up this first version and found that the bust dart was a good size (Tilly and the Buttons draft with a B cup, which is a 2″ difference between high bust and full, which matches my measurements). But the apex was too high, causing the bodice to ride up a bit as the toile naturally wanted to sit with the apex in the right place. This led to wrinkling above the bust. So I pulled the bodice down to smooth out the wrinkles, drew on the correct apex, then unpicked the dart and sewed it with the new angle, pointing at the next apex. This worked perfectly! I’m pretty happy with the fit of the front at this point.

First toile, showing the lowered bust darts. It looks better on me, I promise! I think my dress form is an dressmaker’s A cup

Next I turned to the back, which is where I had all the issues on my Etta toile. The upper bodice was super baggy, which I expected after my Etta trials – but this time it was WAY less complicated to diagnose and fix because there was no V-neck or back dart! I just took a horizontal 3/8″ slice straight across the back. I also took a dart out of the centre back.

The fit looked reasonable at this point, although it is definitely more slack on my right shoulder than my left. So at this stage I decided to transfer all my adjustments to paper for my second toile. I moved the bust dart down properly rather than just pivoting it, and I converted that centre back dart by slicing the whole thing vertically and rotating out that excess all the way down to the waist. I also moved the shoulder seam forwards by an inch (really what is up with my shoulders? answer: scoliosis)

Pattern pieces after round 1. Not pictured is the adjustment I made to the sleeve head to match the 3/8″ removed from the upper back.

Feeling pretty good about round 1. I suspect I’ll still need to make an upper back adjustment of some form, and I’ll also look at the neck, length, and sleeve in the next toile.

As ever, here are some cat pics from the week! All taken from the same vantage point this time.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

Ankara Etta dress and Panda Hawthorn Dress

Two dresses in one post!

The other month I sewed a wax print Ankara dress in such a horrendous rush that I ended up stupidly stressed out about it. But I am pretty happy with how it came out:

Despite numerous late nights sewing, and a lot of patience and understanding from my husband (thanks P!), I very nearly didn’t finish it in time for the wedding I was making it for. I was hand stitching at 11pm the night before! And there is a lot of sloppy work on the inside that I’m not totally proud of. So I swore never to sew anything on a deadline ever again.

But then of course… I had another wedding to go to this summer. And wouldn’t it be nice if I could make a dress for that too…?

I bargained with myself that if I didn’t finish it a week before the wedding, then I’d buy myself a dress as a treat instead. But HEY LOOK, I managed it with a week to spare, and entirely stress-free! Behold my Panda Hawthorn:

I have made a Hawthorn before, but the bust darts came out so nipply that I only wore it once and I felt ashamed the whole day long. I think I still have things to learn on the pointy dart front, but I’m much happier with how these turned out.

I lowered the bust dart points so they were below my apex, and then I also sewed them to a point about 1/2″ below that and then tapered gently to the real end. This, plus a hefty helping of steam, made my panda darts less pointy. Still not perfect, but much less distracting.

Things that went wrong making this dress:

  • I ignored the print when cutting out the pieces, and ended up cutting a new front bodice piece so the pandas were more prominent. Lesson: think about print placement even if you think you might want a random distribution.
  • I made a collar and then ended up cutting an entire new set of collar pieces because I wanted more pandas. There are pandas on both sides of the collar now 🐼🐼
  • The darts initially came out nipply again so had to redo them at least three times.
  • I sewed all the skirt buttons on half an inch too high and had to redo them! I am really good at sewing buttons now.
  • I bias bound both armholes before realising they were pinching my underarm. I tried to get away with only redoing the bottom and not having to use more binding, but it was a hot mess of tucks and puckers. So I unpicked both armholes and refaced them both with fresh tape.
Removing the bias binding from the armhole

And the things that went right:

  • Gosh this is a lovely fabric to work with. It’s Lady McElroy Panda Retreat cotton lawn, and it’s lush. It presses well and doesn’t crease too badly by itself. Shame it’s so £££
  • The pattern is easy to sew and the instructions are clear. A very fun sew.
  • I feel good wearing this thing. I love the silhouette, I love the print, I love the fabric, I love the buttons. It feels very me!

Despite all the adjustments and do-overs, I really enjoyed making this one. I never felt frustrated once, which I wouldn’t have expected if you told me how many things I was going to end up doing twice. The repetition felt like iterative development – each time I did something again I knew it was getting better and better.

The wedding that I made this dress for was yesterday, and it was a wonderful joyous day (congratulations T & L!). I even met a new sewing friend (hi A!) and we talked sewing and cats all through dinner. Superb.

I can also confirm that the Hawthorn is a good dress for dancing the night away in. Not that I really make a habit of that!

Finally, my panda dress made its maiden voyage at a very timely moment – I learned at the wedding that two twin pandas have just been born in Belgium! Fingers crossed for those little beasties. The twin pandas on my collar are now dedicated to them.

Dress: Colette Hawthorn

Size: 2 throughout

Alterations: lowered bust dart by 1″, lowered armscye by 3/4″

My measurements at time of making: full bust 35″, waist 28.5″, hip 36″