For my other job I have to wear black and I need pockets (well, isn’t that true of much of life anyway?), so when our Black Rings hand-dyed shibori fabric arrived I set aside a piece for myself.
A simple pattern was called for, to emphasize the design of the fabric, and a look through the Vogue Patterns catalog led to Vogue 9022. It doesn’t look like much in the illustration - in fact it looks like a dreaded bag dress! - but PatternReview.com had quite a few happy stitchers who mentioned that the dress was much more flattering than one might expect. And with dolman sleeves and little fitting required, it would be a relatively quick project.
This fabric was dyed by women artisans in India, and when I found a few stray tidbits of shibori thread left in the “donuts” I felt a rather thrilling connection to their hands. With the fabric already hand washed and ready to go (and the needle holes left by the shibori dyeing did close up, as promised), it was time for some pattern alterations.
First, I wanted a very slight A-line through the skirt portion, but this pattern is actually tapered so that the hem is narrower than the hips (it has a hem vent which I ignored). To add width to the hem, I re-drew the side seam starting at the hip level and flaring outwards down to the hem, adding an inch or two to each side. While I was at it, I did a swayback adjustment and lengthened the dress to the knee.
Since I don’t often make designs with cut-on sleeves and do often have fitting issues in the shoulders, I made a quick muslin of the upper half of the dress. This revealed a need for back neck darts, and I also found that I wanted the neckline to be slightly lower all around. The shoulder fit was acceptable, especially since the fabric is soft and can drape there. One last change was to shorten the lower bodice slightly by folding a tuck across the tissue: this pulled up the level of the pockets to a more flattering place above the hipline. (I've overexposed the photo below so you can see the pockets and seams.)
Cutting out was straightforward once I decided how best to place the donuts. Luckily there was just enough fabric to match the design at the front and back seams. However, due to the logistics of the design placement, combined with the pattern pieces being slightly wide because of the cut-on sleeves, I did have to shorten the sleeves a bit in order to fit the pieces within the width of the cloth.
On to the sewing! A plain-weave cotton cambric like this is a pleasure to sew and presses beautifully. Flat fell seams for the long seams on the front and center back make for a clean finish inside and out; they’re a new favorite since I got a 1/4-inch foot for my sewing machine. The shoulder seams, being slightly curved, got French seams instead, as did the side seams, though those weren’t stitched until after the neckline was finished.
The neckline was the only time-consuming part of this project. I felt the dress needed some element of interest, ideally something to relieve all the black. A piece of pale grey linen from the remnant box inspired a flat piping around the neckline, finished with a knotted button and loop closure which I moved to the left side-front seam instead of the original center back placement. Many vintage sewing books have instructions for making button knots, which is surprisingly easy to do and makes you feel very clever.
To leave room at the neckline for the button, I turned in the seam allowances of the opening just a little more at the neckline end (maybe 3/16 inch or so), tapering down to the usual 5/8 inch for the rest of the side front seam. Topstitching all around the neckline and the opening match the look of the flat fell seams. Last, a wide strip of bias to face the hem, since I think that allows the dress hang better than does a turned-up hem. All done, and just in time before I needed it!
After wearing it, I found that the dress fits its requirements very well: it is, indeed, not a bag, and it has fantastic pockets! It looks great both as a dress and with leggings for various seasons, and it’s very comfortable, too. But perhaps most importantly I found a great pattern which functioned as a blank canvas to display one my favorite hand-crafted fabrics from our collection!