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My Crepe Dress by Anna

Hi there, I’m Anna of Anna Jo Sews here with my second blog post for Minerva - the first was my version of Butterick B6217, and I’m now back with another retro inspired make. This time I went for the Colette Crepe Dress Pattern: a woven summer dress with a wrap closure, that unlike most wrap dresses, wraps at the back. 

I’ve had this pattern in my stash for a while now and was just waiting for the right fabric to make it up. I was over the moon when Minerva offered to send me this gorgeous floral viscose Crepe Fabric to sew it up, as it’s a fairly fabric intensive dress, requiring 3.5m of the main fabric, and another 1.5m to make the contrast waist ties. Thank you, Minerva - I don’t think I’d have been able to make this without your generosity!

The pics of the finished dress were all taken on our recent holiday in the South of France, with a view of the stunning medieval hilltop town of Saint-Paul de Vence. Well worth a trip if you’re ever on the Côte d’Azur.

Crepe is a pattern aimed at beginners because it’s actually very simple to sew, without having any fiddly closures to worry about. The neckline and grown-on sleeves are faced, and there are two different neckline options: round and sweetheart. Of course, I went for the sweetheart version, as I’m a complete and utter sucker for sweetheart necklines. I think the majority of my me-mades now feature this neckline - what can I say? When I find something I like, I stick with it! I also chose to make the contrast waist ties as I thought having a solid navy here would look good against the busy floral print.

While the lazy sewist in me initially contemplated just cutting into the fabric without going to the trouble of making a toile (hey, it’s a wrap dress - you can just tie it tighter or looser to adjust the fit!) in the end I’m glad the perfectionist sewist in me won out, as I ended up making a fair few alterations to the fit of the bodice. The toile was much too big all over, so I took it in by 1cm on each side seam (that’s 4cm off the overall width) and I changed the shape of the darts below the bust to give a more figure-hugging fit. I also decided the front neckline was too high for my liking, and I took it down by 2cm. It’s still high enough not to worry about any accidental cleavage flashing and I reckon I could have taken it a bit lower still - tart that I am - but it’s nice to have a dress in my wardrobe that’s a bit more modest than the rest of them ;-)

My final alteration was to take the curve of the shoulder in a little, as my toile was making me look like an American football player. I will now admit that this might have been a mistake, as my final fabric had much better drape than the bedsheet I made the toile out of, and I think I’ve now made the arms a little on the tight side. Not a problem when indulging in cocktails and general lounging about, but if I make any sudden arm lifting movements I can feel the stitches straining. Note to self: this dress is not one for running around after the kids or doing the housework in!

You can see the alterations I made to the front bodice in the next picture (new lines drawn in within the original bodice), and of course, those alterations changed the waistline, armholes and neckline so resulted in knock on changes to every single pattern piece except the ties and pockets. Gah! Sometimes I do like to make life difficult for myself.

Next up: cutting. I’m going to admit here that I’ve never worked with viscose crepe before. There was that one time early on in my sewing career when I made a dress lining out of silk crepe-de-chine and that was pretty easy to handle, though, so I figured I’d be all right with this stuff. The main Floral Fabric was very like that crepe-de-chine, having a light weight but a bit of body to it, while draping beautifully and having it a tiny bit of stretch. While it took a bit of care to keep the grainlines straight while cutting out, it was a seriously lovely fabric to sew. It behaves well under the machine and takes a good crease under the iron. I made absolutely no attempt to pattern match, by the way, and I don’t think that matters with an organic, irregular pattern like this one.

The plain crinkle Crepe Viscose Fabric was a very different beast, and I have to admit, I didn’t really know how to handle it. It crinkled right up when I pre-washed it, and became this heavily textured, really stretchy fabric. I wanted to preserve that look so I didn’t press it after washing, but I’ll admit now I probably should have, as all those crinkles made it a nightmare to cut out and sew! Luckily the ties are just two simple rectangles, so it wasn’t too big a deal. I do have some of this fabric left over - possibly enough for a tank top - so I’m thinking before I attempt to sew with it again I’m going to need to press it well. It does have a lovely texture to it, though, and I think it would be perfect for a lightweight woven top or swishy summer skirt. Minerva sell it in four different colours, and I have my eye on the red for a summer skirt, although I admit that might have to wait for next year now as it looks like the British summer is pretty much over. Boo!

The construction of this dress is pretty straightforward and the instructions are clear. The only thing that wasn’t mentioned that I thought should have been, was to staystitch not only the neckline and armholes, but the corrosponding facings too. I mostly stuck to the instructions while sewing up, but did add a bit of extra interfacing. With this shifty, lightweight crepe I thought it would be best to stabilise the neckline and armholes on the bodice as well as the facings, so I cut narrow strips of interfacing on the straight grain (I used this lovely Lightweight Woven Fusible Interfacing) and fused them along the stitching lines before staystitching. 

Interestingly, this wasn’t as successful as the staystitching at preventing the edges stretching out, as the facings were all interfaced, but they ended up stretching during construction. I dealt with it by sewing them on with the facing on the bottom, relying on the slight gathering action of the feed dogs to pull in the excess fabric. Worked a treat, but in future I will definitely be staystitching all my facings too.

The only bit of sewing that I found tricky was attaching the bodice to the skirt, as there was just so much fabric to deal with. I tacked the skirt seam allowances open at the top and stitched with the bodice side up, which made it a little easier to handle but I still had to take it really slowly. I also have to admit that I haven’t fully decided on how to treat the bottom hem, and so the dress in the pictures is finished with a simple overlock stitch in black. I’ve already shortened the hem by a good couple of inches, but I’m contemplating taking it up to above the knee and wanted to wear it first a few times first before making the final decision on length.

So, what about the finished dress? Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. I love the fabric and the way it feels against my skin—cool and with a nice bit of give to it. I also really like the overall shape of the dress, that back neckline with its deep vee, the pockets, and the way those grown on cap sleeves cover up my shoulders. Perfect for the Mediterranean heatwave! The dress has the kind of vintage vibe I was after, and will be great for summer parties.

However, I wasn’t really after a party dress. What I wanted - no, needed - was a dress that I could wear every day, and this isn’t it. The wraps feel too restricting around my middle. Somehow, in all my excitement to make this I’d completely forgotten that there’s a reason I don’t have any wrap dresses in my wardrobe, and it’s because I decided years ago that I found them uncomfortable. Not only are they bulky and hot around my waist, but the tie can be really annoying when lounging back in chairs. I don’t really have the patience to wear uncomfortable clothing any more, and one of the joys of making your own is that you don’t have to!

I’m also conscious that I still haven’t quite perfected the bodice fit. It’s a little loose under the arms, although I have to admit, it looks pretty good in these pictures so maybe I’m being too much of a perfectionist. I also wanted this to be a good holiday dress, but with all the extra fabric with the back wrap and ties it takes up more than its fair share of suitcase room. And it creases too. And I hate ironing - especially when I’m on holiday!

So, I’m in two minds about this make. If I leave it in its current state I doubt it will get worn very often. I already have a wardrobe stuffed with pretty party dresses, and a tragic lack of occasions to trot them out. While the contrast ties look cute, I’m seriously considering going for a fairly drastic remodelling by removing them, cutting it down the centre back and inserting a zip. I reckon that would preserve the look of the dress, while making it much more comfy and easy to wear.

What do you think? Is it worth reworking a partially successful finished make until you have it just right for you, or do you always want to move onto the next project?

Anna-Jo x

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