The Snakeskin Amber Dress
Posted on Thursday the 22nd March 2018 by Anna-Jo Sews
Hi everyone, it’s Anna from Anna-Jo Sews here, sharing my penultimate maternity make with you all. This time it’s a summery short sleeved dress. No, I haven’t gone mad—I’m well aware there’s still snow on the ground. I’m just planning ahead!
The fabric I used for this dress is an absolutely gorgeous lightweight textured Jersey Knit Fabric in a brownish black (or truffle, as described on the website). It’s not like any fabric I’ve used before, and the closest I can compare it to is a crinkle crepe. The right side has an uneven sheen to it, and over the deeply crinkled surface this gives the appearance of snakeskin, hence the title of this post.
I originally nabbed this fabric intending to make a maternity Agnes top, but after having a good feel of it I thought it would be better suited to something looser and drapey. It has the most wonderful fluidity to it, and I really didn’t want to waste that quality on a bodycon garment. It’s also not a warm fabric, being a lightweight polyester/viscose blend, so I thought it would be better suited to spring/summer wear. With the baby due in May, however, I really wanted to make something that would work for that awkward post-natal stage while my body slowly gets back into shape.
After a bit of headscratching I remembered a pattern in my stash that would fit the bill. I made it twice before—not when pregnant but while breastfeeding, as this is one of those rare beasts, a pattern that features discreet nursing access. Simplicity 1469 is out of print, but if you fancy making it you can get it direct from the designer, Megan Nielsen, as a PDF. I contacted Megan to find out if the pattern is drafted exactly the same, and she very graciously sent me a copy of the PDF to compare.
The Amber Nursing & Maternity Dress/Top is an empire line surplice dress or top with a built in modesty panel (like wearing a cami underneath) that comes with concealed openings, allowing you to breastfeed discreetly. The only difference I can see in the two patterns is that the Amber has the concealed openings slightly closer together, which can only be a good thing as it stops the fabric getting stretched out of shape yanking it out of the way.
The pattern has two sleeve lengths with instructions for making a sleeveless version too. I went for the short sleeves this time although I’ve made the sleeveless version before.
I followed the Simplicity instructions as I’ve had success with them twice before, but I’ve glanced over the Amber instructions and they’re just as good—in fact, the illustrations are probably clearer. The only difference in construction is that the Simplicity version has you put the sleeves in flat before sewing the side seams (my preferred technique with knits) whereas the Amber has you set them in the round. It would be easy enough to put them in flat if you prefer, however.
I have to be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this fabric to a beginner with knits. You might be all right if you’ve handled crinkle crepe before and you stick to a very simple pattern (not this one!), but it definitely needs some careful handling. Part of the issue is that you can’t press it too much or add fusible knit interfacing (one of my favourite stabilisers for drapey knits) as you flatten out the texture and the fabric grows. I had to think carefully about other ways to stabilise the fabric enough to sew this dress, which features pleats and a wrap bodice.
One thing I found helpful was staystitching. I wouldn’t normally do this with a knit, but the instructions actually recommend it for the wrap neckline and it worked a treat. To help control the folded and stitched neckline for the underbodice layer I used Wonder Tape, which was also a real sanity saver! I added some Clear Elastic along the edge of the wrap to help it spring back into shape, as while nursing the front of this dress gets a fair bit of stretching.
I did find I was getting a fair few skipped stitches in my zigzag topstitching too, but I eventually solved this by switching to a 75 Stretch Needle rather than the 80 ballpoint I’d been using.
On the plus side, all wonky topstitching is virtually invisible, swallowed up by the texture, and the fabric doesn’t fray at all. In these pics I’ve left the hems unfinished, and they might well stay that way too if they stand up to washing!
I have to admit the fit at the back isn’t perfect. I’m not sure if that’s simply because I need a swayback adjustment, or if I should have sized up the skirt. I was stuck with sewing a size small as I’d actually cut into my pattern tissue last time I made it, reasoning I was unlikely to making it in a different size in the future. I think the back will look fine once the bump has gone, though. It’s just being pulled around to the front a bit too much at the moment, but with only seven weeks to go I suppose that’s inevitable!
Despite some of the challenges handling this fabric, I’m absolutely delighted with my finished dress and I found it deeply satisfying to take my time sewing it slowly and carefully. The dress is incredibly lightweight and comfortable, and the skirt swishes beautifully when I move. Admittedly, it’s not suitable for our current cold spring, but I’m hoping it will get some wear before I pop, and it will be wonderful for the summer when dealing with a newborn. The extra fabric at the front will cover all the flab that I know from experience takes a while to disappear.
Right, that’s my last maternity pattern done and dusted. I’ll be back next month with something that will be incredibly useful for after the baby arrives. Watch this space!
All materials for this make were kindly supplied by Minerva in return for an honest blog post. Thank you, Minerva!