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A Black Velvet By Hand London Anna Dress

Last week was the second Dressmakers Ball, held in my home city of Leicester. The event is wonderfully organised by the lovely Sarah and Freya from The Crafty Sew and So.

 

I didn’t attend the first Dressmakers Ball (which was held in 2017 I believe), but remember thinking how much fun it looked at the time. So when the ticket sale was announced last year, despite feeling a little nervous as I always do about social gatherings, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a ticket. I am so glad that I did.

Choosing the right dress took a great deal of deliberation. Despite having lots of ideas initially about fancy big petticoats (which I would love to go for another time), I kept on coming back to The Anna Dress from By Hand London.

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It’s a beautifully classic dress which can be made in a midi or maxi length, with kimono sleeves, double pleats below the bust and a great swishy panelled skirt featuring an optional thigh split. This was definitely the dress for me and when my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, this is the pattern that I asked for.

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My fabric choice was a rich black cotton velvet (no stretch). I mean, everybody needs a little black dress in their lives don’t they? This is the first time that I have sewn with velvet and so I was careful to read up as many blogs and articles about sewing with velvet that I could find before cutting into this precious fabric. Before I did this, I also made up a quick toile, and I absolutely loved it! I was slightly concerned that the high neckline might be too high and unflattering on me, but quite the opposite – I really loved how the neckline looked.

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When I made the toile, I found that I had a gaping back neckline. Not to worry though, By Hand London have got your back. On their website there are sew-alongs for the patterns and I had read on the Anna sew-along that this is a common problem with this dress. There are a couple of different ways that I could correct this when making my velvet version and I opted to head on over (using their link) to a great blog post from Ginger Makes which tells you how to adapt your back bodice and back facing so that you completely remove any cheeky gaping at the back neckline. It worked a treat, and was really simple! I needed to alter my neckline by 1.5cm.

So briefly some of the things that I did when cutting and sewing my dress. I made sure that I decided which way I wanted the nap of the fabric to run and made sure that all my pattern pieces were cut in the same direction.  I also cut it out in a single layer on the hall floor as this is a nice big tiled space that I could lay out my fabric without it hanging over a table and pulling and stretching the fabric. The fact that it is a tiled floor turns out to be very important to me too, as let me tell you, velvet sheds A LOT of fluff. It was everywhere. I actually read to keep the vacuum cleaner to hand when you are cutting and this was a great tip! I used a fresh blade on my rotary cutter. In fact – I bought a new rotary cutter as mine has been terrible for a long time, but a new blade is really important – I did use a cutting mat too! A walking foot was crucial I think, and after testing on a scrap of velvet to see that it wouldn’t flatten the pile, I decided to use a longer stitch length than normal too ( I think I used stitch length 3).

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Although it was slightly tricky to sew with, and made a fluffy mess everywhere, it turned out really great in the end. I wasn’t sure if the invisible zip would be possible with the velvet as I had concerns that the pile would get caught in the zip, but I still went with it and just didn’t sew the zip in as close to the teeth as I normally would and it was fine.

The length of the skirt was always going to be long for me (I’m only 5’2″), so I shortened the pattern pieces by 10″ before cutting out. I also lined the skirt. I wasn’t going to, but didn’t realise how much static there would be in this fabric so luckily I had some black lining in my stash to do this. I will admit that I didn’t really have quite enough, so the lining is a few inches shorter than the hem, but never mind.

I went for an ankle-grazing length in the end, as I absolutely love my animal print sandals and wanted these to be seen. The thigh split is optional too, but, well, who could resist.

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The Dressmakers Ball itself was incredible, and I will leave this blog purely as a dress review because I know there are already lots of vlogs and blogs with all the details of the Ball itself. I would like to give a big shout out to my two best sewing buddies though for making the night so special. Kate and Vena had me crying with laughter all night, they truly are the best!

It was such a thrill to bump into so many sewing friends, some that I had met before and some that I was excited to meet for the first time. It was quite overwhelming to see everybody in all their stunning dresses enjoying themselves dancing and chatting, it was a night to remember. The photo below is of myself, Kate and Vena taken by a lovely professional photographer, Tara, who was busy all night snapping away!

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I couldn’t resist wearing my acrylic scissors necklace from my shop. It’s such a fun necklace and I was made up to see so many others wearing theirs!

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To sum up, I can see lots more Anna Dresses in my life. The panelled skirt is such fun to sew and the flattering bust pleats and fitted bodice is so pretty. I love it!

I spotted several other Anna Dresses at the ball, it was a popular pattern and I can see why. Dress it up in velvet or silk, or make it as a pretty day time dress – you choose.

Ooh I nearly forgot, to use up some of the leftover velvet, I decided to make a little zipper clutch to match my dress. I used the Pleated Zipper Pouch online tutorial from The Stitch Sisters (which was a pattern that was gifted to me), and whilst it was made using the most inappropriate fabric for this pattern (this pattern calls for nice crisp woven fabrics), it still came out pretty well I think. I also used a small amount of animal print cotton sateen purchased from the lovely Sarah at Like Sew Amazing. It kind of matched my shoes!

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Take care, and I’ll be back soon,

Kathy x

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My #sewmystyle2018 entry – The Sunny Dress by Friday Pattern Co.

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I’m not really a fan of New Year resolutions, but this year as part of my #2018makenine list I am going to try to sew more patterns using independent pattern companies – especially those I have never tried before. The perfect opportunity to get this off and running is the  January project from the #sewmystyle2018 challenge.  Two birds with one stone and all that. For those who are unfamiliar with the #sewmystyle2018 sewing challenge I will link the website for Jessica who is organising it this year here and you can head on over to read all about it if you are interested. Basically it is pretty much a monthly sewing challenge which enables you to connect with the sewing community and have a bit of fun sewing up a different pattern each month.

The January pattern is The Sunny Dress/Top pattern from Friday Pattern Co.

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It’s a reversible dress ( and by that I mean it can be worn with the scoop neckline at the front or back) for knit fabrics, with set in sleeves and a scalloped hemline. I don’t know very much about The Friday Pattern Co. but do like the fact that they support a rotating collection of the top-ranked charities in the world. For purchases of this pattern they donate 5% to The Against Malaria Foundation.

Originally I was all for making the dress just as it was with no planned alterations, but when it came to making it I decided that in all honesty I probably wouldn’t wear this body skimming shape so I decided to alter it to a design that would be more wearable to me. I was really pleased to read a post on Facebook (I think) that Jessica had written where she mentioned that this design was really a blank canvas that you could adjust in so many ways, and so I went for it!

My fabric choice was a floral print stretch jersey from Minerva Crafts. It’s super pretty with a good stretch and  a nice medium weight.

Before I started I had noticed comments from others that the dress seemed to come out a little on the small size, so although I probably am a size medium, I cut it to between a medium and large. I feel that this left it a little on the large size, and would stick to a medium if I were to make it again.

In my head I wanted to create a simple dress with a gathered skirt – rather like The Moneta Dress by Colette Patterns. In order to achieve this I cut the top version out (view B), but cut it straight across the bottom hem edge as I didn’t need the scalloped shaping.

The pattern is basic. No pattern markings such as notches were indicated, which was a little unusual, but not actually necessary, as it was a pretty straightforward shape to sew. The instructions are simple, but were perfectly adequate for what it was asking you to do. I decided to set my sleeves in to the bodice sleeve edge before sewing the side seams together to make a ‘tube’. This worked well and I simply sewed up my sleeves at the same time I sewed my side seams in one long seam. I must admit that I was disappointed by how loose the sleeves are and will certainly take in quite a bit next time. I shortened the length of the sleeves by 1″.

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There are a couple of ways to finish the neckline. You can simply turn it under and stitch in place, or make a neckband  which is my preferred method. The Friday Pattern Co. provides a link to a tutorial on how to do this if this is your first time doing so.

As my fabric was really quite stretchy I chose to make my neckband 20% smaller than my neckline opening, and this worked out just right.

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O.K, when I got to this point it was time to decide how much I needed to take off the length of the bodice. To do this I simply tried it on and marked it. In my case I needed to take off 6.5″ from the bottom of the bodice. I also pinned my skirt pieces on roughly to see that they looked about right. This also gave me the opportunity to mark out on the skirt pieces where I wanted to place my in-seam pockets – let’s talk about the skirt and pockets…

So to make the skirt I simply used two rectangles of fabric that were left over after I had cut out the top. I didn’t calculate how wide/gathered I wanted it to be – it was simply going to be as gathered as the width of the fabric allowed! As I had a fair bit of length left I realised that it could possibly be long enough for a maxi dress – we’d have to see when it was finished. So I left the length as long as I could, as it could easily be shortened to knee length if necessary later on. Originally I was just going to sew my remaining fabric into a ‘loop’ which would make a skirt with a vertical seam down the back of the dress, but could not bring myself to make a skirt without in-seam pockets so needed to cut the remaining fabric into 2 rectangles to create a side seam either side that I could insert pockets into.

The pattern does not come with a pocket piece ( I would not expect it to with it being such a close fitting style), so as always I fell back on my trusty favourite pocket pattern template that I always use when adding my own in-seam pockets, which is from my Colette Peony dress – but any in-seam pocket pattern piece would do – I added them to each side seam of the ‘skirt’ at the point I had marked out earlier when trying on. Next it was time to gather the ‘skirt’. There are several ways to do this, but I chose to measure my waist, cut some clear elastic to that length, and stretch and sew it to the top of the skirt. This gathers the skirt evenly and it can then simply be stitched to the bodice.

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So, some things to note if I try this again… The weight of the skirt when added, pulled down the bodice piece more than I expected it to, so if I were to make this alteration again, I would probably raise the waist by at least another inch (especially if the fabric has the same weight as this one).

As mentioned, the sleeves were far to wide , so these would be narrowed down next time. I would also cut a size medium as I didn’t find that it came out small on me as others had.

Also another thing to hold my hand up to is the unfinished nature of these photographs. I finished this dress the same morning that my husband was taking photos of a couple of other projects that I have made recently. I knew that he wouldn’t be available for another good few days to take photos of this dress, by the time this challenge would have been finished, so please excuse the hastily ironed neckline, the complete lack of sleeve hem ironing (that twin needling is crying out for a good press), and the fact that the skirt hem is unfinished because I wanted to leave it on my dressform to hang for a couple of days. I’m pleased to say that it has dropped nicely now to a perfect floor length and my job this afternoon will be to finally hem it.

All in all I am super pleased with the outcome. I didn’t imagine it turning into a maxi dress originally, but that is the wonderful thing about sewing that you can do just whatever you like.

Thank you to Jessica and all her team of assistants for putting this challenge together – do head on over to social media and search #sewmystyle2018 for tons more inspiration on this dress pattern and the project in general. Thank you also to the Friday Pattern Company for generously giving all participants of this challenge a discount code for their pattern purchase.

Take care and I’ll be back soon,

Kathy x

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