A very pretty empire-waist style cocktail dress that is coming together nicely. However, it’s cut for women with very small, high breasts and so most will need to make a full bust adjustment to the upper front. It’s also cut for a rectangle shaped woman, but it’s fairly easy to alter for an hour glass. The dress is in progress; I’ll post final reviews and photos when done.
Fabric: I couldn’t find a heavy enough silk charmeuse in a print that would look good both flat and shirred. I settled for an almost-mid-weight polyester charmeuse and hoped it would drape correctly. It doesn’t drape quite right; it’s OK, but I think a silk would look better.
Fit challenge: This pattern is designed for women with very high, small breasts. Typically, commercial patterns are designed for a B-cup, but I suspect this is closer to an A-cup. It’s also designed for a very rectangular figure shape, with a waist that’s nearly the same as the hips (however, the dress does accommodate a full tushy).
Adjustments made: There were many!
First, I lengthened the hem by two inches… my mini-skirt days are long past. Knee length is much better for a grown-up.
Since I’m an hour-glass shape, I had to bring the waist in a lot during the fitting phase:
- I took all the side panels insets 1cm, without touching the tongue of the skirt that comes up the centre front. Since the skirt fit well, I didn’t want to change the inset’s bottom seam (it goes from the corner out to the side seam). Thus, I left the corner as specified by the pattern, and tapered out the excess fabric up to the under-bust seam. That made the waist smaller without (a) changing the hips, and (b) changing the size of tongue of skirt that comes up the centre front. [include photo]
- I also took in the side seam 1 cm at the armhole, tapering to a full inch (which means 4″ in total) at the waist, then down to nothing where the side inset intersects the side seam.
I also had to take it in at the shoulder seam– I’m short shoulder-to-bust!
The big problem was, however, that the dress is cut for a woman with very small and high breasts. Most patterns work for a B- or C- cup, which means that I used to do some tweaks but rarely was it so bad that the pattern didn’t work. On this dress, I think it’s cut for an A cup! The dress is designed as an empire front, with a decorative overlay. In my first attempt to get the bust to fit, I replaced the darts with gathers (for a bit more “room”), lowered the seam into the seam allowance, wore a mega-push-up bra and it still squished me (unflattering AND uncomfortable). Even worse, once the overlay was added, there were two major problems: (a) the overlay didn’t gather over the fullest part of the bust, and (b) the overlay was too short, it didn’t meet at the side seam– despite my taking the front of the dress in at the side seams a full inch!
This bust problem was severe enough that the dress was going to be unwearable for me– yet I had an event, nothing to wear and had put in a lot of work on it! Then I decided to check to see if I could get more fabric– it’s normally a big no-no, since a different bolt = different dye lot, but I figured that since the drape was shirred and the underlayer was hidden, it may not matter. I was very lucky: it was the same bolt (they had only received the one), and so matching was not an issue. I learned online how to do a full bust adjustment (this site, this site and this site, if you’re a Pattern Review member, were particularly instructive), copied the pattern pieces to pattern tissue and used that to re-draft the bust pieces completely, with a full bust adjustment that added in 1.25″ in width to the pattern piece for 2.5″ extra width total. It was scary, since I had never done an FBA before, but I had taken pattern making courses in the past. For the overlay, I followed the original instructions, then rotated the darts into the drape that goes down to the side seam, and adjusted the two darts until they were even. Those will be treated as gathers, not darts, and will just fit in with the rest of the design.
I tested my new pattern pieces out in cheap lining fabrics and it worked (although I’ll have to add 2″ or so to the length of the upper bodice overlay), so then I cut it out (first in good lining fabric– since that’s the underlayer as well as the lining). I didn’t finish the dress in time for the event, needed two more days of sewing or so, so my husband “made” me shop for a suitable dress and I found something truly wonderful. Which means I haven’t yet finished this dress!
(I do think that I’ll be doing FBAs regularly, from now on. It made a big difference in how the dress fit… I really should have been doing this before, even if it will complicate and delay the sewing process. It’ll mean that I’ll have to shorten both front and back of garments from now on, since I truly am short waisted).
I had hoped that the dress wasn’t too low at the bust– it looks a bit risque in the pattern photo– but didn’t see a way to alter it due to the draped-and-shirred overlay. Happily, even when the bodice was too tight, it would have been fine with a lace modesty panel. Now that I’ve altered it, it seems to sit a bit higher– but I won’t know for sure until I sew the lining to the dress. But it’s a relief to know that it will definitely be OK, with or without a bit of lace.
Sewing notes: If you want to fit the dress, muslin-like, before you lay out your fabric, the lining is the same as the pattern (but without the gathered drapes). Buy more fabric than the pattern prescribes, because the pattern layout is very tight. Any added length is a challenge to lay out– let alone if you need more fabric for FBAs!
The dress is structured like an empire dress, with side inserts front and back.
The dress also needs a dart along the neckline; there’s an error in the pattern: the front drape will only fit onto the underlay if that dart is added. Plus, without that dart, the dress perches on the shoulders with terrible gaping at the armhole, instead of sitting on the shoulder, hiding a regular bra strap, like in the photo.
Without the front drape, the front looks “funny”, quite unattractive in how it highlights your middle. To the point where it’s worrisome the first time you fit the dress. Rest assured that the back looks good and the front will look good once the drape is added.
The rib/side panels are easy enough to figure out how they fit, but the back drape is more of a challenge. The piece does fit correctly– match the triangle shoulder symbol first, then match the notches, and it’ll work.
I followed the instructions and put in an invisible zipper. Surprisingly, I think I would have preferred a regular zipper, put in couture-style. For the zipper to slide around the bulk of the empire seam, it’s not completely invisible.
I cut the dress out as a size 20, to fit the hips and bust. Retail, I was an 18 at the time. At least 50% of that turned out well!
Outcome: tbd! I’ll post some photos of the FBA process… and final photos when the dress is done.
PS: I started this dress in spring of 2012, and it’s now autumn 2014 and the darn dress still isn’t completed. All that’s left is sewing the lining to the fashion fabric at the sleeve. The problem is, the lining’s bigger than the fashion fabric and so it’s not going in well. After all the other frustrations, I just put it aside.
I can also add that this design looks good when you’re at the size of the dress, or a bit lower (I’m now a retail 16), but it is not a dress to wear when it’s too big. When I was down at 14 (before I injured my knee; yes, I’m working on gradually losing weight), it looked terrible, making me look heavier.