This is made from a quite substantial blue and white striped cotton that I originally bought back in the spring with pyjamas in mind. But pyjamas can wait, as long as the sun shines I'm sewing dresses! The design of this one is off-the-shoulder with a fitted bodice and the skirt has four deep pleats from the waist. The pattern I used is Simplicity 1418, which offers a number of bodice styles, including various sleeves and shoulder straps and a version with a low cut back panel, or lace up back. It's actually a great basic dress pattern and you could take it in lots of different directions. I decided to make this up with a plain, higher back panel on the bodice, as the back needed to stay up with the dropped sleeves and I also needed strapless bra coverage.
The hefty pleats at the front and back give the skirt a fair amount of volume, which works well in this full bodied fabric at midi length. I actually added around 6 inches to the recommended skirt length to make this a midi dress rather than finishing on the knee. I don't have many dresses this length but the proportions felt right for this shape and it's easy and flattering to wear.
I have to say that this fit and flare, full skirted style is probably not my usual go-to shape for a dress though. It's a little too fifties in the shape and cut for my usual taste. Although vintage and particularly fifties era is a very popular silhouette just now, it isn't usually the look I go for personally. However the clean blue and white stripe along with the off-the-shoulder sleeves brings a more fresh and contemporary look, and it's just as happy to be on the beach as a day dress as revved up with heels and a biker jacket in the evening.
The shoulders feel surprisingly secure, despite their unusual floating appearance, this thanks to an elasticated casing travelling underneath each one to hug the upper arm. I like the wide scoop of the neckline this gives, both at the front and back. The zip is concealed at the side seam, so the back neckline has the same clean and uncluttered finish.
I was curious to see how it felt to wear under a jacket, given the dropped sleeves, but it was fine and not annoying at all, as some elasticated drop sleeves can be. I wore this on the beach all day, occasionally throwing on my battered old navy leather jacket when the clouds rolled in, and it held its shape beautifully.
So a bit about the construction process. I cut a UK size 12, going straight into my striped fabric without preparing a toile. I can tell by measurements pretty much whether a dress is going to fit ok, and as long as there are seams and darts to adjust, there is the opportunity for me to tweak along the way. I did end up letting out the bodice side seams about half an inch under the arms. I always forget how much my ribcage flares at this point and, although the rest of the dress fitted fine, I did need the extra ease for breathing room here.
The dropped sleeves really need to fit well and it's worth spending some time on this because otherwise they end up being too large and droopy, causing them to crease and drop, or they will restrict your arms if too tight. I would recommend basting these on with the elasticated casings in place underneath, and then adjusting to fit before finally sewing them in place. They should feel secure and hold your upper arm, keeping their shape without flopping down or creasing up, but with the actual sleeve itself appearing to just follow the neckline in a smooth upward curve. This meant a fair bit of finagling around and trying on, but the rest of the dress is very simple and easy to sew up so you can afford to apply some concentration on this stage in the process. These casings shouldn't show at all, but they're very clever at keeping things in place.
I decided to fully line this garment, the instructions for which aren't included in the pattern (the pattern includes front and back facings only). I used a very lightweight cotton to keep the dress cool and airy - it's cream rather than white, because that is what I had to hand, but actually it doesn't matter as the outer fabric is quite thick. To line this dress you can basically cut out the bodice and skirt sections again and make up in the same way, attaching as you would the facing instructions. I hand stitched the lining around the zip on the side seam.
So I'm back home from holiday now and sadly that is my last summer sojourn this year. We were so lucky to have two fabulous holidays this year in both Spain and the UK and I'm already missing barbecues on the beach, seafood by the bucket load and drinks by the sea as the sun goes down (and making friends with heavy machinery - isn't this the cutest tractor though?! Just me on the that one?).
Anyway I'm hoping for an indian summer here in England, so that I can keep wearing this through September. It is most definitely a garment to make the most of tanned shoulders and strappy sandals, so I'll be making sure both the dress and my shoulders gets as much air time as possible before the autumn.