DIY White Summer Dress

In sewing as in life, there are successes and disappointments. I had really high hopes for this dress. I spent sooooo much time on it. But ultimately it just doesn’t feel me. And the worst part is I kind of new all along that this silhouette wasn’t exactly me. Lesson 1: Trust your gut. There were many missteps and much time spent with the seam ripper during the making of this dress. I will try to give the pertinent details without all the grumpy, annoyed bits. And maybe I can share a few tips (or rather reminders to myself) for how to avoid these issues in the future.

Let’s start with the fabric. I LOVE this fabric. It’s a white cotton/poly blend with little rainbow colored flakes throughout. It’s the funfetti cake of fabric (although a bit more tasteful in color placement). The fabric is from The Fabric Store here in Los Angeles and I received it as part of my ongoing partnership with them. They have a lovely boutique style fabric store on La Brea in the mid-city area. They have tons of lovely fabric, amazing customer service and are currently having a sale (online and in store). woot woot! 

The fabric was really easy to work with but it’s just a little bit sheer despite being a medium weight. But I LOVED the funfetti speckles. They reminded me of my childhood when everything was splattered in different color speckles and in particular of a set of stationery with rainbow paint splashes. So, despite the sheerness I brought this fabric home. I’ve had success underlining sheer fabric in the past so I wasn’t too worried that I could make it work. Sadly, I think it’s just too heavy for this style of dress. Lesson 2: Consider the weight of your fabric when choosing a pattern. Then think about it some more. Really. 

While we’re on the topic of underlining, let’s touch on that for a moment. I usually use a very cheap a lightweight lining material from Michael Levine in the LA fashion district. It’s only $3 a yard and really soft. I buy about 5 yards at a time so I always have some on hand. For this project I ran out before I was able to cut out the front skirt. Face palm. I bought some more but forgot to bring a swatch with me and the fabric didn’t match exactly. Lesson 3: Always bring your swatch. The new lining fabric was slightly more yellow in tone and slightly heavier. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. But after sewing together the skirt (the first time), I could see the difference in color on the underlining through the dress. One side looked distinctly more yellow than the other. <insert sad sobbing emoji> Lesson 4: Check colors in bright daylight. In the end because of other issues too, I changed the underlining to a lining for the skirt and I think the color difference is not as noticeable.

For this dress, I wanted something that would be really comfortable to wear with an easy summer vibe. This photo from Pinterest was my inspiration. Looking back at this image, I immediately see that the fabric has a lot more drape than the fabric I used. Le sigh. Lesson 5: Consider fabric drape when selecting a pattern. Anyway, I found the Lisa Dress by Tessuti which is a really similar design to my inspiration. I think it’s a really pretty design but I did have this inkling that it wouldn’t be quite right for me. I have a large bust and when the waist of an outfit isn’t fitted I sometimes feel a little dowdy. I was worried about this dress being too loose so I really worked on getting the bodice nicely fitted. I cut a size small and did a 1” FBA, raised the armhole 1/2” and added 3/4” to the length of the bodice. I also added an under bust dart to give a little more shape to the bodice. For reference, I have a 38” bust, 35” upper bust and I’m 5’11”. I consulted this and this tutorial for help with the FBA.

This is the second Tessuti pattern that I’ve made. The first was the Tokyo Jacket which I made last year for my mom but didn’t blog about. Even though the pattern is a digital pdf pattern, the lines of the pattern are hand drawn, which I think is fine but does slightly annoy my exacting make-sure-everything-is-perfectly-lined-up side. The thing that really hangs me up with their patterns are the instructions, which mainly use photos rather than illustrations. I’m very visual and in general prefer the detail that can be seen in an illustration. Unfortunately I also had a hard time understanding the written instructions. The bodice went to together perfectly but I royally messed up the skirt and had to sew it three times. I neglected to properly mark the notches in the skirt and kept sewing the back skirt in backwards, with the side seams at the center back. Lesson 6: Transfer all pattern markings. Also, pay attention to center front and center back.

With this pattern and the Tokyo Jacket, I ended up ignoring some of the provided steps and just did what I thought made sense. I know other people really like the Tessuti patterns but they’re just not for me. (Teri made a really beautiful one and had helpful tips about the fit of the bodice.) Not every pattern or pattern company is going to be a good fit for every person. And that’s totally ok. I’m sure not everyone is going to like my patterns or my writing style too.

So, I do think this is a pretty dress and want to give it a fair shot. After all, I spent a lot of time on it. So, I gave it a test run last weekend. Sadly, I just didn’t enjoy wearing it and that's really the most important part. I really should have trusted my gut (see lesson 1) and gone with a style that I knew would make me feel good. If I were to do it all over again, I’d choose a different pattern for this fabric; perhaps the Acton Dress or the Alder Shirtdress, something that’s meant to have a little more structure and doesn’t have so much volume in the skirt. I’m going to see if I can gift this dress to my SIL but if it’s not her style either, then I’ll do a refashion or donate it to Goodwill and let it find a home with someone who will love it. Ultimately, I don't feel bad that this could be categorized as a failed make. I learned a lot during the process. In the future, I'll have this experience to help me make better decisions. Trying things out and seeing what we do or don't like is all part of the process. And the process is the fun part, right?