Friday, October 31, 2014

Pattern Whisperer selects: daytime or business dresses

My first Pattern Whisperer selection seems to have been a resounding success based on the lovely email message I received from Rachel plus all the great comments left on that post. By the way she loved the choice of the DKNY pattern so I can’t wait to see that sewn up.
I do feel I hit it out of the park on that selection (oh yeah, baseball metaphor – and a lot of cheers – San Francisco Giants Baseball World Series Champs once again. No sewing Wednesday night, just nail-biting until the final exciting catch).

For you non-baseball fans, let’s get back to sewing. I am a little worried that the first whisperer post was so well received that any subsequent ones will be a bit of a letdown.

So I am going to do multiple posts with some pattern picks in lots of different categories. From the comments left I think it will be helpful to both choose patterns and go into some details on why the pattern is a good one – style options, works with a variety of fabrics, and perhaps most importantly where I see options for pattern adjustment to get a good fit. I think that is the mark of a successful pattern, if you can get a good fit and choose a fabric you are happy with then it will be a success.

Today I will show some good very basic dress patterns, things that work on a variety of figures and can work with a lot of common adjustments. If this post seems a bit dull – stay tuned for a following post with some more – ahem – interesting suggestions for a variety of specific commenters with distinctive requests.

What I have noticed and I should not be surprised AT ALL, as I say it all the time – but there are a LOT of very similar patterns. Like exactly. Even from the same company. (how many DVF wrap dress clones are there ???) So sometimes the key is really scrutinizing the style lines to pick the best pattern for your body shape or the alterations you generally need.

The subtitle of this post could have been something like “OOP, where have you gone?” because a few of the patterns that I had in mind are discontinued. I am glad to say that BurdaStyle seems to buck that trend and issue patterns that previously appeared in the magazine as PDF downloads which is great.

Here is my first pick, Vogue 8787.  This is a really pretty dress, a bit distinctive and offers good opportunities for adjustment or color blocking, and it comes in wide range of sizes. I have made the cowl neck version for a sewing client, using the size 20 as a starting point. I used a light color rayon jersey which was a mostly white, and added a full lining in a compatible knit. Soon I will be making a winter version so perhaps I should show some of the pattern adjustments when I do. The straight skirt version has darts - think about converting those to pleats and maybe even adding another pleat there to create a tiny bit of fullness. It won't change the look of the dress front very much and I think those front darts on the tummy are among the most difficult to sew - they often seem to point right to a spot you don't want to call attention. On this color-block dress I did the dart to pleat change if you want to see how it
looks. On a small busted person the asymmetrical option or the cowl would work well. Plus this pattern has options for various sleeves. This pattern works in any jersey as well as the fabrics they specify. The slim version in wool crepe would be very good.

Vogue 8787

New Look 6067 is a pattern that looks fantastic on a lot of different body shapes. It has interesting, flattering details and options for sleeves and neckline. Kyle sewed it two years ago, and Sewmanju made a great version for the Tessuti contest. You could frankenpattern this one, and put a full skirt on, or use the skirt portion with a different bodice. I also think it would be nice with a lower neckline, how about changing it to a low v-neck front and back for a more summer or evening dress.

NL 6067 pattern rec

Now its time to complain a little about the OOP patterns.
Here is a great one that I have used for a variety of bodice ideas. OOP McCalls 5297. Super easy to sew and minimal pattern pieces.

McCalls 5927 pattern envJPGMcCalls 5927 drawing

This pattern is one with the various front bodice pattern pieces for cup sizes, plus it has pockets! and a tiny pleat in the front. Which may sound odd but it gives room to put your hand in the pocket - and keeps the front from straining across the tummy, if that makes sense. I used this as the basis for the color block dress I mentioned above. I have changed the neckline on this one but that is easy to do.

Now if you are a committed Franken-patterner (like I am) these two are also OOP but man, I am so annoyed at Simplicity when I just noticed that 2648 there on the left is OOP. Whaaaaaa!. Not that this pattern is the ultimate in patterns but it was so useful. Cup sizes, neckline options, princess seaming in the skirt front, choice of darts in the back....very useful. So if you have it in your stash maybe time for a second look. Even with all the valid complaining on the Simplicity excessive ease  - if you do the work to fit this pattern then you can morph it into a LOT of other things or use as a fitting sloper. The 2217 looks very blah and sad bridesmaid on the envelope but I have used this also as a starting point. Also if you have any tummy an empire waist is actually very nice if you choose one that has some soft pleating. I used to watch What Not to Wear and they frequently told people that the narrowest part is above the waist at the ribcage so it works to emphasize that. Also if you are short you may be surprised to see that an empire waist dress can actually be elongating, if the fit is right.
Simplicity Amazing fit patterns
The Amazing fit patterns can look really basic but hidden in the many many pattern pieces in each envelope is good chance of sewing success. The Simplicity website is just dreadful which is a shame but the patterns are really useful. Here is a look at the result when I sent one of these patterns to my friend Karen in London in 2013. That one is probably OOP as well. Thank goodness for Ebay and Etsy!

Last in the OOP category is this New Look 6097, another one that looks good on a lot of people. The skirt is slightly gathered at the waist seam, the wrap sews up really well (not too low), pockets again, and it has that chic wrap dress look but in a slimmer silhouette and no wrap flap lifting in the breeze.
NL 6097 pattern rec

Everyone needs or can wear a shirtdress and this one has a lot of options.  McCalls 6696
McCalls shirtdress
I like this pattern because it has the cup size options, the straight skirt version has cute slant pockets, sleeve options, and the waistband gives it a bit of polish. As with all patterns that have a sewn on waistband, if this one is a single piece - I would chop that thing up at the side seams and sew the whole front of the dress, and the whole back together and then sew up the side seams last - SO much easier to get a nice fit that way. And easier to cut out the smaller waistband pieces, sew on the skirts that way, etc. This has the bias cut slip included in the pattern which is a nice addition. Also the back has the gathering which you could convert to a pleat for a different look or if your fabric was a bit more crisp.

Here is Vogue 8786 which might seem kind of simple, but I think would sew up quickly and offers a lot of fitting opportunities with the princess seaming. Also kind of clever how the sleeves are done, another reason it is easy to sew. Great color-blocking opportunity as well. You can tell I am all about color blocking but a dark color on the panels and then a bright or light on top would look very sharp and be great for directing the eye upward.
Vogue 8786

Here is one that is a bit out of my usual selection - a Style Arc pattern. They have some nice dress patterns for knits but this one is for a woven. Those two piece sleeves intrigue me and this would be a really sharp dress for office wear. Also tucks in the skirt front, and a square neckline which I like a lot.
Style Arc Catherine dress
Now for a couple of Burda patterns.
Burda pleated V-neck dress
 Look how different the skirt hangs in different type of fabrics, possible a silk duppioni or other firm fabric on the left, and softer on the right in lace. I would not have thought of this pattern for lace but it looks really pretty. It appears to have a 2-piece sleeve which is slightly unusual for a dress but gives a nice fit. I would probably make a sleeveless version and do my usual change of carving in that outer edge of the shoulder seam to narrow the shoulder to fit my frame better.

Here is a dress that is office-friendly but kind of a knockout. I just muslined this for a sewing client and wow it looks great. I actually added another bust dart in the bodice which was quite easy and made the front fit a bit better but otherwise it was a good fit.. Also shoulder darts which give a nice shape to the upper bodice. Now I am looking for the right fabric, maybe a scuba knit would be perfect.
Burda plus 113B

Interestingly I have noticed that the best selection and variety in dresses in the plus size range is in Burda. They have so many great choices so worth taking a look. It is my first choice lately if I am searching for a pattern in that size range.

OK - those are some options for good dress basics. Google search or look at Pattern Review to see lots of versions of those first few patterns, on all shapes and different fabrics. I think it is invaluable to find some other women who have a similar shape and evaluate what has worked out on them. I have another post in the works for maxi dresses, possibly a few summer sundresses for you lucky ones in the southern hemisphere and some specific picks for people who commented. Plus a post on jacket and coat recommendations.

I am not much of a Pinterest user but collecting all these pattern ideas was kind of a chore until I realized I could pin them and be able to review en masse.  I also like a minimalist style of blog but just like my closets the stuff keeps piling up. So I made a widget and you can see all the patterns I have pinned and will use that going forward. 

I almost forgot - did you notice my blog button? Made for me by the lovely Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn. What a great surprise to wake up and find that in my email! And I actually have that exact dress in my wardrobe. I will have to find a hat and then model in the spring. 
So if you are whispered by me and sew up something please let me know so you can have a blog button (if you would like.) And Carolyn wants a whisper too - that is quite a challenge, after all what hasn't she made? So madly thinking on that one.

pattern whisperer 300pixels

What are you doing with your extra hour this weekend? I'm going to Britex tomorrow although that isn't my extra hour - that will probably be catching up on sleep!

Happy It's Really Fall here sewing,


  1. Great selection Beth! I particularly like the Burda pleated v neck dress. I'm going to have a go at making something similar. If you're making up these designs your wardrobe choice must be fabulous!

  2. Wow I think I have virtually all the patterns you mention in my collection...some sewn, some not. Would like to see that last burdastyle plus size one sewn up...

  3. That button is super cute. I have many of these patterns too and love Burda and their plus section so much! I have to try one even though I'm scared of grading the bodice down to fit.

  4. Really nice selection of pattern choices. I like how they all seem to be easily personalized -- not just for fit but in choice of details, fabrics, etc. I think Burda designs the most interesting styles for their plus-size readers. Have fun at Britex! I'm debating whether to go to Thai Silks to pick up a fabric I just ran out of or dig out some other fabric from my stash to use instead (it is for a wide hem facing).

  5. Beth - I love the Burda 11/2013 plus size dress. Of course I'm not subscribing to Burda Plus anymore, so was wondering if you knew where I could find it? Thanks!

    1. Okay disregard my request...I found it on Burda Style! I like the silhouette on this and want to try it out in a ponte!

  6. Your blog has always been one of the "must reads" in my feed and these posts keep getting better and better.

    Have you seen the PR forum thread about what we'd love in an intermediate sewing book? Please consider writing more and maybe putting togethen an eBook that we could purchase from you. Your sewing information is some of the best out here right now.

    I love how you emphasize great techniques in wearable styles. In my perfect world, I'd be a regular student of Susan Khalje but I have no need for couture garments in my lifestyle. Your blog nails it for me. Thank you so much for taking your time to write and to share.

  7. Interesting. I have been thinking about Burda 133 lately. I made up a muslin of it last year. It was something of a disaster–my fault–I couldn't quite figure out how to fit it to my FBA+ short waisted self! Those "x" darts really threw me off. I'm thinking about giving it another shot though, maybe adding another dart as mentioned, rather than fiddling with that "x." Looking forward to the next pattern whisperer post!

  8. I am loving your Pattern Whisperer posts! I feel like I have SO many patterns, but I don't have your top two listed here, so I must get them. I need to cull the herd and get rid of some of the more shapeless patterns that I've collected over the years that I now know are unflattering to my figure. I've always been pleased whenever I've made up a pattern that you have recommended. You have a great eye for what works.

  9. Wonderful post! I love hearing your analysis of each pattern-it is very good to developing my critical eye when looking at the line drawings.

  10. You have an amazing eye for style. I have been a committed indie pattern girl to date, but I would make all of your selection here. Thank you for the inspiration. P.S. I am waiting for V1342 to arrive in the mail..... request for Pattern Whisperer button to follow....

  11. Interesting to read your analysis of the patterns. It's a good dialogue to have when choosing patterns for ourselves. I have that last Burda dress and I am a DD cup, so I always make an fba. Where did you add the darts to this pattern and could you add at the typical bust placement and rotate into the existing darts to keep the look the same?

    1. Hi Nancy, I added a standard horizontal bust dart on the side seam, and it doesn't really show from the front so the diagonal darts look the same. I will do a post when I sew up this dress.

    2. Thanks. I'm thinking of a beautiful gray 14 oz rayon lycra from Emmaonesock.

  12. I am starting to look at patterns and their line drawings in a completely different way.....and you can teach old dogs, new tricks! ha ha ha Am looking forward to your next post.

  13. I'm loving the Pattern Whisperer series! V8787 looks great; I'm definitely adding it to my list. The Simplicity dress with the empire waist is similar to a. Project Runway Simplicity 2145 I just bought. Instead of a waistband it has long pleats that really elongate the torso (something I need). I just made the McCalls shirtdress in a crisp cotton and I wish I had read this post first because I the back gathers would look so much better with pleats.

    Can't wait to read more of these!

  14. Wonderful post. I have a few of these. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about them.

  15. Really enjoyed this post, Beth. Great to see your perspective. I like the tip about chopping the waistband and sewing the fronts and backs separately for a better fit - makes so much sense. Will file that away for future use. Now on to your previous post which I missed. Oh, love the button!!

  16. I have a lot of these and I love the rest- especially that last Burda Plus. These fit ideas have my name on them. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. Thanks for the shout out! I have muslined NL6097 and am waiting for the right fabric to sew it up in.

  18. I love that you included a Style Arc pattern, and some of your other recommendations here are intriguing -- may have to find them on Ebay! Great post, thank you. :)

  19. Great post, thank you. M5927 is my go-to work dress now that I have perfected the fit. I LOVE the pockets. It has a vaguely Mad Men Joan vibe to it (well that is what I like to imagine!). I put in three quarter sleeves though to cope with the vagaries of office climate control.

  20. Great post Beth! I have NL 6097 and have not made it yet, this may make a very nice long sleeved sweater dress for the fall, I am seriously thinking about bringing it out!

  21. What's next? This is a great series, and yes I pulled out the Burda dress. It really is fabulous.
    May I make a suggestion? I am always looking for chic casual wear; something with a modern edge that would work for a curvy woman.