If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I love a good knit dress. I taught myself to sew with knits just over a year ago with my first Moneta dress - before that, my attempts at sewing with knits had been unsuccessful and downright frustrating, so I avoided them as much as I could. After that first Moneta, though, I really learned to love them! I made Monetas numbers two, three (unblogged), and four, as well as the Sewaholic Davie dress, the Muse Natalie dress, and countless knit tops.
So, I was really excited at first when I saw that the second challenge was a knit dress! I had also been curious about trying the shift dress silhouette for a while now, even though I usually prefer more fitted bodices and more flared skirts. The Marianne dress, though, looked like it could be a really versatile and wearable dress, so I was eager to try it.
My only worry about this challenge was that it could be too easy! I had plenty of patterned knit fabric in my stash that would be great for this dress, and I probably could have put it together in a few hours had I not modified the pattern. But, it is a sewing contest after all, and part of the reason I entered was to motivate myself to take on some more challenging projects. This project just needed something more, and it took me a little while to come up with a plan.
In the meantime, I printed the pattern (at the library again), and cut a size 0 at the bust, 2 at the waist, and 4 at the hips. I knew that the pattern had enough ease that a straight size 0 probably would have been fine, but I figured it was easier to take it in than let it out.
I made a shirt-length wearable muslin out of some patterned jersey that I had tons of. I'm really glad I did! I found it a little snug everywhere, despite cutting out the size that should have given me plenty of ease. I thought that this was a little odd, but just added on 1/2" on either side at the bust and a couple inches onto the sleeves, and moved on. I also widened the neckline significantly, which I find is more flattering on me than a crewneck.
The idea for how I could make this much more than a simple knit dress came from Laura Mae, whose fabulous vintage-inspired garments and sewing skills I've always admired. A few months ago, she posted an amazing Alabama Chanin-inspired outfit, a skirt and jacket made of two layers of cotton jersey reverse appliqued together.
After remembering this outfit, I spent some time looking through some Alabama Chanin (and Alabama Chanin-inspired) pieces online, and I decided that I really loved the idea of reverse applique around the neckline of this dress. With that in mind, I decided on a short-sleeved, collarless version, to let the applique stand out.
I had the perfect fabric for the main body of the dress, a dark purple ponte knit that I got when I volunteered at Our Social Fabric. It was great for this dress - it's so soft and doesn't feel super synthetic like some ponte knits do (although it probably does have some nylon or poly content, as ponte knits do). It was solid enough that it was a dream to sew with, but drapey enough to be flattering.
The tougher question was what to use for the contrast! I had some patterned jersey in my stash, but decided immediately that they would be too busy. I considered using some lace that I had, but it was really scratchy and I didn't think it would be comfortable around the neckline. Since shipping to Canada takes too long, online shopping wasn't really an option, and the local quilting and sewing store only had nothing, I had to work with what solid knit I had in my stash, which was a small amount of some off-white bamboo jersey.
I thought that the off-white would be too high-contrast for what I was planning, though. I was planning a leaf pattern, and I wanted something a little softer. So, I tried dyeing the fabric with tea! After making some samples with coffee and a couple different kinds of tea, I liked the colour from black tea best. I made a large pot of pretty strong tea on the stovetop, let the fabric sit in it for about 20 minutes, then rinsed it in cool water and dried it. I didn't think it was quite dark enough, though, so I tried again, making the tea a little stronger this time. Still, not dark enough... the next morning, I added another five tea bags, kept the water simmering, and let the fabric sit in it for about two hours, while I worked away on the design that I wanted. Finally, I was happy with how dark it was, and cut out the dress!
Instead of using the neck binding, I made a facing/partial lining to finish the neckline and the sleeves out of the contrasting jersey. To do this, I simply cut out the upper part of the dress, trimmed all the edges 1/8" to make it slightly smaller, and sewed it so that the seams would be concealed, but the right side of the fabric would be facing the wrong side of the ponte, so that it would show through when I did the reverse applique. I made it quite long on purpose, because I wasn't yet sure how I would finish it.
I made this on a regular machine, since I'm not living at home anymore, so I can't use my mom's serger. This is the second knit dress that I've made on a regular machine, and I'm getting the hang of sewing knits without a serger! It's a little more work, but it's surprisingly neat, and gives a little more control. I didn't finish the edges of the ponte because it didn't roll, but I did finish the jersey edges with a medium zigzag.
I started by sewing the shoulder seams, adding clear elastic, pressing them open to reduce bulk, and then basting the side seams to check the fit. Well, I had a bit of a problem! By extending the sleeves, I had made the armholes so small that I couldn't get my arms through them! I ended up taking off everything that I had added on under the arm, and leaving the sleeves an inch longer than they originally were, rather than the couple of inches that I had added. I also noticed that the dress was considerably shorter than what the finished measurements said it would be... strange!
It wasn't until I cleaned up the scraps of paper I cut away from the pattern that I realized why. I saw the 4" square and measured it, finding it to be only 3 7/8"! I've never had a problem with my printer scaling patterns before, but I suppose the library printer must have scaled it. I didn't have a ruler with me, so I never even bothered to check! It's amazing how much of a difference that 1/8" can make. Ah, I felt so stupid!
By the time I realized this, there wasn't time to start over, so I just had to work with what I had. After removing some of the extra I added onto the sleeves, the armhole fit comfortably, and I'd already added onto the side seams, so it wasn't too much of a problem. Lesson learned, though! (And, my printer ink just arrived in the mail, so I shouldn't have this problem again!)
I unpicked the side seams, sewed the facing and the dress together at the neckline, and stabilized it with some clear elastic (without it, I find that wider knit necklines stretch out over time). I understitched for a nice edge, then sewed the side seams. I used this method from the Moneta dress, to give a nice, clean finish when sewing the dress and the facing together at the armholes.
Next up was the most time-consuming part, the applique. I had worked out the designs and made a stencil from some cardboard while my fabric was dyeing, so I started by tracing the design onto the fabric with chalk. I then ran a line of long, running stitches around every leaf and stem, through both layers of fabric, about 3/16" from the chalk lines. Using embroidery scissors, because I was scared that I would cut too much using fabric scissors, I trimmed out the leaves and stems.
The whole process of hand sewing the applique around the neckline took me about 8 hours (the most hand sewing I've ever done in one sitting!), but I found it so satisfying. I loved the effect that it created, and with a good audiobook, the time went by quickly.
To finish the facing, I originally thought that I would just trim it around the stitching, but I was a little worried that doing so would make a ridge visible from the outside. Instead, I just trimmed a little off the bottom, zigzagged to stop it rolling, and tacked the seam allowances of the dress and the facing/lining together by hand. It ends just under the bust, where the dress is loose enough that it doesn't show.
In these inside-out photos, it was difficult to get it to lay flat, since the facing/lining is a little smaller than the dress, but it lies really nicely when worn, without any bunching up like there would be if the facing were the same size.
I was considering leaving the hem raw, since it was already on the short side, and I thought it would match nicely the raw edges of the applique. But, that just felt so anticlimactic! I actually love hemming as the final step in making anything, especially when I do it by hand. So, I pressed up 1/2" and catchstitched it by hand. This was my first time hemming a knit by hand, and I was a little worried that it wouldn't have enough stretch, but I was pleasantly surprised!
The most stressful part of this challenge was taking the photos! Unfortunately, the family friend that took the beautiful photos of my Sutton blouse couldn't make it at the last minute, and it was too late to find anyone else to take some photos for me. It took me a few tries to get a decent set of self-timed photos, but I think they're passable. For me next project, though, I'll definitely find someone to take some photos for me - they turn out nicely when
Overall, I'm so, so happy with how this dress turned out! It's so comfortable and easy to wear, and the shape surprisingly flattering. Despite being a little surprised at how short it ended up, I think I like the shorter length - it balances out the looser silhouette! I'm so proud of the reverse applique, and I think it was completely worth the time.
To see the other contestants' finished Marianne dresses, and to follow the rest of the contest, head on over to Sew Mama Sew! I've already seen a few Mariannes up on the others' blogs, and it looks like it's going to be a tough competition - they're all so gorgeous!