Sunday 24 February 2019

The Geometry Dress

Last night was Sydney Frocktails 2019, where the sewing ladies of Sydney (and beyond) get together in our fancy handmade makes to have some drinks, some fun and feel each others' clothes without it being weird. This dress, the Geometry Dress - named for both the construction and the print - was started last weekend and finished at 4pm yesterday. In total there's probably around 20 hours of work in this dress.

The fabric is one I bought from Tessuti somewhere around 5 years ago, I think. It's a cotton sateen with a very high sheen. In fact, quite a few people at frocktails were surprised when I told them it was a cotton, thinking it was a satin or even an African wax print. It's surprisingly lightweight despite the look, and is wonderfully soft and smooth with a small amount of stretch.

I decided I wanted to use a fabric I already had for my frocktails dress, given I have a very large stash. I've had this fabric for a while and always thought it would make a great cocktail dress of some sort. Having two panels of the print, I figured I'd use one for the skirt and one for the bodice, but didn't have any ideas of how I'd actually do it. I looked through all the patterns I own but nothing grabbed me, so went to Spotlight to look through the pattern books. I still had no idea at all of what shape or style I wanted so came away empty handed. Then I saw a sundress pattern that was too casual but had a nice minimal bodice which inspired me to find something with some form of cut outs. So I went to Lincraft in my lunch hour a week and a half ago with a half-formed thought, searching for the pattern to complete the thought.

The pattern is a Vogue designer pattern by Rebecca Vallance, number V1545. I changed the pattern to a plain pleated skirt to show off the fabric print. I really should not have chosen to make something so difficult a week out from the event, but I never pay attention to the difficulty rating on patterns. My thoughts were simply the pieced bodice could work with the almost patchwork nature of the print, but without really considering how exactly that would work out.

Working out the pattern placement took about four hours to get right. The print is a panel, and I had two panels so figured I'd use one for the skirt and one for the bodice, using the different designs in the panel for the different pieces of the bodice. The print on the fabric isn't actually symmetrical, so I couldn't just fold it in half and cut the pieces together. Instead, I cut one of each bodice piece out with the fabric print side up, then laid it print side down on the fabric matching the lines as well as possible and cut out the opposite side. It was a laborious process, but the final result made it worthwhile.

The pattern is relatively difficult, but the biggest issue was how time-consuming it was. Obviously the four hours of pattern placement was the biggest single amount of time. The blue and red triangles and stripe on the edge of the panels were an obvious choice for the front overlay and the waistband. Then I kept changing my mind about whether to have the geometric shapes for the front or the back. In the end the back and side back pieces fitted better on the floral, and the finished diamond shape on the back is better than I could have planned. I also tried to get the skirt to pattern match, which worked pretty well at the top with the invisible zipper, but got slightly out of alignment near the hem. But the teal stripes match up, so the bit of unevenness in between doesn't really matter.

The bodice is fully lined and all seams bar the armscyes are understitched. I do love how understitching keeps the lining from peeking out, but it does significantly increase the amount of time it takes to sew. The lining, which is just a heavy cotton, gives the bodice much more structure than the cotton sateen alone, but the different weights of the fabric definitely benefited from the understitching.

All the finishings are done by hand, apart from the hem. But hand stitching a neckline, waist, and 15 inch metal zipper takes a long time. And zipper tape for a heavy metal zipper is not good on needles or fingers - my left pointer finger has a callus and also a bit of a hole where the needle pushed back into the skin when it didn't want to go through the tape and fabric. The waistband, in comparison, was a very easy sew. Although the hem ended up being sewn by machine, I luckily had a forest green that perfectly matched the narrow stripe between the teal and mint stripes so the stitch line is only visible when looked at closely.

As well as changing the skirt from the original pattern I reduced the front opening of the dress. In the original pattern the front is open all the way down to the waistband, but that's really not practical to wear, so I hand stitched in the back to keep them together. I also added a quick stitch where the overlay crossed the front bodice pieces to keep them from gaping apart. These were quick minor edits, but meant I could be comfortable and confident wearing the dress knowing it was going to stay where it was meant to.

One of the best things about frocktails is seeing the great variety of styles people wear. Getting to make something that's just fun to dress up, rather than making practical clothes for work or everyday wear. Seeing women in velvet, sequins, brocades, circle skirts with petticoats and all sorts of colours and prints was great, and a great reminder that sewing is not only a practical skill, it can reflect each person's individuality. And it's a wonderful community to be part of. Ready to do it all again in September!


  1. You did a great job picking a pattern for the print (and executing it ;o) The dress was a real stand out and the shoes are perfect too!

    1. Thanks! The shoes were a great match until one broke, but it just made it through the night!

  2. Found your gorgeous dress via the Helen’s Closet Wednesday Weekly, and had to say... wow!! Beautiful use of a stash fabric (what is it about Tessuti, I have some delicious fabric from there I haven’t been able to bring myself to use yet!) and all that pattern matching was so worthwhile.
    I’m glad you mentioned understitching, it’s something I think a lot of sewists skip, but it does make a difference.
    Congratulations on a marvellous sew, and I hope you have as much fun sewing for the next Frocktails.

    1. Oh wow thanks for letting me know that this was shared! Glad you liked it. And I don't do understitching as much as I should but it definitely is worth putting the effort into.