The silk-linen sheath dress of doom … is doomed

How it’s supposed to look. You’ll notice the line drawing has it fitted and without an a-line skirt–but that’s definitely not what’s in the pattern. Then again, maybe the use of drawings rather than photos should have been my first clue.

In May of this year, I posted the story of the silk-linen sheath dress of doom on my own blog. For those of you who don’t want to click over, the short version is: I decided to use the sheath dress pattern from the Built By Wendy dresses book I already had to save money (ha!), made a muslin first out of fabric that as it turns out has more give than the silk-linen the pattern was destined for, and ended up having to re-draft substantial parts of the pattern both in the muslin and in the final:

1. The raglan sleeves, which had a pile of excess fabric both front and back
2. The back, which had no shaping
3. The waist, which was too big
4. The nape of the neck, which was way too high (that could be my high-waistedness — but still)
5. And worst of all, the skirt, which for reasons known to perhaps no one but God and his left-hand man, was a-line and very loose on a sheath dress.

It is the first, last, and only time I will be using a Built By Wendy pattern. Too frustrating for words. According to the size chart on p. 33 of the book, I should be a size L at the hips and bust and a size M at the waist. But using this size–even after the modifications introduced in the muslin stage, like taking out 1.5-2″ per side on the raglan seams at the neck, front and back, adding in a big waist shaping seam at the back to take out about 2″, and taking about 8″ out of the hem in width, it was still too big. Looking back, I should have stopped using this pattern after the difficulties encountered with the muslin and found one with a more sheath-like fit and regular sleeves.

mmmay-9-3But the silk-linen was so dearly beloved that I just kept hammering away at it until I had a sheath-like sheath dress that I could wear out of the house, and then I embellished it with hand-painted and hand-embroidered fabric flowers. Success!

Three plus months later, it hasn’t worked out as well as I’d have liked.

You know how it is: you work so hard on something, and you want it to be fabulous, and in the first flush of finishedness you overlook things that become, over time, less overlookable. In the case of the dress, it was a direct result of all the modifications I made to the pattern, particularly for the raglan sleeve seams in the front. It’s almost, but not quite, flat. There is bubbling along that neckline hem. It drives me bonkers. The issue is, I’ve come to think, that the modifications to the pattern pieces for the dress and the lining were imperfectly transferred between the right and left sides of the dress, and so the lining is not quite the same length as the dress fabric, resulting in those little ripples.

I know it’s the kind of thing that your typical observer would likely not notice, but I notice it.

At any rate, at first, at least the flowers obscured most of it, right? And they were cute. But as it turns out, not washable.

So, ok, I wore the dress on a date, and I spilled something on myself, as I do, and put the dress in the wash, as one does, because I’d already pre-washed the fabric and lining so I knew it would be safe. And it was! Nothing shrunk. Except the flowers wilted up and curled in on themselves like week-old lilies.

I tried stretching, re-wetting, and pressing them. Nothing made them stretch out flower-like again. After weeks of looking at the dress hanging sadly on a hanger in the dining room (what? where do you keep your ironing?) with its shriveled little blooms staring disconsolately at me, I made the decision to snip the flowers off so I could wear the dress again.

Post-flower-removal neckline bubbling

Post-flower-removal neckline bubbling

Of course, now the neckline wavers are more visible. Argh.

I’d like to fix it, if I can. It’s silk-linen! It’s a beautiful pale yellow! It’s got such a lovely weave! It would be morally and ethically wrong to have such a fabric relegated to the wadder pile, right? Right. But how to fix it? Do I put the flowers back on? Make new flowers and find a way to attach them so they’re held partially open? Embroider on flowers instead so it’s not an issue? And what about the neckline? Should I just use some very small gathering stitches to hold it flat? I’m not sure I could open it up again to fix it even if I wanted to, it’s been sewn and unpicked and cut down and resewn so many times.

It’s not urgent; summer is gone here in Southern Ontario and I won’t be wearing the dress for another eight months, so I’ve got lots of time to figure it out.

I’ve got to say, though, the whole experience has soured me on the idea of buying and using pattern books. They look like such a good deal ($30 book nets you 10 patterns, so $3/each!), but if the patterns are no good, you’ve spent $30 on 10 patterns you can’t use, and now you’ve got a big book on your shelves to figure out what to do with. And you’ve got to go and get new patterns.

RuthlesslyPractical says:

Re, neckline: re-finish it with multiple pin-tucks to help get rid of the bubbling? It can be a subtle design element.

On vertical fit: I am noticing in the pic with the barbeque grill that the side seam around the waist area is pulling forward, so a redistribution of material from back piece to the front piece would remedy that in the next iteration of this pattern.

On bust fitting: At the risk of sounding like every other person on the PR boards, I think you need an FBA. At first, I thought it was the pose that was creating the diagonal drag lines from bust to shoulder then bust to waist, but when I looked at the first in-progress pic on your original post, on the side with the arm that’s hanging down straight, there’s a bit of telltale armhole dart wanting to happen. (I feel your pain, truly, armhole gaping is my nemesis.)

Andrea: I know! It’s an issue. I’m not advanced enough yet to know how to approach an FBA on a raglan-sleeve garment though, especially when the sleeves on their own are already an issue. Tips appreciated if anyone’s got them. 

On salvaging: If the bodice is too much trouble to modify at this stage, why not call the bodice a loss, chop it off, and turn it into a high/natural-waisted straight pencil skirt? That way, most of the silk-linen is saved, plus that shade of yellow and the fabric looks like it’s a great wardrobe basic for office wear.

LadyxBec says: 

I like this post, the only thing I suggest adding is a discussion on pattern sizing (I bet you made the correct size), like what is the difference between the size chart and what you should have sewn (if there is one), how does it fit compared to how you expect it to based on photos/line drawings, are the finished garment measurements accurate? I think that people are ALWAYS talking about how much better indies fit and how much ease the Big 4 haven which in my experience is not totally true.

Flowery Applique Camel Toe says:

I think the changes you’ve made are really good and the pictures are super helpful in illustrating your points. I will refrain from reporting you to the pressinatrix for the wrinkles, because omglinen.


15 thoughts on “The silk-linen sheath dress of doom … is doomed

  1. It just seems to me that the waist is not balanced so you might probably want to start over with another pattern and salvage the fabric in napkins or something. The neckline is cut on bias so it likely will not shrink back. If you like this kind of silhouette, I urge you to look at Vogue 8685, 8972, 8902 (that one needs sizing down according to reviewers). The last two have different cup sizes.


  2. It really is lovely fabric. I really feel that these books that get published should really have a better quality test on the patterns as they are marketed to beginners.


    • I agree. This particular book isn’t marketed to beginners–the patterns don’t have seam allowances and the instructions are sparse–but there is still absolutely no excuse for a sheath dress pattern to have an a-line skirt. That kind of thing makes it look like she wasn’t even trying.

      If you look at the ratings and reviews on goodreads and amazon, most of them say, “Great book! I can’t wait to make something from it!” So even the reviews aren’t giving potential buyers any kind of quality control. Most people who made projects noted problems with this pattern, but it gets buried in the 4/5 star reviews by people who haven’t yet.


  3. This is going to be a novel:

    I tried making this same dress. I bought the book, found out I was pregnant the next weekend and shelved it along with most other sewing projects. Some two years later I did a muslin of this pattern and it was a disaster. I tried to make adjustments but I was too new to sewing to really understand much of what was happening with the fit. I did try to make another in a silk-cotton blend with my adjustments and it was terrible. I took it out again this summer, now that I know more about fitting, and came to the decision it’s a lost cause. As you say, the arms are huge, the skirt is weird, the darts make the fabric pull funny across my upper hips, bust and parts of my waist. There was nothing useful in the book to figure out why it didn’t fit and how to adjust the fit to look like the illustration. I didn’t take any photos, and I’ve since chopped up the dress to make a tank so the fabric wouldn’t go to waste. I wish I would have taken a couple photos to submit here. Qué será.

    Now I know to look for line or technical drawings (rather than these illustrations), photos and previous reviews/makes, before investing into anything like this. $30 down the drain. At the time I was naive and assumed that anything that is published is of quality. BAH HAHAHAHAHHAAH. I still find the book to be inspiring, but I’ll be seeking out other patterns to recreate the looks I like.


  4. I have read of others having problems with these patterns. Vogue have got better recently on ease (as far as my limited dip into their patterns goes anyway). They have the finished measurements on the website, which at least offers the opportunity to get something close to the right size. You can’t beat measuring the actual pattern pieces though.


    • Hear, hear – one of the first sewing books I read was Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit, and the section that stuck with me the most was where she teaches the reader how to measure flat pattern pieces and compare it to your own body measurements. Finished garment measurements are useful, but nothing beats flat pattern measurement (except making a toile/muslin, but I still measure before cutting into muslin).


      • Yeah, after a few bad experiences, I’ve started doing this as well–at least, with woven patterns where I know I won’t get any give from the fabric. With knits I will sometimes still live on the edge. 😉


  5. I hope you can salvage something out of it, as the fabric looks lovely.

    I’d be interested in posting something here about a jacket I recently made. I’m not that experienced with jackets, and I’d love some critique on it. Is that possible? If so, how do I go about it?


  6. I think the biggest problem with the sleeves is that they’re not shaped. Knit tops with raglan sleeves are usually cut loose, and the knit sleeves drape naturally. Woven sleeves, particularly on a fitted dress require shaping. Butterick 5520 is an example. Its sleeves are two-piece which allows for a slight bend where arm intersects with shoulder. In other words, because the dress is made of a woven fabric, there has to be some shape built into the sleeve so that it sits correctly on the shoulder, curves at the top of the arm and then goes down the arm.

    I hope this makes sense.


    • If you wanted to incorporate some shape into the sleeve, maybe you could try a very narrow dart on the shoulder tapering to a point at the end of the shoulder.

      As far as the neck’s concerned, Ruthless has a great idea or you could do small running stitches just beneath the seam, beginning from one side to the other. Holding onto the end of the thread, gradually pull the stitches while pressing with a steam iron (with pressing cloth). This would shrink the fabric back. Tack the end of the thread, and it would serve as a form of reinforcement.

      I don’t know if any of this would work, but I know how much it sucks to use fabric I love to make something that I’m not crazy about.


    • Yeah, the sleeves thing makes total sense. I’ve got woven raglan shirt patterns with 2-piece sleeves and it does make a difference. There is so much about this pattern that does not make sense–the drafting of the raglan sleeves being a big one!

      I may try the running stitches idea, but not until I’ve recovered from just how exhausting it was to make this dress in the first place! Or at least until I can wear it again, which isn’t until next spring at the earliest. 😉


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