Monday 15 April 2013

Joan dress. AKA Mad Men Challenge. AKA Elisalotte.

AKA the fabric dilemma dress.

AKA the catharsis dress.

Whatever I call it, it's done. C'est fini.

Please ignore the wonky hair in these photos. I thought I'd make a token effort at looking a bit more Mad Men - hair up and a bit more eyeliner!. As you can tell, hair styling is not my area of expertise! :) and P neglected to tell me it was wonky before he took the photos.

I'm in a state of ambiguity about this dress. I want to love it, and mostly I do, but there are some fit issues and the inside is a mess, so it is not as "nice" as I would have liked for a relatively smart dress.

The Good
I LOVE the fabric. I am so glad you guys talked me into buying the more expensive one because it was so right for this dress. It was lovely to work with, it give some structure as it's fairly thick, its comfortable as it has a slight stretch and it looks smart as it has a slight sheen to it. And the print is extremely forgiving of errors! Although I am noticing in these photos, it's making me look strangely one dimensional, like some type of paper doll!

I love the shape of the dress. It feels quite classy. I already knew I liked the Charlotte skirt, once adjusted for my lack of hips, and the princess seams of the Elisalex bodice are extremely flattering. And it has 3 of my favourite design features: boat neck, interesting back and 3/4 sleeves. Oh, and P LOVES it! :)

I think it totally fits the bill for a Mad Men dress and I am really pleased with the similarity to the inspiration photo. Other than the colour, and my lack of curves to fill it out, I think it's pretty spot on.

My first ever self-drafted neckline facings worked well! :)
The ONLY pic you are getting of the inside of this dress and only because it's my first ever self drafted facing.
The Bad
OK, so I could leave it there and not point out the flaws and we could all pretend it is the perfect dress. But it's not and I'm keen to get your views on what's gone wrong. So here goes.

Fit: It fits perfectly from the hem to the top of the bust and then it all goes slightly weird. There is too much fabric from that point up to the neck line. The neckline is too wide and so drops off my shoulders and the sleeves just don't sit right. Also at the back, there is some gaping at the neckline if I stand up really straight. My thought is that it's just too big in this area. What do you think? I cut a 12 for the bodice and skirt, based on my bust and waist measurements, and it fit fine here without any adjustments needed (other than for length of bodice, but we'll come on to that). I was meticulous about stay stitching the neckline, so it can't have stretched (plus that wouldn't explain the sleeves, would it?). I did adjust the neckline, but I did so based on a pattern that is my size (although, admittedly, I haven't actually made that dress, so can't say for sure it fits me). But I only widened the neckline. I didn't touch the shoulders. The armscyes/armholes should be exactly where they were intended to be.

Here you can see gaping at the back
I did make a muslin of the bodice, which seemed OK, but I really only focussed on checking the bust and bodice length and so never attached the sleeves, or really paid much attention to the shoulder or above bust area.

Looks like there is some excess fabric across the back, just above the waist, which I hadn't even noticed before!
Too much material above my bust makes it look like I have zero chest whatsoever! Although, on the plus side, I can't see the excess fabric that appears in the above photo. And from this angle, my hair looks pretty good! :) And thinking about it, I'm wearing a pre-pregnancy strapless bra, which probably doesn't actually fit that well...
So, what do you think? Should I have maybe graded down a size in this area? And crucially, is there anything I can do to fix this now? On the plus side, it can't actually fall off my shoulders as it's too tight. It does feel a bit weird though, wearing a strapless bra with a dress with sleeves!

You can see it's nearly hanging off my shoulders here
The Ugly
Second negative: the inside is a mess. I opted not to line the bodice (the pattern has you do this) as I didn't know what to line a stretch fabric with. Instead I drafted a neckline facing, which worked pretty well - see above photo. So, I should have bias bound the raw edges. I would have been the right thing to do. But I didn't. I didn't have any bias binding tape and I couldn't be bothered to make it, and with all those seams it would have needed metres and metres! And if truth be told, I actually just couldn't be bothered. I've written previously about my frame of mind when making this. So I zigzagged all those seams! It's not the end of the world, because actually no one will see that, but I feel the inside doesn't match the outside and it takes something away from the dress. Especially since seeing Katy's Tessuti dress, which is beautiful both inside and out. Something to bear in mind for next time, I guess.

Oh and I'm extremely embarrassed to admit that there are at least 4 different colours of thread on this dress. I know! Cardinal sin of sewing! But I was trying to use thread from my stash, so I started with a dark purple, which ran out (all that zig zagging), then moved to a lighter purple, then managed to get an aqua colour in there too (bizarrely, my bobbin ran out, and the machine seemed to just carry on with the thread that was underneath almost without a gap. How odd! And it was the facing and is inside and it seemed pointless to unpick it all again...), and finally a white thread for the skirt and sleeve hems!

The darts on the skirt don't match up with the princess seams on the bodice. This actually isn't a biggie. I did make an attempt to move the darts slightly, but then adjusted the length of the bodice a couple of times, by which time, the darts were off again. But that busy print really obscures this. On a plain fabric it would look noticable, but on this fabric you can't see it. As I said, not a biggie.

I had a few nightmares making this dress. As I mentioned above, I lengthened the bodice by 2 inches, then sewed the bodice and skirt together, zig zagged the edges then tried it on. And realised the waistline was about 1.5 inches too low. It took a couple of attempts to get it right, but I got there in the end. After quite a bit of unpicking.

I also had some issues with the zip. Some of you may remember I initially planned to move the zip to a side zip, just because I fancied it. But then I realised that this would mean I'd need more fabric than I had bought (as both the back bodice and back skirt pieces should really then have been cut on the fold), and that it would also mean I couldn't have a vent at the back of the skirt. So, I reverted back to the original back zip, replacing the exposed one with an invisible zip. I like invisible zips. I think they look sleek and professional and I have never had a problem inserting one. Until this dress. Again, I don't know if this was my frame of mind, or just carelessness or lack of luck, but I kept getting it wrong. At one point, I even managed to sew on top of the zipper coil, which I can tell you was a nightmare to unpick! I got there in the end and the zip is now fine.

Back to a positive: I did use seam binding for the skirt hem, which looks nice and neat, and makes me wish even more that I'd bias bound the raw edges!

I found the making up of the bodice sometimes problematic. None of the notches seemed to match. No one else has mentioned this in their reviews, so it may well be a tracing error on my part. I will need to check this before I make this again. And there will be another one. Next time, an unadulterated version. I love everyone else's versions, so I am super keen to make myself one that I'm happy with.

In the meantime, what do I do with this? Do I wear it as is? Can I fix it? Do I order more fabric and re-make the bodice and sleeves? Or do I cut off the bodice and just wear the skirt? It would be a fabulous skirt and I probably have just enough fabric left to make a waistband! Any suggestions, gratefully received!

And finally, can we all just pay particular attention to my new shoes?

Please excuse the "pealy-waly" (pale) Scottish legs!
Guess how much? Go on, guess! £8.50 from our super-cool new local charity "boutique", which opened on Saturday. Jo has blogged about it here.



  1. Your dress is gorgeous, the fabric is amazing! I reckon as long as you are comfertable, the fit issues are not obvious, it looks totally wearable!

    Your shoes are gorgeous, I passed that shop last week and was so tempted to stop and have a look but having had a charity shop spree in Morningside the day before I though I better not, next time I am passing I must go in!


    1. Thank you!

      And you should definitely stop for a look next time. It's definitely worth a peek! My friend got a Daks jacket for £25!

  2. Helen I love this dress! The fabric is amazing and I don't care one bit what the insides look like! I would wear the dress a couple of times to see how it fits and moves on you before making changes. I've seen a couple of posts where bloggers had issues with the bodice size. See Janelle of Sew hopeful's recent post on the Elisalex. She writes the most detailed posts on construction (I'm always bookmarking them) and she had bodice fit issues that may help you if you decide to make changes. I know what you mean about boat necks - they look so elegant but what do you do about the visible bra straps. Cute shoes!

    1. Thank you! And of course you are right that it doesn't matter what the insides look like to anyone else. I don't read Janelle's blog, so will go over and take a look. Thanks for the tip.

  3. This dress is beautiful, despite the fitting issues...! I reckon from the pictures it looks like you could do with going down a size on the bust, but please get in touch with me if you want to talk about any further alterations you could make -

    And don't worry about the innards, most of us only have a handful of garments who's innards we'd gladly expose!! x

  4. I think it's gorgeous! The fabric looks fab on you, and the shape is stunning. I'm beginning to wish I went down this route now! I can see what you mean about fit and maybe you do need to go down a size. For now, couldn't you just unpick the zip and take some of the excess material out there? I would have thought that would reduce the gaping, I wonder if it might also bring the sleeves up a bit? Although that might also be a sewing no no that I just don't know about... The seam binding on the hem looks gorgeous! Don't worry about the rest of the insides, I am a crazy person and bias binding the seams takes forever! I am simply folding my seam allowances under on my latest dress :) I think you should be super proud! Btw, I have just made my mad men dress too big too so am forcing myself to unpick and re-sew -I know how frustrating it is!

  5. Love the dress-I have an amazing purple suede Reiss belt which would look so cool with it, ESP with your purple and gold shoes-I should let you borrow jx

  6. Love the dress! Don't worry about the insides, it's your little secret. I'm always worried about the insides of my outfits too, that's why you never see pictures of the insides of them on my blog! ha! Hope you can get the fit you like. It would be a shame to not wear such a beautiful dress!

  7. Oh, well done you - it looks stunning on you! Really stylish and elegant :) And no one sees the insides anyhow - actually the ONLY bit anyone's ever likely to see is the hem, and that looks amazing!
    I've had success in the past in fixing extra fabric/gaping by pinching in excess (kind of like doing a dart, but just pinning) on the muslin, then using the muslin as a pattern piece for the real thing...although that's not so helpful for you now, sorry. But honestly, I think it's one of those things that you yourself might be worried over, but most people won't even notice :)
    As for the neckline (which REALLY suits you, by the way!), over here most haberdashery places sell bra strap holders (not sure of the proper name) - short, maybe 4-5cm long lengths of ribbon with press studs/poppers, that you can sew into the shoulder seams of a garment and then use to secure your straps in place out of sight. Can you buy them over there? It's worth a try - they're an easy, quick fix :)

  8. I absolutely love this! And who is ever going to see the insides really? As regards fit, I actually have gaping problems with pretty much every pattern I sew unless I tweak it. Now I automatically cut a size smaller for the shoulders and upper back, going up to my measured size at the bust. I usually also have to pinch some in at the front and back necklines and then sometimes re draw them - I use the method in Gertie's book. Anyway that seems to improve the fit for me on most patterns. Having said that, on my Mad Men dress I have to add a couple of pleats to the neckline and pretend they were a design feature to get rid of gaping. I have also used darts in the past if I still had gaping after I've sewn it all up.

  9. Thanks for your lovely comment on my dress. I LOVE yours! It looks amazing and the fit looks great. I really like what you did with the skirt, it really gets the whole "Joan" look brilliantly. And I laughed about your zip problems. Exactly the same thing happened to me. I usually never have a problem with a zip but for this dress I went through 2 before finally getting it right on the 3rd try. And I sewed over the zipper coil as well. Arrggghhh. Anyway, gorgeous gorgeous dress. Love it.

  10. Your dress is just lovely :) the fabric suits it perfectly. Your shoes lady are awesome !!


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