September 8, 2014

Cotton + Steel shirtdress on tour up north

Behold, my first ever shirtdress!

Believe it or not, I’ve never owned a shirtdress before. RTW ones were always out of the question: no stores carry shirtdresses that fit my bust and waist, let alone not gape between the buttons. For some reason, they then got relegated to the “items of clothing that will never suit me” mental category (see also: trousers, blazers).

How foolish I was!

This creation, McCall’s 6506, came about due to the confluence of two events: firstly, my dear sewing friend Laney managed to accidentally order the pattern in the wrong size for her… but the right size for me, goddamit! Being the generous soul that I am, I took it off her hands. It still sat in the stash for a while though.. until Mary’s autumn of 1,000 shirt dresses. I mean, look at that lady! I figured I’d give it a whirl.

I indulged in one of the brand new Cotton + Steel offerings – the Moonlit cotton by Rashida Coleman-Hale. It’s really lovely – slightly lighter than quilting cotton but still with some heft, and it softened considerably after pre-washing.
It worked well for the pattern, which is a fairly classic shirtdress design, with a proper collar, Β separate button bands, and pleats strategically placed at the front and back but not at the hips. The collar as designed is comically large – unless you’re going for a hardcore 70s look, scaling back is a necessity – I took 1.5 inches off, but may reduce it even more in the future. Unfortunately I messed up by not scaling down the stand accordingly, so the whole thing sits a bit too high on my neck and hits the back of my head… Β To stop any gaping I carefully positioned one button at the fullest part of my bust, and I added an internal snap fastening between that button and the one above to secure the gap.
I used a straight 22 with the D cup bodice, and to my delight it fit straight out of the pattern with no FBA! Quite the thing. That said, there’s a weird poofiness at the upper back which isn’t evident in these pictures but is definitely there in real life. It could be because the size is too big, or maybe I need to do something else… take out a tuck from the upper back? Β But if I do that, do I have to change the collar stand as well? And if so, how?! So many questions.

The pattern generally went together quickly but I have a total mare with the buttonholes. My parents generously gave me a new Bernina 580 for my birthday, and despite lovely features like auto thread cutting and a knee lift presser foot, the buttonhole has been on the fritz since I bought it. I ended up having to get my old Brother out of the cupboard to do them (less pretty buttonholes but at least I *get* buttonholes) after ripping out so many that the placket was getting properly damaged. So much for the “perfect Bernina” reputation… Unfortunately it’s a 3 hour round trip to my Bernina dealer, and I’ve already been once for a “fix” which didn’t work, and now I have to find time to go again. If they can’t fix it this time I’m going to be climbing the walls.

Buttonhole trauma aside, I’m pleased with the end result, although I’m not entirely sure that high-necked (or at least, not scoop-necked), sleeveless garments are the most flattering on me – I feel like they emphasize my top-heaviness. If these photos are to go by, I also have a bit of a hem problem as it appears to be higher at the front than the back, presumably due to my chest hiking the front up. One to fix next time. The skirt is also notably short: I’m 5’6″ but the skirt is clearly a few inches above my knees.
Anyhow, the dress got road tested on my recent trip to Iceland over Labo(u)r Day weekend… such a fun place to go! Only 5 hours by plane from Boston, and it’s like being in a different world, full of volcanos and ethereal blonde men with man-bun hairstyles and large hipster beards. My brother and I thoroughly explored Reykjavik (i.e. ate a lot of Icelandic pastries), including multiple visits to the gorgeous Harpa centre, an architectural marvel of a concert hall (and cafe and restaurant and event space) that’s perched on the harbour front. How could I not take bloggy photos in front of the volcanic stone walls?

And in the honeycomb-like massive windows that overlook the boats… (this was taken furtively while watching for security guards – I’m such a rebel, me)

What’s your verdict on shirtdresses, dear readers? Yay or nay? I’m pretty sure more will be coming my way next spring… Until then, I have winter sewing plans in the works!

65 thoughts on “Cotton + Steel shirtdress on tour up north

  1. Annika says:

    this looks fabulous! and iceland, oh, i love iceland…

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Annika! And I *love* Iceland – I want to go back and do the full ring road tour.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Totally yay!

    I think I have this pattern somewhere, and after seeing yours must definitely pull it out.

    Be perfect for the Aussie summer.

    1. Jenny says:

      Ooh yes, perfect for summer! You’ll have to try it and let me know how it goes πŸ™‚

  3. Amanda says:

    This is so bright and punchy! Lovely πŸ˜€
    I am team shirt dresses now after seeing some of Mary’s rad makes lately. Come on summer!

    1. Jenny says:

      Yay team shirt dress!

  4. Katie says:

    Soooo pretty, love the fabric and it’s very flattering on you. I LOVE shirt dresses on other people but hate them on myself!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Katie! I know what you mean about liking them on others but not on yourself… I’m still a bit in that camp.

  5. Audrey says:

    I love this dress. I want one. Tomorrow. Gosh I wish I could sew a little better!

    1. Jenny says:

      Give it a go, Audrey! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sewing it’s you only get better if you try to do things you’ve never done before.

  6. Definitely make more: it’s lovely, doesn’t make you look top heavy at all, and the fabric is BEAUT!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Rosie! The fabric is fab – you should try to track some down!

  7. This looks amazing on you! Definitely flattering to your figure and a great fabric. πŸ™‚ I feel like Mary should start a sewing challenge for the fall of 1000 shirt dresses, because I’m jumping on that bandwagon soon! πŸ™‚

    1. Jenny says:

      Thank you…. and yes, Mary, if you’re listening, GET TO IT!

    2. That is a fantastic idea! I wonder how many people would be interested? Maybe I’ll mention it on the blog…

    3. Do it! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

  8. This is really, really cute! I don’t really like “classic” shirtdresses (love Mary’s on her, but the very full skirts don’t work on me), but I like this more modern take on the style. The print is just perfect!

    Pity about your Bernina! I remember when I tried one out, the shop lady told me that you have to thread the bobbin thread differently through the case and I knew I would never remember to do that and would probably end up breaking the machine or something. I hope you’re able to get it sorted out!

    Let’s go back to Iceland!!!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Sonja! On the Bernina – yeah, I’m 99% sure I’m doing the bobbin right, and it works for a straight stitch so I’m not sure why it wouldn’t for a buttonhole. That said: yesterday, it was gathering the fabric when I was inserting the zip no matter how much I twiddled with the lengths and tension, so something is clearly up. Ugh.


    2. Marianne says:

      Sonja is right! You do thread the bobbin differently for buttonholes, at least on my Bernina. (Which set itself on fire today, but that’s another story). Try pulling the thread through the little hole on top of the bobbin case, it creates extra tension for neater buttonholes. From what I’ve seen on IG I doubt if it’s a solution, but it won’t hurt to try!

    3. Jenny says:

      OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH I had no idea! I am trying that TONIGHT!

      Also: Bernina on fire?! WTF?!

    4. Marianne says:

      Hope it helps. Yep, smoke all over the sewing room, pretty scary. My Bernina is 27 years old and this is the first trouble I’ve had. Fingers crossed and to the repair shop!

  9. Julie says:

    This might be the first time I have commented (I am not sure) but I have been following you for a little while now. I own a Quilt/Fabric shop. So of course I had to comment on a Cotton & Steel dress. I adore Rashida’s designs and not only is she a great artist but she is a super sweet lady. That is one of my favorite prints. I just started making clothes for myself again and now won’t wear anything I bought at a store… except maybe jeans or dress pants. I love following you. Oh and for Sparkleneedles above I have the fabric in my shop we sell online as well as in person.

    1. Julie says:

      Oh and I forgot to mention I think the dress is adorable on you… High Neck and sleeveless though it is. You are so pretty you can pull anything off.

    2. Jenny says:

      Oh thanks Julie, that’s very kind of you to say πŸ™‚

  10. Gah! You are too, too beautiful, J. That fabric is totally gorgeous and the shirtdress silhouette looks amazing on you. The fit is spot on.

    Aren’t these cup-sized based patterns impressive? I made a princess seamed bodice last night that required zero modifications. The last time that happened was…never. I am totally sold on this method of pattern sizing.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks, lady! You were my inspiration, what can I say.

      And yes, I’m proving to be a big supporter of cup-sized patterns – I’d assumed they wouldn’t work for me as they only go up to a D (I’m a G/H) but for whatever reason (perhaps big 4 ease), the Ds often seem to fit me. Hurray for anything that means fewer pattern alterations!

  11. Heather says:

    I think this dress and the style looks fabulous on you! Very flattering, and I love your fabric choice too! Sorry to hear about your Bernina. Boo! Glad you had fun in Iceland!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks, Heather! Hopefully the Bernina will be fixed soon (cross your fingers for me)

  12. I had a pink and cream pinstriped Issac Mizrahi for Target shirt waist dress that I loved! After having a baby and wearing it all the time, I got so sick of it that it got put in the repurpose bin. Just couldn’t bear to look at it for another second. My six year fast might just come to an end – I looove your!

    Sad to hear about your Bernina. I recently upgraded from an old 800 to a newer Activa 230 PE – its a touch cranky, but you couldn’t pay me to sew on anything but a Bernina πŸ™‚

    1. Jenny says:

      Ha I know what you mean about wearing something to death! I’ve done the same before in the past… many times.

      Glad to hear you love your Bernina – if I could just get this one thing to work, I’d love mine too!

  13. Michelle says:

    This looks great on you! I confess, I bought Mary’s shirtdress pattern at JoAnn’s during the last McCall’s sale specifically because I was loving her versions. I have the Hawthorn myself, and it’s on my short-list of things to sew (of course, it’s been on the short list since it was released, but I’ve been dreading the fitting/multiple muslin aspect of making it).

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Michelle! Can’t wait to see your shirtdress – I was definitely most wary of it, but the bodice size pieces helped significantly with fitting.

  14. Yay! Yay! This looks fantastic on you! Sorry to hear you’re still having troubles with that Bernina buttonhole. That’s such a bummer.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Lauren! When I can gather the energy to drive down to Rhode Island, hopefully it will be fixed..

  15. Sassy T says:

    Ooo love this.
    Would you mind me featuring any of your projects on SSB? I credit, link to your post and let you know when featured.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks! And sure, happy for you to feature anything if it has a link.

  16. Helen says:

    This looks amazing on you. I think it does suit you, and love it! The fabric is great too. Really pretty.

    1. Jenny says:

      Cheers Helen πŸ™‚

  17. Anne Szabo says:

    Love your shirtdress. You look so great in it. Sorry to hear about your Bernina buttonholes. Bummer.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Anne! I think it will get a lot of wear in these dog days of summer

  18. Jane says:

    A big YAY from me for shirt dresses, I absolutely love them! This looks great on you and the fabric’s gorgeous too. x

    1. Jenny says:

      I love your shirt dresses, Jane! I feel like I need a jaunty nautical one for next year πŸ™‚

  19. Gail says:

    What a beautiful dress! I love this style on you!

  20. Well you’ve got to be comfortable but from your pics I think it’s marvellously lovely on you. Maybe your next one you could do a collarless style, similar to the lovely Archer variation that Andrea at four square walls did a couple of months ago. The pleating is so clever! I adore shirt dresses and have at least 2 planned for summer on top of my recent Alder.

    1. Jenny says:

      Oh, I like the idea of the collarless hack..I might just have to try it.

  21. TinaLou says:

    Your shirtdress looks lovely on you! As for cup sizing, I think it’s pretty much a crapshoot. The EU/UK system is so much different from mainstream US. As for your Bernina ills – ugh. If you’re not locked in with your dealer, might I suggest at least a phone call to Daley By The Yard in Acton? Erin and her dad did an AMAZING job on my Brother, and they are delightful to work with as well. Best of luck!

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks! Yes, I’m very familiar with the bra craziness as I’m originally from the UK and now live in the US. I must confess I still buy all my bras online from the UK! Unf I think I have to take my Bernina back to the original dealer, but we shall see..

    2. TinaLou says:

      I forgot to add that DBTY is an authorized Bernina dealer; Erin and her dad are both certified trained Bernina repair persons. Plus they are awesome.

    3. Jenny says:

      Ooh thanks – I’ve just left them a voicemail to see if they can repair it under the warranty. They’re only a 40 minute drive from my house rather than a 90 minute one, so it would definitely be preferable!

  22. Jenny, the dress looks wonderful on you. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been wary of making a shirtdress because of my boobs. This actually makes me want to try it.

    The Bernina trouble sounds annoying. Do you have to return to the exact store from which it was purchased? There are Bernina dealers here in Masschusetts.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Basya! The Bernina dealer is acutally one of the closer ones – there’s no-one within an hour of central Boston as far I can find. Oh well!

  23. Such a lovely dress! And you’re rocking it!

  24. Have Ashley demo you up on the Sensormatic during Club. You can always wait to do your buttonholes with Pfaff + wine on Wednesdays!

    1. Jenny says:

      Do you mean, Pfaff > Bernina, dear Villain?!

  25. tanyamaile says:

    You weren’t cold wearing that in Iceland? πŸ™‚ I love it! Good to know about the length as I’m not into short skirts much. I’ll be careful before I cut it out. Also, I wish there was a machine that made only buttonholes and did a damn good job at it!

    1. Jenny says:

      Yes, it’s really short Tanya! Lengthen away!
      And funnily enough Iceland wasn’t really that cold… just has a cold reputation πŸ™‚

  26. This is a wonderful combination of fabric and pattern! I really love the dress on you.

  27. Alessa says:

    Amazing dress, and I love the fabric!
    I’m secretly in love with shirtdresses in theory, but didn’t quite like the Hawthorn I made last year. Shirtdresses are a very autumny kind of dress to me, though, so I’ve been thinking about making the one from Gertie’s book soon-ish…

  28. Wendy says:

    I can’t see the upper back weird puffiness, but I know that as an erectly-straight-necked person, I often need to lower my back necklines to keep collars from riding up under my hair. Maybe that high collar is responsible?
    You and your shirtdress look GREAT! Keep up the excellent and very inspirational work!

  29. Sassy T says:

    Thanks, I will keep you posted.

  30. Hedy Hahn says:

    I love your dress. I saw it on another blog and had to follow it to your site. You look great in it and I would never have believed anything was needed to make it perfect the next time, you look so good in it. I started wearing shirtdresses in high school but now don’t have a single one. Guess I will have to start making them again, you look plain cute.

Let me know what you think!