My good friend Sadie (who helped devise the idea of Out with the New) and I were wondering whether we could make a dress each in a day. It seemed possible, but still a challenge, so we decided to give it a go when I went back to visit my hometown this weekend just passed. We each chose a pattern – I chose Tilly and the Buttons’ Bettine dress, while Sadie went for Simplicity 1103 dress A – and a fabric – light blue chambray for me, burgundy polka dot viscose/lycra blend for Sadie – and set aside a day for the so-called ‘dress marathon’. We know that for many seasoned dressmakers, a dress in a day would be no biggie, but Bettine was to be the first ever dress I made from scratch, and Sadie’s 1103 was a complex pattern, with a separate yoke, princess seams, interfacing and lining, all made in a stretch fabric – so we weren’t sure whether we would make it! However, we thought that trying to finish in a day would avoid the loss of interest that so often strikes mid-project, leaving us with half-finished dresses. Working together would also help to keep us both motivated and sane!
So, off we go…
10:30 – with the sewing machine and iron both set up, and the kitchen floor vacuumed, Sadie and I lay out our fabric and start cutting out the pattern pieces.
10:40 – our incessant singing becomes too much, and Sadie is despatched to locate her speakers. The soundtrack to The Princess and the Frog, the first of many, many Disney soundtracks of the day, is fired up. We both sing along to every word.
11:30 – after endless measuring and pinning, I actually start to cut into my actual fabric. Sadie has a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I’ve never used them before, but they turn out to be really speedy and easy, much nicer than scissors.
12:00 – injury of the day! I slice my right index finger open on the rotary cutter. We patch it up with a pink cupcake plaster, and we’re straight back to work.
12:45 – Mulan’s I’ll Make a Man out of You provides additional motivation for the pinning and cutting process.
13:45 – we break for a well-earned lunch of sandwiches and Doritos. Sadie offers me a home-made chocolate chip peanut butter Nutella cookie cupcake (I know, right?), and I say I will have one as a reward for when I finish cutting out my pattern pieces.
14:00 – we take a ‘light relief’ break from 5 back-to-back Disney soundtracks by listening instead to the Fantasia soundtrack – 2 hours of amazing classical music!
14:40 – I finally finish cutting out my pattern pieces – 10 in total, or 12 including interfacing. I duly eat my chocolate chip peanut butter Nutella cookie cupcake.
15:15 – I actually start actually sewing on the actual sewing machine. Sadie is nearly done with cutting out, but she has many more pattern pieces than I do.
15:45 – everything is running smoothly. Sadie begins to sew, and we settle into a nice rhythm of alternating between the sewing machine and the iron.
16:15 – we realise that the tension on the machine is completely off, and spend a stressful half hour attempting to fix it, using screwdrivers and everything! This sets us back somewhat, and we wonder whether we’ll be able to finish before the day’s out.
17:00 – blunders and silly mistakes start to happen. Sadie accidentally irons her interfacing to the ironing board instead of her fabric, and I oh-so nearly sew my facing to the wrong side of the bodice. Hercules’ Go the Distance helps us to get back on track and stay motivated.
17:15 – after three rounds of pinning and one ripped-out seam, the facing is finally attached to my bodice.
17:45 – Buzz arrives to help out!
18:30 – progress is slow but steady. Sadie and I are both constructing our bodices; Sadie works on her yoke and princess seams while I sew up the side seams and prepare the cuff pieces.
19:00 – the soundtrack for Fantasia 2000 provides more ‘light relief’ from Renaissance era Disney. Driven on by intense classical masterpieces, Sadie and I leave a trail of destruction in our wake.
19:45 – we break again for a tasty dinner of Domino’s pizza. I estimate that I am about half way through the actual sewing, and that I can be finished before midnight if I carry on at the same pace. Sadie says it’s looking like she won’t finish today.
20:15 – we’ve run out of Disney so we move onto the Wicked soundtrack instead. I decide that I am allowed another chocolate chip peanut butter Nutella cookie cupcake once I finish the bodice, so I set about finishing the cuffs and tabs with renewed determination.
21:00 – bodice finished!
22:00 – the skirt is much easier than the bodice. I sew up the sides and attach it to the bodice without hitch. Finally all of my separate pattern pieces are one!
22:30 – Sadie makes an honourable retirement from the marathon after a commendable 12 hours, having completed a complicated yoke and bodice, leaving her with the much simpler skirt pieces to tackle another day. I soldier on, because the end is in sight.
23:00 – a repeat of the motivational Mulan soundtrack spurs me on as I add elastic to the waistband and press the hem allowance in a bewilderingly furious manner. I am exhausted and become slightly delirious. This might be to do with the fact that I have not left the kitchen in 13 hours.
23:30 – I finally finish all the machine sewing and give my dress a final press. There are a few hand-sewn finishing touches to be done, but I decide to do those in the morning when I am not rocking back and forth in a corner muttering to myself.
I let social media know of my achievement, and then head to bed.
We’re all shattered.
The next morning I sew the cuff turnings in place with a few discreet stitches…
…then cover my buttons with my floral fabric, and, finally, sew them in place on the cuff tabs.
And my first ever handmade dress was complete! It was a long, long day but (save a few hand stitches) I managed to create an entire dress from scratch, one of which I am very proud. I would highly recommend Tilly’s Bettine pattern, especially if you’re relatively new to dressmaking like me, because the instructions are straightforward and clear, and you’ll end up with a gorgeous, relaxed and flattering dress, which will see you through from spring to autumn if you engage in a little layering. Making this dress grew my confidence with the sewing machine a little (not least because Sadie’s machine didn’t misbehave like mine does!) – I didn’t envisage making lots of clothes from scratch as part of my Out with the New project, but perhaps I will, now that I know I can. And, seeing as I’ve proved I can make one from start to finish in a day, I’m sure my wardrobe will be seeing more Bettines before long!