After finishing an internship with Tilly and the Buttons, the girls kindly let me have a few of their patterns as a thank-you. One of the patterns I chose was the Martha dress. When this pattern first came out, I’ll admit I didn’t like it – the sleeves were always gorgeous, of course, but as a larger-chested girl I would normally avoid high necklines like the plague. It grew on me over the course of the internship, however, and I resolved to make my own after seeing some beautiful versions on Instagram and Pinterest. The final straw was a similar dress I saw in Marks and Spencer – a stunning piece in a bold black floral. I knew I had to make my own.
I bought my fabric at the Handmade Fair at Hampton Court, which I went to with my mum in September. It’s a lovely soft cotton lawn from Fabrics Galore (which no longer seems to be in stock, sadly) with a beautiful drape. However, I’d never worked with a fabric this drapey before, and there was the added complication that I’d also never cut or sewn a skirt on the bias before. I’d also never sewn princess seams, a mandarin collar, a panelled skirt or an invisible zip before. So there were a lot of firsts with this dress. And it’s hardly surprising that I found making the dress a little…tricky.
Now, when I say tricky, what I mean is incredibly stressful and infuriating. I think it was just the combination of the fabric being more difficult to work with than fabrics I’ve used before, and the pattern being quite a bit more challenging that anything else I’ve tackled. But the dress seemed to fight back at me at every turn! Seam lines stretched out of shape before I even got round to stay-stitching them, fabric slipped and shifted as I was sewing it, the back neckline gaped wildly for no apparent reason, one collar piece was inexplicably far larger than the other, I ran out of the right colour of thread, it frayed, it snagged, it stretched, and – no matter how long I left the dress hanging for, and how many times I trimmed it to shape – the hem would simply not sit straight. Tears were shed over this dress.
And then, I tried it on, and it somehow – somehow – looked alright.
The fit was magically not too bad. The sleeves were…well, just look at them. These sleeves are everything that is right with the world. They really make the dress. And everything else was, y’know, working. Functioning. But I wasn’t head-over-heels in love.
I needed some time apart from the dress, to get some sort of closure from the process of making it. I needed some space to separate the dress from the memory of all the blood, sweat and tears that went into its creation. And that’s how I found myself giving a dress I made in September its first outing on New Year’s Eve.
And, boy, am I in love.
You see, my oh-my-god-I-hate-it-why-won’t-it-work-it’s-gonna-look-horrible-I’m-such-a-failure dress is now my New Year’s dress, worn to celebrate an altogether very good year, and to see in a shiny brand new year of goodness knows what. The fabric is absolutely gorgeous, and was worth the effort, as it drapes and swishes beautifully. The bias-cut panelled skirt is as flattering as Tilly promised, and the sleeves…the sleeves…
The mandarin collar doesn’t even look too bad. Success!
In 2016 I put on a ball, sang in Notre Dame cathedral, passed all my exams (some more convincingly than others), went to two balls in two nights, costumed a play performed entirely in Ancient Greek, climbed the Eiffel Tower, picnicked under a setting sun, completed my first internship, fell in love and did a whole heap of sewing.
And may my love affair with dressmaking continue into 2017 and beyond.