The Helena Wrap Dress is the latest sewing pattern by Delphine of Just Patterns. I gave an immediate yes to her offer of an advanced copy of the pattern in exchange for a post of my sewed up version on Instagram on launch day, which is today!
There are many things to love about the wrap dress. To begin with, the wrap design and the shape of the skirt remind me of the wrap of traditional sarongs worn in Singapore, which is where I was born and raised. The bodice has a V-neckline and wide grown-on sleeves, and these features are reminiscent of the silhouettes of many Southeast and East Asian folkwear. There’s also a wide, curved waist belt that is an extension of the front bodices. When it is tied up, it looks like a modern version of an obi belt on a Kimono or a wrap belt of a Tibetan Chupa. The belt is long enough so that it can be tied in the back or the front.
The design, whether it is intended or not, is heavily influenced by traditional Asian clothes. And perhaps that’s why it appeals to me so much. Traditional wear tends to have a more ceremonial feel in Singapore, and it is usually seen more at formal occasions. However, there is a trend now back home to incorporate traditional design into everyday wear. So young, local designers have a new-found appreciation for traditional fabrics and design, and making them more simplified, contemporary, practical and accessible to encourage more casual, daily wear for the younger customer. The Helena Wrap Dress would fit perfectly into this category of design in Singapore, where the bottom half resembles one of the national dresses – the sarong kebaya, and the top half hints at an East Asian bodice. It is something that I can wear to a casual brunch and also an evening wedding banquet. As such, it is versatile and the design is very clever.
Sizes for the dress runs from 34 to 60. I fall between sizes 36 and 38, and for my dress, I drafted the in-between size “37” by simply drawing in the lines midway between 36 and 38. This was also what I did for the Tatjana Trousers by Just Patterns (you can read about my version here), and the fit of the pants worked perfectly with this “redrafting”. The instructions for the trousers were superb, and there were some really sophisticated tailoring techniques that were explained very well in that pattern. For this dress pattern, even though the drafting is top-notch as usual, I found I was feeling some doubt about the sewing execution most of the time. Even though I consider myself an intermediate sewist, I fumbled through a couple of steps here. I am not sure if it’s just me on an off-day or I am missing more clarity on the sewing steps.
For example, I wasn’t clear if I interfaced the second interfacing on the front inner waistband correctly. And this led to some confusion when I was putting the front and back, inner and outer waistbands together. It all came together at the end although I suspect my left waistband is put on the other way around. It isn’t so terrible a mistake since the left waistband is “hidden” behind the right one, but it led to some adjustment in the sewing when I joined the inner waistband to the outer. I suggest looking carefully at the diagrams on how the waistbands are sewn up at Step 13 first before interfacing the waistbands, which happens at the beginning of the sewing order. This might prevent you from experiencing the mind boggle that I went through.
On the contrary, there are some sewing techniques that are new to me that I appreciated encountering. For example, I wasn’t sure how the neckband would be constructed since it is connected to the front bodices. It was a true pleasure sewing up this section of the make because it felt like magic when all the pieces fit perfectly together.
The fabric that I used was an Indonesian block-print cotton batik that has a border at the short ends. Many of these fabrics come with the crossgrain sides sewed up so what you get is a tubular piece of cloth ready to be folded at the waist as a sarong. The one that I bought came in a flat 3 metre section with the crossgrain ends free from each other. When I removed it out of the package, the smell of the wax stayed heavy on the fabric. The quality of the dye job is excellent because there is hardly any bleeding of colour when it is pre-washed. Because the batik is hand-printed, the print veers away from parallel lines, but that’s part of the charm and beauty of these fabrics. I was saving this precious piece in my stash for more than 2 years for the right sewing pattern to come along. And here it is – the Helena Wrap Dress.
Since I have obsessive-compulsive (perfectionist) tendencies, it was a challenging exercise to let go of following straight lines when I was cutting it. To be honest, it took me a whole day to cut up the pattern pieces. I kid you not! Part of the difficulty was the impossibility for the grainline of the patterns to be matched up with the fabric pattern. Next, I was attempting to pattern-match, but I had to give that up as well not just because of the uneven batik print but also because I actually didn’t have enough fabric for all the pattern pieces. I sorely wanted the in-seam pockets which used more fabric than the patch pockets, and I really really wanted the sleeve bands to be made out of the border print as well, but after numerous tries to make everything fit, it just didn’t work out. So I had to make some compromises. And that back and forth was time-consuming.
Overall, I am extremely happy with this make. Some bits of it were a struggle, but the effort paid off for a fabulous garment. That is something to shout about.