It took me a long time to work up the courage to make the Sofia Dress & Top designed by Victory Patterns. I’ve had my eye on it ever since the pattern came out, and hesitated buying it even though I fell in love instantly with the design. Mainly because I wasn’t sure how well my Heavy Duty Singer 4453 was going to handle the elastic thread in the bobbin.
I looked at numerous YouTube videos and blogs on shirring for research. It didn’t help that many described how their machines didn’t like the elastic thread at all, especially those with the front-loading bobbins. They had to turn the tension screw on those metal bobbin cases before it worked for them. My machine has a top loading bobbin with no option to fix the bobbin tension, so I assumed that it was a sure thing that the elastic thread wouldn’t feed through properly. Then I saw other videos (e.g a tutorial by The Stitch Sisters), which were encouraging because the elastic thread worked problem-free on top-loading bobbins with no complicated adjustments. The only thing to change is the stitch length which should be set at 3.5 – 4. Emboldened, I went ahead and bought 8 spools of grey-coloured Gutermann Shirring Elastic Thread, so that I’ll have it on hand when I felt ready to try.
But the spools of thread sat languishing in my stash for weeks until a few days ago when I finally decided that I should just face the beast and give it a go. And when I did, all that doubting and fearing seemed completely redundant and superfluous. My Singer handled the elastic thread like a dream.
This pattern definitely gives you bang for your buck. There are many options to choose from, and mixing and matching the different sleeve and bodice/dress options will give you at least 9 Sofia versions. You can choose to sew up a midi-length dress, a peplum top or a cropped top. The sleeve variations include: bell sleeves with shoulder strap, cap sleeves, elbow-length sleeves and bishop sleeves. The front and back pattern pieces are exactly the same.
The first version I attempted was the peplum top with bell sleeves because this has the least amount of shirring involved. This sleeve is attached to a shoulder strap which means that the bra-strap would be hidden. The other sleeve versions require either a bra with straps that are spaced far apart on the shoulders, or a strapless. Although I reckon that it’ll be an easy hack to attach this shoulder strap to the other sleeve options as well for a smaller neckline and bra-strap coverage.
Another great thing about the Sofia pattern is that the instructions for shirring are pretty comprehensive. It assumes zero knowledge and experience regarding shirring, and as a beginner at attempting this technique, this was most reassuring for me. It takes you through the two methods for shirring: 1) backstitching at the beginning and end of each row; 2) continuous shirring connecting one row to the next. I understood that the first method is preferred for curved edges, and the second for straight edges. I really appreciated the hand-holding, and at no point did I feel I had to flounder in the dark or do any guesswork. If you follow the instructions carefully (like me!) then there’s no reason for you not to succeed in shirring even if it’s your virgin attempt (like mine!). I suggest buying more shirring elastic than you need, because these run out quickly for the amount of shirring that’s required. In addition, you will need extra for testing the shirring on whichever fabric you choose to use.
The only issue I had is with the sizing. Sizing comes in two ranges: 0-18 or 14-30. I sewed up a size 2 according to body measurements (I am actually a size 4 at the waist), and ended up taking in enough in the side seams to warrant making a size 0 for the next attempt. There is quite a bit of ease, and for the gathered bodice to fit more snugly around the chest area, I had to take in about 1/2 inch in the sides after the shirring was done. I do wonder if the generous ease was a result of shirring that wasn’t tight enough in contracting the fabric. I did all the shirring tests that was suggested and achieved the ideal shirring results. So I guess sizing down will be the quick fix to this.
The fabric that I used for the bell-sleeved peplum is a John Kaldor polyester crepe that was leftover from my Cheongsam-Kalle Shirtdress. Choosing the right fabric for shirring is key to the success of this technique, and this multi-coloured crepe is the perfect fabric for it. It is of medium weight but feels light and has incredible drape. It is silky soft on the skin. Even though it’s a polyester, there’s breathability in the fabric, and doesn’t cause perspiration and stickiness like regular polyester does.
This fabric was gifted to me by Minerva (thank you!) in exchange for a blog post on their website, and I am so happy that there was enough leftover to squeeze out a second make from it. The only thing that I suggest is to use a microtex needle when sewing with this crepe because the thickness of a regular needle will create some snags in the fabric. The best thing about this crepe is that you’ll never have to iron it, but when creases need to be made while sewing, it takes to pressing for neat seams. Remember to set your iron on a low setting though for polyester fabric to prevent an actual poly-meltdown.
In the above pictures, I paired the top with a pair of Wide-Leg Pants by Peppermint Magazine made with Lady McElroy Barbie-Pink Stretch Denim, which was also gifted by Minerva (double thanks!!!). A review of this pant pattern and fabric will be coming soon.
The Sofia was such a successful project that I planned a second one immediately after. I wanted to make a dress version this time with the bishop sleeves.
Earlier this month I had signed up for a sewing contest in Pattern Review. The main criteria for the 2020 Little Basic Dress Contest is to sew up a “classic” dress in a solid colour. This dress can be of any length (not necessarily “little” as the contest name suggests) but it needs to be versatile enough for day/night or casual/formal events. This contest intrigued me because I don’t own anything like this in my closet. I haven’t made a dress in a solid colour before. I’ve made jumpsuits and pants in solid colours but never a dress. I tend towards loud prints and print matching. Most of the solid-coloured fabrics that I’ve bought have either been sashiko-ed or shibori-ed in contrasting colours.
There was a period of indecision and a couple false starts regarding which sewing pattern to use. I cut out another Sienna Shift Dress (me version here) in fuchsia linen but couldn’t resist adding contrasting sashiko on it. Then I printed a pdf pattern of the Kaste Dress by Named Clothing (in their book, Breaking The Pattern) and got intimidated by the changes that I have to make to put a cheongsam hack on it. I wouldn’t have time enough for it.
Then right after finishing up the Sofia Peplum Top, I went fabric shopping and discovered a Korean white silk at a local store at a steal at around US$15. So I swooped in and got 3 metres of it. And there, the idea was hatched to dye it and make a Sofia Dress for the contest. I could have left it white, but that might result in a wedding dress. The silk is also quite sheer, and even with a skirt lining, the white would still be too translucent. Dyeing would solve the translucency issue, and it did.
3 metres was just about enough to fit all the pattern pieces. I made a lining for the skirt but I didn’t have enough to cut it on the fold, so the lining was cut with a 1/2 inch seam allowance added to it on the centre line of the pattern piece. Only then did I have enough fabric to fit on a 140cm wide piece of silk.
I am not sure whether the style of the dress would be considered “basic” enough to fit the contest criteria, but I didn’t want to make a dress in a style that I wouldn’t wear at all. It is definitely a classic and basic wardrobe staple if catapulted back to the 1970s, or in a Disney princess movie – with the full on bishop sleeves, shirring and a brilliant turquoise colour.
The dye that I used was Jacquard iDye in Turquoise. The colour turned out pretty accurate according to the colour chart that they have on their website. It is a turquoise that becomes a teal under a different light. The sheen of the silk makes the colour even more intense, and wearing the dress gives me the feeling that I’m floating on the ocean. Dyeing with Jacquard iDye is not difficult at all, but it was my first time dyeing with silk. Now my head is bursting with ideas of shibori dyeing with more of this silk, and all the things that I can make with the self-dyed fabric. Here’s a short video of the dyeing process:
This time, I sized down to size 0 and still had to take in about 1/4 inch more in the side seams. I guess the shirring varies with different fabrics, and produces different contracting results with the different fabrics. So I suggest fitting regularly during the make to adjust for the best fit. Just be careful that the changes in the side seams will affect the change in the armscye and the waistline, so keep that in mind when making fit adjustments.
There was some trepidation around sewing up the silk, but that fear was also uncalled for. The fabric was shifty when cutting it, so I put in extra care to pin more before putting my scissors to it. Yes, I am a pin-and-scissors cutter, not so much a rotary-cutter-and-cutter-mat cutter. When put to the machine, the silk didn’t give me any trouble at all. It had enough weight to be stable enough, and I didn’t have to make changes to the regular settings. All I had to do was to use a microtex needle. I didn’t even have to use a walking foot.
Overall, it is a pleasure working with the silk. The whole time I was in awe of how the fibres are so strong, and yet the fabric is so ultra light and airy. The drape is dreamy; the tactile feel is oh-so-soft, almost powdery. The fabric swishes so beautifully with any slight movement. It immediately makes one feel posh, and it gives a romantic feel.
For the contest, at least 3 pictures of the dress have to be submitted. The first one with no accessories, the second accessorised for daytime, and the third accessorised for evening.
The first picture was easy to organise. I just stood barefoot on the balcony with my son as photographer.
The second photo for daytime is accessorised with gold hoop earrings, a blue bead choker made by my daughter (you can see close-ups of this in the Peplum Top pics), a vintage beaded crochet Massimo Dutti bag with wooden handles (borrowed from a great friend), and open-toed heels I purchased years ago.
The second photo for evening is accessorised with Swarovski crystal dangly earrings, a red clutch and United Nude red pumps. The pearl choker was made by my mother. I even threw on some lipstick – which I do once in a turquoise moon.
It was fun putting these outfits together. It gave me an excuse to dress up even though I have nowhere to go. Now I have a dress to wear for the socially-distanced festivities at home during this pandemic holiday season.
Voting for the contest starts sometime after November 30, which is the deadline to submit our entries. If you are already a member of Pattern Review (you have to be a registered member before the contest started on 1st November), and want to submit an entry, there’s still a week left to do so. And if you like my Little Basic Dress, and are a registered member, you can vote for my entry on 3-10 December during the voting period at Pattern Review. Thanks in advance for your vote! Or you can vote for whichever entry that you think deserves to win. I’m excited to check out what other makers have made, and be inspired by their creations.
I will exit now with some photos that managed to catch the movement of this lovely silk. I foresee this silk (in other self-dyed colours) making comeback appearances in my future makes.