I was captivated by the whole idea of a tea dress and notions of floating around in a longer length day dress sipping china tea with cocked little finger. The Sew House Seven Tea Dress seemed to fit the bill, and I had seen so many people looking good in it.
Not all patterns work for all bodies. A fairly obvious statement really, but it is so easy to fall into the Instagram trap of seeing lovely dresses in pretty fabrics and be fooled into thinking you might look good in it too.
Fortunately I made a test version, mainly because I was apprehensive about the waist ties and the kimono sleeves. With good reason.
I used a Lady McElroy Penny Faces Marlie cotton lawn that I had in my stash, although I see that Lamazi Fabrics have it in their inventory. It is a lovely silky smooth 100% cotton lawn, fine but with plenty stand, so I felt it would give a similar performance to the linen cotton blend I was planning on using for my afternoon tea version, even if it was a bit lighter weight.
I must say at this point, that the fabric is really nice to work with. It is a closely woven cotton lawn with quite a fun pattern, and the dark grey/blue background colour is one of my best shades to wear.
Both fabrics matched the suggestions on the pattern envelope. I only had 1.5 metres so plumped for the shorter top version as a trial, with somewhat less meterage than specified. It was slightly exacerbated because I had to make some attempt to line up the faces.
Making the top was straightforward. The pattern instructions were clear. The short version has no pockets, with some pattern Tetris I had enough to cut wide Obi- style waist ties, even if there was a join halfway down the length of them.
The problems arose when I tried it on. I had opted to make a size smaller than my measurement suggested, grading to a size larger below the armholes, but that wasn’t necessary as the body is quite wide. Usually if I make the right size for my bust measurement it is huge around my neck and chest, but this design is pretty accommodating in that respect.
The fit around the neck, shoulders and bust was fine, but the waist ties did nothing for my thick waist (if you look at the picture from the Sew House Seven Tea Dress pattern you will notice that the girl has a very tiny waist which is enhanced by the Obi style ties.
I should have known better.
Added to that the grown on sleeves made my shoulders look much wider than they are. Looking back to previous unsuccessful makes (principally my failed Zadie jumpsuit which didn’t suit me for 101 reasons) I should have known better. Again.
But the final nail in the coffin was the pleat that comes away from below the back neck yoke gave a lot of volume to the back. In a softer more drapy fabric it probably wouldn’t be an issue but in this case, without the belt I could have hidden all my Christmas presents under it, and with the belt it looked like a full blown parachute.
I solved this problem by unpicking the yoke and removing the pleat completely. It definitely looked a lot better, and was now wearable. The extra length of the full skirt would probably have helped weigh the whole thing down, but I wasn’t confident, and in a plain linen it would look suspiciously like purple scrubs.
Last minute change of plan.
I need something with more structure around the shoulders. I have relatively narrow shoulders in relation to my bust and wide waist, so a set in sleeve would provide better definition and detract from and balance what lies below.
I found The Cinema Dress by Liesl and Co. It has a similar yoke and skirt shape but a set in sleeve, a small amount of waist suppression and no waist ties.
I have a previously made linen dress in a loose style with a set in sleeve which I have always felt happy in. It is a good plan to use a garment you are comfortable in as a starting point, but I wanted something with a little more shape this time, hence the choice of The Tea Dress.
I quickly bought the PDF and sent it off to be printed.
I like the 40g paper offered by DottyPrint. They were really helpful because the PDF was a single file containing both the A4 sheets and the larger printer files and I didn’t know how to separate them, but a quick phone call to Dotty Print resulted in me uploading the entire file and they were able to print off only the pages needed. I received my pattern in the post the next morning.
Rather than cut out my precious fabric I decided to make a muslin of the bodice. I used an old sheet. I carefully measured the pattern pieces, and compared the finished garment measurements in the pattern instructions with the body measurements and my own measurements. I needed to assess how much ease had been allowed in the original pattern as I wanted a similar effect to that of the pattern illustration, then compared the result to what I would end up with if I didn’t alter the pattern. It seemed that the size 14 would be suitable although it wouldn’t have sufficient ease around the waist, I could assess the neck and shoulder situation from the muslin.
The mods that I wanted to make from the muslin (working in inches because the pattern is written in inches), were
½” forward shoulder at the shoulder point (a normal alteration for me)
Lower bust prominence on the princess seam by 1½”
Increase waist by 3” to create a total 4” waist ease - adding ¼” to each of the 6 vertical seams.
I made all these alterations to my paper pattern then cut out my lovely Heliotrope Linen Cotton Blend kindly supplied by Lamazi Fabrics.
I have had a sample of this glorious crocus coloured mid weight linen fabric pinned to my notice board for 12 months, so when the opportunity arose to make something out of it for the Lamazi Blog Team Post I jumped at it.
I was really careful to mark the wrong sides of the fabric. Although both sides look similar it is important to be consistent as slight variations in shading can show up if you mix the two faces of the fabric, and major errors in sewing can result by sewing up the pieces the incorrect way (as I found to my cost in front of 2 million viewers when I made that mistake under pressure in Week 6 of The Great British Sewing Bee and was subsequently eliminated).
In retrospect the linen fabric has too much bounce to cope with the looser style pulled in with a belt on a body like mine, whilst it would be fine on a slighter or more hourglass shape, I am sure the sample shown on the Sew House Seven website is a linen.
Once again the pattern went together nicely. The pattern alterations gave me a dress that fits me like the designer intended. The fabric was a pleasure to work with and I am in love with the colour. I even found buttons exactly the right colour in my local yarn shop.
It is much easier to appreciate what the correct fabric should be for a garment once you have made it for the first time, The Sew House Seven Tea Dress is perfect for a drapy fabric, the kimono style sleeves don’t need fabric with body to it, but different fabrics will give a dress with a different character suited to different bodies.
This is a quote from The Sew House Seven Tea House Sew Along https://sewhouse7.com/blogs/news/fit-and-fabrics-for-your-tea-house-dress-top-1
“As for fabrics, you may choose a rayon challis, wool challis, linen, silk charmeuse, crepe de chine, cotton voile or lawn - just about any woven fabric that isn't too stiff or heavy. If you do use a cotton, I prefer a light-weight cotton however, I've seen some nice ones in quilting cotton to my surprise. Quilting cotton is a bit stiff and so expect the sleeves to be a bit more stiff and less fluid however, it could be the look you are after. I find that the dress takes on quite a different look depending on what fabric is chosen.”
It is very much a case of getting to know what suits your own body, and for me that is a constant learning curve.
My final adjustment: (never assume that the fit is perfect - there is always more fiddling to be done!) When I tried on my finished dress I felt that I could reclaim some of the waist shaping from the original pattern, so I took out most of the extra waist ease that I had added earlier. I have lost some centimeters around my waist and am now less inclined to wear ‘baggy’.
I now have a dress which is a happy marriage of a looser style that I had previously made, but with a more slender profile that I feel is more appropriate to my current figure and still accommodates the lumps and bumps that lurk below the surface.
If you aren’t sure what styes suit your figure, look in your wardrobe to find things you are (or were) happy wearing and use that as a starting point. Fashions and shapes change, but you can use previous experiences to explore current designs and find similar aspects. Try thing on in shops and take photos of yourself in styles you think you might like, and when you find something your are comfortable with then look for patterns that are have the same characteristics. Line drawings on patterns are usually much more informative than pictures of skinny models.
Take heed of the fabrics suggestions on the pattern envelope, and trust the designer. She will have made up the dress in a huge variety of different fabrics, and you will probably only need to make one, but don’t fall into my trap of believing that just because others look good in it - so will you.
This is a lesson that is taking me years to learn.
Thank you to Lamazi Fabrics for providing me with this lovely fabric. I am really looking forward to seeing what the other members of our Lamazi Blog Team come up with next.