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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Friday, March 15, 2019

The River Dress, the fabric makes it

One of my pleasures of my year was discovering that my daughter-in-law in Berkeley is a gifted fabric shopper. 

She has that wonderful ability to look at fabric and know what kind of pattern will suit it. This is a real talent and one I discovered in a trip to Stonemountain and Daughter in December.

Here is some terrific rayon challis, something I personally didn't notice on the bolt, made up this week in Megan Neilsen's River Dress

I was interested to try a Megan Neilson pattern. These patterns have a strong following and appear to be really well drafted.

We saw and liked the store sample we saw in the the store and the pattern was intriguing for several reasons.

  • It can be worn either side, the V neck for example at the front or at the back. I can't right now think of another pattern drafted to do this.
  • The construction appeared very simple, no closures, just pull on over your head. The V neck makes the neckline big enough to do this.
  • The sleeves are raglan, almost as high as a set-in sleeve. I was hopeful this would make the all important neck/shoulder fit not too sloppy or loose, something that often occurs in designs as simple as this one:

  • A lot of versatility in this pattern, a dress or top, to be made in a woven or a knit.

I made the woven version dress of course and made it exactly as instructed. No surprise here but I am often not as smart as I think I am and over time I have decided it is just courtesy to the designer to make up an new pattern exactly as specified.

Having done this first time out, here are a few construction details I would change up for what, in my mind at least, would be a better result.

Here they are.

1. The woven neck binding falls into the category of what I call seems easy is hard. The sewer is instructed to apply the binding in a ring around the neckline, stitched, turned and top-stitched, with a slight dip in the shape of the neckline at one centre (I guess front or back depending on how you will wear the dress/top). The instructions specifically say not to trim the seam allowances because the binding will be wrapped over it.

Fair enough.

The weird thing, to my mind at least, comes in how the mitre in the V is then formed.

The instructions basically tell you to pinch a tiny pleat in the binding and stitch right up through it, through all layers, which on the woven version would be, 5, contained within the binding, forming the miter line of the V.

Here is a pattern shot of that done, in the knit version I believe, on the website:

Looks pretty good but you and I both know this is not exactly a beginner's manoeuvre.

When it was time to make my own I looked at my fine rayon and the tiny space I had to execute this move and elected to do the stitching by hand:

 The trouble of course with this method too is that you are left with a tiny pebble of fabric behind the mitre and there is a very fine line between pressing it flat and over-pressing. This fabric is very loosely woven too and even though those aren't hand stitches showing in my mitre, but threads from the fabric, it looks that way and this bugs me.

I won't do this neckline this way again.

A really easy way to make a mitred corner involves stitching down to the point of the V, right side of the binding to the right side of the garment fabric, stopping with the needle in the fabric, right at the V and then fold the miter yourself. I like this method as you can use your hands to get it right before you commit to stitching.

This method is really well illustrated here.

The second issue I had with the instructions, which I know were meant to be as easy as possible but as so often is the case this can actually complicate matters, was that both the bottom and sleeve hems are meant to be 2" and, this is actually my point, the one continuous underarm seam along the sleeve and down the side takes a very sharp and definite angle at the armpit.

With such a small and high armhole this is inevitable but really makes for, in my view, a tight pucker under the arm. Go back to the picture from the pattern site above of the orange top. See that pulling under the arm.

The fact is that a high armhole really needs to be set in, have a gusset to release the strain, or to be clipped.

Here is a shot of one of the underarm areas (sorry pre pressing but I wanted to get a shot in right away) as it came out of the machine made as per instructions:

See that? This is the fabric talking to you saying I am grabbed in way too tight here, let me go.

Since the sleeves were already in and I didn't have any offcuts with me to make a small gusset I went in side and clipped almost to the stitching line, which was double stitched, good thing.

Here is the effect of that clip from the right side, on the other sleeve before pressing but you can see how much the fabric is sighing here in relief for being released:

I think we are often too afraid to clip. The key to knowing if it needed to be done or not is if, once the clip has been made, the cut opens up, displacing what was caught into air.

To keep the clip frozen you can do a couple of things, iron a small piece of knit fusible to the area before you cut for example, of if you don't have that with you to work with in the woods, you can go old school and simple overcast the raw edges of the clip by hand:

Notice how wide that clip spreads? It really needed to happen.

So final verdict.

Excellent fabric, I am so happy with this dress. It is going to look great on Maddie.

Interesting pattern but I am going to get into the instructions and customize them for myself next time so they actually are easy.

I will probably do that when I get back in my own sewing room, nice fabric in mind. 


Jacq C said...

Beautiful fabric. I just wanted to say thank you for your review of the instructions, and suggested amendments, it is so helpful x

Anonymous said...

Pretty dress, I'm seeing it with orange sandals..... I hope I would automatically reinforce and clip the arm angle, but this isn't my first rodeo; I can imagine that with less experience there would be disappointment. And the bias tutorial is a pleasure to read! The person who composed and illustrated it really knows how to illustrate and explain!

Happy trails!


Easily Amewsed said...

WOw. The fabric really does take this to a new level. I admit when I saw this pattern all I could think of was scrubs.

BarbaraShowell said...

Ellie and MAC have a t shirt you can wear front or backwards, the Ruched T. I haven’t sewn it yet but it looked pretty fab on all the pattern testers and comes in pdf sizes xxs up to 5x. I saved that link for the binding necklines, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Barbara,
I love your fabric, and I can imagine that it might be a nice breezy summerdress. But It seams to me that the pattern isn’t so well drafted after all. Front and back the same? I fail to see the advantage, sorry to say. My body is not the same at the front and the back. And that armpit cries for a gusset. No Megan Nielsen River dress for me.
But I keep reading your lovely blog. Bye, Barkcloth