Blooming, bright and frolicky is exactly how you’d describe
the light sunny days of May this dress. That’s right folks, spring (aka dress sewing season) is upon us in full swing and I am thrilled to share another bold 60s-inspired frock to kick it off.
Last month the lovely team at Tilly and the Buttons reached out and asked if I would be interested in previewing a new pattern. Unlike anything I had ever seen before from an indie pattern, the Martha dress is a princess-seamed, bell sleeved, bias-skirted wonder. I instantly fell in love with the high collar and heavy late-sixties vibe. I did not hesitate to accept.
This is probably one of the most vintage looking new makes in my wardrobe (though I think Peggy comes close) and not something I’d be likely to find elsewhere, which makes me quite happy. Thankfully my friend let me take photos in her mid-century wonderland of a house to complement it. I could not imagine a more perfect setting to play and swish around in this dress.
I knew immediately I wanted to go all out California-girl with the fabric and went to the store in search of the brightest floral I could find. Luckily this neon polyester crepe had no trouble jumping out at me. I also purchased some matching yellow crochet trim to play with, but I ultimately left it off because this fabric won’t let anything else share the stage. My second design choice was a mint lace with underlay, based off a long lost sold-to-someone-else Etsy find, but I didn’t want to sew multiple layers together for a summer dress. Perhaps in version 2.0?
I also toyed with the idea of making a sleeveless version, which would probably be more comfortable on hot days, as well as more practical for cool-weather layering. After much debate (and Instagram feedback) I decided to leave them on. I really need to accept that I need more sleeves in my life. The bell sleeves also cement the vintage vibe. A sleeveless version probably would have a skater dress feel, which really opens this pattern to different styling opportunities.
If you are on a fabric budget, or have a great textile in your stash, I will say that the fabric requirements are quite generous and you can do a lot with less. The envelope suggests over 3m of fabric (to accommodate the bias cut skirt pieces, and long skirt version), but since I made the mini skirt in one of the smaller sizes, I was able to arrange and cut my pieces and was left with a solid meter of fabric leftover.
Because of the crepe texture of the fabric, it was great to sew with, sort of ‘sticking’ to itself and keeping still. However in cutting out the pieces, this was one of the few times having a cutting table would have been ideal. I do all my fabric cutting on the floor of my living room and while it works for thicker, stable fabrics, the soft flowy nature of this was not having it. I used my rotary cutter and 3 small cutting mats strategically placed underneath piece by piece to get the job done.
This haphazard cutting method left me with a few errors in my pieces. Things shifted and slid, as they do. For example, when I went to attach the skirt to the bodice it was far too long! I could have gathered the skirt to make it fit but it would have totally ruined the dress’ silhouette. After some frustrated pondering, I opted to let out the side and princess seams to a 0.5 cm seam allowance to get them to fit (perfectly with aligned seams, I might add).
I am not a fan of facings on the best of days and for this project in particular I felt it was a bit superfluous. Because my fabric was so light and flowy, it added visible bulk to my neckline, so I removed it (with the exception of a small triangle bit to keep the zipper faced), and simply overlocked the collar piece to the bodice. I’ve said before that the beauty of the insides of my garments isn’t my #1 priority so this was an easy decision to make. I’m sure with a sturdier fabric the facing would add a nice finish and support the collar well.
The small tip of using a hair elastic for the button loop closure was one of those mind-blowing sewing hacks that make life so easy and make you say ‘now, why didn’t I think of that?!”. I felt a little guilty at first, cutting into a perfectly good hair tie, but since only a small portion (~5cm) is needed, I saved the remainder for future loops. It has lots of stretch and looks so good. Total win.
Size wise I cut a straight size 2 from Tilly’s size chart. It is a pretty spot on fit, though I could have graded out a little at the waist I think (my measurements sit between size 2-3) to allow extra room for pizza parties. Since the pattern has a natural waist seam I added my traditional 4 cm bodice lengthening (which as I now type this, I think also had probably something to do with my bodice/skirt alignment issues…)
What I really enjoyed about making this dress was the inclusion of new techniques that aren’t difficult, but things I simply hadn’t encountered before in a pattern. The bias cut skirt pieces and the high collar were new things to play with and learn from, without feeling scary or unattainable.
I am looking forward to picnics and patio parties and all other excuses to wear bright summery frocks. Not to mention even more summery frocks to sew sew sew. Ahhh I love this time of year.
This pattern was gifted to me as part of a request to preview the new Martha pattern. All opinions and sewing gaffes are my own.