The Sew Dots Batwing dress
I recently did a workshop on sewing with knits, and I wanted to feel I was using the skills I had learnt there. So I was pleased to be working on the Batwing dress for my October Simple Sew project. I feel this is a good pattern for my shape, because although it’s a batwing, there’s not too much fabric flapping about, it’s quite neat.
Unlike my previous simple sew project the pattern looked like it stood a reasonable chance of fitting, at the size 20 – Hooray! so only minor adjustments were needed. When I draped the paper pattern piece around myself I decided that it needed an extra couple of centimetres at the bust on each side. I also decided to make the sleeves a little shorter because I prefer a three quarters sleeve. I always end up pushing long sleeves up my arm anyway so I might as well get the sleeve length I want from the start. If that’s not the whole point of making your own clothes I don’t know what is. So I had to adjust the bat wing curve to take both those alterations into account. I made the sleeve cuff a little wider, because my arm is wider at the three quarters mark than it is at the wrist. I added a ½ cm each side, but I should really have made it slightly bigger, maybe 1 cm each side, because the sleeve cuff is pretty snug – any tighter and my fingers would be turning blue! Obviously I made the cuff pattern 1 cm wider to accommodate my changes, and when I make this again (which I’m sure I will), I’ll adjust it again to reflect the further increase.
Another adjustment I made was to lengthen the skirt because a skirt that covers my knees a bit more will always be more office-appropriate, and keep this dress more wearable.
And finally, I was slightly worried by the small size of the head hole. This was the cut out piece with my hand for comparison (I have normal sized hands, not big man hands!):
I told myself not to worry, the collar piece looked about the same sort of size as the roll neck on ready to wear tops and dresses I’ve got. But when I put the collar together, before I even sewed it in, I realised I really couldn’t get it over my head, so I re-cut the collar piece to make it wider. Surprisingly, I was able to get away without having to expand the head hole- the new piece fitted it fine.
Making it up
I was using a plain black jersey fabric I had in my stash, from last year, maybe two years ago. I know I bought it on Ebay, but have no recollection of who the seller was. It’s a pretty stable knit, it doesn’t stretch a whole lot (which is possibly why the original collar piece wouldn’t fit over my head).
This is a very fabric-hungry pattern, because it’s made in one piece and it’s essentially a big cross shape. However frugally I tried to lay the pattern out, there were large bits of leftover fabric. I’d started with 3 metres of the jersey, and I’ve got about 40 cms left plus lots of largish bits from under the arms:
Guess I’m going to have to learn how to make knickers from jersey scraps now!
The making process was mostly really simple. Sew Sweet by Sally has done an excellent tutorial.
Megan also used this pattern for her beautiful August make. She recommends using a twin needle, and I can whole-heartedly second that. They’re really easy to use, and give a lovely professional-looking finish. I used the twin needle for my hemming and also for the outside of the collar/body join.
Megan also recommends using a Walking Foot. I haven’t got one, and I managed fine. I just needed to take care that my seams were properly together when I sewed them, and I didn’t allow them to drift out of whack. I used the stretch stitch on my sewing machine, but you could also use a narrow zigzag.
I hand-stitched the cuff seams down, so that they would be smooth on the inside and there’d be no flappy bits, particularly as the cuffs are so snug, but I’ve left the other seams un-neatened, because I’ve got no overlocker to do the job quickly and cleanly, and they’re not going to unravel when I wash the dress. If the sewing police come to arrest me, I’ll go quietly!
The only element of the instructions that got me a bit confused was the collar insertion. After failing to work it out, I decided to basically treat the collar as a gigantic edge binding, and insert it that way. I forgot to take photos, so I hope my drawings will help make sense of these instructions. I sewed the side seam of the collar piece without any of the folding mentioned in the official instructions, to make a tall tube, then, with the dress inside out, I put the tube (right side outwards) into the head hole, so that the right sides of the dress and collar were together on the inside, with the collar seam at the centre back.
I pinned the edge of the tube to the edge of the head hole and sewed with a zig zag stitch, to give the maximum stretchiness. Then I turned the dress to the right side out, and turned the top of the collar tube down by 1½ cms, to the inside, pinning it into position. I pushed the top of the collar down into the inside, and repinned the top (which had now become the base of the collar on the inside) to the head hole, so that the seam would meet the original zigzagged seam that I’d used to sew the collar on, and would enclose all the rough edges.
I used the twin needle, as I mentioned, to stitch it down neatly, from the outside of the dress.
So I’d finished my dress and I could have left it at that, maybe worn it to work the next day, but a plain black dress, while perfectly acceptable, was a bit more boring than I wanted. I decided to make it more interesting and personal with one of my favourite forms of embellishment – appliqué!
My original plan, when I was first thinking about this project, had been to add big floral shapes around the hemline (because I do love a big floral), but a post popped up on my Instagram feed, at the end of September, from Rosie of DIY Couture who was hosting a “Sew Dots” challenge for October, to raise money for the RNIB. I don’t do many online sewing challenges, because they don’t always chime with what I’m wanting to make, but I felt this one could be perfect. Instead of adding floral shapes, I could add dots! And it’s all to support a really good cause.
I intended to cannibalise one of the many camisoles that I no longer wear, for a contrast fabric, that would work with the jersey. I pulled out two, both of which would provide a good dramatic contrast.
After mulling it over for a day, I opted for the pink. I found a suitable template for my dots (a can of instant coffee – don’t judge me!) and got going on a marathon cutting out session. At first I tried drawing around the tin, but the pen kept pulling the fabric. Then I tried applying tailor’s chalk to the bottom of the can, and pressing it onto the fabric, but that was a complete faff. However, it did lead me to the most efficient way to mark the template onto the fabric, just pressing the tin down good and hard, to create a circular dent!
I arranged the circles on my dress to see how they would work and to establish how many I would need. They’re quite big dots, about 7cm across, so I decided three lines was plenty, with ten dots per line, making it 30 to cut out.
I eyeballed it initially to see what the positioning should be, then measured and worked out proportions and angles, how many dots for each line, making sure everything would fit right and not leave any odd gaps, pinning each dot down in position, line by line. I made sure the “grainline” of the dot matched up with the grainline of the dress.
I used a black cotton perle embroidery/crochet thread, doubled up, and a basic running stitch, because I was aiming for an Alabama Chanin effect (though this is absolutely not proper AC style!). I kept reminding myself “Smaller stitches! Smaller stitches!”. I tried to ensure there was a bit of give in my sewing, to make the thread puff out prettily and to avoid the fabrics puckering in the event of stretching.
Three lines of dots later, and voila – I have a polka dot Batwing dress! It feels really comfortable and I can see me wearing it a lot. The photos were taken at my friends’ house, after an evening of wear. The appliqué is bearing up fine, and I think this is going to be one of my new favourites!