Nel Nan and Nora’s Serena Maxi Dress

admin Pattern Review, Tips & Tricks, Tricky Fabrics 2 Comments

My Simple Sew make for August is perfectly timed for a summer wedding reception that’s coming up very soon.

I’ve chosen the Serena Maxi Dress, made in a John Kaldor silk satin that I’d bought as a (bargain) cut piece at The Shuttle. We’re fortunate to have some amazing local fabric shops around Leeds and Bradford; this particular one has just celebrated its 50th birthday 🎈🎈 and sells a lot of ex-designer fabrics and roll ends.

The pattern itself is relatively simple. The bodice is made of five pieces, with a shirred back, front panels cut on the fold and side back panels. I cut the skirt and bodice on the cross grain – which I seem to be doing a lot of late – and the bodice lining (front and side backs) on the grain, which meant I was able to make the dress with just 2m of 140cm wide fabric. I didn’t worry too much about pattern matching as the repeats are not terribly obvious but had enough fabric to align the general flow of the pattern down the skirt centre front and back with that on the respective bodice pieces. The bodice lining could equally well be cut from a different fabric (and please note that the lining is not included in the fabric layout at present, so needs to be added on).

I find that cutting slippery fabrics works best either on a carpet or a pvc/oilcloth tablecloth as it helps reduce slipping.  The skirt pattern is in three parts for the front and back, with splits between the side and centre panels, but I chose to cut them in one piece, so overlapped the pattern pieces by 3cm (twice the seam allowance of 1.5cm).

Shirring silk is tricky! It slides rather a lot as you sew. I found using a straight stitch foot helped with smooth sewing but the lines were a little wiggly. My second attempt went somewhat better and isn’t perfect but is good enough for the back of a dress. Sewing during school holidays – with my daughters at home- tends to happen in short and often interrupted bursts, so my usual standards usually fall a little. I would have had more success if I had ignored the suggested lines and used the foot as a guide instead. 

To gather the skirt, I sewed two parallel lines – one set each across the skirt front  and back – wth one along the stitching line for the seam and one about 5mm above it, then gathered up the fabric as much as possible by pulling the bobbin threads and eased it back out to the required size. I then secured the thread tails by wrapping them around pins in the seam allowance, then pinned and tacked/basted (highly recommended when sewing multiple layers of  slippery silk!) the skirt to the bodice before stitching it in place.

The straps are inserted into the front bodice, which went smoothly,between the outer and lining, and are also sewn in between the side back outer and lining, just next to the seam allowance at the back edge. The bodice was easy to construct from the instructions but required a lot of pins – I used Merchant and Mills entomology pins – for accurate sewing.

I found that the bodice was a little loose, so I made some small tucks at the seam between the shirred panel and the side back panels, tapering down to a point at the waist seam, and also had to shorten the straps by 18cm as they had stretched out somewhat (and were probably on the long side for me to start with as I’m 5’4”/ 162cm tall).

Having overlocked any remaining raw edges, only the hem remained. I chose to sew a rolled hem on my overlocker – which I have been doing often of late as I have had a number of dresses to alter for friends and neighbours – which gave a neat finish. If this is something you haven’t tried, I would suggest watching this tutorial by Jamie of Male Devon Sewing (and the Great British Sewing Bee).

(I have learned to start the hem with a longer stitch (2mm), drop down to the R setting -the standard roll hem stitch length on my Janome 9200D – and then, when I reach the start, to increase the stitch length so that there is a short overlap, giving a more secure finish.)

Eleanor blogs at

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