Sewing the Colette Laurel dress

Or not, as it turns out!

I bought a couple Colette patterns when they were on sale this fall: Laurel, Zinnia, and Moneta. Colette got really big while I was in my lolita sewing phase. I had a vague respect for the company and liked the idea of Seamwork’s modern & easy basics, even if the Mesa didn’t work out. I still wanted to try a minimal shift dress and had high hopes for Laurel. There were loads of successful Laurels on sewing blogs, and chatter in the comments indicated that Colette’s main brand patterns were better drafted than Seamwork ones.

Paige’s review for the Curvy Sewing Collective (CSC) was particularly inspiring. Her pictures helped me decide if the style would look good on me at all, and her post provided good guidance on what kinds of alterations I might want to make. I especially liked her attitude that it was worth fiddling with fit to find a solid go-to pattern. That’s what I want!

cp1025-laurel-12-large-818764633d8862d1b4da235e826b82d41eb9dd463e3a1806080ef1627cb793cb
This looks straightforward!

Even though I also found a lot of critical comments about the super off sizing and odd armscye fit, I thought it would be worthwhile to give the pattern a go, given that it was already printed out in my stash. Worst case, I’d need to recycle the fabric into a smaller project and I’d learn something about pattern adjustments. I gave it a shot over Jan 15-16.

Worst case it was! I started by trying to be too clever (lazy and impatient) to make a muslin of the pattern as drafted. I picked out a few adjustments by what I knew about the pattern and my body already. I made the adjustments directly on the pattern rather than going out to get some tracing paper. I also ran out of scotch tape. The front piece was 40% painter’s tape by the time I was done.

Adjustments:

  1. Full bust adjustment (FBA). I had only recently learned it existed and thought it might fix a lot of the long-term problems I’ve had with armscye and shoulder fit (spoilers: it totally did!)
  2. Added 1″ bicep ease. I cut a bodice size 12, selected by my overbust measurement as the excellent CSC FBA tutorial instructs. I figured I should cut sleeves the same size so that the armscye would match up, but I was worried I’d end up with an unwearably tight sleeve. This happens to me a lot.
  3. Matched the armscye to the sleeve. The same way Paige recommends.

It was fun, but I think I messed up all 3.

My next mistake was immediately cutting into very busy fashion fabric. I used a neat black and white ankara that hit the sweet spot between wearable muslin and no tears if it didn’t work as a garment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t super careful with my cutting. The print slightly sloped diagonally across the pattern pieces in a way that made everything look uneven and droopy. It was also nearly impossible to find my pattern markings. It’s like I’m trying to make myself insane.

b&w geometric ankara
Very lightweight ankara. A lady at the train station gave this to me, true story.

My first fitting wasn’t great. I discovered that all the critical reviewers were correct: the finished garment measurements are way off, the thing is a tent. Everything was 2-3 sizes too big, except the sleeves, which pulled something fierce when I moved my arms. I definitely should have made an un-adjusted muslin first and picked adjustments based on the initial fit, especially given that I knew the pattern had problems. I cut 12 bodice/bust, graded to 18 waist and 16 hip. If I were doing it again, I might do 12 bust, 16 waist, 14 hip. I tried to fix it by cutting an inch off both side seams. That helped, but there was still way too much fabric around the waist.

My first fitting also looked really odd around the bust, which confirmed that I did the FBA wrong. I misread the CSC instructions and drew straight from the bust apex to the side bodice, more or less along the top line of the dart. The second time, I drew a line from the apex to the dart point, pivoted, and drew a line from the dart point to the middle of the dart ends, as actually instructed. Then I unpicked everything and recut the bodice. The difference looked minimal on paper but great worn.

The only two remaining FBA issues were that the new dart point didn’t match up with the dart ends either time, and that there seemed to be a bit of extra fabric pooling between my breasts. I don’t know if my FBA was too extreme (I added 1.5″) or if the pattern itself was just too damn big.

The final issues in the first fitting were 2″ excess on the sleeve seam and about half an inch of back neckline gape.I don’t know if the sleeve excess was my fault from an incorrect armscye adjustment or accidentally adding ease in the curve during the bicep adjustment. It might also be Colette’s drafting. I’ve darted a finished garment to fix back neck gape before, but I never knew how to fix it on the pattern until now. I will love back neck gape forever for being the easiest pattern adjustment in the world. Thanks, back neck gape.

Second fitting with corrected FBA, 2″ total taken out of the side seams, a back neck dart (didn’t think I could recut the piece), an extra half inch added to the apex of the back darts, and no sleeves was better but not great. I was generally very happy with the front. The side bust fit great. There was no pulling at the armhole (that wasn’t caused by too tight armscyes). I’m used to bodices that need to be taken up an inch at the shoulder seams to fix the neckline, make darts hit where they should, and adjust armscye gape. The FBA fixed all those problems without necessitating a weird shoulder seam or hiking the sleeves into my armpits. Hurray!

There was still some minor pooling between breasts, but it looked like that and some of the front waist bagginess could be fixed with under bust darts. I just didn’t want to because the point of the pattern was not to have so many darts. Here’s a shot after I finished the dress and screwed up the sleeves. It doesn’t look so bad here because I am standing straight, not moving, and tugging down out of my armpits between shots:

colettelaurel1front
Fabric pooling above/between breasts and bagginess/tenting down my front torso to the hip. Wrinkles above the bust at the arm were from my sleeve screw-up.

Buuut I was increasingly frustrated with the back. There was more back neck gape, and still no shape to it. Fittings 3-10,000 saw me progressively adding more and more to the back darts and getting more and more irritated with how little good it did and how wrinkled the back became. It also became obvious that there was something really wrong around the waist. When I bent over, the whole dress poofed out in front like a balloon. I think I should have re-cut the back to be much, much smaller and done a swayback adjustment. The fabric started to pool as I frantically darted.

colettelaurel1back
Pooling between the midpoint of the back darts, bagginess in the upper back where the neck dart ends, wrinkles everywhere. The final back shaping wasn’t bad, but the fit definitely was.

My frustration was mostly with the front problems being understandable and fixable, and the back problems remaining  fitting mysteries that only got more wrinkly and depressing. I couldn’t see a way to fix it and that made me surprisingly  hopeless and morose. Cutting the right size in the first place would have helped make adjustments much easier to diagnose. I certainly learned my lesson about muslins and making adjustments directly on the pattern. Probably.

I finally stopped darting the back just short of obvious pooling and decided to finish the stupid thing. This is, of course, where I really ruined it. I took the hem up to about 2″ above my knee, which I liked a lot and helped with the frumpy bag aspect. The armscyes had gotten very small from the side seam adjustments, so I very carefully cut them about half an inch wider. Predictably, the sleeves looked and felt horrible when I set them in. There was all kinds of pulling and no range of movement. I should probably read about how to make that kind of adjustment instead of just hacking angrily away.

colettelaurel1side
Here I am sinking into a squat with pretty bad form, which is what most people do in shift dresses, I assume. This was the best pose to show off everything that really didn’t fit:tenting in the front, pulling at the armholes and tightness across the chest, and gaping all over the neckline.

My final mistake was getting clever with the neck binding. I cut it from the selvedge, which had a really neat pattern on it and some text. I cut the sleeves with the hem on the selvedge and wanted to match. But predictably, cutting two strips of selvedge and sewing them together made the not-bias tape too stiff and the whole neck stood up when I attached it. It would have been cute as shit if it’d worked, though.

failed Colette Laurel neckline
Cute idea, bad execution.

After a final fitting, I slam dunked that whole mess in the trash. Then I fished it back out again so I could photograph it. Then I retired to the bedroom in a sulk. Then my husband brought me the cat and Wizard People, Dear Reader and I temporarily got over myself. Happy ending!

colettelaurel1natural
This is a very normal pose and expression for me. You can see how just being a human in this dress makes it fit like weird garbage. But you can also see how this shape would be almost cute on me if it fit at all!

WHAT I LEARNED

  1. Cutting corners at being meticulous defeats the purpose.
  2. Use either actual muslin fabric or a solid color for muslins, no matter how boring you think it is when you start.
  3. Colette patterns probably don’t work for me.
  4. The front of the shift was actually pretty cute for a hot second, so I should try again with a different pattern. I really liked The Muslinette’s roundup of New Look options.
  5. Bias tape is called that for a reason.
  6. Four god damn adjustments that I’ve never done before and will definitely be using again!


WOULD I MAKE THIS AGAIN?

My original response: God, no. But after chilling out a bit, I am glad I tried!

A week later: I realized that I cut the back as one piece and forgot about the seam allowance. That certainly played a role in how much extra fabric was in the back. I’m hesitant to cut another Laurel with a back seam, though. I’d really like to have one front and one back piece to showcase large-scale prints without worrying about matching anything. Maybe fitting will be easier with an additional seam for shaping, even though it’s a straight seam as drafted. Is it possible to nail muslin fit with a back seam, but shift the shaping on the pattern from the back seam to the side seams? Let’s find out.

I’ll probably print out another copy and give it one more go.

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2 thoughts on “Sewing the Colette Laurel dress

  1. I really like the idea of the selvedges being the sleeve hems, that’s great. But yeah, selvedges make horrible bias binding because they’re not on the bias at all. Quilters win on this one, our binding can be straight 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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