Oh, Big 4/Big 7 pattern companies, how I get sucked in every few weeks when a new release comes out. How the deeply-slashed sale prices at Joann and Hancock lure me in. And how poorly your patterns fit my body type without significant alterations.

For me, when a project ceases to bring me joy, it’s time to take a moment and reconsider. Should I plow through to the finish (and can I, given the current state of the project)? Should I put it aside, and come back to it later? Or is it time to simply wad it up and deposit it in the nearest garbage can, acknowledging that I’ve learned something from my mistakes, and move on?

I injured my right leg recently (tore cartilage), and have had to wear a compression bandage on the knee area for the last 2 1/2 weeks. This coincided with the first blast of ongoing full Summer temperatures as the June days soared to highs more typical of August in our area.

Suddenly, maxi sundresses and maxi skirts became very practical. I only had one maxi sundress, and that in 100% polyester jersey knit. I have a lot of rayon jersey knit in my stash…it’s far cooler than its polyester cousin. And it’s hard to find rayon jersey in a RTW sundress that fits me (I was finally able to find a rayon jersey print Philosophy maxi at Steinmart in a size XL, and it’s my favorite summer dress right now).

I love the hourglass-enhancing mitered stripes look that you’ll see in the photo for McCall 7121. So, imagine my enthusiasm when I saw the same print (with navy and light green instead of pink and black) in a cotton/poly knit at Hancock Fabrics. Even better, it was in the Spot the Bolt section, with the final price coming in under $3.00/yard. Here was a hit in the making, I thought. And there was enough left on the bolt, with a little extra to match the stripes!

Well…the project quickly turned into a nightmare!

Creating this version of the dress requires laying out 3 1/2 to 4 (-ish) yards of 60″ wide fabric unfolded, in a single layer, and cutting each of the skirt and bodice pieces one at a time. Most of us don’t have a cutting space that would easily accommodate that. I sure don’t.  And the more you have to move the fabric, the more likely you are to make a mistake, somewhere.

Secondly, this stripe pattern has a huge repeat. I’d approximate that it’s 12 inches. Remember that patterns typically carry a warning that extra fabric might be needed to match a stripe or plaid? Well, the larger the repeat, the more fabric you’ll need. After cutting out the two skirt fronts (remember, the fabric is too long for more than about 60% of it to fit on my table), I realized that I did not have enough fabric to cut the back sections at maxi length. No problem, I thought, I’ll just cut out the right-below-the-knee length version. The compression bandage will show, but at least I’ll have another sundress.

The huge repeat also made matching a difficult challenge. I ended up marking the stripe placement on the pattern piece of the first piece I cut in order to match the second piece. Most of my pieces lined up pretty well. Unfortunately, the one alignment that was off enough to show was center front. If I had placed the neckline area in a different part of the repeat it would not have been so obvious. As it was, the neckline to shoulder area fell in the small multiple stripes section, and yes, it was really obvious.

In addition, I made the foolish decision in thinking that because this was a knit, if I cut the size closest to my measurements, I wouldn’t have a fitting issue. Wrong again! The Plus Size body that the major envelope pattern companies design for is one with a B cup size and linebacker shoulders. I ended up needing to take the shoulders in about 1 inch, create pseudo FBA mini-darts at the front armseye, and take in under the arms about 1/2″ on each side. And, there’s a gap in the back of the neckline at center back.

What I really need to do with these patterns, and this situation certainly hammered it home, is base my bodice on a numerical size much closer to my RTW size, give it an FBA, narrow the shoulders a little, and size up to the waist for the pattern size that fits my measurements. This is what needs to be done regardless of whether it’s a knit or woven design, because my body is nowhere near the body type these patterns are drafted for.

The matching on my skirt pieces was much better than the bodice. Three of the four skirt seams went together without problems. The last seam, however, was a nightmare. I don’t know if it was a combination of the grains at that point, or sewing in the wrong direction, or…whatever. The serger balked at cutting through the fabric. Needles broke and stitches piled up.

baddressTesting my serger on remnant pieces of the fabric, there was no issue with cutting. I took out sections and redid them, only to have the whole seam look like a stretched out mess. Finally I took it all out, marked some straight lines on the edges, trimmed the seam allowance to within 1/4″, and re-ran it on the serger. It was better, but due to the fabric already being stretched out there are still some noticeable ridges.

I threw the bodice and skirt onto my Dritz mannequin and it was obvious...it was time to ‘fold em, in the words of the Kenny Rogers song.

Lessons learned…

  1. An easy pattern isn’t easy if you have to match a mitered large repeat stripe with sections of smaller stripes! Especially if it’s a maxi dress, and you’re struggling with correct placement of  pieces on 4 yards of single layer 60″ wide fabric.
  2. Dummy, don’t you get it yet? With the big envelope pattern companies, I need to compensate for the vast difference between my body type and the body type they’re using to draft their designs..