I snapped up the Elsie Dress pattern last year as soon as it was released. Princess line seams, box pleats, vintage inspired. Pretty much all of my favourite things…
Speaking of box pleats, is it odd that some of my favourite things to wear are basically my high school uniform: box pleats, knit sweaters over shirts, the colour navy? But, I digress… back to my Elsie Dress.
I’m a Princess, I’m a Princess
Whenever I ask my other half to take photos for this blog, our 2 year old monster is usually running around wanting to be part of the “photo shoot”. Hubby usually tells him that he needs to move out of the way so that Maman can be a princess for a minute.
Well, with this dress, I really do feel like a Princess…
(And, for the record, once I’ve gotten the required blog photos, the 2 year old then has a turn playing around in front of the camera and being a Princess too!)
The Nitty Gritty of my Elsie Dress
My Elsie Dress is a size 12 but I graded out halfway to a size 14 at the waist. In addition, once sewn up, I had to take it in 2 centimetres on each side at the top of the centre back seam, grading down to the regular seam allowance about half way down the back bodice.
The only “alteration” I made was to add inseam pockets, because pockets!
I also decided to forego the bodice lining. I actually had the lining all ready to sew, but when I tried my Elsie Dress on, the fabric felt more comfortable against my skin than my cheap lining. And since that lining would have had to be entirely hand-sewn along the zipper and waist line, I decided that the facing alone was a perfectly appropriate finish.
Elsie Dress: Instructions and Construction
The instructions with the printed pattern were good. Rest assured that there is nothing particularly complicated about sewing the Elsie Dress.
The Elsie Dress instructions call for you to make the skirt first and then the bodice. I reversed this order because it seemed easier to adjust the pleat locations on the skirt to make sure they hit the princess seams just right if you have already sewn the bodice.
The only step in the instructions with which I had trouble was closing the final shoulder seam. I got myself hopelessly confused here. At one point, I even closed my shoulder side seam so that the shoulder could not be turned right side out. Forcing me to cut my shoulder open and try again…
In the end, I was tired, so I cheated. Ahhh, how often I use that phrase while sewing…
In the end, I just top stitched the side seam of my shoulder closed. No-one but me (and you) will ever know. But there is a sewalong from Sew Over It which covers this step of the Elsie Dress. It was the only part of the whole process I found complicated, so I highly recommend checking it out. If I had actually looked at the sewalong before I’d done this step, I think I could have muddled my way through it…
Another quick tip for anyone making their own Elsie Dress is DON’T skip the stay stitching. I often think about skipping this step (and, if I think the construction method can handle it, I sometimes even skip it – I know, heresy!). But the construction method for the Elsie Dress put quite a bit of strain on the neckline, so the stay stitching was absolutely essential.
Adventures in brocade
This Elsie Dress was my first time ever working with brocade. This one’s a polyester brocade, but it still feels lovely to touch. Very substantial, soft and not at all scratchy. My wonderful mother gave it to me for Christmas (after some not at all subtle hints…). I’ve pledged to not buy anymore fabric until I’ve sewn through a considerable part of my stash, but my Mum (an accomplished sewist in her own right) is happy to act as my enabler if I see something I really, really “need”!
It is a really lovely fabric, but sewing it did present a few challenges. I was surprised by just how heavy it is. Since there is sooooo much fabric in the skirt, I actually had some difficulties ironing my pleats in place. As soon as I was no longer working on the centre pleat, the weight of the skirt kept pulling my fabric down to one side and it was difficult to hold it in place.
The fabric was also prone to fraying. In addition, it was difficult to unpick. Even with basting stitches on my machine’s longest stitch length, I found it difficult to unpick stitches with my quick unpick without pulling out little threads of the fabric.
But these are minor annoyances and definitely worth putting up with for this beautiful fabric.
And adventures in invisible zip world
This Elsie Dress also gave me a few light-bulb moments about invisible zip installation. This area is not a strength for me. Mainly because I have never actually take the time to properly figure out exactly how I am supposed to use my invisible zipper foot.
As a consequence, every time I sit down with an invisible zipper, I seem to find a new way to feed it through the invisible zipper foot – to highly varying results!
But on this one, I feel that I nailed it. My invisible zipper is actually invisible. It was all about going slowly enough to make sure I was feeding the uncurled (i.e. flattened) zipper teeth through the correct channel. Sounds simple, but not always achievable for lazy ol’ me.
The instructions for the Elsie Dress included a brilliant little zipper tip, which I hadn’t seen before. After once side of a zip is attached, when preparing to attach the second side of your zip, you obviously need to zip it up and mark exactly where the zip needs to hit the waist seam of the second side, to ensure that the waist lines up on both sides of the zipper. I had always used various methods of marking this point – usually some kind of marking tool or even a pin. These instructions suggest a small snip in the zipper tape itself.
So easy. So obvious! I love learning new things (even if they are so simple that I really should have figured them out for myself at least 4 years ago…)
An im-perfectionist’s guide to sewing
My Elsie Dress also gave me a timely reminder as to why I am an avowedly non-perfectionist sewist. After my first baste, my pleat position and bodice seam lines were a few millimetres off. Usually, I would say “good enough” and move on. But, this was my first project of 2018 and I was feeling inspired. I thought I would go back in and try to get it perfect. Many hours of frustration and basting and re-basting and hand sewing later, every single pleat still wasn’t perfect.
And I was cranky.
This was supposed to be fun!
So my reminder of the day is that, perfection is, at least for me, unattainable. But I sew because it is fun and soothes my soul. And I am a happier sewist when I say “good enough” and move on…
Pins vs Clips
My short-lived dabble in perfectionism also got me thinking about my sewing tools. Last year, I invested in some wonderclip type things. The impetus for this purchase was when I saw someone commenting on Instagram about how useful they are if you always manage to put your pins in the wrong direction. Pinning seams with my pins all facing in the worst possible direction is pretty much a special skill of mine (along with always picking the slowest checkout line at the supermarket). So I thought, I have to get me some of those!
Since then, the clips have found a regular place in my sewing rotation. I like being able to just use them without thinking about on which side, and in which direction, they should be placed. They can save a lot of time.
And they are very useful for fitting. Since I don’t have a dress form and am often alone at fitting time, clipping myself in to check fit is so much easier than pinning myself in…
But this project also made me realise that clips have their limitations. I’m afraid that, for precision work like getting top-class pleat placement and even easing at a Princess seam, nothing beats pins. (Well, really, nothing beats hand basting but I’m just not going to go there). When the fabric is under the presser foot, those bulky clips just have to pulled off too early for them to be useful for the kind of work the Elsie Dress requires.
So this Elsie Dress offered me yet another timely reminder. There are no real miracle products in our sewing kit, it’s all about the right tool at the right time. And sometimes, I’m going to have to slow down for a minute and think about in which direction I need to place my pins!
Party at the water cooler
Just as the pattern describes, the Elsie Dress really is a party dress. For some reason, when I embarked on this sewing project, I kind of had the idea that maybe a Princess seamed brocade dress with a box pleated circle skirt might not be all that fancy…
Elsie is a genuine party dress and, well, I don’t really go to parties (I’m just too introverted and tired for that and, frankly, I’d rather be sewing!). But despite its whoosh and va-va-voom factor, I think I am going to make this work as a work dress. Because, simply put, this Elsie Dress is just to lovely to languish in my closet until someone invites me to a wedding.
But, I think I have a plan in this regard… You see, my work place, unfortunately, doesn’t do casual Fridays. But I still try to push the Friday boundaries by being a teeny, tiny bit more casual on Fridays. I’m hoping, over time to gradually introduce Casual Friday by attrition. Now, I can add to my arsenal by introducing “Overdressed Mondays”. If I wear a super classy, over-the-top dress to work on Mondays, it will allow me to balance the scales by going a little more casual on Fridays. Makes perfect sense, right?
So if you see anyone in your work place sporting a slightly outlandish fancy party dress to the team meeting, they’re probably just jumping on my Overdressed Monday bandwagon!