(Henny) Penny Dress: The Sky is Falling …

Sew Over It Penny Dress in Moonstone Blue viscose by Atelier Brunette
Note to self: tighten belt…


Here is my latest make, the Penny Dress from Sew Over It.

First things first, I love the end result. I feel fab in my Penny dress.

I feel like a stylish 1950s housewife. There are family photos of my Nanna wearing something very similar. It makes me feel like I should go bake my husband a cake and present it to him with a proud grin, like a woman fulfilling her life’s very purpose.

I also think that the Penny Dress pattern makes a perfect canvas to showcase a special fabric, like this gorgeous Moonstone Blue viscose from Atelier Brunette.

But, unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy the process of making this Penny dress.

Certain steps of the sewing process made me feel like the sky was falling. I wanted to drop everything and rush to tell the King!

But which Penny?

But, before I get into all that, is it just me, or is it confusing that two indie pattern companies have released shirt dresses named Penny at around the same time?

Surely one of them could have picked a different name…

Well, Sew Over It’s Penny Dress was released first. And, for my mind, it’s the one that is instantly attention grabbing. I feel like it is just such a simple but classy looking dress…

The Penny Dress - PDF shirt dress pattern from Sew Over It in fabric from Atelier Brunette

When it’s just not your sewing day …

So while, ultimately, all is well that ends well with this Penny dress, I do want to complain just a little bit.

Before I do, I have to make clear that it is all my fault. I can’t deny that all the little quibbles I am about to complain about could have been entirely avoided. If only I had read every single minute detail of the pattern instructions in advance and/or if I had made a toile…

But I didn’t.

Sewing time is precious and I don’t get enough of it.

So I don’t make toiles.

When I start a new pattern, I skim the instructions. I try to make sure I understand the general process. I don’t take the time to think through all the minute construction details in advance (I recently saw this aptly-described by Sew Sarah Smith as stitching a garment in her head before she starts – I wish I had this kind of dedication and patience!)

This is even more so when a pattern, like this Penny dress, describes itself as simple and easy-to-sew.

So here is where I had a few problems with my Penny.

“Penny, where’s my centre notch”?

The button placket on the Penny Dress got the better of me.

And on this one, unless I’ve missed something (which is possible!), I don’t think I am 100% to blame.

Step 12 of the instructions says “to create the button placket, fold the facing to the inside of the bodice at the centre front notch”.

Umm, what centre front notch? I don’t see a centre front notch around the front necklines of either the front bodice piece or the front facing piece. Do you?

Where is the centre notch around the neckline of these pieces of the Sew Over It Penny Dress pattern

Perhaps it is supposed to mean at the point of the front facing piece where there is an indent (roughly in line with the grainline)? The pattern instructions, however, define a notch as being a triangular marking. An indent in the shape of the pattern piece is not a clearly marked triangular notch.

So I was confused.

Since the collar wasn’t supposed to extend the full way around the neckline, I really didn’t know the precise position where I should fold inwards to create my placket.

So I decided to just attach the collar first and then eyeball the fold line for the placket later…

Self-inflicted collar drama

But the step that really did my head in is the construction of the very simple collar on the Penny Dress.

This one is definitely my own fault.

Step 11 of the instructions say to “align the front facing with the front edge of the bodice, matching the notches. Pin and stitch in place with a 1cm seam allowance”.

I skimmed this instruction. My mind was focused on the fact that I had just attached my front and back facings together to create an entire facing. In the accompanying photo, the complete facing is lined up against the bodice neckline (although only the part attached to the front bodice edge is pinned). For some reason, my mind just focused on the words “facing” and “pin and stitch”.

So I stitched my entire facing to the dress at this point.

I also then under stitched the whole facing.

Imagine my dismay when it dawned on me several steps later that most of my facing was still supposed to be un-sewn. The only part of the facing I was supposed to have sewn was along the front edge of the bodice. Leaving the rest of the facing un-sewn was crucial to the method for attaching the collar.


Of course, if I’d been having a good sewing day, it would have dawned on me that it was going to be difficult to cleanly attach a flat collar if my entire neckline was already completed and fully faced.

But still, perhaps a few tiny words of caution could have made such a difference to that instruction (“Remember, you’re sewing only along the front edge of the bodice, not the entire facing!”).

But, of course, no designer can be expected to anticipate the potential mistakes of every sewist who will pick up her or his patterns!

So this one was my fault and I own it!

Since the collar is one of my favourite things about the Penny dress, I couldn’t just skip it.

But, in view of my tiny stitch length and having both stitched and understitched, unpicking wasn’t an option either.

So I finished the unfinished edge of the collar with my overlocker. I then attached it directly to the already-finished neckline as it was. Following which, I pressed the hell out of it to create an appropriately-placed fold  line which (mostly) covered up my visible overlocking.

Alternative method of attaching collar to my Sew Over It Penny Dress

From a distance it looks ok. But there will definitely be no wearing this collar folded up private-detective style!

Sew Over It Penny Dress
Oops, should have pressed the two sides of my neckline evenly. This is an easy fix – this fabric presses like a dream…

Oh the frustration…

You know when it’s just not working and you need to walk away for a while but you just can’t.

After all the above things went wrong for me, there were also a bunch of stupid little things. My bobbin ran out of thread at the most inopportune moment. I forgot to switch back my stitch length after basting. I had to re-sew half the dress that I had accidentally sewn with a huuuuuge stitch length (and, unfortunately, no, it was not the facing that I had sewn with the basting stitches …)

These frustrations were also compounded by personal factors.

For the first time ever I had arranged to take a day off work while putting my son in day care. It was a planned-in-advance selfish sewing morning, followed by an afternoon date with the hubby. I was so looking forward to that luxury of sewing on a weekday in the morning . As a result, I became ridiculously irritated when things didn’t work.

And, when I’m annoyed, I just want to finish. I sew poorly. My elastic channel is wonky as hell – good thing this Penny dress looks best with a belt!

But on the upside…

In the end, I love the dress and that’s the most important thing.

The pattern-fabric combination really reflects the kind of style I want to wear at the moment. Also, while I have quibbled about some aspects of the instructions, I have to remember that Sew Over It’s PDF patterns are very reasonably priced, so perhaps I shouldn’t really expect the same amount of detail as in a more expensive pattern.

I also found the sizing, proportions, length etc. of the pattern totally spot-on. I sewed up a straight size 12, without alterations or grading, which rarely happens. It fits very well and is so, so comfortable.

This was also the first time I have sewn a circle skirt with a micro hem since I got my overlocker. I was pleased to discover it’s so much easier now!

The back view of the Penny dress by Sew Over It
The odd looking crease at the back bodice is only because the elastic was falling in an awkward way when I took this photo. When I evened out the elastic a bit, it disappeared… Sorry, should have paid more attention when photographing but, in case you haven’t noticed, this project didn’t bring out my most patient side…

Positive sewing

The fact that this one wasn’t entirely a sewing “win” got me thinking.

I decided to stop lurking the online sewing community and try to join it because I found it such an overwhelmingly supportive and positive place.

But this is the first time since I started this blog that I haven’t been entirely satisfied.

To what extent is it OK to be negative about the sewing experience online? I don’t want to say anything which is unfair to the designer. Especially given the huge amount of love and work that goes into indie patterns.

But, I also want this blog to honestly reflect my sewing experience. I want this blog to be a useful source of information. I hope it might stop people from making the same mistakes I did. If I do have a criticism to make or a question to ask, I want to be able to do so, as long as it’s in a constructive way.

With these parameters in mind, I think that it’s acceptable to sometimes be less than entirely positive.

What do you think?

Is this generally within the bounds of the online sewing community’s approach?

Or is there more of a “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” approach (this project is making me channel my Nanna in more ways than one…)?

8 thoughts on “(Henny) Penny Dress: The Sky is Falling …

  1. Really interesting as I’m considering buying the pattern, it would be my first from SOI. but I’m a bit worried now- having said that I was in said shop last weekend and they did say feel free to email with any queries. Poor instructions is what annoys me about the major patterns.
    I’ve found the most outstanding instructions to be ‘Tilly and the Buttons’ paper and the PDF patterns by Love Notions and Patterns for Pirates and Hey June- all have associated support groups and the designers are in their regularly offering advice and help alongside those who have made the items .

    1. I have made up about 4-5 other SOI patterns without any issues at all, so I don’t think you should worry. I was probably just trying to rush it too much! And even though I got confused, it was worth it for the dress. I like it more each time I wear it! It’s a great pattern and I will definitely make it again.

    1. Thanks so much for your support Sarah. My hope is that I might inspire someone to try the pattern but still stop them from making the same silly mistakes I did!!

  2. Thank you so much for the blog post. Despite the incidents you still make me want to try out this pattern while keeping me from making the same mistakes. I was wandering though: where did you fold the front facing to the bodice in the end?

    1. In fact, after I’d sewn the collar on, I liked the way everything was sitting and lining up as it was. So I skipped making a placket entirely and just sewed my buttons and buttonholes directly into through the unfolded bodice/facing. A bit of a cheat…

    1. It’s great when a fabric is so perfect that you can do almost anything with it and know it’ll work out!

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