The Woman-Tailored Shirt Project

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Here is a story – more of a saga – about a project that explains why the subtitle of this blog includes the word misadventures. At the beginning, it didn’t seem like it was going to be that big of a deal. My ASG Neighborhood Group, Sew Chicago, decided to make a tailored shirt the group project for the ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show that was held on October 22nd. The shirt had to have a collar, cuffs and at least one embellishment. It seemed like a fairly straightforward project and a chance to polish some essential skills. I was half-right in my assessment.

When I discussed the project in a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen, she described the features she likes to put into a woman’s shirt. We were on the same wavelength. Not only did her concept match my vision, but I had an earlier project to use as a starting point.

I made a white-on-white shadow striped shirt from New Look 6407 several years back. I drove my ASG group crazy with my obsession over trying to learn how to attach the collar/collar stand assembly, but otherwise did okay with it. I wanted to use my armscye princess master bodice pattern instead of the darted bodice from the earlier shirt, but I also wanted to add a yoke. Sarah convinced me that I should skip the yoke.

I slipped the shirt on for Sarah and the first thing she did was reach for my pins to reshape the collar. She then drew in a curved neckline, which is much better on me than a straight v-neck. These changes didn’t seem beyond my capability, but I wanted to make a test shirt to make sure that the pattern changes were right. Because those changes were in the details rather than the body of the pattern, I decided to make a wearable mock-up. Why go to all the trouble of making a collar with collar stand on a muslin, right? Besides, the practice would give me confidence and I’d end up with two new shirts in my wardrobe instead of one.

I have quite a selection of cotton and linen shirtings in my fabric collection, so no new purchases were required. I pulled out several and these two just happened to be next to each other.

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Turned-back cuffs on sleeve laying on shirt body

The cotton wood-cut print is from Emma One Sock. The lighter blue in the print doesn’t match the blue of the other fabric, but these two fabrics kept telling me they belonged together. The fabric in the background isn’t a solid. It’s a cross-weave of blue and white that gives it a bit of visual texture. It occurred to me that combining two fabrics, which I almost never do, would meet the embellishment requirement for the group project. That sealed the deal. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the light blue cotton actually had a tiny it of Lycra in it. That was not happy news and it caused some minor issues, but I was committed to the fabric combination.

The changes I had to make the pattern gave me more trouble than I had anticipated. Most tailored shirt patterns have a curved edge on the front of the collar stand, but this one had a straight edge that slanted inward. I went through a few different iterations trying to get the collar stand right, then ended up curving it. You may remember that in my Tulip Dress, I forgot what template I used for the curves in the hem, so I wrote myself a note on the pattern piece this time.

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It’s good to learn from our mistakes. Here’s another lesson I learned in this project. Drafting a pattern piece on folded paper so you can have a full piece doesn’t always mean that both sides will be identical. The paper can shift if you’re not careful. Grrrr!!! This happened with the collar stand, which is a skinny little piece and so it really does make sense that the paper might shift.  Thank goodness I have one of those inexpensive light boxes for those times in pattern work when it’s hard to see the lines I’m trying to trace (usually when I’m making a fresh pattern because the original has too many changes taped on top of one another).

Still, I was struggling with getting the collar stand right. One of the things Sarah suggested that I try was to “drape” the neckline/collar stand assembly on my dress form to see where the collar stand should end. That worked great.

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Then I walked the stand to the collar and got those two pieces just where I wanted them.

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With my pattern ready, I was feeling confident. I’ve made a lot of garments since I made that first shirt so I was expecting things to go much more smoothly than they did before. Also, I watched Janet Pray’s fabulous shirtmaking class on Craftsy and went over the collar assembly several times. What could go wrong, right?

The weave of the fabric for the practice shirt is a twill, but it is is still shirt-weight. The only twills I had worked with before were bottom weight for pants.

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I didn’t think the fabric would give me any problems, but it did. This is the collar on the collar pattern piece. The distance from center back to the right edge (left as worn) is just fine. Look how not fine it is on the opposite end. I made three of these suckers, each one with different degrees of imbalance.

Collar Crime Scene Photo
Collar Crime Scene Photo

After I took this photo to send to Sarah Veblen so she could pull me out of my tailspin in a mentoring session, it occurred to me that the numbered stickies make it look like crime scene photos I’ve seen on TV. As you can see, number 2 is the worst offender. It’s about ½ inch off on one end. By the time I cut number 3, I carried it to the ironing board as if it were a baby, futzed with it to get it to match the pattern piece perfectly on the ironing board, them after I fused the interfacing I left it to cool and dry overnight. I wasn’t taking any chances. Still, it wasn’t perfectly symmetrical, but I was done with this step!

You might be able to tell that my topstitching technique improved between collars one and two. After I topstitched the first collar, I remembered the tip about placing folded fabric or cardboard under the “heel” of the presser foot to even out the foot so it doesn’t have to climb any hills at places like corners. I used my stitch-in-the-ditch foot (edge joining foot to a quilter) with a stitch length of 3.0 and the needle a couple of clicks to the right to get a decent edge stitch.

The thread looks darker than the fashion fabric, but it’s actually an exact match for the darker of the two threads that comprise the fabric. When you lay a strand of it directly on top of one of those lines, it disappears.

Are you imagining how much quality time I spent with Mr. Seam Ripper on this project? And this was just the practice shirt. I had to make another one for the runway and my time was disappearing.

I’m happy to report that the Islander Sewing System “burrito method” for attaching a collar stand or waistband works beautifully. It’s hard to wrap your mind around (no pun intended), but once you try it a few times it’s not that difficult.It solves the problem of getting all those pesky edges tucked in and out of sight. I first learned the method watching Islander DVDs. Last summer at ASG National Conference I took a class with Janet Pray and felt it all clicked for me when she walked us through the method for waistbands. I reinforced that with the Craftsy shirt class and now I feel like I’ve got it.

What I didn’t understand was that the turned-back cuffs I was putting on my shirt could not be attached with the “Burrito Method” without a placket. It took me several attempts to realize that. By this point, I was so sick of tailored shirts I could scream.

I didn’t even put the cuffs on the practice shirt, but instead switched over to sewing the shirt for the runway. The solution for the cuffs was to attach them and then hide the raw edges under bias-cut strips that I attached pretty much like a Hong Kong finish. I topstitched them to the sleeves because the stitching is hidden when the cuffs are turned back.

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FYI, pinning the cuffs to the outside of the sleeve doesn’t work. There are gaps. The only way to avoid a zillion puckers is to turn the sleeve wrong side out and pin the cuff inside the sleeve. (And, test turning before sewing saves quality time with Mr. Seam Ripper.)

Here’s a close-up of the cute buttons I used on this shirt.

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Those buttons were sewn on the morning of the runway show, even though I started this project in September, thinking I was giving myself ample time. There were more mistakes along the way, but those were mistakes that came from going on auto-pilot instead of paying close attention to what I was doing. I learned that the act of writing out every step of construction helps avoid those kinds of mistakes. Another valuable lesson.

 

 

 

In The Sketchbook – October 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

I’m afraid there’s not much new in my sketchbook this month, but I have been giving some thought to sleeves. I’m taking a seminar on Victorian fashion in art this fall and this week’s topic was Dante Gabriel Rosetti and the Pre-Rafaelites. That led to a series of slides showing examples of what was known as Artistic Dress as part of the Aesthetic Movement. and I immediately started scribbling in my mini-sketchbook.

3There was a lot of volume in the sleeves, but also interesting shapes. The one at the top was full, had a band mid-way down, then was less full and ended in a cuff. I’m thinking the fullness can be scaled down and the band and cuff might be made of contrasting fabric, or the full bits could be made of mesh or lace and the band and cuff could be the fashion fabric used on the body of the garment.

The sketch at the bottom was my attempt to get the idea of the entire dress down quickly before the teacher wen to the next slide, so the arrow points to the sleeve that goes with the dress. There was contrast fabric in the goddess at the hem and the yoke at the neck. The fullness in the sleeve happened near the cuff, like a poet’s sleeve, but with a more definite shape.

The one on the right doesn’t look anything like what I was trying to capture.

2This is a sketch I’ve been ruminating about for a while. It has two different versions of an openwork sleeve I’d like to try. The one on the left is supposed to be thin bias tubes draped to hang off the shoulder seam. I have no idea whether it will work in real life. The one on the left poses the possibility of using overlapping curved strips of fabric that have finished edges. Again, very theoretical.

1One more sleeve design I’ve been ruminating about is to insert lace or mesh down the middle of a sleeve. I think this might be nice if the lace were used for the cuff and collar as well. The Haute Couture Club of Chicago is having a lace challenge in March and I’m hoping this will prompt me to actually use some of the lace I’ve been collecting, thinking about, and practicing on samples of for techniques.

Something to think about.

Be sure to visit my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs at https://10sewingmachines.blogspot.com to see what amazing things are in her sketchbook this month. And if you’d like to join in on the fun, please leave a comment for one of us.

In The Sketchbook – September 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

I have been busy sewing this month, but not anything that’s quite ready to show here. I did launch what I hoped would be a daily habit of sketching in the morning while sipping coffee and getting ready to start work. The routine was interrupted when I had to start work extra early (making a living can really crimp the creative endeavors), but it’s something I’m hoping to get back to. Here is what I came up with while trying to form a daily habit.

It started with having to sketch a tailored shirt I’m working on for the Sew Chicago group entry in next month’s ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show. I’m making a test version of the shirt first and so I didn’t have any pictures to send to the show coordinator. Once I did that, it occurred to me that I should sketch the blouses I’ve been wanting to make this fall and put them together with fabric swatches.

Shirt and Blouses

I need to learn how to sketch soft, drapey fabric better. These look too structured to me. The bold print on the upper left is a lightweight cotton, similar to a cotton lawn. The swatch in the middle is a lovely silk double georgette and the teal on the bottom is hammered silk that has a lovely floaty quality.

I also played some more with a jacket design that can coordinate with a soft or soft-and-sheer skirt.

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Then there’s the idea that I want to make a blouse with tulip sleeves.

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I made a sheer blouse with tulip sleeves a while back that wasn’t right. Now that my skills have improved and I have Sarah Veblen as a mentor, I want to give it another try. This sketch is an attempt to echo the tulip theme in the body of the blouse. The petal collar seems like it’s too much to me, so that’s something I’ll have to test out in a mock-up.

Finally, remember that unstructured jacket I sketched last month? To remind you, here it is again.

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It was on my mind days later and so I decided to play around with what might make a nice personalized version, starting with set-in sleeves.

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That looks better to me. Then I thought about adding a collar. Collars seem to make a big difference in my garments.

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Oh yeah. That’s something I would enjoy wearing. (Please ignore the fact that the croquis and the back of the jacket are both visible.) Actually, I think I like it either way. The set-in sleeves make all the difference.

Of course, I’m probably not going to be able to find fabric that’s right for this jacket and I’ll end up having to learn how to do online digital fabric printing. Or worse, like piecing fabric together to make the stripes. Not my thing at all. Maybe the fabric gods will be kind to me and the perfect fabric will appear online.

That’s it for now. Be sure to visit my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs at https://10sewingmachines.blogspot.com to see what amazing things are in her sketchbook this month. And if you’d like to join in on the fun, please leave a comment for one of us.

 

The Campish Shirt

Every summer for the past I’ve-lost-count-of-the-number of years, I’ve wanted to make a camp shirt out of this lovely lightweight linen. This year, as summer was drawing to a close, the stars aligned for me to tackle this project.

Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.
Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.

So why “campish” and not camp shirt? Because I decided that I didn’t want to use a convertible collar that is found in camp shirts. I also didn’t want a patch pocket over the breast. I mean, it’s not as if women are going to put anything in that pocket and I don’t think it really adds anything to the look.

The finished product is not everything I hoped it would be, but I learned some things in making it and now I can share those with you.

First, I learned that the name for the weave of this fabric with the extra texture scattered about is dobby. This particular fabric is pretty loosely woven, which presented some challenges in getting it on grain for cutting and then surprised me by stretching out of shape in one tiny segment of the neckline. More about the headache that created later.

For the pattern, I started out with my no-close topper. I drew a new neckline, added an extension for the button closure, shortened the pattern and added a curved shirt tail hem. When it was finished, I discovered I had shortened it a little too much. This version is wearable, but I’m going to lengthen the pattern before using it again.

I drafted new front and back facing pattern pieces and used the rolled collar and short sleeves with split hem and button detail from the linen version of my shirtdress.

The shirt went together without a hitch, which should have alerted me that there was a problem lurking somewhere. I didn’t mark where the collar was supposed to end in the front. The center back and shoulders were marked and that segment fit perfectly. When I held the collar-to-extension seam sections together they matched after both pinning and sewing, so I thought all was well. I was wrong.

When I put the finished shirt on I wasn’t happy with the way the front neckline looked. Something seemed off about the bit between the end of the collar and center front. I showed it to Sarah Veblen during our next mentoring session and she agreed something was wrong. She compared the pattern piece, which had the end of the collar marked, to the finished shirt and discovered that that little segment of the neckline had stretch more than half an inch. Surprisingly, the interfaced facing had stretched the same amount.

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Sarah’s advice was to unstitch, steam both the fashion fabric and facing into their proper shape and restitch. That included unstitching understitching, removing the top snap and sewing the very last bit at the extension by hand. Can I tell you how much I didn’t want to do that after thinking I was done with the project?

The unstitching wasn’t terribly painful once I got started. It was helped by the fact that I did it with my feline sewing assistant in my lap. The steaming was more of a project than I’d anticipated. It took several rounds of pinning to match the pattern, transferring the pins to hold the fabric to the ironing board cover without the pattern, steaming and leaving it to cool and dry. Little by little, the fullness came out. Then the entire process  had to be repeated for a total of four segments – both sides of the fashion fabric then both front facings.

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One thing I did for the first time with this project was make horizontal buttonholes. I know the “rule” is that you use vertical buttonholes on blouses and shirts and horizontal ones on jackets and coats, but Sarah Veblen encourages her students to ignore that rule. I think she’s right from both a practical and an esthetic point of view. These buttonholes won’t splay open when I move and the buttons won’t come out the way they sometimes do with vertical buttonholes on a fitted blouse. The bonus is that I really like the way they look. I’m sold on using them.

Using the horizontal orientation also meant that I could use keyhole buttonholes for my buttons, which have shanks.

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In looking at the finished product critically, Sarah and I decided on some changes to the pattern before using it again. Besides lengthening it, I’d like to move the tucks out toward the shoulders so they are away from the collar. Sarah also suggested bringing the front armscye seam in just a smudge, which I’ve done. I’m also going to change the shape of the front neckline slightly and widen the collar a bit at the ends so I can get more of the graceful curved shape in front.

Sarah also advised that I modify the way I interface the front facing when using a fabric that might need some extra control. She suggested piecing the interfacing at this line so that this area can be on grain.

Interfacing Diagram

These imperfections aren’t going to stop me from wearing this campish shirt. It’s light, cool, casual and the color is very me.

In the Sketchbook – August 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

Yikes! I haven’t posted since July. So sorry. I’ll try to make up for it over the next week or so.

Last weekend, I was out and about with a couple of dear friends and we stopped at a favorite store that sells the work of independent designers and artists. A little unstructured jacket caught my eye and the saleswoman insisted that I try it on. Here is a very rough idea of what it looked like.

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I didn’t say anything until we left the store, but trying on this jacket reminded me just how far I’ve come in creating a custom wardrobe for myself and how much I’ve raised the bar for myself. This jacket reminded me of a shirt jacket I bought several years ago from a chain store that caters to women of a certain age that I wore to death. I threw it over pretty much everything – pants and a knit top, my trusty standby the black knit travel dress, plus a few other things – and I was dressed. Or what passed for dressed as I told myself that I’d lose the extra pounds I’d put on and this would do for now. Those were the days when fit meant I could close the garment and it didn’t pull anywhere. Never mind where my shoulders are, the sleeves aren’t set in anyway. The more it obscured what was underneath, the better.

There are a lot of patterns available that offer the same features for the same reasons. Not having to rely on them feels fabulous.

Having said that, there are times when a little more relaxed silhouette is nice to have as an option. I’ve had a kimono jacket percolating in my brain for a very long time. I like the idea of a short version worn with pants and a camisole. I’ve figured out that I wouldn’t be happy with actual kimono sleeves or even raglan sleeves, so my current thinking is to use set-in sleeves. I’ve also come to realize that a neckline that just sits flat on my shoulders isn’t my best look. And   when it comes to separates, a hem that dips toward the back is better than cutting myself in half. So, this is the latest version of the kimono-esque jacket I’m considering.

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I’m thinking it needs the same shaping I put into my no-close topper – pleats at the shoulders and armscye darts. It might need something hidden to keep it closed, or it might be okay hanging on its own. I’ll need to mock it up to see.

The next question is what to pair it with. I’ve been drawn to something from the ’30s called beach pajamas, which are pants that are fitted at the top and almost skirt-like toward the hem. They’s usually made of rayon and they look like they’d been a lot of fun to make and wear. But they definitely aren’t right for the kimono-esque jacket.

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That brought me to my go-to Eureka pants that Sarah and I modified to something between a trouser and a slack.

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Better. But then I wondered how it would look with ankle pants. I’ve been wanting to make pants that get pretty narrow and end at the ankle with a vent. Something like this:

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I think that has possibilities.

I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. And also check out Fabrickated. She mentioned that she’d like to join in on the fun with showing what’s in her sketchbook.

 

In the Sketchbook – July 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

On this third installment of In the Sketchbook, I’m exploring combining structured fabrics with soft, drapey fabrics and asymmetry.

Earlier this month, I was getting off the elevator after a morning workout as a neighbor was getting on to go to her office. She was wearing a lovely navy linen jacket and a flowy skirt in a floral print. I thought about how nice she looked and the image brought to mind two fabric pairings I have that are waiting to become something new to wear.

Both of the soft fabrics were acquisitions from A Fabric Place outside Baltimore in May. The gorgeous sage green wool crepe was a gift from my dear friend Stephanie King, who saw how perfectly it goes with the green, peach and pink silk charmeuse. The blue-gray wool was also a purchase from A Fabric Place. It was part of an assignment during Sarah Veblen’s Design I class for me to pair a sheer floral with a “serious” fabric.

Here are the sketches.

I’m thinking asymmetric coat dress for one of the two fabric combinations. I haven’t settled on the neckline/collar yet, but if I go with the green, I thought the charmeuse would be nice as a cuff and maybe a band on the dress as well as the mock skirt peeking out from underneath the wool. If I go with the blue-gray, I’m thinking soft folds everywhere the sheer is used (but not actual ruffles). These ideas need to percolate some more.

Here is another asymmetrical design idea that’s been percolating in my brain. It was an assignment in Design 1 to come up with a “swoop” design.

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The pattern work on that one will be quite the project.

Right now, I’m in relaxed summer mode with my sewing. I found some fabric in a drapey light neutral that I was thinking about making into a summer skirt. The fabric doesn’t lend itself to pleats, but I wanted a relaxed silhouette. S0, here are the ideas I sketched out as possibilities.

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Lots to think about.

I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger.

The Belated Spoonflower Challenge Dress

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The latest addition to my self-designed wardrobe is a dress made from organic cotton sateen in the print called Entangled, which was designed by Heather Dutton of Hang Tight Studio and sold on Spoonflower.com. I intended to wear it in the ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show last October as part of a group challenge with other members of my neighborhood group, Sew Chicago. We had voted on the print and we could choose to make any garment using any of the fabrications and colors that were offered in this particular print. I really like the print and  I wanted to be part of the group on the runway, but I was the co-coordinator of that show and the dress didn’t get finished in time.

I tried it on for Sarah Veblen later that fall and she pinned out some of the fullness in the side seams and contoured them toward the hem. Nice improvement, but when I realized that making that change meant resetting the invisible zipper on one of the seams, it remained unfinished for months. I rationalized that this is a summer dress and there was no point in finishing it in the fall or winter. Then came the crunch for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show and the next thing I knew there was just barely enough time to get it done so I could wear it at the ASG National Conference in Indianapolis.

As you can see, the dress has a curved Empire seam. It dips quite a bit in the back.

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When I used this design again for my Little Black Dress, which is more fitted in the skirt, I modified the curve so that it didn’t dip as much.

I was really excited about the way this print worked on the collar. I had seen a striped cotton dress on a mannequin in a store last summer that had a collar like this one. The stripes were vertical in the body of the dress and horizontal across the front of the collar. I knew this print would give a similar effect and that it would be a piece of cake to draft the pattern.

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It’s basically a Peter Pan Collar without a break in the back with the front edges extended to overlap a bit and shifted over to the side to go over one shoulder.

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I used small release pleats and tiny darts to control the fullness from the relaxed silhouette I was going for.

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I lined the dress in light blue Imperial cotton batiste. The overall effect is a dress that’s amazingly comfortable to wear.