Three Dresses

May 14, 2015

I used to wear a lot of dresses. But then I had children. My shape changed, my bust got bigger, then smaller, then bigger and then went a little further south. Clothes had to accommodate breastfeeding…for years, it seemed. Even skirts were tricky for a while, as they were lifted, hidden under and dragged on.

But there is nothing nicer in summer than a simple dress and sandals. So here are some recent additions from when the weather was a tad warmer.

IMG_0334This dress is made from some cheap cotton lawn from Darn Cheap Fabrics, such an inspiring name! It is one of those single role, designer excess places. I have no idea where the cotton was grown and processed but probably China. The flimsy cotton was made more substantial with a calico lining for the bodice made of old muslins. You can still see my notes from other dresses scrawled on a piece.

IMG_0361I made this dress from a bodice pattern and just added a gathered skirt. The sleeves and bodice are bound in bias tape made from the same fabric and hand stitched to the calico lining.

IMG_0056I added bra fixings, lots of hem and a sewn-in label, enshrining an intention of longevity for the frock, for it is cotton…pretty and cheap but heavy on the footprint (so let’s make it a keeper).

IMG_0357As part of my Costume Changes project, I am exploring fibres new to me, spreading my ecological footprint in a mix of fibres, old and new. And making mistakes. And encountering some discomforting information.

IMG_0328This next frock is made with viscose. For the longest time I thought viscose and rayon were synthetic fibres and steered clear. In fact, they are semi-synthetics, made from plant sources like sugar cane and bamboo but their cellulose is extracted through a chemical process and extruded into fibres. The process was invented in the late 19c as an artifical silk…silk for the masses. They are biodegrable. Sounded OK.

The pattern is the Washi dress from MadeByRae, made in the small size with the cut out. This was my first experience with viscose. It seems to stretch length ways so the neckline hangs lower than I am comfortable. I raised the shoulders but the neckline still seems to be heading down! If I was to use viscose again, I would hang the fabric first before cutting. It feels good on, breathes and has a drape and swing that it just lovely.

IMG_0352The back was gathered with a wide elastic casing rather than the shirring which I do not think would wear well over time. I was feeling pretty happy with myself.

Then I did some more research and found out that whilst viscose/rayon is biodegradable, it contributes over half the microplastic fibres in the ocean, its manufacturing process produces significant pollutants and only one method of producing rayon (lyocell method) is considered to have any environmental benefits. So, is it really an alternative to synthetics or cotton? Possibly…but not in a way that leaves me feeling even vaguely comfortable.

IMG_0481My next dress was another washi dress but made in linen from Lithuania via The Drapery. This linen has been presoftened through washing to produce a very drapey handle. Linen production typically takes place on land that is unsuitable for food crops and does not require irrigation or fertiliser.  It is more durable than cotton. It is a great replacement for cotton if dressmaking with new fabrics although you need to embrace that wrinkled look.

I cut out the same size as the previous dress and this one fits perfectly! The neckline is modest and has not grown during wearing.

IMG_0484Aside from the elastic casing for the gathered back, my only other modification was to add a Peter Pan style collar to the front neck. It is fixed into the shoulder seams. See how it lifts away from the dress? Next time I make a Peter Pan collar, I will cut the underside slightly smaller so it curves towards the dress as per this great tutorial from Sewaholic. This is a cracker of a dress and layers really well with three quarter length wide leg trousers or tights. This will take me through winter and summer in Melbourne.

In conclusion…I will give linen another go but goodness, secondhand fabrics and repurposing is just a whole lot less fraught really.













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  1. I really enjoyed reading your post this evening… I love your linen dress and now I know where to buy linen in Australia… choosing fabrics and yarns is becoming a minefield today and I suppose I make rules for myself which I try to follow within reason… now I must find my patterns unfortunately put away somewhere in a distant plastic box!

  2. These are all just lovely but the vicose one is my absolute fave and especially on you. Had no idea it wasn’t synthetic – learning all the time.. x

  3. They are three very beautiful dresses! I love the first one. I used to do stay stitching around neck and armholes before making up the pattern to help stop the shifting etc regardless as to whether there were facings involved or not.

  4. Your new dresses are lovely!! I’m quite fond of the bright and colorful prints but the linen is probably a good choice for me. I have a small stash of linen and linen blends and just need some summery patterns. Sale next weekend of Simplicity patterns here– 5 for $5!!

  5. I think they are all gorgeous but my fave is the viscose. I have a viscose dress and it is lovely to wear, drapes well and has a great swing to it. It’s black though so nowhere near as stunning as yours!! The pattern and colours are fabulius and you wear them well. As an aside I have had my viscose dress since before I had kids (at least eight years) and it still looks like new. So….might be a fabric that does nasty things to the ocean (sad face) but it lasts….a tiny offset perhaps.

    I can’t wait to see you wearing all your pretty frocks x

  6. What a gorgeous collection! Dresses are definitely “your thing” – you look amazing! And thank you so much for sharing your fiber research, it’s truly eye opening.

  7. Love all the information you provide and the dresses are great! I like the idea of the casing in back…looks more professional, too. I like linen but it does require that first ironing out of the wash….then I don’t care how wrinkled it gets….it is so comfortable and soft. The environmental information is good to know and I do agree with repurposing or reusing. Joanie

  8. Viscose … yes, loathsome stuff. I’ve written about it in the context of knitting yarns somewhere on my blog long ago. It’s not just the environment it damages either, there are issues around the health of workers in the industry.

    So many different looks here, all good, but I think I like the linen dress best 🙂

  9. Lovely dresses! I try to pay attention to the fabrics that my clothing is made from, but it’s so hard to find things I can afford, made by companies I can ‘trust’, out of materials that don’t suck, AND that actually fit (I’m plus sized, it’s extra tricky). It’s lovely that you can make your own, and feel more confident about where what you wear comes from.

  10. These dresses look GREAT on you…good job and thanks for the tutorial site. I ‘get’ the up/down/around of the body…vanity, vanity, it’s all vanity 🙂 I get angry that Madison Avenue has gotten ahold of my brain and I think I should look a certain way GRRR I do try to stay out of that mode but it is tricky! I have tons of fabric that have been given to me and I need to get on with it….Sumer Is Icumen In.
    Enjoy swishing around in your Viscose 🙂

  11. Oh how we loved rayon in the 1980’s-early 90’s! Nothing could accomodate a mutitude of waist gathers so sympathetically for the figure…copius amounts of fabric could be squeezed into a skirt, providing plenty of ‘swish’, and yes- it did tend to drop! I worked in fabric shops during this time, and boy, did we go mad for it. I only wish I could remember the ‘trade’ name it was known by at that time…

  12. Three lovely frocks (nice word). Thanks for the information about the rayon/viscose about which I knew little. Now I can make a few more product choices that I feel good about.

  13. there’s nothing quite like a good frock! They really can make it look like you’ve put in more effort to the outfit of the day than you did, too – a plus for busy people.

    The cotton one is a shape I go for time and time again – such a versatile, flattering silhouette and so comfy to wear.

    I had no idea about the production of viscose and rayon but like you, I’d always presumed they were synthetic and given them a wide berth. I’m not at all confident sewing slippery fabrics, either, so I hadn’t really looked into them.

    You really can’t beat linen, can you? Once you embrace the wrinkles, as you say. But isn’t that just the perfect analogy for life as we know it? 😉

  14. Sewing with eyes wide open has it drawbacks, yeah. Like many commenters I love the qualities of viscose. (Sigh.) Thank you for providing hope in the form of linen.

  15. Really interesting to find out about viscose rayon. These days I daydream about growing flax to spin into linen. I found this

    I’m also intrigued about your extensive talents – did you study textiles or have someone teach you everything? Perhaps you are purely self-taught – another marvel!

  16. Where we live they used to grow flax, a lot of it. Its interesting that you say it was grown on soil too poor for food crops… this ties in with the awful habit of spraying around here, they spray everything from insecticides to some kind of miracle grow fertilizer. I expect that they can’t grow a thing if they don’t. This is also evident in the trouble I am having establishing a veggie patch. You are a font of knowledge but I have a wonderful synthetic swishy ex sari fabric that I refashioned into a skirt – I used to love wearing it… I think I might feel a little sad about it now.

  17. As always, I’ve come away with more than I have brought. I do appreciate how you share your knowledge with us here. Love the dresses, think I will have to give that Washi Dress a go, looks kind of perfect : ) xo

  18. Love these dresses. Especially the linen one. I love working with linen. I find it sad to live in a place with a linen tradition where unfortunately “Irish Linen” is only manufactured in Ireland, not grown.
    I love the thoughtfulness you put into your posts.

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