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A swooshy dress in Rayon | A Guest blog post by Lou

Updated: May 21, 2020

Hello sewists! My name’s Lou, a home-sewist based in Abu Dhabi. I manage the Facebook group “Abu Dhabi SEWS!” and like to share my makes on my Instagram account @oh_liverpool_lou 

Today’s post is about the Eloise dress from By Hand London, which I made in this absolutely stunning Lady McElroy rayon. It is very lightweight and has the most beautiful drape. The print is called “Artistic Vibrance” and has a wonderfully unashamed 80s feel to it - pure fun!! It actually made me very nostalgic for the decade of my childhood and I found myself wanting to recreate the kind of dress I remember my mother wearing. I chose the Eloise (which, incidentally, for a very simple pattern, actually has three quite different versions!) as Version 1 featured the dropped waist that was very popular in the 1980s. The frill at the hem is actually circular which gives the extra-swooshy effect that you just don’t get with a gathered rectangle. If you like twirling, this dress comes highly recommended!!

My measurements made me a size 14 according to the pattern but after looking at the finished garment measurements I actually decided to cut a size 12. I’m glad I did as the fit worked out really well overall. The only exception to that was the armholes which are just a tiny touch snug but not to the extent that it will bother me! The instructions were pretty good but instead of following them I used the sew-along which can be found on the By Hand London blog. It was really helpful as it included photos and more detailed instructions than those included with the pattern. I was surprised that they didn’t suggest stay-stitching the neckline though. I did that as I knew the delicate fabric was very much at risk of stretching out if I didn’t. 

The cutting out was tricky for this as the fabric is so mobile and lightweight! When I laid it out initially it became obvious that it had become distorted at certain intervals along one selvedge - I would think because of the way I had folded it after prewashing. There wasn’t a lot I could do about it at that point so I went ahead and did my cutting out as carefully as I could, trying to keep the fabric flat and in a single layer for most pattern pieces. For the huge circular frill pieces I traced the pattern piece onto some old Christmas paper as it is designed to be cut on the fold. I then drew around them with water-erasable fabric marker, on a single layer and then cut along those lines as the opened-out pieces were too big for my cutting mat. Sometimes I will move the mat under the fabric as I go but I knew that simply wasn’t an option with this fabric. I discovered later on that the two frills had actually ended up being very different sizes due to the fabric shifting as I marked it! Marking the dart legs was also a challenge as drawing on the fabric with chalk/Chaco pen/water-erasable pen would drag the fabric at the slightest touch but I managed it with a bit of patience. 

I wanted to do everything I could to keep this beautiful fabric intact. I used French seams where possible to enclose any keen-to-fray raw edges and I went for the bias-bound neckline and armholes to create a cleaner, lighter-weight finish than facings. The pattern helpfully includes instructions for both facings and bias binding so that was great. I think I should have made my own bias tape out of the dress fabric instead of using ready made though because the tape I had was a little too heavy for the fabric. But still, better than a facing which I think would have been too visible through the fabric! I also used a microtex needle which was perfect for this fabric - very sharp and thin. I kept my machine tension at 4 and used a 2.4 stitch length throughout except for topstitching which was 2.8. I reduced the presser foot pressure slightly on both my regular machine and my overlocker (which I had to use for finishing the waist seam, the centre-back seam and the hem before I turned it up). I also altered the differential feed on my overlocker to about 1.4 to prevent it from stretching out the delicate fabric.

The dress itself is very simple, with only one closure - a little button and rouleau loop at the back neckline. I enjoyed making the loop but the instructions called for a bigger seam allowance than would have been workable. I reduced it to 1/8” instead of 1/4” and used my smallest Prym loop turning tube to turn it through. If you don’t have one of these, I highly recommend getting one!! I found mine on Desertcart.

I let it hang overnight before hemming it as I knew the combination of lightweight rayon and a circular hem would make for an interesting outcome! The next day, I found my prediction was right - there were irregularities in the hem length of up to two inches at certain points. I had to get creative in order to level it out so I set up my own makeshift hem-marking system involving a quilting ruler trapped in a drawer to keep it vertical and a very apprehensive husband armed with pins sitting on the floor. Ha ha! He did pretty well! I was able to join up the points he’d pinned with my trusty water-erasable pen (again, very carefully!) and then use the overlocker along the line to trim and finish it in one go. All that was left to do after that was turn it up and straight stitch all the way round!

I am thrilled with how this dress turned out, and to have had the chance to try *that* Lady McElroy fabric!! It is so eye catching and fun - just a joy to wear. There’s a brunch somewhere out there in the future waiting to be graced with it but in the meantime perhaps I’ll wear it to a lockdown date night with hubs.

ThreadWerk: Thank you so much Lou for sharing this beautiful dress and fun pictures with us. If you want to copy Lou and use the same fabric, or similar, check out the rayons available online.

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