Belated Floral Birthday Dress

There’s a bit of a tradition in the sewing community of sewing a new outfit for a special occasion—for once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings and proms and graduations, as you might imagine, but also for those smaller milestones like birthdays and vacations to new places. Not everyone does this, of course, nor even the majority of people who sew, but it’s a ritual I’ve seen a fair few sewists indulge in, and I’ve secretly cherished the idea of doing it myself for rather a long time.

The trouble is, I always think to do it as the date of the event is closing in, when it’s only a week or two a way, which simply isn’t enough time (for me) to do a special project any kind of justice. Not without an excess of wailing and hair-pulling, anyway. I’m generally self-aware enough not to create that kind of stress for myself around an occasion I’m particularly looking forward to, so year after year I watch my birthday, and my dream of a birthday dress, come and go.

Not so in 2019, however. This time, I was determined to start early and finish with time to spare. I was helped considerably by having a strong idea of what I wanted right out of the gate: a 70s-style mini dress in a floral print, preferably with a gathered sleeve, maybe with a ruffle somewhere. I suspect I was influenced by the True Bias Roscoe Blouse and the Friday Pattern Co. Wilder Gown, or more specifically Allie’s mashup of the two.

Fortunately for me, I found what I was looking for more or less instantly in Butterick 6705. I chose View B, which offers a shorter length, sleeves gathered by elastic at the wrist, a bound neckline, and a double flounce at the hem. The relaxed waist and hip and flared hem are balanced by the peaked empire waist and bust gathers, which provide shaping around the chest. The raglan sleeves keep things on the casual side.

The fabric is a polyester crepe from JoAnn. I briefly considered a slightly more graphic design with black-and-white line art flowers on a solid background, but loved the dark green of this floral too much to pass up, and besides, if ever there was a time to lean into a softer, more romantic style, this seemed like it.

Despite its textured face, the polyester crepe has a smooth back that, when combined with the fabric’s thinness and fluid drape, made it an absolute pain to cut and pin. I did try to starch it with a homemade spray starch solution, but was too impatient for it to dry before trying to press it, and I ended up foregoing starch on all but the two bodice pieces. It really would have been better to wait, and if I use polyester crepe again I’ll factor in time for starching and drying before cutting.

I cut a size 10 at the bust, grading to a size 12 at the waist and hip. I removed 2″ from the lengthen/shorten line above the waist and below the hip, shortening the dress by a total of 4″. I made the decision to shorten in both places based primarily on my CustomFit measurements, which have separate lengths for “waist to armhole” and “waist to hip” that I compared to the finished garment measurements, but also based on the principle that it’s generally a good idea to split such large differences over multiple areas to avoid any weirdness at the seams.

For the sewing itself, I had no issues with a 70/10 universal needle and polyester thread. The pattern instructions didn’t offer any suggestions on how to finish the raw edges of the center front bodice seam, so I extended the narrow hem that’s used on either side of the front neckline slit. The rest of the raw edges are finished with French seams, and each flounce has a tiny rolled hem.

Stitching the narrow binding on the neckline was a beast, but worth it because I like that finish. As with my Archer shirt, I opted to sew the binding to the wrong side first, then wrap it to the outside and stitch in place from the right side; if the stitches don’t go through the binding on the outside, I have to go back and re-stitch them anyway to secure the binding, but if they don’t land “in the ditch” on the inside, who cares? Nobody can see it anyway.

My only complaint with the pattern, and it’s only a very minor quibble, is that the two-piece sleeves are designed to be eased, but there’s only one notch indicating where the easing should end, instead of two notches like you’d find on a princess seam.

In terms of improvements, I wish I’d gotten the zipper to lay a little more smoothly and stop a little closer to the top of the dress. I also hope to one day be able to sew on hooks and eyes competently. These ones are okay, though they’re a little more visible than I would have liked. Because the neckline is so high in the front, I will sometimes leave the front closure undone like you see in the last photo.

On the flip side, I’m proud of how the flowers accidentally lined up quite neatly across the front slit, since (as you can see from the rest of the dress) I didn’t even bother to try pattern matching.

The only way in which this dress could be said to have missed the mark was that I didn’t have it done in time for my birthday. As I approached the day of, which I planned to celebrate with a small group of friends at a local game cafe, I realized that all of the painstaking pinning I was having to do was slowing me down, and I was going to have to really sprint to get the neckline binding and the flounces completed. But after visiting the cafe and realizing it was going to be far too cold inside to wear an unlined, artificial-fiber dress comfortably, I decided to cut myself some slack and finish after the party (which also gave me more time to focus on making a cake, so win–win).

Not to worry, though—my birthday dress dreams were not, in fact, dashed, as I ended up having a second birthday celebration with my family during our Thanksgiving holiday. The dress garnered many compliments and was wonderfully accommodating of my turkey-day indulgences.

While I don’t see myself having the wherewithal to make a new frock for every special occasion, I might be contemplating making a travel wardrobe for our next big vacation, which will likely be so far into the future that I will surely have at least even odds of achieving my sewing ambitions.

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