Monday, April 9, 2012

Sheath Dress Analysis

I ended up not bringing my intended Easter dress to San Francisco with me because the weather forecast had predicted rain when I was packing. Of course, once I arrived, the city taunted me with beautiful sunny days and surprisingly warm weather for April. Oh, my dear city, why must you do this to me? I'm sorry I left you, but this is hardly the way to convince me to move back! Anyway, the dress I brought instead, a RTW gray plaid sheath dress from Target, suddenly seemed way too dreary. But I'm glad I brought it, because when I put it on, I realized...

Do you see it yet?

Now do you see it?'s pretty much the same as my springy sheath. It's got the same basic shape, with four tucks in the front with hip pockets, darts in the back, a regular topstitched center back zipper, and tiny cap sleeves and a relatively high neckline. The only real differences are the lining, the neckline pleats, and the lack of a back vent in the RTW version. Oh, and the RTW version is one of my favorite dresses, and the me-made version is not. Armed with that crucial lens with which to reexamine my me-made version, I knew I had to try to make this pattern work for me, so I went to work with my measuring tape. Here are my findings:
  1. The biggest issue is the hip circumferences of the dresses (37" versus 40" makes a big difference in comfort when sitting down).
  2. The bust dart in the me-made version is an inch higher and and takes in about 1.5" more material per dart. Hence the pointy-dart issue. It looks like I need to redraft the dart and side seam on the pattern to allow for a skinnier dart that can taper more easily. 
  3. The back skirt darts are two inches shorter on the me-made version. If they were longer, maybe they could take in some of the excess fabric above my butt.
  4. The sleeves on the RTW version are tiny caps, versus the larger caps on the me-made version; this makes a crucial difference in how high I can raise my arms. I like the look of the larger caps, but mobility is kind of important.  I don't want to have ineffectual T-rex arms if I can help it.
  5. The bust and skirt lengths are the same, as well as the waist circumference, so at least I got that right without even trying.
  6. The fabric on the RTW version is a flannel-esque plaid, which has simultaneously more thickness and better drape. This means it skims the hips in a more flattering way than the me-made version, despite being less form-fitting. Also, it's lined. 
It looks like I'm going to re-try this dress. Maybe not for a while, since I want to make another wintry one to replace the RTW version (I've had this dress for a couple years and it makes a regular appearance in my fall/winter teaching wardrobe, and now the flannel is starting to pill on the sides), but it's not being relegated to the donation pile yet. I'm also debating whether or not I want to attempt plaid-matching.

With only one side of half of the binding attached.
I realized, belatedly, that my front point wasn't symmetrical.
Ah well, I can't be bothered enough to go back and fix it.
In other sewing news, I am so close to finishing my pair of bodies! I just need to finish binding the tabs (which, if you have done this before, you know is hardly a "just" kind of task). After that comes the chemise, but the linen-rayon blend I bought from Jo-Ann's has washed up rather stiffly, and I'm not pleased with how it feels against my skin. It looks like I might have to go with inaccurate cotton muslin (but my bodies are so inaccurate this hardly seems an arguable point), or just suck it up and go back for the much more expensive 100% linen.


  1. Looking forward to seeing your bodies. I hate it when I'm not happy with a dress, you can always re-do it and I'm sure it will look fab! XxxX

    1. Yeah, it's so frustrating when something you've put time and energy into doesn't turn out the way you'd like. I will probably not fix this dress since it's finished so nicely, but at least I've learned for next time!

  2. Very interesting comparison! I have to say (as someone who's not actually wearing the dresses) the biggest difference I notice probably has more to do with the fabric than the fit---a drapier, more luscious fabric is just more... *more*, y'know?

    Which makes me sad, because I hate to dis on the bedsheets. But they have this specific look, y'know? It seems to work well for the flared dresses, not so much for the sheaths.

    I don't think a well-designed cap-sleeve should restrict your arm mobility any more than a regular sleeve. The key words being "well designed."

    Good luck! It's always helpful to have an idea of what you're going for. :)

    1. You are probably right (who am I kidding? You are definitely right!) about the fabric. It makes me sad that my favorite fabric won't work for everything, but c'est la vie. Looks like I need to break into my treasured stash of luscious fabrics (this sad stash contains only three pieces of yardage) for my next sheath.

      As for the sleeve, I'm going to need to mull that one over.

  3. I completely understand the subtle differences with sleeves and fit making all the difference! I find myself tweeking forever on things like that. I wish I could blame my perfectionism on the designers I've worked with who make me adjust a hem by one-EIGHTH of and inch (yes, there was actually a designer like that and she was totally right!), but I think it is just how a good seamstress is wired. =)

    1. Oh wow. 1/8"?! I wouldn't have thought that would make a difference, but just goes to show what I know...

  4. How fantastic that you have an almost-exact dress that you can compare it with!

    I'm with Tantis on the fabric probably making a huge difference. Fabric choice really makes or breaks the success of my projects (or, 'this is why I don't love my Luna Moth dress'). Love the sheet material, but it really is a full summer dress thing.

    Is it just an illusion of the photographs, or does the boughten dress have a wider neckline? And is it narrower across the back waist than the you-made dress, and wider across the front?

    The stays/pair of bodies are looking great. I wouldn't worry about a cotton shift not being 'accurate' - modern linen is so different from historical linen that it really doesn't act like pre-19th century linen would anyway (the chemical retting methods they use today break down the fibres and give the fabric a completely different hand, and a whole different set of qualities). And modern cotton is accurate in a "cheap, accessible, durable" sense.

    I would, however, fix that CB point. Because asymmetry bugs the heck out of me. But if it doesn't bug you, go with it :-D

    P.S. I can't believe that you are complaining that you went to SF and it was warm and sunny!

    1. Thanks for chiming in on the fabric choice issue. If two seamstresses I respect both have that to say, it must really be a thing with this dress, especially since I was already entertaining that idea!

      The RTW dress does indeed have a wider, more scooped neckline, but it is the same width front and back.

      I also appreciate your playing the part my mom usually plays, and telling me I should go back and fix that're right, eventually that would've bugged me and I would've been annoyed at past me for not taking the ten minutes to fix it. So I did, and I've also just gone ahead and made my shift from muslin.

      I wouldn't normally complain about SF being sunny, it's just that I hate visiting someplace having packed inappropriately!

  5. I love your analysis. Fascinating. Great idea and thanks for sharing it.

  6. Since this is giving you some grief, I suggest you make something ridiculous like this to blow off some steam :P

  7. great post--we should all take time to do this occasionally to figure out why we sew what we sew...and if we should even bother :-) although i find all of that measuring intimidating!

  8. I have this EXACT Target dress (it's currently my go-to interview dress--with a 3/4 black or red belted sweater over it). My Mad Men dress, I realized a little too late, was a inadvertent replication of this dress in an amethyst purple... it's kinda a classic shape I guess!

    1. It is such a great dress, isn't it? I love everything about mine, which is why I want to replicate it.


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