Wednesday 21 July 2021

The two 'Elle' Pink Dresses Experiment that almost didn't happen...because of fabric disasters. McCall's 7974 and Burda 'buffet dress' 4/2021/102

One of my COVID confinement resolutions over the past 18 months has been to improve my French and learn German, two of Switzerland's four official languages. It's about time! To help my French fluency and vocabulary, I subscribed to the daily Le Temps and the weekly Elle (which is pretty much eye candy, I admit.) There's not much to say here about the newspaper, which certainly informs me about local affairs. As for German, I finished with Duolingo and am now stumbling through murder mysteries by Donna Leon in the German editions by Diogenes.
Meanwhile, each week, (at least until the summer set in,) Elle did a set of dedicated fashion pages every week, which I always found inspiring during these unfashiony, depressing pandemic seasons. There was one page featuring their 'Dress of Spring' in pink ( see below) that I just fell in love with.
 I quickly ordered some viscose crepe and viscose rayony stuff in two retro flowered prints that I hoped would capture the 'feel' of the Elle looks. Please note that these were bargain-basement buys in pre-cut 3 metre lengths from Coupons de St-Pierre in Paris. We're not talking big bucks here.

And I searched far and wide (okay, okay I ran through my decades of Burda for an afternoon) looking at years of maxi patterns. Despite some misgivings about the 'muumuu' effect of a so-called 'buffet dress' on a woman my age, I finally opted to try the April 2021 Burda cover design (see in green below) after watching the Great British Sewing Bee episode on that style. I was taken with Burda's nice detail of turning the endless gatherings into stand-up ruffles along the cascading tiers. (I realize now that a buffet dress was precisely one look this Elle page avoided!)

For the second dress, I was going to settle for a Burda wrap dress when I fell in love instead with a cute model of McCall's 7974 worn on YouTube by the beautiful French sewist, Raphaelle Dvn, (see her version below) but Raphaelle is some forty years younger than I am. I should know better, right? This popular model is supposed to be a knockoff of something called the Cult Gaia Willow Dress. Okay. I'd never heard of it, but I'm not exactly ahead of trends.

For weeks McCalls didn't have a paper version in stock, so I finally broke a longstanding resistance to PDF patterns and downloaded it during a $4.99 sale. I always hate Burda tracing, but I hate printing and scotch-taping computer paper even more. 

I cut out the McCall's dress first. 
DISASTER! Only after I'd suffered through constructing the pattern, reminding myself that one time, long ago, I sewed with Big 4 patterns with seams included, and congratulated myself on an exhausting evening of pushing pins through stiff paper, did I glance down at the floor and see a long and important pattern piece still waiting UNUSED. It was the side back section of the skirt, "cut 2" no less..
And I had no more fabric.
And of course, neither did the good people in Paris, because that is the point of their existence, selling remnants into nonexistence, right?
So now what?
I had only five sections of a seven-section full gathered skirt: two front, two front side, and one back cut on fold.  Anyway, after a night of kicking myself, I resolved to see if the sections of the skirt that I did have would reach around the waist seam, and praise the Sewing Gods, after basting with very narrow seams, they did—just. My dress now featured a kind of thirties-ish fitted and flowing skirt rather than a cottagey, gathered skirt. The result is not what McCalls intended, but perhaps a little less 'milkmaidy' on a woman of my years. (btw, the very low-cut  V-neck required some digging into the lingerie drawer for an almost forgotten nude bra with a very low-cut middle.
The final insult of this project was that 7974 requires 13 buttons 13!!!!@$% and I had to order self-cover buttons all the way from Germany because my local Swiss outlets didn't have any in stock.  Continuing my Olympic quest for Dodo of the Year Gold, I ordered 11 cm size when I should have ordered 15 cm; getting these tiny buggers covered with slippery viscose was the work of a whole weekend and many curses.

Raphaelle Dvn, in Corsica, a lovely sewist on instagram, and Pinterest. Her vlog is great for practicing French comprehension with a slightly regional twist.

And Disaster Two? On to the Burda cover dress. This demanded a mammoth job of cutting out many ever-increasingly large rectangles and again, I was trying to squeeze a 4-metre maxi pattern into a 3-metre remnant. I was pretty crafty by now and managed it by cutting the bottom tier as economically as possible and making up a little shortfall of about twelve inches wide using fabric left uncut elsewhere along the margine of the shortest, upper tier.

This is a slightly kinder V-neck than the McCalls in the bust area—still deep but not 'find me a special bra' deep. Also it asks for rouleau button loops. I hate making rouleau loops. Mine came out like little origami folded triangles, instead of loops.
Also, you can't tell from Burda's line drawing (below) but it includes a simple, non-gathered mini-lining under the neck-facings  down to mid-thigh. This gives you a built-in slip—nice if you're using very lightweight fabric as your main fabric. Not nice, if you forgot to order lining fabric and have to waste time going to a store to get it. (Me, of course.)

But you should use a very, very, very lightweight fabric. Even my crinkly viscose crepe is a little too thick. Because this dress is a fabric hog. You want to feel like you're flowing in the light seabreeze, not drowning in a shroud, readied for burial, right?

But that wasn't the disaster, believe it or not. I could live with the sneaky piecing in the back of the lowest tier, and the pointy button loops, and the missing-lining-fabric-excursion, but only after assembling the dress (by which I mean endless nights of gathering) did I notice a hole and a rip about an inch long, damage from the tagging by St-Pierre in the warehouse, smack in the center front of the upper tier.  Had I examined the fabric before cutting, these tears would have been relegated to the back of the bottom tier or left altogether on the cutting room floor.

Well, I'd had it by then—well past cursing. This whole Pink-Dress-of-Spring-Thing had taken up weeks of my time and spring 2021 was well over! So I just finely machine-seamed these two tears closed and hoped for the best, ironing them as flat as possible. Luckily wrinkly crepe takes an iron well. Can you find them now? I can't— and I'm wearing the damn thing.

But let's be frank. There is a Sad Sack thing going on with this Burda model on me. Notice the lighter fabric on the Burda girl doesn't pull down the Empire waistline like my viscose crepe does. Short of a seabreeze on a terrace in an Italian hotel at sunset, I feel more 'muumuu' than buffet. But before I bin it, I think perhaps I'll raise the hem a few inches and sit on a jungle tree stump in heels like the lady above. Or at least give it a straw hat and some higher wedge sandals...and a cocktail.



  1. These dresses look lovely in the photographs. Hopefully you can forget the disasters and enjoy wearing pretty spring-like frocks in softly flowing fabric.

  2. i really love the look.
    The fabric is fantastic and fits great.
    Nice to meet your blog.