Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Burda 6911: A Sneaky Formal Pajama Dress for Comfy Choral Concerts

Burda 6911 Dress with Modifications
Not only did I make it through a week of late-night dress rehearsals and fend off a cold well enough to sing in both performances of the Bach St. John's Passion last weekend, but I also managed to sew myself a new dress to wear for the Sunday afternoon concert from a new-to-me pattern, Burda 6911:

Burda 6911 for 2-way Stretch Knits
This pattern popped up in my Pinterest feed around the same time that I was informed that the men in the VOX chorus wear tuxedos in concert, and women are supposed to wear something "black, formal and floor-length, with long sleeves, like something you would wear to a cocktail party." Maybe that's what SOME women wear to a cocktail party, but there was nothing in MY closet that fit that description!

Angelica Huston as Morticia Addams, Ready to Sing with VOX
Here's a photo of the VOX chorus (taken before I joined) so you can see what other women wear:

VOX Chorus Concert Attire, Pre-Rebecca Photo
So I got the pattern, ordered 5 yards of black 11 oz. rayon jersey fabric from Emma One Sock (UPS Next Day Air Saver), and rolled up my sleeves.

I found some well-ripened moss green jersey knit rotting away in my stash that had a similar weight, drape and stretch as my dress fabric, and decided to whip up a top version of this pattern to check the fit and figure out how the twist goes together.  I did read up on other people's experiences sewing this pattern on Pattern Reviews, and I was happy to see that most people's dresses and tops came out looking BETTER than the pattern photos, and that the style was flattering on other women with figures similar to mine.  (ah, how do I love thee, Pattern Review web site?!!!) 

Sizing: Based on the amount of fabric incorporated into the front twist, the width stretch of my fabric, and other reviewers' comments, I decided to cut a size 14 (based on my upper chest measurement +2", or what my FB measurement would be if I was a B cup like the "standard" commercial pattern fit models instead of a D). If I had used my full bust measurement as directed by the pattern instructions, I'd have been cutting between size 16 and size 18 -- I've done that before, and it always results in an unwearable, unfixable garment that is way too big in the upper chest, back, and shoulders, with necklines too big and gaping and sagging armholes.  It's so much easier to do a full/prominent bust adjustment to make more room where it's needed than it is to alter the shoulders, back, upper chest, sleeves, armholes, etc. to make them all smaller!  (This article on the Curvy Sewing Collective blog explains why). 

But in this particular case, with this pattern and this stretchy fabric, the smaller size worked beautifully with no need for any fit adjustments -- I got a fantastic fit through the shoulders and upper chest, no neck gaping or sagging armholes, yet there was plenty of room for "the girls" due to the stretch of the fabric and all of the twist gathers in the front of the top. I did grade to a size 16 through the hips on the top because I didn't want too snug of a fit through the tummy, and I'm glad I did because the top is quite fitted through the midriff. However, the top and dress are made from different pattern pieces, and the dress is cut with a lot more ease through the midriff so I was able to cut a straight size 14 on my dress.  I stopped working on the green top as soon as I was far enough along to know I had a working pattern in a good size, since I only had a few days to get my dress done and I sew VERY SLOWLY, like a sloth.  (Actually, I sew more like Hamlet, stopping every step of the way to ponder my options and research techniques before proceeding.  To be finished with my dress on time, or to squander my sewing time with mad dashes to JoAnn's in search of obscure notions and interfacing that I saw in someone's blog tutorial -- THAT is my question!)  But I digress.  Here's the green top version, 90% finished:

Burda 6911 Top, Trial Run
This is not the best picture because I had a weird balconet style bra on under the top that made the gathers go goofy, but I was in a hurry so this photo will have to do for now.  Anyway, you can see that the fit is pretty good, but if you click on the photo to make it bigger and examine the center front twist, you'll see that the wrong side of the facing wants to roll out at the top of the twist.  I still need to fix that, and then coverstitch hem the bottom of the top and the sleeves.  Eventually.

As per the recommendations of other reviewers, and to make assembly more serger-friendly, I disregarded the pattern instructions and put the sleeves in flat before sewing the side seams. This was a great idea.  On my trial top, I also ignored the pattern instructions about pressing the center front and dart seams open and just serged everything instead, because hey -- I bought the serger so I could use it on knits, and this is a knit, right?However, I think that's why I got the weirdness in the center of the twist with raw edges wanting to stick out on my top, because I had a loose flap where my serger seam stopped and the facing edge began instead of a pressed open seam allowance getting pulled back into the dress when I did the twist. So for my dress, I serged the CF seam as directed by the pattern, until a few inches before the slit, and then sewed the rest of the way with a stretch "lightning" stitch on my regular sewing machine so I could press the seam allowance open just below the slit and have the seam allowance tuck in nicely all the way around the hole. The bust dart seams I stitched the whole way with the lightning stitch and pressed them open per pattern instructions, and I was much happier with the way the twist front came out on the dress when I did it that way.

Peep Hole at Center Twist Prior to Hand Stitching
Oh, and another thing I should mention about the twist front is that you may need to add some additional hand or machine stitching after you pull the one side through the other to make sure you don't have a little peep hole in the middle of your boobage!

Do note that the arms of this pattern are asymmetrical, so you want to be careful keeping track of which is which. Also, as another reviewer noted, the pattern instructs you to baste the facing down to the shirt front before sewing the side seam, so I followed her suggestion to leave the facing edge loose and then wrapped it around when I sewed the shoulder seams for a clean finish. I also added clear elastic to the shoulder seams to prevent them from stretching out of shape.

Other Changes I Made:
This pattern is designed to finish just below the knee, but I needed it to be floor length and I'm 5'8" so I added 13" to the skirt length. (This is the first time I used a rotary cutter to cut out a garment, by the way and I am IN LOVE -- the shifty, slippery knit was cut MUCH more accurately, precisely, and easily with the rotary cutter than it would have been with scissors, and after all my cutting table has a butcher block surface intended for chopping food up with knives so the rotary cutting blade isn't going to hurt it and the butcher block won't hurt the blade, either.  No cutting mat necessary!)

Length Added at the Lengthen/Shorten Line, seam Lines Extended for More Fullness at the Bottom
I also added shirred self-fabric sashes at the waist, copied from a RTW Boden dress in my closet.

RTW Boden Anna Dress, From Which I Copied the Sash
I think the sash belt helps prevent it from looking like a nightgown, and stretch fabric plus sash means that I will be able to wear this dress comfortably even if I gain or lose a few pounds.

My Dress With Cloned Boden Sashes Sewn Into Side Seams
I also made a slight change to the shaped of the neckline at the shoulder seam. This was due to a mistake when I did a FOE on the back neck (instead of the goofy strip of fabric sewn on and folded over as the pattern instructs and as I did on my practice top), but I accidentally ate up some of the shoulder seams in my neck edges.  I compensated for that by slightly gathering front shoulders to fit the back, which gives just the slightest sweetheart curve to the top of the V-neck.  Not sure whether you can see that in the photos, but I can definitely tell the difference in the shaping  of the neckline from my top to my dress and I actually prefer the way my fixed mistake looks!

Fold Over Coverstitched Edge on Back Neck
Finally, although this pattern specifically recommends lightweight jersey knit, the hem allowances for both the bottom of the skirt and the sleeves is 1 1/4" deep. None of the RTW jersey knit dresses or tops in my closet has a hem this deep. I tried doing the deep hem with a coverstitch on my dress, and I got decent results on my rectangular sample swatch, but the dress is A-line so the circumference of the skirt is greater at the raw edge than it is at the stitching line. ROYAL pain in the butt and waste of time. I did my sleeve hems 1/2" due to where I wanted the length to hit, and it was so much easier and ended up looking much better, too. I've decided I want my dress to be a few inches shorter because the heavy jersey makes it longer when I put it on than it was on my cutting table, and when I redo the hem I'll just turn it up 1/2" and coverstitch it.

A few words about figure flattery: ...And, just when I think I'm done with this post, I think of something else to say.  While I'm really happy with this dress for me, I do want to point out that someone with either a very small or very large bust might not be happy with it.  Although the twist front makes it easier to fit a large bust, the style of the dress makes a larger bust appear even bigger, especially when you view the dress from the front:

This Dress Will Make Your Boobs Look Bigger...
See what I mean?  It helps that the dress is black because black is slimming, but all those wrinkle lines from the twist front extending from shoulder to waist can create the illusion that your boobage is more ample than it really is.  As you can see in the side view, I'm not really as big up top as this dress makes me appear:

See?  Dolly Parton from the Front, Normal Boobs from the Side
So if you're self-conscious about a large bust and that's something you want to play down, this style might not be for you.  I have an hourglass figure and my full hip measurement is a little larger than my full bust, but I think this dress makes me look a little top heavy, but it's also very slimming from the waist down.  Conversely, if you have a very small bust, you might not like this dress either.  Even in the lightweight rayon jersey that I used, the twist front creates a bulky lump in the center of the chest that might look like a third boob, or stick out farther than your boobs, if you're an A or AA cup.  On a medium to large bust, the bulky twist lies between your boobs in the cleavage zone so it isn't a problem.  I have an hourglass figure and my full hip measurement is larger than my full bust, but I think this dress makes me look a little top heavy.  Your mileage may vary.

A few more notes to myself for next time I'm sewing with rayon jersey:
The sleeve had to be basted before it was serged into the armhole, and the shoulder seam needed to be basted before it was serged, too.  I basted the side seams of the dress just inside the stitching line using a 3.5 straight stitch on my regular machine so I could check the fit prior to serging, and to keep those heavy, slippery layers aligned as they went through the serger.  I did need to pin this fabric if it wasn't already basted before it came to the serger, like so:

Serged Seams, 4-thread Overlock
The rayon jersey is heavy, so it was important not to let it hang off the sewing cabinet or pull away from the needle as I was sewing.  I used size 80 Jersey Stretch needles in my regular sewing machine, serger, and coverstitch machine, and regular Maxilock and YLI Elite serger thread in a 4-thread overlock stitch.  Next time I might go down to a size 70 Jersey needle and try wooly nylon in the loopers. 

Serger Tension Settings
On my Bernina 1300MDC serger, I got a nice, balanced overlock stitch that laid flat without rippling with tensions set as you see in the photo above, presser foot pressure reduced to low, a stitch length of 2.5, and Differential Feed set between 1.5-2.

Stitch Length and Differential Feed
On my Bernina 750QE sewing machine, I used my 5.5 mm stitch plate to prevent the jersey from getting pulled down through the needle hole into the hook area.  I reduced my presser foot pressure from 50 down to 30 and used polyester Metrosene thread, a Jersey needle, and either a long straight stitch for basting or the lightning stretch stitch where I wanted to machine stitch closer to the twist to close that boob hole. 

On my new Juki MCS-1500 coverstitch machine, I did a narrow 3-thread coverstitch hem using the left and center needle positions, again with Jersey needles, and reduced the looper tension to L, reduced the pressure foot pressure to L, left both needle tensions set at 4, stitch length 2.5, and differential feed set to 2.0.  I experimented with a couple different methods of turning up the hem before coverstitching, but I got the best results when I cut 1/2" wide strips of black tricot knit fusible interfacing, ironed them along the raw garment edges, and then turned the edge back a half inch to coverstitch.  The deeper hems suggested by the pattern instructions are a royal PITA and the narrower hem is both easier and looks much better anyway.  The tricot interfacing makes it easy to turn up a consistent hem without marking, but more importantly, it stabilizes the knit so it doesn't tunnel between the rows of stitching.

I am super excited about this pattern now that my dress is finished. It gives me a great fit without any FBA or PBA, it went together relatively quickly once I figured out the twist thing, the neckline is flattering and not too revealing because it really does stay put -- and best of all, the dress is so unbelievably comfortable that it was like I snuck into the concert wearing my pajamas!!!  Definitely a keeper!  I'm planning to make a just-below-the-knee version of this dress in red and/or a print, something I can wear more often than the concert dress.


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

you look great in that dress and how great that you can whip one up - sorry for the other folks that found out at the last minute that they had to be dressy and go shopping for something they might only wear the one time!

Nell said...

Beautiful dress and it looks outstanding on you! Great job!

Rebecca Grace said...

Karen, I only joined this choir in January and it didn't occur to me to ask about concert attire. The other members have been singing together for years and this is what they wear for every concert, so I WILL get a lot of wear out of it. :-)

Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts said...

I'll admit much of what I read here was written in a language foreign to me. I so admire people who can sew garments! You look fantastic in the dress, and I'm totally impressed you decided to make a dress last minute instead of buying one.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

You look fabulous in this dress! I too love patternreview.com-it's hard to imagine that there was life before it. And whoa-you have a butcher block top and run your rotary right over it, no mat? That is mind-blowing!

Lani said...

Wow! Both your top and dress turned out beautifully and they look great on you. I always admire those who can garment sew (cause I can't) and make things that look like you bought them. In other words, they look perfect! Great job!!

SJSM said...

Nice job on the dress. Jersey rayon is heavy. If your side seams start to droop putting the clear elastic on the long seams will help stabilize them. I do that with rayon pants but am guessing the same may happen with a floor length dress. Beautiful job on neckline and twist. You are a standout among the other long, black dresses. Enjoy singing!

Jane in Cumbria said...

What a lovely dress! I am also singing in the St John's Passion - perhaps I ought to make myself one too...:)

Pam said...

What a pretty dress. You are an excellent seamstress. You look a knockout in black with your fair complexion and the dress is very flattering. I love the knot at the bust and the addition of the sash.

kathiee01 said...

Gorgeous dress and great work with the construction....Your blogs are always so interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Katie said...

Fabulous Rebecca! Excellent work. :-)

Jill said...

Your research time and trial green sample paid off. The dress looks and fits great. I am a fellow sloth sewer.

Maureen W. said...

As I said on the Emma One Sock Facebook page - both you and the dress are beautiful! I do have a question though: in the last paragraph you use two 3-letter abbreviations with which I am unfamiliar. Can you tell what they mean? Thank you.

Janice Holton said...

Wow! That is a lot of great information. You are so very detailed when you describe your process. Very educational! And I really like the dress you made. Elegant!

Rebecca Grace said...

Maureen, FBA is a full bust adjustment. PBA is a prominent bust adjustment. :-)

Chris said...

That dress is gorgeous and you look stunning in it! Do I see a few street length ones in your future? Well done!

greg @ grey dogwood studio said...

It looks great! As always, I love reading the whole thought process that you put into whatever you're working on. The addition of the sash is perfect. And of course, you are now the most fashionable person in the choir!

Denise said...

How do I REALLY feel? I want your figure. You are gorgeous. I want your sewing skills. They are phenomenal. I love your blog. I learn. I laugh. I enjoy. That is how I REALLY feel. d