Sunday, July 7, 2024

Planning (and Overthinking) a Style Arc Nova Midi Dress

Hello, my Lovelies, and Happy Summer (to everyone in the Northern hemisphere)!  Happy Independence Day Weekend to everyone in the United States!  Today's post is going to contain zero quilting, because my creative brain is chasing a different rabbit today.  I don't have enough "Florida Clothing" in my closet and I hate the way everything looks/feels/fits that I've tried on in stores.  My sister bought me a couple dress patterns that I've had on my wish list for awhile and I've decided to sew up the Nova Midi Dress from the Australian indie pattern company Style Arc  (this post contains affiliate links).

One of the coolest things about garment sewing in the Internet age is that it's so easy to find pictures, reviews, tips and tweaks suggestions from people of all shapes, sizes, and ages who have already sewn up the pattern you're considering.  The photo montage above shows two images of the dress sewn up from the Style Arc web site (the long orange dress with 3 tiers and the short black dress with 2 tiers), but the other images came from sewing blogs and a 3rd party online shop based in the U.K. (Minerva) that sells this dress pattern as a kit in a variety of fabrics.  So, special thanks to Carolyn of Sewing Fanatic, No Idle Hands, Geri In Stitches, Indoor Shannon, and the many other makers who take the time to post their sewing finishes online along with feedback and suggestions so that others can learn from their experiences.

Style Arc Nova Midi Dress Pattern Cover

What appeals to me about the Nova Midi dress is that it's so loose-fitting and breezy (which will be much more comfortable than a close-fitted garment when it's 95 degrees with 75% humidity), yet as long as the fabric is drapey and the fit is good through the shoulders and upper chest, the dress doesn't hang on the wearer like a sack.  I was also looking for a relatively quick make (compared to my other sewing and quilting adventures) that I could actually finish and wear before the summer is over, and the simplicity of this pull-on design with few pattern pieces and no fasteners could be just the ticket, unless I do my usual overthinking and overcomplicating thing that I do with Every. Single. Project...

The Awkward Yeti by Nick Seluk

But seriously, if the goal is to end up with a new favorite dress in my closet that I'll actually wear, I'm not going to sew it up straight out of the envelope without making some adjustments to the pattern first.  Even with a style as loose-fitting as the Nova pattern, I'm probably not going to be happy with the finished dress without a FBA (Full Bust Adjustment) as well as Square (Left) Shoulder and/or Low (Right) Shoulder Adjustments.

Yikes!  Rebecca Has Crooked Shoulders (and a Narrow Rib Cage)!

I think I've always had Square Shoulders, which in sewing pattern alterations lingo just means that my shoulders form more of a right angle than the more angled shoulder line that the majority of patterns are designed to fit.  Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when shoulder pads were ubiquitous in women's fashion, I found that I could instantly improve the fit of ready-to-wear dresses and jackets just by ripping out the shoulder pads and throwing them away -- I had built-in bony shoulder pads!  Then in 2015 I broke my right collar bone in a bike accident and had it surgically repaired with a metal plate and a bunch of titanium screws.  If my right shoulder was lower than my left one before the accident, I wasn't aware of it, but it's likely the bone-smashing and Frankenstein repairing (no offense, Dr. Connell!) exacerbated any preexisting asymmetry.  Why does this matter?  Because the entire garment, if it's a dress, jacket or blouse, hangs from the shoulders.  I'm wearing a forgiving stretchy knit T-shirt in the photo above, but when I try on a structured garment in a store made from a woven fabric, I will often see weird wrinkly sag lines from the entire garment being hiked up by my higher left shoulder.  If it was still 1995, an easy fix would be to rip the shoulder pad out of the higher left shoulder and keep the shoulder pad in the lower right shoulder, but shoulder pads aren't going to save me in a sleeveless summer dress!  So I'll either do a Square Shoulder Adjustment on the left shoulder and leave the right shoulder alone, leave the left shoulder alone and do a Low Shoulder Adjustment on the right side, or possibly a little of both, depending on muslin testing of the bodice pattern pieces.

Then, for the FBA -- I emailed Style Arc about this and was thrilled by how helpful and responsive they were.  The Nova bodice has darts coming out of the arm hole instead of out of the side seam and, since I know that FBA is one of the most common sewing pattern alterations, I wanted their advice on the best way to accomplish that with this particular pattern.  They suggested relocating the dart to the side seam and then doing a traditional FBA, and even sent me this helpful photo example to explain how to move the dart:

Style Arc Recommends Relocating Dart to Side Seam Prior to FBA

Quick explanation for those who aren't familiar with the FBA or why it would be needed: Most pattern companies, Style Arc included, are drafting based on an ideal figure with a particular shape and a B cup bust.  In pattern parlance "cup size" is the difference between the high bust measurement (tape measure snugly around your body under your arms and in your arm pits, just above your bust) and the widest part of your bust.  (Bra companies calculate cup sizes differently based on the difference between your full bust and your underbust/band measurement).  If your full bust measurement is greater than 2" larger than your high bust measurement, you can get a much better fit by choosing your pattern size based on your high bust measurement that corresponds to your skeletal frame and the proportions of your upper chest, back and shoulders (areas that are more difficult to alter) and building in the extra inches you need just in the bust area at the front of the garment with a full bust adjustment.

My upper chest measurement is 34", my shoulder breadth is about 14 1/2" and the circumference of the thickest part of my upper arm is 11 1/2", which all corresponds perfectly to Style Arc's size 8, but my full bust is 37 1/2" corresponding to a size 12.  Style Arc helpfully includes the actual finished garment dimensions with their patterns so you can see how much wearing and design ease they are including on top of the body measurements for each size, so I know that if I sew a straight size 8 my dress would be loose as intended in the upper chest/shoulders, waist and skirt (based on my body measurements plus the generous design ease built into the pattern for styling), but the full bust would be only 1/4" bigger than my full bust body measurement.  If I was sewing with a really stretchy knit fabric I might get away with this, but in a woven fabric that would be uncomfortably tight and would look unflattering.  If I just sewed a straight size 12 to correspond with my full bust measurement, remember that the size 12 pattern is designed for someone who has a 38" bust with only a B cup, so those extra inches at the bust are increasing the width of the back of the dress as well as the front and the arm and neck holes are going to be bigger for that larger framed person, too.  And this is the dilemma that I have when I'm out shopping trying to find a readymade dress like this, too.  The size that fits my bust without pinching and making horizontal wrinkles across the front still doesn't fit because the side seams are pulling forward to "steal" fabric from the back of the dress and the armholes are also pulling forward, too big, and exposing the side of my bra.  The necklines also tend to be too large and too revealing.  So although it would be faster and easier to just sew one size or the other and just sew it up and be done with it, that would yield a custom sewn dress that fits (or rather doesn't fit) just as poorly as the ones in the stores that I don't want to buy or wear.

And yet, in reading the online reviews:

  • Several makers felt the dress ran big and wished they'd selected a smaller size
  • Several makers felt that the arm and neck openings were too small and chose to enlarge them by taking wider seam allowances than indicated by the pattern
  • One maker (Carolyn from Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) added a center back seam with 1/2" SA (seam allowance) so that she could add an invisible zipper to her dress, to make it easier to get on and off
  • Several makers opted to forgo the double bodice in favor of a single bodice layer with bound neck and armholes

Decisions, decisions, decisions!!!  Please refer back to the Awkward Yeti cartoon to understand why I've had this dress pattern since May 27th and I haven't started making it yet!  ðŸ˜‰

Here's what I have done so far, besides research.  I bought sufficient fabric to make two versions of the dress from JoAnn, where (unlike with online fabric shops that have a better selection of apparel fabrics) I was able to touch and feel and evaluate the drape of each fabric in person.  I think that, along with a good fit in the upper bodice, fabric drape is going to be crucial to the success of this dress.  I bought an 85/15 Rayon/Linen blend fabric in that natural khaki color for one dress along with some lighter weight cottony fabric for the bodice lining, and that blue floral denim-look fabric is a 62/38 blend of Cotton/Lyocell that will be lined with a lightweight pale blue.  These are all breathable fibers that should be comfortable in the hot and sticky summers of Southwest Florida, and both fabrics are machine washable.  I snapped photos of the bolt ends with the care instructions before having my yardage cut.

Fabric Selections for My Style Arc Nova Dresses: Cotton/Tencel and Rayon/Linen

In case I've piqued your interest and you want to learn more about how simple adjustments to commercial patterns can make YOUR garment sewing more satisfying and successful, these are the resources I use and recommend:

  • Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer & Marti Alto.  This is an older book and the fashion examples are dated, but they do a fantastic job of explaining the concepts and teaching the basics with an accessible teaching style.
  • Fitting & Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach to the Art of Style Selection, Fitting, and Alteration by Elizabeth Liechty, Judith Rasband & Della Pottberg-Steineckert.  This is a hefty tome, more like a textbook you might find on your syllabus if you were studying pattern drafting someplace like FIT -- but I like it because it includes multiple methods for each pattern adjustment as well as recommended alterations to correct for each problem in both test garments and ready to wear garments.
  • Class notes from multiple fitting workshops I took with the wonderfully knowledgeable Lorraine Henry at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in Atlanta back in 2015.  I don't know whether she's still teaching, but I highly recommend taking a class with her if you ever have the opportunity to do so
  • Fast Fit: Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure by Sandra Betzina.  As the name suggests, Betzina offers the fastest and easiest alteration methods that will get you on your way to cutting and sewing as quickly as possible.  However, I feel that "Easy Pattern Alterations for Typical Mature American Women's Figures" would be a more accurate subtitle for Betzina's book.  Both Fit for Real People and Fitting & Pattern Alteration offer  a broader range of potential fitting challenges faced by people of all shapes, sizes, ages, etc.

Most people find that there are just one or two key pattern alterations that they can learn and apply to every commercial pattern they sew to improve the fit of their garments, and once you've made a particular pattern adjustment a few times it gets easier and easier until you could almost do it in your sleep.  

Tell me, those of you who sew a lot of clothing -- do YOU routinely make the same set of adjustments to your patterns before beginning, and if so, which ones?  Do you prefer to cut a straight-size pattern with wider seam allowances and adjust fit throughout construction?  Or are you one of the lucky 5'6" B cup women the pattern companies design for so you get a perfect fit from a straight single pattern size without needing any alterations whatsoever?  And if you have given up trying to sew clothing due to past disastrous attempts, what did you struggle with that you couldn't overcome?

Next Steps for Nova

My Nova Dress pattern is printed on thick copier-type paper rather than the thin pattern tissue used by the Big Four (Vogue/Butterick/McCall's/Simplicity) pattern companies, so my next order of business will be tracing off the size 8 bodice pieces onto either muslin or sewable Swedish tracing paper so I can experiment with my shoulder and bust adjustments.  I may do the same thing with the size 10 bodice pieces and a smaller bust adjustment for comparison, based on those reviewers who felt that the neckline and armholes run small/tight in this pattern.  Because of my right to left asymmetry, I'll be making up a full muslin test bodice of both versions and that will also give me a chance to evaluate how easily the dress will be pulled on and off over my head and whether or not I want to go to the fuss of adding a center back zipper like reviewer Carolyn did...  Meanwhile, I'll be prewashing and ironing my fabrics per the care instructions on the fabric bolts so I'm ready to cut and sew once I'm happy with the sizing.  I think that altering and test-fitting my Nova dress bodice is going to be my To-Do Tuesday weekly sewing goal for this week, and getting the first dress cut out in actual fabric is going to be my One Monthly Goal for July.  That still leaves me plenty of time for researching and obsessing over different gathering methods and fiddling with my machine settings!  Happy sewing, everyone!

I'm linking up today's post with some of my favorite linky parties:


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  


To-Do Tuesday at Quilt Schmilt  


Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  


Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts



One Monthly Goal at Stories From the Sewing Room. Link up your goal at the start of each month and link up your finish during the last 6 days of the month 

Tips and Tutorials on the 22nd, open 22nd through end of each month at Kathleen McMusing


Gretchen Weaver said...

Making a trial dress with muslin is a good idea. I've always had to alter patterns for my clothing. I really like the floral denim, it's easy to imagine you in this dress twirling around. Happy stitching!

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Cute pattern!!! It looks swingy and fun! I've never heard of that pattern line before. Very chic designs! Yours is going to be adorbs, Rebecca!!!

Preeti said...

Rebecca is tall and statuesque. Yikes indeed. Insert eye roll here.
I am petite and short-waisted. You are not getting any sympathy from me. Good luck with the pattern, though. Kudos for trying something new. I have "plans" to make a quilted jacket. The pattern patiently awaits.

Linda said...

Oh those fabrics! Your dress is going to be lovely, and the pattern looks flattering for you. The partial photo looks like you have a lovely shape! I am 5'3" and long waisted and low busted, so fitting a pattern to my aging figure is quite interesting - lol!
I haven't sewn a garment in so long, and I used to do it regularly. I actually bought some fabric for a blouse 3 months ago but have not found a pattern to my liking. Patterns are SO expensive, so I don't want to take a chance on one and possibly waste my money.
I am looking forward to seeing how your dress progresses!

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

I have made clothes in the distant past and they fit okay. Wish I'd thought about making adjustments! Now however, I'm more into quilting than fashion. I can't wait though to see your new dresses! Love your fabric choices and the style seems perfect for hot weather. Thanks for sharing on my weekly show and tell, Wednesday Wait Loss.

Kim said...

Love the fabric you have chosen. I like the pattern a lot, and once you nail the fit this pattern could be become something you can use multiple times. The comments on the garments people made make me wonder how well they measured their bodies and did they do any pattern alterations? And for those who only did one bodice layer, how long did the dress lasted before it looked like a rag? Three tiers is a lot of weight for a bodice waist seam to hold.
My common alterations start with a narrow shoulder adjustment, which affects the length of the shoulder seam, and sometimes the back of the collar. I want the bodice to sit on my narrow shouldered self and not slide down one shoulder or the other.
The second alteration is in the bust area. I am a B cup, so no small or large bust adjustment. However, I am past menopause and with age my bust has lowered. I have to check that the breast dart is not too high on the pattern. If it is, then I have to move the dart down. A good Youtube video of this adjustment is found at by J.Sterns Designs. Her explanations are very clear and well-illustrated.

Debbiegsp said...

When I made wedding dresses for several daughters and daughters-in-law, I made entire dress pattern from old white sheets, using a long stitch length to make it easy to take apart. I then was able to fit and mark alterations right on to the sheet pieces. Then I deconstructed the sheet dress, made adjustments as needed, and used sheet pieces as pattern pieces to cut the very expensive real dress fabrics. I have no experience with professional fitting techniques, but was successful using suggestions from some older sewing books. Since you plan on using this pattern at least twice, and probably more if you like it, perhaps my “sheet method” would be an inexpensive way to test out and achieve your perfect pattern for you. Also, I still sew occasionally for grandchildren, and I found cheap pellon was great for tracing pattern size from master pattern. It is easy to see thru to trace pattern lines, and wonderful to pin pattern pieces to real fabric. It’s also easy to fold and store with original master pattern in a gallon size ziploc bag. Good luck with all your adjustments! I love reading your blog!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Debbie! The Swedish tracing paper I mentioned comes on a big roll and it's kind of like a hybrid of your bedsheets and Pellon interfacing. You can write on it and it has some stability to not shift around on you but it's also sewable for basting, test fitting and adjusting. I know it's in one of these boxes somewhere!!