Sunday, 10 January 2016

Merino Wool Ultimate Wrap Dress

The first garment I have to share with you this year is actually one of the last things I made in 2015. I've been speeding through all the delicious fabric I picked up during my trip to California in September and I couldn't wait to sew up my gorgeous merino wool any longer! I arranged a meet up with Christine, Cathy and Pam while I was in LA and we visited Mood Fabrics and The Fabric Store, both on La Brea Avenue. I fell in love with The Fabric Store at first sight. It's a beautiful spacious, bright and clean space with a well curated collection of quality fabrics at very reasonable prices; there were so many unique and wearable prints my mind boggled. I wish there was somewhere like it in London. Thank you ladies for showing me around and introducing me to such a wonderful store, you're so lucky to have it on your doorstep. Some of you are lucky too as just this week they have launched an online store but they currently only ship to NZ, AUS and the USA.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

The Fabric Store originated in New Zealand (and now has stores in Australia as well as the LA branch) and as well as their beautiful range of dress fabrics specialises in New Zealand merino knits. I've read a lot about it online and seen other sewing bloggers sing it's praises but never thought I'd be able to get my hands on some; The Fabric Store is one of very few places that supply it to home sewers. Therefore some merino yardage was top of my US fabric shopping list. The LA branch has an amazing range of colours and weights, plus a few in stripes and patterns. I thought it was going to take me all day to decide but fairly quickly decided I was going to make something classic that I could get a tonne of wear out of and settled on a colour that never goes out of style...black!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

The piece I picked is mid weight with a decent stretch; any weight it going to be super warm anyway so it's ideal for the bleak UK winter. It's not cheap but it's totally worth it. Due to the expense I wanted to find the perfect pattern for it. I wanted something simple and timeless and settled on a wrap dress when I realised that all I wanted to do was literally wrap myself up in this soft, snuggly fabric! I looked at an absolute tonne of wrap dress patterns and even considered adapting the Coppelia Cardigan from Papercut Patterns as I love the fit of that but then saw the Ultimate Wrap Dress from Sew Over It and my mind was made up. It was just what I wanted; simple clean lines, slim long sleeves and a skirt with a bit of flare. Plus I've used their patterns a lot so should have been a safe bet. It was absolutely the right choice style-wise but although I'm really pleased with how this dress finally turned out it did give me a bit of trouble!


I usually adore Sew Over It patterns but have to say I'm a little on the fence about this one. I think it's partly due to the fact that I still feel quite inexperienced handling knits and lack a bit of confidence, if I'd known better I would have tackled this project a little differently. It took me so long to decide on a pattern that once I was sure I'd found the perfect thing I launched full steam ahead into cutting and sewing and I perhaps should have given my construction methods a little more thought. I've sewn a lot of Sew Over It patterns (see here, here, here and here) and always find the fit to be great for me when I cut between the size 8 and 10 so that's what I did. The fit is great apart from some odd length things going on which may have had something to do with how I handled the fabric. I lost track of what was my error and what might have been poor fit so I'll make sure to sew up a practice in some cheap jersey to check my changes before snipping into anything special next time!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

I was really happy with how this was sewing up (they don't lie when they say Merino sews beautifully, the stitches sink in and it presses and shapes like a dream) but encountered my main issue when I first put it on after attaching the facing to the neckline. Major gapeage. On reflection I wish I'd had the foresight to apply some clear elastic along the front wrap edges to stop things stretching out as I sewed. I usually go google crazy reading blog posts about a pattern before I get started and if I had I might have done this! However part of the gaping issue was definitely to do with the length of the pattern in this area. I'm quite short in the body plus narrow through the shoulders and upper chest so next time I'll fold some length out of the pattern pieces to combat the gape. On this occasion it was too late for this though and I don't want to waste my precious merino!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

I put the dress on and pinched and pulled to see what changes I could make to get things to sit flat. The only viable option seemed to be taking it up through the shoulder which I did but then of course ran into all sorts of problems with the sleeve head as I was changing the size of the armhole slightly. I'm no expert on fitting or inserting sleeves (come to think of it that's one thing I would like to try and understand more this year) so I just fiddled about until something looked right. It's not perfect and the process was all a bit of a mess but at least it fits properly now! There is a bit too much bulk in the sleeve head for a jersey dress still but I quite like how they sit a little proud. I rejigged those shoulders multiple times and and let me tell you, unpicking black thread out of black spongy merino in winter light is not fun! If this hadn't been such a special piece of fabric I doubt I would have stuck with it but in the words of Tim Gunn I was determined to make it work.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

However much of the construction process I did enjoy and the pattern is what I wanted, it just needs a little tweaking to make it perfect for me. I love the facing finish of the neckline and am really pleased with my even topstitching in this area. I will make my facing either wider or narrower next time though as I think one or the other will help keep it tucked away; mine has a tendency to escape to outside when I first put it on at the moment. I think the area where the ties join the bodice has the potential to get a little messy with some wrap patterns but you get a really clean finish here. The ties do seem unnecessarily long though; I like that they wrap around your waist once rather than just tying at the back but bow is too big for me personally. I do love how neat my slot for the tie at the side seam ended up by following the simple method explained in the instructions. no seam allowances peeking through here!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

The wrap neckline sits fairly low; not so low that I feel self conscious about the amount of cleavage on display but I am wearing it with a little black cami here. I'm used to everything turning out too long so was supersede when I didn't take any length off the hem and it still turned out shorter than I expected. This may have something to do with how much I took it up through the shoulder but the waist ties still sit at the right point. The skirt has a lovely flip and bounce to it because of the spring in the merino and I think this probably effected length.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

I used my usual method for knits of constructing the garment with a narrow zig zag stitch on the machine and then finishing seam allowances on my overlocker. You need to do this on the side seam with the slot for the tie at least as this seam allowance is best pressed open. I applied twill tape to the shoulder seam for strength and used a straight stitch for the hem as that area doesn't need to stretch. The hem was really straightforward as it's just turned up and stitched and the merino presses well. I'm not sure about how this looks though as you are left with a visible raw edge. I like the professional look of having them all concealed. I'll give this some thought next time, it's a little tricky as the two front edges curve at the hem but maybe I could simply overlock the edge before I turn it in?

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Black Merino Wool Sew Over It Ultimate Wrap Dress

Big thanks to my brilliant sister for taking some great pictures for me over Christmas! It was such a treat not to have to use the self timer! I'll definitely make this again, but will have a good sit down and a think about the pattern and construction techniques in combination with the fabric I choose before delving in next time. In a more stable knit (the merino is very stretchy) I think this would be a lot easier to put together. Anyway I finally triumphed with my precious merino wool but it looks like the Colette Guide to Sewing Knits is going to be my bedtime reading for the foreseeable future!

30 comments:

  1. A friend of mine had told me about The Fabric Store's Merino a few months ago and that they actually do phone orders! I'm not 100% sure where they will ship to, but I did order mine on the phone before the online shop opened with no problem so if you want more you could give that a try!

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    1. O brilliant maybe I need to try that! I'm in love with the stuff and would love to get my hands on more!

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  2. That's really cute on you! I want one and thanks so much for letting me know that their long promised online shop is on! I've been using them for over a year doing phone orders from their limited online website and they've been great.

    A merino wool wrap dress is the best anecdote for winter. It's so sleek on elegant on you!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm really pleased I kept it classic with black as I've had so much wear out of it for all sorts of occasions.
      It sounds like the online store is really good news for you!

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  3. That's a really cute little dress. BTW, when you have to unpick a seam from dark fabric, you might want to run a piece of white chalk over the seam. The seam thread really shows up quite well when you use this technique.

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    1. That is a FANTASTIC tip! Thank you. I wish I'd known that when I was making this!

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  4. Lovely dress. I'm glad you managed to make it work in the end!

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    1. Thanks Helen, so am I! It was worth the effort

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  5. I used to live in Wellington NZ and I loved the Fabric Store... then Global Fabrics. Then we moved to Brisbane Australia and I missed it. Then they opened a store in Brisbane. Hoping the follow me to the North of Scotland, ha ha. If not shipping to UK will have to do. I have heaps of fabric from there in my stash that I aim to use this year.
    Your dress was worth the stress it looks great!

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    1. O you lucky thing having that store on your doorstep at least for a little while! If it does follow you to the north of scotland (haha!) I think I might be making a trip! On the train so I can bring a really big case back!!
      Thank you

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  6. I made this pattern and had the exact same problem with gaping at the front. The finished dress looks great on you!

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    1. O that's really good to hear! I was surprised when I first put it on as I thought I'd been really careful and the merino has great recovery. Perhaps it wasn't just me stretching it out!

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  7. The Fabric Store was my first real brick-and-mortar fabric store and now I think I'm spoiled for other stores. Glad you got to experience it!

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    1. You absolutely are! I feel spoiled after just one visit!

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  8. Beautiful and merino is a fabulous fabric to work with. I am lucky I live just out of Wellington but I have an outlet store that sells merino about 15 minutes from my home. I forget what a gift it is to be able to purchase this fabric cheaply and use it for many things.

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    1. O my goodness, a merino outlet?! It's definitely on my list for whenever I travel anywhere that sells it now

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  9. this fabric sounds (and looks!) dreamy! my parents are going to LA next year so I'll have to sweet talk them in to picking me some up. one of my favourite things about your blog is how honest you are when things don't go right, it's refreshing to hear that there's other people that lose eyesight to unpicking jersey! the dress still looks great though, definitely still a wearable wardrobe addition!

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    1. O they absolutely have to save a little spot in their case for a piece for you!
      Thank you for the lovely comment Rachel, I don't see the point in pretending that everything worked out perfectly all the time or only showing the things which turned out great. I like to write about what I've learned!

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  10. Another winner! You look great and the dress looks so comfortable and smart.

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    1. Thank you! A dress which looks smart but feels like a cosy blanket is a total winner isn't it?!

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  11. The dress is beautiful! I wish my skin wasn't so sensitive to wool otherwise I'd try The Fabric Store's merino. I also haven't used a Sew Over It pattern yet but plan to try the ultimate shift dress soon. Good to hear that they work so well for you.

    When I hem a knit, I serge the edge to make it clean, fold it up and topstitch with a twin needle. In the bobbin, I use a stretch thread called "wooly nylon" or "fluff thread". The stitches will stretch with the fabric and the stretchy bobbin thread helps the twin needle stitching lay flat. You can use a twin needle with regular thread in the bobbin and it will still stretch with the fabric. After I discovered wooly nylon though I won't do anything else.

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    1. I have never heard of wooly nylon before! I'm definitely going to investigate it now. I didn't think about twin needling this as that area of the dress doesn't need to stretch but might consider it next time for a more professional looking finish. The front curves of the wrap pieces are quite tight so it might be a little tricky.
      I hope you enjoy making the shift dress!

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  12. What a great dress!
    I've also had problems with gaping with that pattern. I actually think that the neckline facing for a knit wrap dress wasn't the smartest design choice and if I make it again, I'll substitute a foldover band that's slightly shorter. :) Looks like your save turned out great, though!

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    1. O it's such a relief to hear that the people have the same problems that I do!
      Adding a fold over band is a really good idea, think it will have a lovely clean finish. I'll probably make up a quick toile before trying again as I think part of the problem might have stemmed from that pattern piece just being too long for me. I'm quite short and small in the body

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  13. Beautiful dress! This is so lovely on you! I was able to visit the Fabric Store in November, and I've got two small pieces of merino squirreled away that I'm a bit afraid to cut into! :)

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    1. Haha! I don't blame you Sonja! The only reason I plucked up the guts to cut into this was because I was so desperate to wear it!

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  14. I live in wellington, the fabric store are having a %40 off sale this Thursday, I could maybe ship you some more?great dress!

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    1. Ah that's such a lovely thought thank you! I don't know that I'd be able to be specific enough for you to pick for me though...I really like to see the colours and feel the fabric.
      Enjoy the sale you lucky thing!

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  15. This is lovely, and it looks really cozy!

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    1. Thank you! It is just as snuggly as I hoped it would be!

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I love hearing from readers of my blog so please feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought about this post/make! Any hints or tips to improve my sewing are always much appreciated too!