Tag Archives: maxi dress sewing pattern

The Power of Sewing: On my favourite pattern, body confidence, and design philosophy

I think we’re probably all agreed that sewing is more than just a hobby; it’s a way to express ourselves, to empower ourselves, and to take care of ourselves. There are plenty of hashtags floating around that tell us so: #sewingismysuperpower, #sewingkeepsmesane, #sewingismytherapy and so on, and the sentiment I truly love is in Sarah’s strapline for her blog, that sewing soothes the soul. Ever since Rich and I set up Valentine & Stitch these sentiments have become even more relevant to me, as we embark on a journey that not only soothes my soul, but allows us to connect with many other people on a journey of their own.

If I had to pick one pattern we’ve designed that most reflects both me as a person and the company we’re building, I wouldn’t hesitate: it’s Dune. What started out as an idea for a simple sleeveless summer top just grew (literally) into a dress that makes me feel like a bombshell every time I wear one. What’s that got to do with body confidence and design philosophy more generally, I hear you cry? EVERYTHING. Because despite regularly being told by acquaintances that it’s “alright for me” because I’m slim (don’t even get me started on this…), I have a difficult relationship with my body and sewing is one of the ways in which I give myself confidence. Can you feel a backstory coming on?!

Any excuse to trot this photo out. I still can’t quite believe that’s me!

Let me start with the opening lines of a poem I have long loved: “The Ideal” by James Fenton.

This is where I came from.

I passed this way.

This should not be shameful

Or hard to say.

When I was 12, something pretty awful happened in my life. Despite the beautiful sentiment in Fenton’s poem, I do find it hard to say, so we’ll leave the details out of it, but I dealt with it by “secret eating”. Within a year I had gone from wearing children’s clothes to wearing a women’s size 16. I spent my teenage years feeling alienated in my own body. And that’s not to say that being heavier or curvier is somehow fundamentally less “right”, not at all, it’s just not my natural body shape and on me it was an outward sign of things not being right inside. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I started to take back control of my body – that’s 18 years of feeling like a stranger to myself. Inside me there is still a girl who looks in the mirror and can’t truly see herself.  I dress for that girl, as she was then, young and lonely and insecure, as well as for me, as I am now, age 40 and happy and confident. My clothes need to flatter my figure, show off my good points, and help me forget – or not care? – about the less good points. I found that I was routinely making an array of alterations to even seemingly simple patterns to feel good in them, and so a plan began to form to design my own patterns: simple, thoughtful designs that would be easy to sew and easy to wear. So with a lot of determination, unwavering support from Rich, old-fashioned hard graft from both of us, and more than a few melodramatic declarations that we are Just. Giving. Up. Right. Now. Really (from Rich. OK, OK, from me)… Valentine & Stitch was born…

If in doubt, stick your leg to one side and drop your hip.

That girl I just told you about always dreamed of wearing swishy dresses. But they would just hang off her hips and make her look as wide as her hips all the way to the floor. So when we were designing Dune, and the original plan was to make a knee-length version, on a whim I said to Rich “let’s try it as a maxi dress instead!” The directive (am I the only one who hears that word and thinks of WALL-E?!): keep the design philosophy of the Dune top (fitted at the bust, skimming over the tummy, kicking out at the hem) to create a dress that skims gently over all the areas I (and many women) feel self-conscious about, and then swooshes and swirls around at the ankles. For the first time in my life, I am wearing maxi dresses, and it makes me feel like I’m walking on air.

Swish! Swoosh!

Every time I wear a Dune dress, I feel amazing. If you follow me on Instagram you may remember I had a bit of a saga planning my outfit for the GBSB live event (in a nutshell: made a dress a week in advance. Felt serene and mildly smug. Tried dress on again three days beforehand. Realised dress looked sack-like. Panicked. Needed seasonally-appropriate feel-good dress. Made new Dune at the eleventh hour). By the skin of my teeth I was ready to go, and from the moment I met Sarah on the train until the moment I said a reluctant goodbye, I felt fabulous. The power of a TNT pattern, right?

Having fun at the GBSB live.

What a great day that was… you can’t see much of my dress in the end as I was wearing my blue maxi Edie over it in all the pics, but the highlight wasn’t the dress, it was meeting all these lovely ladies in real life. You might recognise some familiar faces! But I’m including the next photo to show you a glimpse of my younger self. Mark from Girl Charlee took this photo for his Instagram stories as my dress is made from Girl Charlee fabric: look how much less comfortable I am when I don’t know where to put my arms or how to tilt my head…

Unfamiliar camera pointing at me! No-one telling me where to put my hands or where to look! PANIC STATIONS!!

I don’t think we ever really shed our past selves, and maybe that’s a good thing. My younger self reminds me every day how lucky I am to have the life I have now.

And because you can never have too many “instant boost” dresses, I made a second autumnal Dune from a plain navy fabric… with both of these two I extended the hem length to the next size up, so that they can be worn with a small heel if I want to. And here are both of my new Dune dresses, with me safely back in my “hand on hip” comfort zone in my favourite corner of our garden:

I thought the navy one would look quite casual as it’s a plain cotton jersey (also from Girl Charlee), but actually with a pair of pumps (as opposed to the barefoot prancing around for the photos of the floral version!) it looks smart enough to wear to a more formal occasion! And with flat sandals next summer it’ll be great for everyday wear too. And did I mention I feel amazing in it?!

So that’s the story of my love affair with Dune, the importance of sewing in my positive self image, the awkward girl I still carry around inside me, and our priorities when we design our patterns. I have long felt that teaching me to sew was one of the greatest gifts my mum gave me, as in doing so she gave me the ability to empower myself, to make my own rules about what to wear, and to feel fabulous.

The final stanza of Fenton’s poem opens with this line: “This is my past, which I shall not discard”. We are all made up of our past as well as our present selves, and every day that I achieve a positive self image I feel I am not only making the best of who I am but also honouring who I have been.

What about you, what does sewing bring to your life? Do you have a pattern that makes you feel like a superstar every time you wear it?

Dune top and maxi dress

Dune is here! And I’m even writing the blog post to accompany it on the day of the actual launch. That’s a first 😉

If you read my recent blog post about drafting Dune, you’ll know that we were heading towards the 6th version and I thought that would be the final one. Nope. It was the 9th. At least, I think it was, we made so many of them over the course of that fortnight that there might have been more! We weren’t making big changes: it was the combination of getting the kick hem exactly right and making sure there was the right amount of fabric in the back (not pulling across the lower back, but still fitted). We’re talking a few millimetres difference in each draft, but the 6th, 7th and 8th drafts came and went and it still wasn’t perfect. You know what they say, the ninth’s a charm 😉

We were still on the 8th version when we made the dress option. Happily, all the modifications we’d already made to the top came into their own and that one was just as we imagined it straight away! The only issue was that it was the perfect length unhemmed, and so we went back and added an inch to the length to take the seam allowance into account.

So, Dune is a maxi dress! I was so excited and nervous about that. I have never worn a maxi dress before, I always feel swamped in them, and find they just hang down from the hips and make me look the width of my hips all the way to the floor. So what we wanted from this was for it to be fitted to the waist, then gently flow to the ankles without being too voluminous. I tried this on and couldn’t believe how good I felt in it. And then the reaction from the lovely IG sewing community when I posted a toile was just amazing, so it felt like the right decision! This one was made from a lovely soft cotton jersey from Girl Charlee. Here are some shots of maxi Dune in action, so you can see the swishiness of the dress:

Because it’s important to get the length just right on a maxi dress, Rich has written a tutorial for you to make sure that your Dune maxi is just perfect for you: Look for ‘Maxi dress length’ under the ‘Tutorials’ tab in the ‘Patterns’ section of the menu bar; do have a look if you’re planning to make the maxi version!

Of course the basic version of Dune is a summer tank top. As you might know from my last post and the pics I’ve posted on Instagram, we wanted to create a sleeveless summer top that would be flattering and fitted while still leaving enough room to have an ice cream or two! Dune has a subtle cutaway at the shoulder to flatter the top line, but will still cover bra straps. It has both a higher neck option and a scoop neck variation, and a pretty kick hem that has a slimming effect on the legs.

We recommend that you choose a fairly lightweight fabric for Dune, to keep that floatiness over the hips in the top and over the legs in the dress. It will work in a heavier or stiffer fabric, though the effect at the hem will be more structured (but hey, you may prefer that!) You can see in the green floral version above that I used a more stable fabric (polycotton blend, again from Girl Charlee) and it still has some drape, but is slightly more structured at the hem.

Practising my “looking off into the distance” pose 😉

The finishings of the neck and arms are done with bands, which you can either sew up as invisible bands or exposed/ contrasting ones. The method in the instruction booklet makes the bands up into a circle first and then attaches them to the neckline/ arm hole, but if you are a beginner and want a slightly easier method, check out the second tutorial we’ve created, ‘Alternative binding method’ (also under ‘Patterns’ then ‘Tutorials’ on the website), for an alternative way to do the finishings!

The instruction booklet now has a new feature too: a print layout, and a clear indication of how many sheets of paper you will need. We will be doing this for all our patterns from now on!

We hope you will love Dune this summer. And, just in case you wondered why the co-host of Sleevefest is releasing a sleeveless pattern… we will be offering a free sleeve bonus download that you can customise any way you like, PLUS tutorials for how to hack it to create different looks! So watch out for those…

So I’ll leave you with a gallery of different angles. We hope you’ll love Dune as much as we do! Till next time, thanks for reading!

 

Drafting diary: the Dune top and dress

We’re currently drafting our next pattern for women, a sleeveless summer top and dress, and I thought it would be fun to let you see how a pattern develops at each stage of the testing process!

It starts with an idea, usually accompanied by a sketch. Then we sit down together at the computer and I tell Rich what my vision of the garment is, and he works out the formulae to make it a reality. This isn’t just formulae to make it fit me, but rather ones that will adapt through the sizes (and I’m between sizes, so we don’t use my measurements as base ones!)

The latest (but not final) version of Dune

We also struggled with a name for this one. There is a story behind the names of all our patterns (if ever you’re interested, ask me and I’ll share!) but this one we were stumped. Everything we came up with sounded wrong – I thought I had found the perfect name and Rich vetoed it because it had been used for a not-so-great model of car back in the 90s or something! A few Instagram friends made suggestions, but they had either been used by other pattern companies, or were names I’d already earmarked for future patterns, so nothing felt right. I wanted something summery, that made you think of sun and breeze and cool drinks and holidays. So after much wrenching out of hair and grinding of teeth we came up with… Dune. And it’s perfect, because on our first holiday together we climbed the Dune du Pyla in south-west France, sixteen years after I’d failed to climb it with my dad as a stroppy teenager because the wind was blowing my hair in my face. As you can see from this photo, I got over the hair issue later in life!

The first draft is always sewn up in cheap or recycled fabric, as this is basically just a toile to see where the fit is good and where it needs work. Our first version of Dune looked promising, just a little gaping at the back of the neck, which we altered and then re-printed. The next version looked like this:

(check out my Instagram feed for a funny story about the pink capris…)

The armscye was too high, and the curve into the armscye not wide enough (you can see the creases by my right arm). So back we go to the computer, and the next version looked like this:

Armscye was still too high to be totally comfortable, and once the neckband was attached the back was still gaping a little. Wearable but not perfect, so back to the computer to make those alterations and… next version!

This one was an almost perfect fit, but I always do the ‘wear for a day’ test for each version, and after a day running around the park, I felt it was a little too short as I kept flashing my lower back. We thought the next one with a slightly longer cut would be the final one, but we also took a little more off the centre back, and this was the result:

 

 

The length works well, but the excess removed from the centre back means that the top pulls a little over the back, as you can see from this side view.

Next lot of alterations done, and now I’m about to sew up this sixth version… hopefully it’ll be the one!