Party dresses for grown-ups

This is about little girl dresses for grown ups. I’m an enthusiast of Marcy Tilton’s cirque dress – so much so that I’ve made enough to warrant a blog post solely on the different incarnations I’ve made. I will do that soon. But my latest excursion into dress-up world is Marcy Tilton’s French apron dress. I bought the pattern because I saw it modelled at a craft show. I’d looked at the pattern & thought, hmmm those shoulder straps – quite complicated & not sure about those deep pockets. Then I saw it in person and thought, lovely mix of fabrics & what a great thing to do with left-over stretch fabrics. In other words I was sold.

French apron dressFortuitously Helen & I had an all-day sewing workshop planned, so I bought some stretch knit, cut out the pattern pieces – so many! – & took them along to the workshop. What I didn’t have were all of the instructions. Pattern companies should realise that some less-than-organised sewers cannot possibly get the pattern pieces and the instructions back into those too-small envelopes. I’ve taken to putting the little envelopes into bigger envelopes but this pattern had eluded my new system & the instructions had fallen out, somewhere. I’d looked in all the usual places to no avail. Oh well, I thought, if anyone can make sense of this pattern without instructions, it’s our mistress of calm, Anne from Sew Classy. She raised an eyebrow when she saw the one sheet I had – fortunately that was for the frightening pockets – but she assured me that we could nut it out together.

We could & we did. I’m wearing the dress as I type this. Do I love it? Well, I’d have to admit that I don’t love it yet. Quite. I think the shape isn’t particularly flattering. When I put the original dress on, the back, which is shorter than the sides, looked weird so I added a piece of the mesh fabric that was my second contrast fabric to equalise the lengths. I didn’t use three contrast fabrics because a) I’d failed to buy one & when I looked through my stash there was nothing suitable and b) I just felt it would all be a little overwhelming. This additional strip might mean that the back doesn’t hang the way the original should, but it does look less – well, frankly, less as though something is missing.


Although I don’t think it’s a particularly flattering garment, I do think it’s very wearable. The vivid colours mean that it is an immediate autumn & winter pick-me-up. The deep pockets mean that you can attend a wine-tasting & shove your sunglasses safely away. The dress is made to go with leggings – making it an ideal in-between season wear, but also extending it into winter wear – and I like the mesh lace I’ve used which means that the leggings are also on display.


I think my daughter’s quite right – Marcy Tilton’s dress patterns are little girl dresses for grown-ups. I could put a small doll in one of these pockets, or a shell collection. The bottom is swingy & in today’s strong winds, I felt I might just be blown up into the clouds. There’s something festive about wearing a dress that speaks to your inner child. Will I make another? Now that I’ve actually found the missing instructions sheets, I might.

Where were they? Oh, you had to ask, didn’t you? They were in my office. I had searched that room. I’d claimed to have been through it from top to bottom. The instructions were sitting in plain sight on the auto-tray which holds my (overdue) library books where I can’t miss returning them to the library. They were right beside those books. Quite probably I’m not emotionally ready for tailored suits and knife-pleated skirts….

Not-so happy pants…

Helen says…

As you might remember from my inspiration, I love cropped trousers (talking of inspiration, check out my cropped trousers pinterest board). That little bit of bony ankle poking through makes me feel much more slender than I actually am! Whether you’re wearing heels, ballet flats, or sandals, I just love them.

I’m also a fan of high-waisted trousers, I just find them more versatile and flattering.

Enter Burda 4632, or that vintage pattern Catherine found for 25c at the opp-shop;

View ‘b’ has belt loops and centered splits at the ankles, while view ‘a’ has welted pockets (optional) and side splits at the ankle. Both have darts at the back and two pleats on either side at the front. I made view ‘a’, and in the end left the welted pockets out (more on that later).


Enter major problem #1. All in a fluster when I found some whimsical, lovely blue checked fabric, spotted with daisies, at Spotlight, I asked for the wrong amount. I read a different pattern and got about .6m too little. No worries, I thought, I’ll just make them a little shorter or something.

Enter major problem #2. This pattern does not include seam allowance. Did I read the instructions first? No. So off I go, carefully arranging the pieces so they just fit (when I say just fit, I mean they were lying exactly next to each other, edge on edge). Then I cut them out. Then I read the instructions. Then I cry.


This fabric has no stretch, so I couldn’t just keep my fingers crossed. In the end, I made my seam allowances as small as possible, left out the pockets so there would be no extra bulk, and only put one pleat in the front. And viola! They fit perfectly…at the waist and bum.


I actually can’t walk upstairs or sit in these, because the calves are too tight. Do I have abnormally big calves?? I did try cutting off the bottom legs of the pants, so they finished just below the knee, but that looked awful. So I’ve sewn them back on, and while they look great in photos, they’re totally impractical.

Really the solution is to turn them into a great pair of high waisted shorts, which I will do soon. I’ll update this later when my heart is a little less broken.


Having said all this, I still love the pattern. I’m not happy with the fit at the back of the thigh, I wish it was a little tighter – although I understand that is not how this pattern is supposed to fit, and also it couldn’t be tighter in a non-stretch fabric. I’ve bought some cotton sateen with a slight stretch, so I’m going to try again with this and make a pair for work. I must look up how to keep those front and back folds nice and crisp, however.

Wish me luck and common sense!

Ferns and thread and more ferns…

Helen says…

I always check the upholstery section at Spotlight for bargains, and this was one of those – 100% cotton for $4.99/m. I subconsciously fell in love with this print, and have been back three times for more fabric. Than the other day it hit me why – Sew Over It and Lisa Comfort. In one of the very first sewing vlogs of hers I saw, Lisa was wearing a cropped t-shirt in a similar green and blue fern print. The bright, almost washed-out video reminded me of sitting in a colourful cafe on a Summer morning.

This print is not quite as good as Lisa’s, but like I said, the association is strong. I wanted to make a top and dress that would be comfortable on hot days, but layer-able for the crisper mornings before a hot day. On those morning I might add a light grey base underneath, or a cropped jumper on top.


1. This is the third ‘twirly top’ I’ve made from McCall M6751. It’s an easy project, although it takes a long time to do the bias binding. I was in a rush so I left out the pocket. This one hangs a bit better than my last 2 because the cotton is stiffer, it also doesn’t fly up at the back when it’s windy. I must admit, in this photo it hasn’t been ironed, so it doesn’t look as though it hangs better. But it does, you’ll have to trust me!


If you make this pattern up yourself, I would consider putting a press stud in the back to stop it flying up in the wind. Otherwise, this is a great, easy pattern and the sizing was perfect for me. Really easy instructions to and I can see this working on a lot of different women.

My only problem with this is the bias binding – although I love glitzy stuff and it’s really pretty, it’s also really scratchy even after a wash. Hopefully a couple more washes and it will settle down, but that is preventing me wearing it without a layer underneath.


2. The fern shift dress was a pretty easy pattern to work out, the only difficulty for me being the front seam – one of those fitting-a-triangle-int-a-square type jobs. Having said that, once you start it isn’t really as hard as you think, and I’m sure I’ll get better at this the more I practice. It also is a lovely seam, so flattering for my bust line and shape. So worth it.


The only adjustments I’ve made to the pattern are adding a hook and eye at the back and shortening the length. I also  machine-stitched in the zip, in my own rather uncouth method without a zipper foot. I also didn’t line the dress or use a facing, finishing the arm holes and neck with bias binding. You are supposed to use interfacing, but again I felt the fabric was stiff enough without it.

So I do love this dress, but I have one tincy problem with it – there’s a bunch of fabric around my stomach. Does anyone else have this routinely happen with shift dresses, and how do you fix it? Just scrap the idea of a ‘shift’ and add princess seams?


3. And last but not least, and in fact first in order of making, is a second fern top. This was a self-drafted pattern from a little top Catherine found for me at an op-shop. I spent ages working out how to try and make the pattern and I think I can confidently say I failed miserably. I have no idea how to draft patterns. This is definitely something I’d like to learn in the future.

A really dodgy picture of the original…

The struggle I had was working out how to insert darts into a pattern piece – I could find instructions on how to move them, but not how to insert them. I knew that bust darts were the gem of the original. In the end I decided I would sew the darts in once I’d fitted straps and tried it on. Typically, I forgot – and did all of the bias binding.

I love the idea of this, but I think I really will have to unpick that bias binding and add the darts, because it just doesn’t fit properly and looks nothing like the original.


I also did the shoddiest possible job on the straps because I couldn’t work out how to use Catherine’s tube inside-out-er gajiga-thing. If you know what I mean. Finally, the straps aren’t cut on the bias so they have no stretch to them at all, which does make it hard to tie up.

So plans? Unpick bias binding. Add darts. Take off straps. Buy some matching leather or tubing or complimentary straps. Redo bias binding. Sew on good straps. Wear and smile.

Goodbye for now, and wish me luck & common sense!!