Tuesday, March 12, 2013

McCalls 6520 -- Jungle Shirtdress

I originally purchased this blue zebra knit fabric (from Joann Fabric) for another dress, and I originally purchased McCalls 6520  because my daughter was looking for a shirtdress pattern, however when I saw view D and that it was for a knit, something clicked in my head and I changed course.  But because I had originally bought the fabric for something else, I barely had enough.  The sleeves had to be cut on the crosswise, and I ended up with only about 8 square inches of zebra fabric left.  I cut a size 14, adding an inch to the sides starting under the arm, and adding two inches to the length (I'm glad I did because I ended up with a tiny hem).

This pattern was labeled 'Easy.'  I'm going to have to disagree with that because I had loads of trouble making it.  There was nothing wrong with the pattern, though; the problems were with me.  First of all, this knit is very beefy; it feels good and substantial.  These good qualities made it more difficult to work with, however. I used fusible tricot interfacing, an 80/12 universal needle from Schmetz, and a short narrow zigzag stitch setting on my machine.  Usually this is enough.  But the button plackets down the front were impossible to sew because the plackets, being interfaced, had no stretch and yet the dress front, which was not interfaced, had plenty.  I was ending up with a several inch differential! After trying a few times and being unhappy with the uneven results, I unpicked the placket stitches and put my walking foot attachment on my machine.  That worked soooo much better.  (By the way, that's the first time I have successfully used my walking foot:) In addition, I  also used my knit stay tape down the front of the dress to stabilize where the plackets were attached.  Finally everything went on evenly, without stretching out.

Next, I misunderstood the collar directions.  You are only supposed to interface one of the pieces of the collar band; I interfaced both.  I thought it wouldn't make any difference, but it did.  When it came time to sew the band to the neckline of the dress, I could NOT get it to fit because there needed to be some stretch in the band and there wasn't any (again due to the interfacing).  I had to painstakingly unpick the collar, recut that one piece of the collar band, resew the collar band, THEN sew it to the neckline.  Thankfully, the collar went on just right that time.

Tissue-fitting made me fearful the sleeves would be too tight in the biceps, so I did a full bicep adjustment (as per here on The Slapdash Sewist) on the sleeves before I cut them out.  I also added two inches to the sleeve length, which turned out to be unnecessary.  I tried to make it work, but the too-long sleeves just did not look right.  However, shortening the sleeves was not straightforward because they were designed for cuffs.  I actually had to cut the cuffs off (with great trepidation) and resew them further up the sleeve -- and they are still a little bit long!  (Moral:  despite the pattern instructions, do not finish the bottoms of sleeves until they are sewn into the bodice and you can try them on.  This includes attaching cuffs.)

Then, tragedy almost struck.  Right in the front, I found a place where I had inadvertently snipped a hole in the fabric with my scissors!!!  AARRGGHH!!   Let me just say I'm thankful this was a busy print.  After taking a deep calming breath, I sewed the hole closed, reinforcing it from behind with a tiny scrap of fabric.  See?  Barely noticeable (I hope).  Another crisis averted.

A view of the patch on the underside
The repair is on your right, but I don't think you will be able to see it
All that work, and the worst most challenging part was yet to come:  many, many buttonholes (13 altogether).  I have a Singer Professional Buttonholer attachment for my machine, but I had never used it before, so I knew there was a learning curve ahead of me.  Finally I figured it out, my samples and even the cuffs turned out acceptably.  But the seam allowance on the placket was too bulky for the buttonholer to work right.  I tried and tried (much broken threads, two or three broken needles) and yet the buttonholes were terrible.  Despite this, I kept on making them because I didn't know what else to do.  Let me just say, they were a disaster and came close to ruining the whole dress.  What was I going to do now?  Finally I got out my manual and refreshed my memory about making four-step buttonholes.  I remade the buttonholes on top of the bad ones.  They are not the greatest, but again, thanks to the busy print, they are not too noticeable.  I sewed the buttons on by hand using heavy-duty thread (thank goodness Downton Abbey was two hours long that night:).  The buttons were purchased from Etsy, and I do think they are perfect for this dress.  (One other plus about sewing for yourself:  you can place the buttons where you want on your dress or shirt, which avoids a lot of wardrobe problems;)

Despite all the setbacks, I do love this dress and am glad I persevered.  It is super comfortable and I've already worn it bunches.  All the problems were good learning experiences.  I had never sewn a collar with a collar stand before, never done a bicep adjustment, never used my walking foot or buttonholer attachment.  The next time all these things "should" be easier.

The pattern for the next dress I want to make also has the designation of 'Easy.'  That's making me a little nervous.....


  1. Very good work! Cute comfy dress:)

  2. your tenacity with sewing clothes is great!!! It looks wonderful and I know you are so proud of yourself...I use to hate to do buttonholes, yours look great

  3. My computer is still giving me fits about visiting and commenting here. It thinks this is a dangerous web site. Pah!

    One thing is certain, even when we fail, we have learned something important. I think your fix was inspired and I couldn't see it and I tried. It looks like a wonderful, comfortable dress. It looks marvelous on, too!

  4. Wonderful dress! I love the fabric...and it looks great on you! Another win, Angela!

  5. Your prowess with knit fabrics never fails to impress me and this one is no exception. Looks great and so wearable. I too have had heart-stoppping moments of discovering I've cut where I shouldn't - nothing to match that sinking feeling on discovery! But you've done a marvellous job at repairing and hiding your accidental snip - no one will ever know now! E x

  6. The dress was worth the pain as it looks great on you. I do admire your dressmaking skills and persistence. And I love those buttons - you're right, they're just perfect. x

  7. Hi Angela,
    Your dress is so pretty, and you did a great job on mending the mishap, When I find something that is comfortable, I end up wearing it a lot, especially when it comes to shoes.~smile~ Knit has a way of making me feel so comfortable too, I have a knit pj top that i enjoy so much. Enjoy your day.

  8. This dress is fabulous. It looks very good on you. I tried this pattern and had a total disaster, Unlike you,I did not continue on. I'm glad you made it work. I love the buttons. Which Etsy seller did they come from?

  9. Great dress - lucky save with the cut in the fabric. The print and heavy fabric hides it nicely.

  10. Oh my word! You really did hang in there with this project, and you got a wonderful reward in the end. To look at it, I would think the sewing had gone as smooth as silk. Beautiful job, beautiful dress!

  11. oh, I like this dress! And I love the buttons! I think I may have the same ones in my stash somewhere! Looks great on you, too.


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