pattern review · sewing

Pattern Review: Made by Rae’s “Washi Dress”

Overview

This was my first “indie pattern,” to purchase and sew. Normally I buy all my sewing patterns from Joann or Hobby Lobby during their 99¢ sales, so spending $16 on Made by Rae’s “Wash Dress” was quite a splurge. The risk was worthwhile, however:  after making three versions of it, the Washi pattern has become a staple in my wardrobe.

Virtues

First of all, there’s something wonderfully satisfying about supporting a designer directly. I’m sure the designers for Simplicity or McCall’s are fascinating people, but the pattern catalogs don’t share much biography. Call me a typical millennial, but I really love knowing the story behind the designer, her process, and the particular pattern I am purchasing. Other customers seem to feel the same way, and they respond to Ms. Hoekstra’s storytelling by sharing their own work.  You can find countless blog reviews, and even a Flickr pool, showcasing finished Washi dresses. All this buzz is a boon as you are sewing, as you can see all sorts of modifications and adjustments others have made.

The designer herself provides ample instruction. Part of what makes the pattern worth its cost is the 36-page pdf of detailed assembly instructions with photographs. She also offers video tutorials for some of the trickier parts of the dress, such as the bodice lining.

The dress itself is quite simple: an empire-waisted bodice with bust darts, and a pleated skirt. The bodice has cap-sleeve and sleeveless options. The back of the bodice is shirred with elastic for an easy fit, so there are no zippers or buttons to install. The dress is as comfortable as a t-shirt, and as easy to pull on. Plus, it has *pockets.* Useful pockets are few and far between in women’s clothing, so any patterns including them receive gold stars in my book. The bodice is lined, which adds structure and security, especially if sewing with lightweight fabrics. It also gives the dress a finished look on the inside.

I made three versions of this dress (plus one “wearable muslin” which I ended up passing to a friend), all in regular quilting cotton. Although quilting cotton doesn’t drape much, it actually works quite nicely for the Washi. The bodice fits snugly and doesn’t require any drape, and the skirt, with its pleats and pockets, looks clean and fresh even if the fabric is new and somewhat stiff.

Problems

While I did make some modifications, I found very few errors or inconveniences in the pattern itself.  I made my Washi dresses three years ago, and I have found that the elastic shirring in the back has nearly given out. Considering that I wear one, if not all three, of these dresses pretty much every week, that’s not surprising. However, from a “whole cloth” perspective, elastic receives low marks for durability and longevity.  I’m pretty sure I could go in and restitch the shirring lines, but I haven’t tried yet. Although it wouldn’t take much elastic, my experience with these dresses has made me wonder how I might find longer-lasting (and therefore less wasteful) alternatives to elastic in my sewing.

The bobbin thread (elastic) has worn out, leaving the top stitching slack.

If, like me, your purchase this pattern as a .pdf download, you will have to print, cut, and assemble the pattern yourself. While not terribly onerous, I found this step annoying, especially given the price I was paying. This isn’t a complaint against the designer, as there’s really no way to print a full-size dress pattern on a home printer, but it is one reason I don’t buy more downloadable sewing patterns.

Modifications

When I made my “muslin,” I found that the armscye (opening for the sleeve) was too high, and cut into my underarm. Although I had never modified a pattern before, I decided to try redrawing the armscye with a french curve. I also lengthened the entire bodice by a few inches. While this might seem like a problem with the pattern, it really isn’t — no designer is going to be able to draw a pattern that flatters every figure. Rather, working on the solid foundation of the basic pattern, making these adjustments was empowering.  I realized that modifying (and perhaps one day…..designing) patterns wasn’t beyond my reach. I’m still a novice when it comes to pattern modification, but my experience with Washi made me feel I had stepped into a new level of sewing, in which I was no longer passively following asembly instructions, but actively and creatively engaging with a pattern.

My original “muslin,” following the pattern exactly. I decided the bodice and arscye were both too high based on the fit and silhouette of this version. It wasn’t unwearable, however, and I now wish I had kept it!

For a later Washi dress, I decided to make some fabric-covered buttons for the bodice, along with a false placket. To fake the placket, I simply made a copy of the bodice pattern, made a line a little left of center, being sure to provide seam allowances on both sides.

Modified bodice with decorative buttons and “placket”

In all versions, I omitted the pattern’s key-hole in the neckline.

Conclusion

With its copious notes and resources, the Washi dress is a wonderful project for encouraging and learning sewing skills. While the elastic shirring receives low marks for durability, my three Washi dresses have shifted my entire wardrobe toward a handmade ethos, as I wear one or all of these dresses each week. Even as the shirring goes out, the dresses remain comfortable, fresh, and appropriate for work or play.

Walking through a hip Austin boutique, I was stopped in one of my Washi dresses by an admiring fashionista, who demanded to know where I found my dress, because she wanted one just like it. And that’s about the nicest compliment a seamstress can receive.

 

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