Peony

The inspiration for the photos below came from the parents in the animated Muppet Babies (you never saw their heads, or knew they had them) and the sentence “Off with her head!”

Thanks to the fleeting moment of actual sunlight for making these possible at all.

Without further ado, the Peony dress I’d been slowly working on for the past few weeks:

Inspiration

I am possibly the laziest, most reluctant Pinterest user but I caved and put together a board with ideas for this dress, which you can find here. I’m not sure that board actually reveals the two main ideas behind my dress, since I just basically threw in a bunch of dresses that caught my eye in there. I really liked the collared Peony in plaid suiting as well as the small gingham version, but I wanted a slightly less vintage shape to the dress (something closer to the floral Peter Som dress I have pinned there). What that amounted to was altering the neckline and armholes.

Fitting and Adjustments

The Peony is marked “beginner” and you won’t find a sewalong companion for it. But you will find a lot of discussion about bodice fitting issues online, which I recommend paying attention to. My takeaway from it was to definitely make a muslin. I cut out a size smaller than my measurements after checking the garment measurements table and measuring the pattern pieces. Luckily, I had enough sense this time not to assume I would have the same fitting issue with the front bodice darts as “everyone.” Lots of people wrote that the darts can’t possibly be right for anyone in their original position. Well, bodies are different, as we all know, so — freakish or not — the original darts hit exactly right for me.

But there were other issues.

I ended up making two muslins for the bodice and sleeve. The skirt appeared roomy and simple enough that I skipped muslining it.

(Sorry about the lack of muslin photos: I used a very unphotogenic old sheet for this one.)

neckline

The first muslin told me the bateau neckline was definitely not going to work for me. At its worst that neckline shape can bubble out in the middle in a really unflattering way. The sides revealed bra straps and, all in all, it was more off the shoulder than felt comfortable. So I redrafted the neckline, extending the shoulder line and drawing in a new neckline shape, which I subsequently tried out on the second muslin to check that there was no gaping or other unforeseen issues.

details: finished neckline and side-seam pocket

armhole depth and sleeve shape

The armhole depth was a tough one. The armhole ended too low, seriously restricting my range of motion. I spent some time with Kenneth D. King’s recent piece in Threads trying to figure out how to rectify the issue and make it possible for me to lift my arms in this dress. There’s a companion video available on the Threads website here, and I also recommend this video.

I raised the armhole by 2 cm (a little over 3/4″). I should also add that I did my usual (for Colette Patterns and most, though not al,l patterns) forward shoulder adjustment. I used Heather Beckley’s brilliant tutorial to alter the sleeve cap shape on the pattern piece. Lastly, I took out some width out of the sleeves — this one is, of course, just a matter of preference and by no means a fit issue.

I was pretty pleased with the second muslin and decided to dive in rather than keep tweaking it further.

The Sewing Process

My fabric — a stretchy cotton sateen — was quite different from the muslin, so I knew I wouldn’t be skipping basting in the seams to check the fit. The initial fit basting didn’t reveal the fit difference all that well, but once I installed the zipper, I realized I would have to take the dress in at the sides and enlarge the central back seam allowances to get the fit I wanted. It was slightly frustrating but not as difficult as it could have been. In comparison with the dread of sewing in an invisible zipper whose coils kept caught in the seamline, it was smooth sailing. Lesson learned: stretchy cotton sateen has stretch.

Some construction details:

  • I tried out my new serger on some of the seams. It involved a lot of screaming in fear.
  • Mostly, though, I settled on binding the seams with Hug Snug rayon seam binding. (You can get it from fabric.com or Amazon.)
  • I drafted facings from my altered bodice pattern.
  • It was my first time doing a machine-sewn blind hem. I liked it. This tutorial at Sew DIY was helpful, as was my sewing machine manual, thanks to which I basted  the layers together and removed the pins (and the stress of dealing with pins while trying out an unfamiliar presser foot).
  • I both understitched and topstitched that pesky neckline facing (I find facings pesky by default — they’re just looking for ways to flip up!).

The Fabric

Cotton sateen from Joann Fabrics, one of the fabrics designed by Gertie/Gretchen Hirsch. I really like the design — I think it’s the only one so far that I really like. Mostly the designs are too twee for me. The quality, though… be careful when sewing because if you need to unpick stitches, you will also be unpicking the black dye from the fabric. And the fabric gets easily caught on the seam ripper. So if you choose this fabric, go slow.

Final Thoughts

Great pattern. I don’t think the fact that it’s not very likely to be a “sewn straight out of the envelope” experience should be held against it. The instructions are really good, so once you have the fitting figured out, the sewing and smaller adjustments should go fairly painlessly. But a sewalong series for this pattern would be a great idea in spite of the “beginner” label because of how tricky the fitting can get.

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4 thoughts on “Peony

  1. This looks lovely, well done! And it really fits you well. I struggled massively with the peony and eventually gave up… Maybe I should have another go. Also your comment on the serger made me giggle, never used one but pretty sure I’d be screaming too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! Fitting this dress wasn’t the easiest thing as you can gather from my winding tale above 😉 Writing it all up, I had to stop myself from constantly repeating ” the crucial thing is to slow down and take your time” because there is indeed a high risk of the ol’ rage-quit.

      Ah, yes, the serger… I think you would have had a good chuckle looking at my terrified expression as the thing powered up and sped through the fabric. Fuzz everywhere, noise, a million (well, four) threads moving all the time, and the keen awareness of a sharp knife slicing away at the seam allowance… it felt much more industrial than I had anticipated. I need to figure out if I’m doing something wrong with the foot pedal — I could only get the machine to either rush madly or stop altogether.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no, don’t let my first go on the serger be decisive! I will try again, definitely, but it will take me time to really get to know this strange machine.

      Thank you so much for the compliments on the dress 🙂

      I think there’s a nice black rayon with a floral print in Gertie’s new line. But I’m judging its potential loveliness based on a small photo on the Joann website, so we’ll see what the fabric is like in person.

      Like

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