Rooibos simplified

I made something! That’s one item down from the three I promised myself in my Me-Made May pledge. Will it rescue me from RTW jeans that I set up as my nemesis in that same pledge?… Who knows. It’s a dress, so oranges and apples. The weather keeps voting for jeans, too.

I posted this in-progress shot on Instagram, inviting people to guess the pattern.


It wasn’t that difficult a guess, though the changes I made to the pattern were pretty substantial. Rooibos, after all, is “the one with that cute neckline.” I love the new pattern photos, but even with the way they tone down the cuteness factor of this dress, already the first muslin told me that neckline detail would not work on me.

I can’t explain it, but anything remotely cute is my kryptonite: pussy bows, added embellishments, any sweet girly details, really, give me that sad old maiden aunt look while somehow visually taking 4″ off my height.

So I guess “less is more” has to be my motto whether I like it or not. Do I like it in this dress? I still don’t know. It always takes me a while to get used to a finished project being actually finished. Dresses are a particularly bad case because they make for a complete outfit — so much to accept there, so much to process.

Ideally, I’d imagine this to be a dress I can dress up or dress down depending on the occasion. In reality, I feel a bit too tired from sewing this dress to think about it just yet.

Having an early ’90s moment with that pendant on a velvet ribbon.

I have a lot of love for Colette Patterns. I’ve learned a lot from them, I like how they’re written. For the most part, I like how they’re drafted, too. They usually give you the finished measurements, and the measurements make sense. You can cut out the pattern closest to your body measurements, or if you need to size down, just size down one size (you know, as opposed to figuring out how to get rid of 4 or more inches of unnecessary ease…).

Now, I don’t have the expectation that a pattern should fit me like a glove right out of the envelope. I usually muslin. Colette Patterns don’t fit me right out of the envelope but with a few alterations I’ve so far been able to get them to fit me nicely. I’m one of those people molded by computer work, so I can basically bank on a forward shoulder adjustment. I also always need to make a sway back alteration.

1. Fitting and adjustments

Rooibos, much like Peony, took me two muslins to get the fit of the bodice right. So not bad, overall. But, again like with Peony, an important detail escaped my attention in the muslin (or fit differently in the muslin, I can’t tell now) and necessitated some much-begrudged re-sewing of the almost finished dress.

The finished measurements chart on Rooibos doesn’t give you the favorite usual suspects, apart from the bust. That may have something to do with the fact that the bodice meets the skirt a little above the waist. Still, if not in the measurements, fitting this area could have been addressed in the official sewalong for Rooibos. I had to take in the dress a 1/4″ at the side seams (so 1″ total). Maybe it’s my fault for not noticing how wide it was in the muslin, or it hung differently in the finished dress. Anyway, when first finished, the dress wasn’t anywhere near the nice snug fit from those pattern photos.

And I’m really not sure I trust that finished bust measurement. I think Gertie was on to something in the comments to her review (from 2009 — time flies!), where she remarked that it seemed to be drafted for a B cup. That’s what the muslin felt like to me, driving me slightly nuts because I’ve been spoiled by Colette to believe the bust in their patterns has been drafted for me. That’s something to pay attention to, but not a big problem. The sewalong for Rooibos guides you through the adjustment for a full or small bust.

That’s great, and really very helpful. But I wish the sewalong had gone beyond that. It guides you through grading the hip curve to suit your body shape, but leaves you to figure out other adjustments.

Here are two far-from-ideal photos of my notes on the first muslin. This one was sewn up in size 6:

You might notice that I marked a pretty big wedge on the front neckline above the bust — the bodice was too big. Sizing down to size 4 got rid of the fabric excess. But the bust was too small in a size 4. And the area above the waist still had too much ease in size 4. Not what Goldilocks needs.

On the back, the short darts created what one reviewer poetically described as “back boobies” — the darts definitely needed to be lengthened. I also raised the back neckline. Not to resolve an issue, that was just my preference. The lengthened back darts revealed the need for a sway back adjustment: there was a very pronounced wedge of excess fabric right above the darts, which I took out for the second muslin.

These changes, together with the obligatory forward shoulder adjustment, made for a pretty good fit on muslin #2, which was something of a hybrid of sizes 4 and 6.

I really wish that the sewalong had covered the sway back adjustment. I think that would have been really useful. Overall, I wish more sewalongs mentioned those minor but significant adjustments for shoulder tilt and shape. The forward shoulder adjustment is decisive for me in terms of whether the dress will hang correctly or pull to the back, out of balance. Similarly, the wrong shoulder slope will throw off your neckline. Often these adjustments are minor, but they make a difference.

2. Sewing details

The instructions are pretty sparse on this intermediate pattern in comparison with Colette instructions for Beginner patterns. Maybe they’ve spoiled me, but there were a few points where I was wishing for a bit more hand holding.

The sewalong does a good job of supplementing the instructions on the sewing and finishing of the curved bodice and midriff seams. The “burrito method” for the facings has also been covered nicely.  The instructions on working with piping could have been a bit more detailed.

And I wish the side seam invisible zipper hadn’t gotten skipped entirely in the pattern instructions and in the sewalong. I did find that inserting the invisible zipper into a side seam, which needs to be finished both above and below the zipper, is not so easy to figure out on your own. Especially when you’re hoping for a neat finish and, ideally, some durability.

The instructions for assembling the skirt and pockets are pretty great — and so is the skirt on this dress. I really like it. It does come out on the short side, so keep that in mind.

3. The fabric

I went quilting cotton crazy on this one, didn’t I? I blame it on this Cotton and Steel print, which, if I remember correctly, is “Black Cat” from their “Sprinkle” collection. I fell in love with it, bought it months ago, and then hoarded it for months, finally deciding that this dress would be a good fit. The back facing and the pockets got finished off in remnants of another Cotton and Steel print.

What say you, dear readers? Did I pare the design down too much? Or does it work? How would you wear it?


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I write about sewing, knitting, and may sometimes be tempted to talk about books.

2 thoughts on “Rooibos simplified”

  1. I think it looks fantastic! No, I don’t think you pared it down too much as you have to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. That Rooibos neckline is so distinctive and, indeed, rather cutesy, that it’s a definite area for design decision. I think the neckline you ended up with is still generous and noteworthy, without looking out of place. Thanks for all the notes on your muslin alterations and considerations – really interesting and useful for me!


    1. Thank you! I feel like I’m getting more patient with muslins… or at least I hope so. Fitting this one was frustrating at times, but it didn’t feel impossible. And when I tried on muslin #2, I was exhilarated to see that my alterations worked. That improvised sway back adjustment was particularly satisfying.


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