F3453: Back to Basics Dress

I had forgotten how quickly a simple 5 pattern piece garment can come together…. and is there anything more frivolously fun than sewing a dress for a special occasion? I savoured making this dress, as this wedding I wore it too is probably the last I’ll get to attend for a very long time.

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The dress is Marfy 3453 – a fairly simple fit and flare sleeveless dress. The bodice has two darts, a v-neckline at the rear, centreback zip and evenly spaced pleats in the skirt. I think what I love most about simple patterns is that they really allow your fabric to shine.

I had wholly intended on sewing this dress ‘as it is’, but I quickly discovered that a 2 dart bodice on me just looks not-nice. Perhaps its the ratio between my bust and my waist? So I converted it to a four dart bodice. This was the only fit adjustment I made.

Also, I had wanted to use the lace border detail on my fabric around the hem, which meant I replaced the pleated A-line skirt with a simple dirndl. I was a little sad about this as the A-line looked great in my muslin, if a little long. I don’t have the amazonian length pins Marfy designs for!

Although… I’m very close to a tipping point for preferring a pencil skirt over a voluminous skirt. I’m not there yet, but can see it looming on the horizon. I can see myself wearing this particular dress in my later years as a fitted sheath style, which would be quite easy to achieve.

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I decided to prewash the fabric, so I could launder the dress myself instead of having it dry cleaned. As soon as I dipped it in water – it STANK. Thanks to an instagram conversation, I was informed that sometimes silk does stink, and it has to do with a gum residue the silk worms leave behind called ‘sericin’. The less processed the silk is, the more likely it to smell, apparently. I was then informed by a google search that you can just keep washing it until it comes out, which it did. Thank goodness.

The fabric is an incredibly pale pink, very slubby raw silk – not a fabric type I’ve worked with before. It also had floral embroidered circular cutouts as a border detail in a 1.1m long repeat. The fibres that came off the cut edges of the fabric are wonderfully fuzzy, thick and incredibly soft:

raw silk fibres

The dress is underlined (organza) to give the fabric some more body, and lined at the bodice in a matching but slightly darker silk charmuese that was also used as the contrast trim around the neckline and waist. This was a stash fabric that just happened to look rather lovely against the raw silk.

Whilst sewing I kept the seam allowances large – I want it to be a wearable option for many years to come, so I look at those seam allowances like an insurance policy. You don’t intend on using it of course, but it’s there just in case it’s needed.

I wanted to try and work in a bit of the embroidery into the bodice, so I appliqued a small lace circle in. Cutting into the bodice fabric to do this was a moment of terror; not having appliqued before! I treated it a bit like a welt pocket – sewing a scrap of organza onto the front with my machine’s smallest stitch, cutting into the circle then turning the organza to the wrong side and ironing flat. Getting the circle to be the right size was the hardest part – it took me two goes. After that I hand sewed the lace circle in with a fell stitch and pressed again. Pretty happy with how it looks!

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The skirt is one single piece of fabric, gathered. I was basing the length of the skirt off one of my most favourite dresses – and realised that the height of the cutouts would potentially make my underwear visible… so I added in an additional layer of organza. If you looked really close and really hard, and if I had fluoro underwear on, you’d probably be able to see it. Eh.

I had a first attempt at lace matching down the back centre seam, and am very happy with the results. The main challenge was that the circles were not perfectly circular.

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For the hem, I folded it over, sewed it down to itself, then catch stitched that to the underlining. The result is a soft hem that has a tendency to crease in on itself, but I don’t mind the effect so much. Even with the underlining, the raw silk isn’t really interested in being pressed – it will hold the shape, but it won’t be crisp.

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Due to wanting this dress to be easily adjustable, I machine sewed the lining to the neckline, but hand sewed the arms, down the sides and around the waist. I like hand sewing, and it’ll be really easy to unpick. I also just love the loft of silk charmeuse, and hand sewn seams seem to bring that out.

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Look at that loft...

Look at that loft… The most accurate representation of the two colours together. And you get a really good eye of the texture of the raw silk! Delicious stuff.

I included a hook and eye at the top of the centre back seam, to get a nice closure. At the wedding I wore this dress to, I counted 6 women wearing dresses that the centre back zip was coming down on because there was no hardware to help provide that stability at the back. Funnily enough, they all were on either rounded or V-shaped dress backs. I pointed out so many to my beau that even he started to point them out and was tut-tutting along with me.

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Basically a happily ever after.

And on that note, I will be leaving a radio silence until we have moved and made our new home slightly more liveable than what it currently is. My sewing stuff is already packed away in boxes, and I’m feeling quite sad knowing it will be a while before it sees daylight again. I will be looking forward to finishing and then sharing with you all the two jackets I have in mid-progress from winter last year!

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138 thoughts on “F3453: Back to Basics Dress

  1. You have created a truly beautiful dress. The colours are so luxuriously subtle and the mixture of textures are simply gorgeous. Well done on a tricky circular cutout too.

    • Thanks Bernice :) It does feel lovely to wear, even if I think I made it a little tight to start with. The cutout was definitely an experiment, luckily for me it worked out! I like the brooch effect.

  2. Very beautiful. Well, just amazing actually. Those colours and textures are gorgeous, and timeless. Good luck with the move and renos. We started our brand new house hunt today. It has taken me a full year to calm my nerves after our last renovation.

    • Thanks Debbie :) I’m more than a little daunted, but currently that’s offset by excitement. We’ll see how that balance changes when it gets real! You’ve been churning out some spectacularly striking sewing lately :)

  3. This dress is gorgeous on you. I’m so intrigued by how you added the circle applique on the bodice–I never would have thought of that! It sounds like you had so much fun wearing this–that’s the best part of sewing!

  4. Your dress is brilliant – love the detail and fabric. Enjoy the close-ups you show, they’re very helpful. The skirt seems to have some sort of lining, what fabric did you use? Fit was also great, congratulations!

    • Thank you so much, Cynthia :) I’m all about the detailed close-ups! What you see on the inside of the skirt is silk organza – I used it to underline the skirt. It’s great because it gives body to my otherwise floppy raw silk, and also means you can hem it without the stitches showing through to the side you see :)

    • There are never enough weddings to attend, are there Manju? It will be the last one we attend for a really long time, so it was a little bittersweet! Really lovely day though. And thank you – glad you like it :)

  5. Your dress is stunning. I love the subtle colours you have used which blend beautifully. The cut outs are gorgeous and must of taken ages to do.

    • Hopefully it will tide me over until I’m able to sew again! I think I’ll be breaking into my boxes containing the contents of my sewing room sooner rather than later ;) Thank you so much!

  6. You crack me up. It may be 5 pieces, but dood, you went all out! Matching embroidery, creating cut outs, handsewing, organza…and fluoro underwear (maybe). It’s a gorgeous dress. Love your blog. You got mad skills! Good luck with the move. I’ll be waiting with bated breath for you to unpack. :)

    • haha, yeah it’s a bit of a contradiction, I know! The basics part really refers to the 5 pieces of pattern it takes to make this dress ;) Simple patterns are great foundations for embellishments! And they’re my favourite bits to sew… Cheers Ruth :)

  7. Gosh you look lovely! Those false eyelashes are doing amazing things to your eyes! Your dress is gorgeous – and I love the contrast silk. Do you have a resource you refer to for stitching thecarmholes? Good luck with the renos too!

    • I want to wear false eyelashes ALL the time now. They’re awesome! Fiddly as, though. The armholes were I suppose done in a similar fashion to when you fell stitch the lining in and around the edges of a French Jacket – I was going to do that ‘Burrito’ method to machine stitch it down, but I just enjoy the excuse to hand sew, and the control you get from it is second to none. The Fell stitch is the one I use time and time again. And, thank you on both accounts :)

  8. Wow! A Masterpece or should that be Mistresspiece? Madampiece????? Any way it’s beautiful.
    Looking forward to seeing how your two new ‘Frenchies’ progress….Enjoy your house changing til then x

  9. Somehow you always manage to turn even the simplest of patterns into an artwork! I love this dress on you. Beautiful fabric!

    • Thanks Kristy :) I guess the simple reference in my head was referring to the pattern, which has sort of been eclipsed by being a perfect canvas for all the little sewing details I love to do!

  10. i love that you call this basic when it’s got all that hand-sewing care and that beautiful round appliqué cut out. Simply gorgeous fabric and the perfect project for it. Thanks for the tip on leaving bigger seam allowances and hand-sewing seams to make late adjustments easier – one to bear in mind for special occasion frocks.

    • Never hurts to have a bit of an insurance policy for a special occasion frock! Especially as it already appears from the photos that it’s extremely fitted, haha. But yeah, the name of this post probably isn’t really appropriate… It was a lovely, basic ‘blank canvas’ pattern to include all the little things I so enjoy seeing :) thanks Katie!

  11. i agree with katie, this is not a basic look in my book.. to me, basic is when one mashine sew the entire dress, spending 3 hours of work in total (that’s pretty much how i roll).. this, on the other hand, is a masterpiece :) i love everything about it, the fabrics and beautiful cut outs, and all the little details.. you inspire me to try something similar, to take my time and make something really beautiful, that i will love and wear for many years

    • Yeah, the final dress cant really be classified as basic anymore, can it? i love that a simple pattern like this one can be a wonderful canvas for all sorts of slow sewing goodness :) fine for a fancy dress, but overkill for something more everyday! Thanks Mokosha :)

  12. This dress is just beautiful! I love the earthy quality of the raw silk, and those embroidered inlays are incredible; the simplicity of the cut of the skirt really makes your use of the border detail shine. The charmeuse is a nice touch, too!

  13. Absolutely gorgeous! I also really appreciate that you take the time to explain all the little extras you add to your pieces. Gives me something to aspire to!

  14. Pingback: Sunday Sew Love: 18 January | Life by Ky

  15. I love this dress! I love everything about it, but especially your brilliant idea and execution of that lace insert in the bodice. That small detail adds so much to the overall design. So, I keep wondering what color shoes you wore with this to the wedding?

    • Haha, yes my better half has a habit of never getting my feet in the shot! I wore the shoes I wore at my wedding – so not coloured. They’re flat sandals that are covered in rhinestone(?) type things. The lace insert was a real gamble, cutting into the bodice after I’d done all the work on the charmeuse edging had me on edge! I’m glad it paid off though, I like the brooch effect. Cheers! :)

  16. Truly a beautiful and timeless dress. Love the appliquéd ‘brooch’ on the bodice and the silk charmeuse accent (especially on the back v-neck). Inspired. I lined my wedding dress with silk which made it very luxurious against the skin, and nice and warm too :)

    • Isn’t it just the most amazing fabric to have against your skin? I don’t think there will ever be a point in my life I won’t be head over heels in love with charmeuse :) thank you, Kate!

  17. so pretty, and I noticed that you left an ungathered section at the center front of the skirt – clever you. I think this is such a great detail on a style like this, I have done it and it think it makes a gathered skirt look a bit more grown up. I would never have figured out what to do with this fabric so congrats, lovely.

  18. If I hadn’t been reading your wonderful blog for a while, I would have laughed at your title “Back to Basics”, in reference to a Marfy dress made of silk dress with lace appliques. For most of us, your gorgeous dress is high glamour.

  19. My goodness, this is beautiful!! That fabric is so amazing, and though it’s a simple dress your care in making it really lets the fabric shine! Best wishes on your move – may it be as easy as possible!

    • Thanks for the wishes Kelly, the closer it gets, the more anxious I am about how we’re going to pull it all off!
      It’s quite a challenge to find a pattern to suit a fabric with such a distinct personality… Hence the ‘basic’ pattern ;) thanks so much!

  20. The dress is beautiful and so are you! It was a perfect match of pattern, fabric and execution. I second you on hand-sewing: it’s such an enjoyable process! Good luck with the move! Please post some updates on Instagram :)

  21. yeah. totally basic. when i go basic, i always recreate already exceptional fabric into brand new droolworthy yardage. and then make a perfect dress out of it, natch. YOU ARE AMAZING.

    • Thanks Julie! I guess it started out as a very basic pattern… and I just couldn’t help myself by making all the little extra’s (my favourite part of sewing). I will!

  22. Mel, this is gorgeous! I can totally see it as a sheath frock as well- such lovely lines! And best of luck with the move and reno starts- it is so much fun but oh so tiring. Yay for homeownership!

    • Thanks Amanda! I quite keen on the sheath frock alteration…
      We’re both super excited and impatient to get stuck into it, I’m sure a few weeks in I’ll be wishing it to all be over!

  23. Melanie, this is so stunning! Your makes always make me swoon! The fit is absolutely superb! I can’t believe you only made one fitting adjustment, as that bodice looks like it was draped directly onto your body! And those fabrics are just gorgeous. That pale, tea-rose-y pink is beyond flattering, and as always, all your attention to detail has me drooling. That appliquéd lace on the bodice?!?! Girl, you’re a sewing goddess.

  24. Swooning just a bit here! You make a simple dress just spectacular with your attention to detail. I am completely smitten with your lace brooch! Sheer genius!

  25. Sooooo gorgeous! Crazy to me that you call this “basic.” I am loving that raw silk and all of your fine attention to detail. One of goals for this year was to slow down and take my time on my makes so they come out more nicely… this dress is a good visual to me of what I can accomplish if I really put in the extra effort.

  26. What a beautiful skirt! I love the lace, and all the other details you have added! Although it doesn’t look all that “basic” to me, I do know what you mean as I remember switching back to a “normal” sewing project after spending months and months making my wedding dress! This dress may not be the most complicated you’ll have done, but it is still stunning, and you look lovely in it (as usual!).

    • Haha, yes, I think I made an epic mistake naming this post basic… but you’re right, I was referring to the pattern, not what I ended up doing to the dress! Thank you so much, Alice :)

  27. You have done a beautiful job with this, loads of really nice touches, the lace insert in the top, the contrast waist and neck, organza and silk. Lovely.
    You did make me laugh though – your “later years”? I also love that you are making garments with large seams for the future :) (I should do this, festively plump right now and nothing fits!)
    Good luck with the move – I hope it goes well! We move on Saturday, although I confess I have left packing my sewing stuff until last :)

    • I’m all about being festively plump! Having just got back from a very indulgent week holiday with my family, I’m feeling it.
      But I guess it’s not so often one gets to sew an ‘occasion’ dress, and I love the fabric, so I want to be able to wear it in future :)
      Hope your move went well – I know it’s been disgustingly hot in Brissy lately!

  28. Wow! The dress is just absolutely stunning!
    I have always tried to figure out how to incorporate lace into my more basic fabrics, and your technique was so inspirational! I can’t wait to break out my fabric stash and see what I can make now.
    Thank you for the great post; I look forward to reading more.

  29. Wise of you to leave the fit insurance. I have made myself a couple of “party” dresses in the past, some before having kids, and I WISH I would have left fit insurance in them. I spent so much time on them, they were such lovely fabrics, and I love them so, I still have them in my closet – even though they no longer fit!

  30. Oh, that fabric… I think you picked the right sort of pattern for it! It looks special even if it was a simpler sew for you. I’m curious, do you leave wide SAs throughout the garment, or do you pick certain seams you think you might want to adjust?

    Best luck with your move!

    • With this one it was fairly simple – just the side seams have the insurance policy built in, as the only other seam is the centre back (which has a zip), and I’m hardly likely to suddenly have a growth spurt that will render the horizontal waist seam in the wrong location ;) This is the first time I haven’t graded back all the seams. I probably wouldn’t do it for everyday makes, only for an ‘occasion’ dress like this one that won’t really see much wear in its life. Thanks Morgan :)

  31. Lace inserts, all different sized circles, all arranged in a pattern…who knew it would turn out so lovely! Great fit and great flare and flattering with a flat front in the skirt. Best wishes on you settling in the new house.

  32. OMG where to start … the dress is stunning! I love the lace pattern matching down the back seam that is beautifully done and then to put an insert in the bodice to match the skirt circles, just brilliant! The silk charmeuse is beautiful and would feel wonderful on. I’m with you on the hand stitching :-)

  33. I don’t think there has ever been a time where I have read your blog and walked away not being totally in awe of you and everything you make :)

  34. It’s really gorgeous and i loved how you’ve planned ahead to make it always wearable! The ‘brooch’ detail is beautiful too. I’m finding as I (sniff) get older that I’m questioning full gathered skirts on me…… If I want gathers I tend to find patterns that have only lightly gathered skirts or just in the centre front…..

    • I’m hearing you on the gathered skirt thing – previously I’ve loved them to bits, but this dress had me on the fence. I still enjoyed wearing it… but can’t help shake the feeling that it’s now out of my age appropriate bracket. The only thing defining that is how I feel about it of course, but I can definitely see myself converting this into a sheath dress in future. Thanks, Sarah!

    • Yeah I totally missed the communcations mark there… the simple was in reference to the pattern (5 pieces! whoo!), and not the web of complexity I weaved in and around it ;) haha. Thanks!

  35. Mel, that is so NOT a basic dress – the fabric, your sewing, and your amazing cutouts elevate it beyond a simple fit and flare dress – but I guess it is relatively simple compared to your wedding dress! Anyway, basic or not, it’s absolutely exquisite and super elegant, and I want one too!

  36. Beautiful! Just found your blog through Madelynne’s Best of 2015. Can’t wait to follow you into summer!

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