Colette Patterns Rue Dress
I’ve been ranting a little lately about comfort zones and sewing ruts and pushing boundaries, but aside from choosing a few fabrics vaguely outside my rulebook (which says strictly blue, black, grey and denim), it’s been a challenge to really push if further. Because I like what I like. And life’s too short to spend hours sewing patterns that I’m not sure I’ll wear at the end of the day.
But when Colette Patterns put out a shout a while back for pattern testers, a lightbulb went off: why not force myself to try new things by putting our collective Bombazine hand up? After all, Colette patterns are consistently great, if a little girlier than my usual style, plus their patterns always seem to include interesting little details and features that would push the sewing boundaries a bit more as well. And with two of us here at Bombazine, whatever pattern was thrown our way surely one of us could make it work. Surely…?
And then a couple of weeks back the Rue Dress arrived in my inbox, and I’ll admit I freaked a little. A fully-lined, fitted dress with bust tucks, scooped neck, curved seams and hidden zipper in an unashamedly 50s shape? Gulp. I’ll admit I’m a little intimidated by the whole ‘vintage’ thing, in that I just don’t think I can pull it off in a suitably subversive way. I love the way so many women can pile on the hairspray and red lipstick and totally own a fifties flared dress and heels, all with a bit of a wink. I’m not one of those women – there’s no irony. I just look frumpy. So I approached this dress with some trepidation….I knew it would be amazing on others, just not so sure for me.
All of that changed when I decided on my fabric. I tend to follow fabric recommendations on patterns very seriously, so couldn’t get my head beyond the suggested mid-weight cottons. Luckily Klarissa plays far looser with these fabric rules than I do (with surprisingly good results, though there was this sad and sorry pants experience a couple of weeks ago) – she suggested I use a piece of silk lycra I found in the offcut bin at The Fabric Store recently for my Rue. Silky, slightly stretchy and super fine fabric for a 50s-inspired tea dress? Is that even allowed? The funny thing is, as soon as I started picturing this dress in my silk lycra, I relaxed and realised I could give it a go because it took me to an era of ‘vintage’ that feels a lot more like home: that late 70s, slightly sleazy, Studio 54 thing. I’m thinking Deborah Harry on a smoky stage; Twyla Tharp dancers in matching lycra skater-skirts; Jerry Hall strutting around in a Roxy Music video before ditching Brian Ferry for Mick Jagger; and Kate Bush in a red scoop-necked lycra onesie dancing with a double bass. Ah, the golden age. Even if my dress looked nothing like any of these reference points (it doesn’t!), my inspiration was coming from a place that felt comfortable, so the whole thing seemed more possible. The mind games we play….
As for the actual sewing – what a joy. After long stretches of sewing time spent poring over short, badly-translated (by me and my phone) French and Japanese patterns, sewing up a dress with this level of detailed instructions was all kinds of luxurious. And necessary in my case, as I was attempting a few new techniques. I’ve never made a fully-lined dress before, and my invisible zippers have a bad habit of ending up, well, visible, so I appreciated the hand-holding on both. It’s made me realise I should use Colette and other pattern brands with a reputation for excellent instructions when I want to learn a new technique or try a new challenge – because it’s so much less frustrating (and you learn better habits).
I sewed a straight size 6 (my standard) in the pattern, with no fit adjustments (though I think it’s perhaps a little roomy on me?) and made a couple of small changes as the make progressed. I skipped the pockets because my fabric was so drapey I figured they’d show through and spoil the line of the skirt. And I started with the longer sleeves of Version B, then freaked that the elbow-length sleeves with scooped neck was taking me into medieval territory (I panic-texted Klarissa that I looked like Princes Fiona from Shrek, which may have been a slight overreaction), and chopped them back to the length of Version A – without the lining and slight puff.
The biggest challenge for me with fit was the bust gathers, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t done a great job with these. It was a little difficult to see from the patterned dresses photographed on the pattern and the line drawings exactly where those gathers are meant to sit – and as we all come in different shapes and sizes, maybe there’s no hard and fast rule. When I made the main dress shell and added the lining, the gathers sat really well at the side of my boobs, where I presumed all good gathers belong. BUT, when I added sleeves, the lining seemed to slightly pull at the bust and the gathers migrated further up. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was amiss or where they were meant to sit, until I saw this amazing version by Sarai, with those pleats sitting so nicely at the sides. They’re slightly higher up on her other (equally amazing) version, which makes me feel that where the pleats lie may be about fabric choice? Or it could be a fit issue – Klarissa tried my finished dress on and sure enough, the pleats sit perfectly by her sides, so I wonder if I need an extra centimetre or two in that bodice – I’m long in the body and it’s a little cropped for me. Let’s face it, I don’t have a clue – I’m not used to fitted dresses! I’m also not that fussed – I like it anyway.
Yes, you heard right – I like this dress. It’s exactly the opposite of what I would have chosen for myself – but I like it anyway. And when Klarissa, who is pretty much sworn off dresses, tried it on – she liked it too (and looked great in it). Minds blown. Assumptions challenged. Boundaries pushed. Who knows how many patterns are lurking out there that we’ve dismissed in the past, but which may turn out to be favourites? I guess there’s only one way to find out…