Sew House Seven Tea House Dress
All dressed up and nowhere to go.
It’s the story of my life right now. No one I know is getting married or engaged or having glamorous events. Date nights involve a bowl of pho and a beer and catch-ups with friends involve coffees, not cocktails. I’m working from home a lot, and feel I could safely wing it for weeks in trackies and sneakers and no one would blink. It’s all very casual.
There’s nothing wrong with this low-key lifestyle, in fact I’m pretty contented with it – but lately I’ve been longing to dress up a little. As my lifestyle has dipped to new casual lows, my desire to make nicer things in fancier fabrics has been slowly creeping up. Not really fancy, just not polar fleece. And so I’ve been looking for inspiration from people who manage to make a bit of effort each day to dress up, to see if I can up my game a little.
My sister in law is a great one to watch. She’s always dressed up. Not in a posh, expensive way; but in an eclectic, thrifted, vintage, swishy-skirted, costume jewelry and never-without-lipstick kind of way. Whether it’s for the school run, a coffee date, a weekend with our feral tribe of small people in the country or a fancy dinner, this girl never wears jeans. Like, ever. I’ve been quietly observing her lately in the hope that some of that quirky glamour might rub off (I don’t think it runs to in-laws), and I’ve realised that her trick to making it work, to not looking wildly overdressed, is flat shoes. Always flat shoes. The other day she wore an emerald green, puff-sleeved taffeta blouse with high-waisted vintage jodphurs to drop the kids off for a sleepover, but she paired her outfit with brogues, and it all looked perfectly reasonable for a day of domestic duties.
So I’m trying to take some small steps in the dress-up department. I’ve been wearing more skirts and tucked in blouses, even when I’m working at home. I’ve banned pyjama pants for exercise (I swear no one can tell the difference as they look exactly like sweatpants, but I know). And just the other day, when a friend texted suggesting a quiet Friday night drink, I wrote straight back: Let’s go somewhere fun and wear dresses and lipstick. And I had just the dress in mind: my new Sew House Seven Tea House Dress.
This pattern popped up on Instagram a few months ago, and I knew I wanted to try it immediately. I hadn’t heard of Sew House Seven before, but I was more than willing to give them a try as I loved the v-necked, kimono-sleeved, self-belted, flared-skirted promise of this dress – and double-loved the versions made up on the pattern pics. I was keen to attempt a subtle stripe, as I wanted to run the stripes in opposite directions to emphasise that central panel on the dress and the large pockets. But I had no stripes in the stash. Luckily I popped into Tessuti, turned a sharp immediate left to the black section and discovered this black-on-black, slightly textured, self-striped rayon (I’m so bad at technical fabric descriptions, I think that makes zero sense). I liked that it has a slightly retro, vintage feel and the rayon has a bit of stiffness as I wanted the sleeves to keep some shape.
I bought the PDF version of this pattern (I don’t think the paper patterns ship to Australia), and I can safely say it’s the biggest pattern I’ve ever assembled: four A0 pages. FOUR! I don’t even want to think about how many A4 pages that converts to – all I can say is get yourself to a copy-shop. The pattern itself is really clear and easy to follow and I learned a couple of new tricks during the make, which is always a welcome bonus. One is a technique to ensure a woven-fabric v-neck lies flat – you do a machine basting stitch along the edges of the V, then ever-so-slightly pull the seam in (not enough to gather it, just to shorten it a few millimetres), before applying interfacing. I think it worked! I also learned a new sewing term: crackstitch, which is another term for stitch-in-the-ditch (but so much more amusing to my inner smutty teenager).
The only adjustments I made to my version was to leave the wide tie-belt separate (it’s attached either side of the centre panel in the pattern) – as I wanted it to look more like an obi than a belt. I also lengthened the skirt by a good few inches, then ended up hacking half of that extra length before I hemmed it. Better to have options at the end!
Overall I’m happy with this dress. The v-neck seams aren’t perfectly straight (not sure if it’s because of the bumpiness of the stripes on the fabric, or I may have been a little overzealous with the gathering…?), but otherwise I think it sits quite well, it’s fun to wear and I love the slightly shiny, dressed-up 70s curtains feel of the fabric.
As for last Friday night’s plans, things didn’t go quite as expected. At 5pm I was all primed to wear my dress out for a drink. By 8.30pm I was in my dress, dozing off on the couch, quietly relieved that my drink date had cancelled because she was exhausted and just needed to watch old episodes of Gilmore Girls. Sigh. My lifestyle may need some adjusting, but at least I have a dress to wear when I finally get the energy to go out. And in the meantime, I’m just going to make myself wear this dress often, even if I team it with sneakers for a trip to the supermarket.