Mary-Ellen's Upton Dress

Mary-Ellen's Upton Dress

Let’s face it; our relationships with our bodies are constantly in flux. My body has been through so many sizes and changes throughout its lifetime, which is perhaps why I haven’t been too phased by pregnancy and postpartum measurements. Over the last six months since having my little boy, my focus has been on making clothes that are comfortable and nursing / pumping friendly (and rightly so) but I am now going through a stage where I am also trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy style – fit and flare dresses with little to no ease! I hope that, someday, I can get back into my pre-pregnancy me-made garments because, the truth is, it sits uneasily with me that all my time, effort and money have been invested and I may never get to wear them again. However, the other side of the coin is that my body has grown, birthed and fed a little miracle and I can’t hold a grudge against the changes that have inevitably occurred along the way. In fact, in some regards, I have more respect and appreciation for the female body after having been through the journey of motherhood.

So I made a decision to make ‘unpractical dresses’; dresses that aren’t breastfeeding friendly; after all, 6 months in, and with solids being introduced into the little one’s diet, we have much longer gaps of times between feeds and more opportunities to dress in clothes that do not have to serve as functional. However, my breastfeeding bust measurements did not inspire me to go to my old favourite vintage style patterns; instead, I turned to the Cashmerette Upton dress, purely because the range of sizes done in their pattern cutting prcess is almost inimitable (Charm Patterns is another point of reference for me in terms of catering for larger busts but I find Cashmerette sizing to be more consistent and reliable, needing very little modification on my part which, having very little sewing time at the moment, is a mercy).

Fitting a tailored fit and flare style dress for curves and larger busts can often be a time-consuming process but Cashmerette takes all the work out of it with cup sizes C-H available. They also have a fool proof sizing calculator to help you – all you need to do is take your key measurements and it will tell you what size to make. For reference, I made a size 18 G/H with a 1” Full Bust Adjustment (FBA). My measurements before breastfeeding would have put me in an E/F cup so there is quite an increase between my upper and full bust measurements. Following the recommendations, I made up a toile – opting for the V-neck back and front (there is also a scooped next version) – and the fit was spot on! It is also worth noting that there is an incredible expansion pack available with so many more options which I will have to get a copy of now that I have finally made the Upton dress. I can see why it has cult status in the curvy sewing sphere.

The original pattern pieces offer two skirt versions – I chose the dramatic box pleats over the gored skirt, predominantly because it gives me that vintage vibe that I am trying to get back in my wardrobe and it works so well with the black and white polka dot fabric I chose. It’s hard to beat a classic fit and flare polka dot dress in my opinion. The fabric being cotton sateen makes it an even more perfect choice for sewing this style of dress – sateen lends itself to garments that require a bit of structure due to the construction of the weave. If, like me, you like to know about the composition of fabrics, you might be interested to know that the unique texture of sateen comes by way of using the satin weaving method. Sateen is created by weaving four threads over, one under so most threads are on the surface, giving a matte, flat finish on the underside of the fabric. With the majority of warp threads on the top, sateen is extremely soft; however, it can be liable to snag so it is worth ensuring you use a sharp needle when sewing. Another feature I love about sateen is that it does not crease as much as other types of cotton so you can keep that pristine vintage look all day.

I have only praise for this sewing pattern. In terms of fit, there was nothing I needed to do other than add an inch in to the bust – the V neck (both and front) fit perfectly with no gape. Next time I’ll deepen the front V because I have a preference for lower necklines (especially when I don’t have to worry about going to work). With regards to the instructions, as per usual, Cashmerette wonderfully describe each step and the illustrations are a perfect supplement, should you need them. I would easily recommend them to any level of sewist, including confident beginners who are not intimidated by the idea of inserting a zip which may or may not be essential… thus begins the comedy of errors that ensued as I was sewing up this dress.

Jenny of Cashmerette recently posted a blog about making the Upton to attend to a wedding without inserting a zip and, while I considered it, I went into sewing this with the intention of sewing in a zip; while I was using a cotton sateen with a little stretch for comfort and could easily have omitted the zip, I was lining the dress bodice in a cotton lawn so opted against depending on the stretch of the sateen to put this dress on simply over the head. I had sewn up the toile in a cotton and the fit was perfect so I went into constructing the final garment with confidence that there would be no issue whatsoever…

However, what I did not account for was the length of time that would pass between cutting out my garment and sewing it – new mamma life doesn’t readily allow for sewing time (just short bursts during naptime) and I’ll opt for playing with Henry over sewing any time, but I should have employed common sense (mummy brain, anyone?) and stay stitched all the pieces… it’s just that I never intended so many days to pass between cutting and sewing. So when I got to the point of putting in the zipper, I put the dress on to try the fit one last time and discovered that some stretching out had occurred at the waist, on both the waistband and skirt pieces (or perhaps the lawn wasn’t heavy enough to stabilise the stretch of the sateen. Whatever it was, some work had to be done to make this dress fit the way I wanted it and I realised at this point that there was absolutely no need for the zip to be inserted. Instead, I took the waistband out and tapered it from top to bottom to decrease the waist (I shouldn’t have graded out a size, but the toile felt comfortable when I had) by an inch and then took another 1 ½ inches out of the back, having to fiddle a little with the lining at the centre back to make it look just right. Another thing which I may not have accounted for was the weight of the skirt in sateen – with all those deep pleats, there is a lot of fabric there which may have been stretching out the waistband.

In spite of all this, I got there in the end and have a lovely vintage inspired black and white polka dot dress that I can wear out with friends or for dinner. I actually enjoyed having to adapt this pattern as I have gone along after a year of making and wearing stretch garments which require very little skill or fitting techniques. It won’t be the last Upton dress I make this year.

Inspired to make your own version? Here's what you'll need:

Fabric : Penny Spot Cotton Sateen

Pattern : Cashmerette Upton Dress & Skirt plus Mix & Match Expansion Pack Sizes 12-32. 

Also available in sizes 0-16

[Disclosure: Mary-Ellen was provided with the materials for her project free of charge and received a gift voucher in recognition of the time spent on her project.]

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