My Second Anna Dress in Birch Organic Cotton and Tips on Print Matching

My first Anna dress was a firm favorite in my summer wardrobe, it is no surprising that I want to make another one, especially now By hand London is hosting a sew-along, which has become my lunch time read lately.

Since I knew the fitting would be spot on, I wanted to spend more efforts on styling and neat finishing to make this one ultra special. I knew I wanted a V neck and a print this time, since my first one was a plain print with a slash neck. I really liked the practicality of the short length, so this time I am keeping it shorter which means 2 inches chopped off the midi length.
Directional print match was not something crossed my mind originally due to many skirt panels of Anna dress, until I set my eyes on this gorgeous green birch organic cotton in their Elk Grove Collection.   Look how adorable these Stags are!
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I ordered 2.5metres from http://www.thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk/; only realized later that I need much more for directional print matching.

A habit of mine is always cut fabric in such an economical way that there’s hardly any left or a large whole piece was left over for something else. This includes sometime cutting on single layer (like my tirumisu dress) and sometime interesting pattern piece layout. I felt I was up to a challenge this time. 

So 2.5m (2.3m actually, after wash) long  45 inches wide  fabric, was it enough for an Anna? Of course … otherwise I would not like to share a sob story with you. So how did I do it? Read on.

  1. Style changes. There’re seven pieces for the skirt, seven!   I’d gone mad trying to match all of them! For my insanity and to save fabric, the first thing I did was to convert the 7-piece skirt pattern to 3 pieces only. One piece for the front skirt and a pair for the back. In the photo below,  I just overlapped the seam lines of the center front and side front pieces and stick  them together using a low-tact tape.  Easy-peacy. The same goes for the back pieces, except I cut the front piece on the fold but cut a pair of back pieces.
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  2. Decide where to match. It will be pretty awesome to match EVERY SINGLE seam – horizontal or vertical. It is impossible, though, at least for this type of directional print. The pattern pieces are not perfect rectangular, so If I matched the pattern pieces on the shoulder seams then the bodice side seams will not match. The seams that join the bodice and the skirt will not match anyways due to the presence of the pleats and ducts. The most obvious and probably the easiest seams are the centre back seams which were the one I concentrated on.
  3. Lay out the pattern pieces all in once, cut on a single layer of fabric, and match at the seam lines. When I say all, I meant the ones you want to match. I cut my bodice front and skirt front (now one piece) from the fabric first – using the most economical way of course. I then traced another back bodice and back skirt pattern pieces and laid out all of them at once on the remaining fabric, with the fabric right side up. REMEMBER: lay the two identical pattern pieces for the bodice and skirt as mirror images to each other. My fabric has about 30cm pattern repeat, which means some pieces need to be at least that much distance apart. An useful tip:  use a reference point to show the pattern repeat. I used colorful clamps at a reference point (two little birds sitting on a stag, if you must know), to help me visualize the pattern repeat. I then laid my pieces down, shifted them around a few times.  I marked the seam line on the pattern pieces and tied to match the fabric underneath them. My patterns pieces were made out of Swiss tracing paper which is slightly transparent, so I was able to see the fabric underneath the paper quite well.  Once I was content, I pinned the pieces downs and cut them out using a rotary cutter (or scissors, as you prefer) . Remember the old golden rule: measure twice, cut once. In my case I match three times, and cut once.  ALSO, don’t forget to mark the seam lines on the wrong side of the fabric (I used dressmaker’s carbon paper and a teethed tracing wheel). The marked line would guide you in the future. IMG_8485         IMG_8486IMG_8484IMG_8481
  4. Baste first, by hand or by machine. Once you cut the pieces precisely, you are half way there! The first part of the matching stitch started with the invisible zip installation at the bodice central back, which is always tricky.  Note, if the bodices don’t match, the skirts won’t. The best advice I can give you is to baste the zippers by hand before sewing, and zip up to check the fit, if not good enough, baste again till you are happy with the alignment (let the marked seamed line guide you). Don’t get frustrated by ripping the basted line, keep calm and carry on.  I got it right on my second attempt.  I then machine basted the skirt pieces using the longest stitch length, again, guided by the marked seam lines. Check, once happy, sew again with a shorter stitch length this time. If you are really not confident to install a matching central invisible zipper, why not move the zipper to the side instead? My dress has a lining so I have some extra steps to fix the lining to the zipper, no tricks here, and no pattern matching, just try to be careful when hand stitching in case of angry bubble at the zipper end.

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For rest of construction I will fast forward, in case you get bored…closed the side seams, finished the sleeves by hand and hem the skirt by blindstitching. Look, perfectly matched back seams. Can you tell the centre seam on the back?

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For the lining hem I used one of my fancy stitches came with my vintage Bernina, a scallops hem. It was super easy, I just stitched around the hem line and trimmed off the fabric. I love the effect so I don’t mind the extra effort on trimming with my small pair of scissors. I did it in front of my telly crouching in the sofa and it took me an episode of “Big Bang Theory”.IMG_8623

A few photos for y’all. Sorry about the poor lighting. Since winter approaching, the day is getting greyer and shorter, taking photos is like a battle with the light. Every I adjusted the light the moment I took the shoot it got darker! I added a belt and threw on a pair of heels so it doesn’t look too much like a little girls’ dress.

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With the lining the dress feels quite warm. Although grass green is not an exact fall/winter colour, but somehow it makes me happy and eases my winter blue. I can see a lot of wear out of my second Anna.

Completed, My first Anna Dress, By Hand London

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“By Hand London” is a relatively new indie pattern company and so far they have launched four patterns and generated a huge interest in online sewing community. I have passed them on in the past as I did’t think the styles are particularly “me”. What a mistake! After seeing a lot of beautiful incarnations of their Anna dress, like this one and that one. I decided to try my hands on this pattern. On the same day as it arrived (yesterday that is), I couldn’t resist and whipped the dress up within one day,  from tracing to hemming  that is! It was a seriously fast make and  the result can not be more perfect.

First impression: The pattern come in a beautiful purple envelope protected by a separate card slip. I heard it comes with a cute cloth label that you can attach to your finished garment but I couldn’t find it in mine. (no biggie).  It has three variations on the tin – the slash neck maxi with thigh high split, the V-neck maxi and the slash neck with midi skirt. To be honest you can easily create many more – the options are endless. The instructions are very well written, with a lot of good sewing advises for beginners. However if you have some dressmaking experience you probably don’t have to look at them at all.

The sizing comes in both UK and US, take the guess out I guess:-) I decided to go for variation 3, the slash neck with midi length as my fabric has a lot of body so more suited for this particular look. I used a light blue/white tiny pin stripes poly/cotton blend in my stash, I bought it for ages without knowing what to do with it. It is very crispy, maybe a shirting material, feels a bit stiff to the touch.

My bust and waist sizes are more or less a UK 16/ US 12 (within 0.5 inch difference) so I decided to go for that (although I am able to wear UK12-14 RTW;  vanity sizing that’s all ). I did’t make a bodice toile but did a quick tissue fitting to my duct tape bodyform Gladys (as in gladys and glynnis in Friends, haha) and it looked OK. It is a quick way to check your fit however bear in mind it is not suited for fine-tuning and will not help you visionizing this dress at all. I figured it is ok since this will be my wearable muslin. IMG_2692

The construction of the garment went like a breeze, there was no interfacing, no reinforcing the seams, no lining, no sleeve setting and no buttons closures. The invisible zipper at the central back was probably the most time consuming part but even that was  not too onerous.  I just pressed and pressed the foot pedals for hours like a worker in sweatshop! I used an overlocker where I can to save time as the dress has a lot of long seams on the skirt panel. I also understitch the neckline to keep the facing laying flat.  The bodice has four pleats on the front instead of darts  and they should “opening up almost flower-like to accommodate your bobbies” (quoted from the instruction booklet!). The skit has seven parts, and they all looked roughly the same, so labelling and notching them carefully would save a lot of headache later. All bits matched perfectly, apart from the skirt circumference seamed an inch longer than the bodice – I think it was my mistake rather than a fault of the pattern. Sometimes when overlocking I tend to pull the garment to the side when near the end which results in a narrowed seam allowance. It was no biggie I just took in some fabric at the seams joining the central front and the central side skirts so the pleated lines aligned with the skirt seams as they should.

I had some doubts over the kimono sleeves and the slash neck, as I feared they may make my shoulders looking even broader than they are in real life. But I needed to fear no more as the design turned out to be very flattering. I think the pleats and kimono sleazes contributed to the universally flattering shape for a range of body types. I just love the way the sleeves and the skirts are flared out which instantly slim the waist (see, I learnt a thing or two from Gok Wan).

One more to the side. I chopped two inches off and used a wide hem so the hemline just sits above the knees.IMG_7712

I attached a pink rickrack on the collar which gives a vintage homemade feel.IMG_7675

Overall, I am very pleased with the dress and the pattern.  On the first day wearing it, I received the first compliment from a complete stranger. Sure, i received complements on my home-made garments since I started sewing from friends – but what else are they supposed to say? And I don’t even count praises from Mr X as I consider parterner’s compliment obligatory. Thank you, gentleman from Waitrose, you said it was “simple yet sophisticated”. Yes, those are the exact words I would use to describe my first Anna.

The pattern is deceptively simple and it has huge potentials for a variety of completely different looks. You want a casual cotton dress for summer with knee length? Sure. You want a feminine, flowing silk maxi dress to stroll the beach? You got it! You want a thigh splitting, vampy, crime-boss’-mistressy, velvet dress? Seriously what planet are you on?

Do you know “By Hand London” is hosting a sew-along for Anna soon, on 16th Sep? Pop over to have a look here. I will definitely join it. This time I am thinking a v-neck maxi dress with a thigh split… Can’t wait.

Bottom line: believe me you need it