The Celestial dress

The new sewing pattern by a new designer, the Celestial dress is the most best dress I've ever made, for serious. Its got it all going on; style, comfort, practicality and a uniquely modest, (one is a Lady) contemporary, eminently versatile design. Yah, I like it.

This came into my orbit when I came across the pic below when idly scrolling around Instagram and I liked so clicked LIKE and commented "This looks like a great dress".

Whereupon the very lovely Nita, who's dress this is, replied "Thanks, would you like an advance copy of it?" to which she got a "Do I???! OMG YES!!!!" Which meant yes please, I'd love one, and voila, she sent it to me without asking for anything in return. No review, no feedback, just there you go, try it out. 

The gushing superlatives I did send back upon seeing the pattern and making the dress are all my own, nothing was traded for them, it was one sewist and fashion geek to another and we just clicked.

Through a few emails back & forth I learnt that Nita and her partner Ben were about to launch their new sewing pattern website "Pattern Fantastique" with three new designs up now and more to come. Nita's background is in patternmaking for high end labels but in this new venture she releases her own vision of deceptively simple, beautifully constructed, fresh, contemporary style for some serious home sewing Fashion. Fashion, like, with a F. Like, Fantastique. Heh heh. More about Nita and her new production later, but for now, have a look at what I've had the great pleasure of playing with: the heavenly Celestial Dress. Heavenly. Celestial. Heh heh heh.

Celestial Dress.JPG

From the start, this quality of this pattern package glowed and I loved it making it from beginning to end. I went with the top length to test the fit, using a crisp fine chambray-like cotton lawn from stash which delighted me as it was ever so slightly similar to an Ellery top I've been obsessing over and because, hello, stash?

Ok so they're not exactly alike but there's a spirit of regal minimalism about them; I'm still obsessing over the entire Ellery Resort'15 collection, look at the gorgeousness here. And yay for another great Australian designer making it well and making it big.

So this was my feedback as I chatted with Nita on having sewn the top:

"-          You know, the whole process was a charm; the mini pattern maps on every A4 piece is genius when sticking the whole thing together and I love that the pages are all numbered (surprising how some indie designers don’t do this). Thank you also for minimising the print out, vastly preferable to trace off  in my book.

 -          For this top, I used a cotton chambray type lightweight woven and cut a straight size 12, according to the pattern measurements; the note about the closely fitting yoke across the bust was spot on.

 -          The instructions are excellent! The fabric pieces matched up & went together beautifully, cunning construction! An absolute delight putting this together.

 -          Next time however I will be stay stitching all around the yoke & skirt top and I did machine baste the skirt to the yoke just to make sure it went where it was supposed to with no tucks or awkward lines and it was an exact fit. It was.

Ellery, sooo eleganty

Ellery, sooo eleganty

 -          I debated invisibly hand stitching the facings down but went for the topstitching in the end, am only sorry I didn't do better at it. I’m quite rubbish at neat top stitching actually. Lining the yoke would eliminate this of course but then the topstitching is better design wise with the pockets topstitched to match. But I did hand stitch the hem."

I was really really keen on making a midi & maxi version next, to see the fall of the skirt and for the pockets! Pockets!  I wrote "I’m thinking large scale gingham (!) and jacquard even. I do have some desperately lovely silk chiffons but they scare me a little so I’ll proceed with caution here. This dress lends itself to many, many fabric styling options; I’ve got handpainted large scale stripes on my mind as well a good bit of print/colour blocking to dwell on." 

I also wondered if maybe the beautiful yoke/skirt curve shown on the line drawing should be higher & more curvy upwards and that there's something I could do better here, so I redrafted this seam for the dress version. And although I love the cuffed short sleeves, so clever, I was tempted to hack on a different sleeve; those gracious flutes at Ellery slay me.

Thusly I went on to play with lots of pictures and put together some ideas for fabric design I've been thinking about for a while**:

**I hasten to add, at this time I underwent some minor surgery & was convalescing. Aside for being an excellent reason to do very little actual work, it gave me some enjoyable free hours to mess around with images, one of my favourite activities, hence the compilations you see here. It was a highly enjoyable interlude, one should do this more often. But without the hurty surgery bit.

Nita says she designs for a size 10 and the yoke curve flattens with size grading up, so as I cut a straight size 12, for my midi length gingham extravaganza, I increased the upward curved the yoke/skirt seam by about 1/1.5cm & then lowered the hem at front by same, to even the pitch of the skirt. But mostly what I wanted to mess with on the Celestial was neckline & sleeves. I was thinking a cropped cap, maybe a dart/pleat involved somewhere. And I'd fallen in love with a white Monqiue Lhuillier jacquard 'sculpted top' and a deep red dress by Tome, primarily for the sleeve details:

Soooo, I went ahead and gave it a go but in true amateur style, it took me TWO bodice toiles and TWELVE sleeve variations before I worked out that really, a rectangle cut on the bias was about exactly what did the trick. Pfft, me genius. The neckline sat a bit high for my liking so this became a square with a slight upward curve to echo the yoke seamline. I'm thinking a V neck for my next dress; I'm definitely making another or several Celestials, for damn sure. Hmm, what else did I do...ah yes, I stitched cotton tape along the top of the skirt for strength where there is no other support where the sides meet and finished the insides with the self made bias tape to match the lining.

Classic cotton gingham from Ikea.

Classic cotton gingham from Ikea.

I love this gingham fabric, it's almost denim weight but soft & just heavy enough. I'd never used a check pattern fabric before and I was surprised at what a beeeetch pattern matching can be on that bodice seam. I was debating cutting the front yoke on the bias all the way through but wanted the cross cut sleeve checks to stand alone so I struggled on...numerous unpickings later and the squares still don't align perfectly, bah! Definitely edge stitch EVERY SINGLE EDGE cos those curves stretch, even though I'd interfaced them. Lining the front & back yoke, which I think the virtually sleeveless version requires, meant there are a few layers collected at seams & this was getting quite thick so next time I'll use an actual lining rather than upcycling a batik tablecloth and maybe just ribbon rather than twill tape under the arms at the side seam. But I do like the ethnic batik twist against the gingham, its not so girly as it might have been although the design in general is quite strong enough to handle even a floral Liberty. And wouldn't that be gorgeous, a Liberty Celestial! How lovely. Booyah more dresses on their way for this summer!

I really cant believe the fit in the end, thought I'd have to put some elastic for grip under the arms but it just...sits & falls gracefully, like, wow. 'Cos at one stage, it was slightly ridiculous, all the mucking around I did on the bodice section.

I wont get into how I did the sleeve here too much, Nita assures me that she has several hacks and variations to come with time, including sleeve, sleeveless and neckline alterations & proper instructions are better left in professional hands I think. In truth, I enjoyed trying to perfect the sleeve and figuring out how the cut and fabric should fall and in the end I had my PERFECT SUMMER DRESS! And I love it so much! And, I'm well versed in bias cut sleeves now, bonus niche skillz yo.

Meanwhile I'd been yapping away at Nita & sent the following chat to Pattern Fantastique HQ:

"I get what you mean about the yoke line flattening out with size grading, that tipping point between intent and result is a bugger so I’ve brought up the center apex of the curve by approx 1cm on this next make. Interested to see how a few alterations will turn out; I’d say you are spot on with my fitting, I think I’m a size 10 frame with some size 12 bits!
 The other trick is making a maxi no-waist dress that doesn’t hang like a sack. I can think of no other maxi with as strong a design bend as this though. The Anna dress must have to be the most used maxi pattern because it fits such a diverse range of figure types, but I think that your above bust yoke does accentuate what is probably the narrowest measurement of a lot of women’s figures, rather than the under bust fit of the Anna. (Umm, I've never actually made an Anna so these are wild generalisations.)
 It also seems that the choice of fabric type and weight is critical; I suspect a lighter weight drapey jersey would completely change the original design intent regarding the fall of the skirt & sharp sleeves.
It’s a design-y statement garment with strong simple lines & an unfussy aesthetic, beautifully yet simply constructed; special care really should be given to fabric choice."

Nita cautioned against a jersey as the horizontal seam might look messy across the body and while a heavy jersey might be interesting, she was mindful of keeping this pattern & the fabric recommendations set at 'easy' for beginners. Lightweight fabric with movement works best. But a bit of colour blocking never stopped anyone, so that's an easy variation.

I love this dress. And I'll be making others and maybe directing a few more queries to the brains at Pattern Fantastique so watch out for the next post. Its been exciting working on this; when done all in one fabric colour/print it’s a great for dressy casual wear, but I’m an absolute sucker for a print/colour mash up and this dress is a perfect vehicle for that! I am very keen to develop some handpainted fabrics; at the moment I’m all bold patterns but with some the blocks of colour/pattern rendered in a watercolour-y fashion, so some solid areas are softened up a bit. Ink brushy. I’m thinking decorative/geometric, painterly/abstractive.… Early days. It's been way cool being on of the first to try this pattern, what an amazing opportunity, thank you Nita and Ben! Good work.