When I showed my husband my By Hand London Anna dress, even as a muslin he called it “fetching.” And I can’t think of a better way to describe this dress. It’s just… fetching.
This is my first experience with a BHL pattern, and I can see why they have many fangirls. The By Hand London Anna was the November garment for Project #SewMyStyle. I missed the November deadline, in spite of having everything a sewist needs to sew a dress.
What slowed progress? The fabric. Or, rather, my paralyzing fear of cutting into the most special piece of fabric in my stash. (You know, no bigs.)
By Hand London Anna Construction Details
I’ve had this Liberty of London cotton Tana lawn in my stash since 2013. The print is Caesar. I have a thing for peacocks; they’re beautiful AND ridiculous. I love that dichotomy.
I bought it at the Liberty of London store IN London, and that trip was the last time I’ve been on an international vacation since my sons were born. Actually, when I took this trip, I only had one son. My in-laws watched him for me and my husband. My in-laws are very generous!
This is the second garment I’ve made with Tana lawn; the first was my Sew Caroline Larchmont T. This lightweight cotton is easy to sew, with the slightest bit of slipperiness. I used an 80/12 needle; I probably could have gone smaller for most seams.
I had 4-5 meters of lawn to work with, and I desperately wanted to sew the maxi-length version of this dress. I knew, however, that the directional nature of the feather print would be a challenge.
Basically, I hoped that once I adjusted the skirt pieces for my short legs I’d miraculously have enough fabric for a maxi dress. Well, you can see what happened.
The midi length is great, too, and it probably works better for my body and its proportions than the maxi length.
But can we all agree that a maxi Anna in bold peacock feathers would have been a showstopper? OK, I feel validated now.
I sewed a straight 6 US/10 UK. The sizing chart showed 34-27-37, which lined up just about perfectly with my measurements. Dontcha love it when that happens?
I didn’t cut into my Liberty without a muslin, which is how I knew the dress as drafted was going to work out a-OK. Along with size, I used the muslin to test a side zipper (vs. the called-for center-back zip). My bright idea was to eliminate pattern matching wherever I could, because, as you can see, wispy feathers aren’t exactly the easiest images to line up. (Does that qualify as Understatement of the Year?)
So I drafted the back bodice as one pattern piece and got on with construction, inserting the invisible zip in the side. And I was confident that I had reduced my need for pattern matching at at least one seam, woo hoo. I even measured my head and the neck opening to make sure I could get my noggin through the hole.
it wasn’t my head, though, that was the problem. It was my shoulders.
This was a big “Well DUH” moment. Moving the zip from the center to the side guaranteed that the dress would need to go on over my head. (A center zip gave me more wiggle room (pun intended) to slide the dress over my hips if I were slow and careful.)
In short, I didn’t think about how delicate an operation it would be maneuvering my arms and shoulders into the sleeves with a side zipper. I felt like a contortionist.
And even when I was super careful getting into the muslin, I could see that the wee seam of the sleeve underarm at the top of the zipper was under A LOT of stress. I had a vivid vision of ripping out that seam in my Liberty lawn and knew a side zipper was a pipe dream. Sigh, at least I tried.
The moral of the story is: Don’t forget about the other broad parts of your body.
Oooh, and there’s a second moral, too: This is why you make muslins — to test ideas!
Highlights of the By Hand London Anna Dress
OK, now I’ll get into more pattern review-y stuff!
This pattern is beautifully drafted, and the pattern pieces fit together effortlessly. A-line skirts often can look like paper-doll skirts, jutting out stiffly from the waist over the hips. but the panels of this skirt — three in the front and four in the back — give Anna’s skirt a life of its own.
I’m also a big fan of the bust pleats. They’re a nice change of pace from side darts, and I think they’re more forgiving in terms of placement. If a side dart isn’t pointing at the apex of your bust, it’s obvious.
The directions are written in a breezy, conversational style that oozes charm; I found them delightful. I didn’t need a lot of granular sewing direction, though — mostly I needed to know the preferred order of sewing operations.
I added my own sewing flair in a few spots, First, I used French seams throughout, except for the center back seam, which I overlocked on my serger. (I also finished the edges of the neckline facings with my serger.)
I interfaced my facings to increase their beefiness. When sewing the facings, I also understitched them to the seam allowance, which was pressed toward the facings. No one wants a rogue facing rolling to the right side.
I thought it was strange that the pattern didn’t call for interfacing or understitching. These seem like standard steps when you’re sewing a garment with a neckline facing. BHL pitches Anna as a simple summer dress that’s easy to sew, and I guess eliminating interfacing and understitching expedites the dress. But for the longevitiy of a garment, I don’t think they should be skipped.
BHL also could improve the instructions by reminding sewists that the facing is NOT sewn to the zipper tape during zip installation. Hand tacking the facing is covered toward the end of the instructions, but an earlier reference would be helpful.
Pattern Matching the Fabric
The pattern matching and fussy cutting on this dress juuust about did me in, guys. It took all of my concentration, and I cut out the pieces over multiple days. Normally, I’ll cut out a pattern in one night, because I hate getting all my cutting stuff set up multiple times.
I cut all the pieces flat to ensure the feathers ended up in the right places. To increase visual interest (and to conserve fabric), I reversed the direction of the front side panels and back side panels. It’s a subtle change that you’d likely only notice up close, but I like it loads.
I paid extra attention to the vertical alignment of the pattern on the bodice front and center skirt front. Pattern matching across the back was a mixed bag. The bodice back is matched quite well, but the waist seam is off by about one-eighth inch, and the skirt center back pieces suffer because of it. But because the bodice back looked so nice, I opted to not rip out and reinstall the zipper. The pattern is busy, and when the dress is on my body and in motion, this minor flaw will be almost invisible.
Aside from the upper skirt center back, I didn’t try to pattern match across the many skirt panels. I think it would have made my eyes twitch! Instead, I matched the feather “stripes” — large feathers, medium feathers, small feathers. I did the same “stripe” matching for the bodice.
Reflections on Sewing, Privilege, and the By Hand London Anna Dress
More than most sewing projects, this By Hand London Anna dress had me thinking about sewing and privilege. This dress, if I’m being critical, represents my privilege in several ways:
- The fabric is expensive — $30-$35 per meter. I’m pretty sure this is the most expensive garment I’ve sewn.
- I bought the fabric while I was on an international vacation.
- I made this dress as part of the Project #SewMyStyle challenge. Without the challenge, it’s unlikely I would have bought the Anna dress pattern.
- I have enough leisure time to sew a frivolous garment. Don’t get me wrong; I’m smitten with Anna. But I don’t NEED a party dress.
- I sewed part of this Anna dress on a new Baby Lock serger (expensive, unnecessary, and absolutely fabulous).
- I live within walking distance of a Jo-Ann Fabric, where I bought my notions for this project.
- I have a room — with a door! — in my house dedicated to sewing. (The computer’s in there, too, but I use the laptop to then blog about sewing.)
Heck, probably part of the reason I was so nervous about cutting into this fabric, on top of the technical challenges of pattern matching, was an unspoken/unconscious fear of screwing up something I was so lucky to have. In other words, I thought, “Owning this and sewing this are a privilege… don’t screw it up.”
I strive live with a grateful heart. I often find myself thinking, “Holy crap, Erin. You’ve got it good. Like, REALLY REALLY REALLY good.” Our family talks candidly about our privilege, and we make an effort to help people living in the margins. My husband and I want our sons to be compassionate citizens and aim to set a good example.
Sewing is a hobby of privilege. It used to be that you sewed to save money. It’s not like that anymore. (Unless you’re a masterful refashioner who’s comfortable sewing from thrift store scores and self-drafted patterns.)
My Liberty of London Anna is a high-water mark for me in my sewing, and it also represents how lucky I am to have created it.
Do you guys also reflect on your privilege as you sew? What are your thoughts? Sewist extraordinaire Jasika Nicole (of the Try Curious Blog) covers similar topics in this thought-provoking post for the Sewcialists. If you like your craft with a side of deep thoughts, check it out.
OK, sewing friends. Thanks for reading to the end! I’ve got one more Project #SewMyStyle garment to blog about, and that post should go up in January. My next post will cover reflections on 2017 and what’s cranking for me in the new year!
P.S. In case you missed the last post, here it is: Sewing Pants, Part 3: A Completed Pair of Hampshire Trousers. I’m working on making a page on the site that collects all three pants-sewing posts!
P.P.S. Here are the other Project #SewMyStyle garments:
January: Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater #2: The stylish sweatshirt
February: Named Saunio Cardigan: Harder than it looks
March: Becoming a (Manila) leggings person for Project #SewMyStyle
April: Bridgetown backless, the forever dress
May: Cali Faye Collection Pocket skirt + How to use basting tape like a pro
June: Mom status: Effortlessly cool in a Megan Nielsen Briar top
July: Cali Faye Valley blouse pattern hack: A mini muumuu with no regrets
August: A Modern Darling Ranges Shirt Dress: Megan Nielsen Pattern Review
September: Yona Coat: Proud as a Peacock
October: Sewing Pants, Part 3: A Completed Pair of Hampshire Trousers