As I was saying last week, my biggest fail of the year was this Chiara dress I wore on the 4th of July. A little bit of context to start: every year, for the 4th of July, I try to sew a red, white and blue outfit to celebrate (in previous episodes…). In 2017, I had set my sights on this white fabric embroidered with red and blue starts, and the Chiara dress from Wear Lemonade, a brand of patterns I hadn’t tried yet, despite having subscribed to their PDF club for a few months. Unfortunately, after several long evenings struggling to finish it on time, I thought it was such a disaster that I abandoned it with only the zipper left to insert. For July 4th 2018, I decided to take it out from the back of the closet and finish it to be able to wear it at least once, and talk about it here!
Looking at the pictures, sure, it’s pretty cute. It has all the elements that attracted me to the pattern to begin with: the boat neck that extends pretty far on the shoulders, the cap sleeves that create a pretty overlap on the side of the bodice, the V-shaped darts on the front. It looks very effortless, feminine yet very relaxed, which is something I liked on the pictures of the ready-to-wear collection. Generally, I find the styling on the Wear Lemonade pictures spot-on. The atmosphere is great, the fabrics are perfect, it’s fresh, fun, kinda makes you want to jump in the picture:
However, sewing-wise, when you look at it up close, you realize that the fit of the garments on the models is not that great. It gapes at the necklines and armholes, the bodices are too long or too wide… I think that’s what turns me off about Wear Lemonade: it’s a ready-to-wear brand first, and a sewing patterns brand second. Therefore their clothes tend to have a very read-to-wear fit: slightly oversized and cinched with a drawstring or belt, instead of properly fitted.
Another thing that bugs me is the lack of pictures showing the garments clearly. On the pattern pages, you only have the line drawing of the front of the garment, sometimes a picture on a hanger or dress form (which I don’t recall being there back when I downloaded the pattern), but nothing showing the garment on a body. To find those, you have to dig deep on the internet to find the clothes sold for the various Wear Lemonade ready-to-wear collections, which are often gone if the pattern is a little older. And don’t even think about finding a picture showing the back or side (which is particularly unfortunate here since the armhole detail on the side of Chiara is my favorite thing about this pattern!).
With all this I couldn’t quite figure out how the dress would turn out. The line drawing (above, left) showed a bodice stitched directly to a gathered skirt, but the finished garment picture that I had found on social media (above, right) looked like there might be a waistband in the middle. The picture in the instruction booklet (below, left) wasn’t helping much either, but thankfully I ended up finding the corresponding picture of the back of the dress (don’t ask me where, it took me forever just scrolling through Google Images) and I understood that it was a fabric belt on top of the dress, knotted in the back.
With that mystery solved, I started putting the PDF pattern together. It is huge: 43 pages to tape together. And only once I had finished the whole thing I realized that the skirt and skirt lining pieces are strictly identical rectangles. I’m good with having to print and assemble a rectangular pattern piece rather than tracing it from dimensions, since there are pocket notches to take into account, but having to tape together two giant identical rectangles is a stupid waste of paper and time. And the lining isn’t even shorter than the skirt!
After raging on the pattern sheet layout, I kept on raging on the instruction booklet:
– there is no cutting layout for the lining, nor is there a list of pieces that should be cut in the lining
– fabric recommendations include gabardine “for a Mad Men look” (just imagine the result with all these gathers in the skirt…)
– there are no diagrams, but photos on a different page from where the text is, which means you’re always jumping back and forth between both and losing track of where you’re at
– it is sometimes mentioned to “repeat steps with the lining”, and sometimes it’s not said but still has to be done
… plus a bunch of grammatical errors in the French text, but you get the gist, it’s hard to follow and could have used some more thorough proof-reading.
The construction itself is pretty haphazard. Rather than sewing the sleeves to the main fabric, and finishing the lining on the inside afterwards, the pattern asks you to fold in both the bodice and its lining by 1 cm, insert the sleeves in the middle, than topstitch them in place. I find this very messy, and definitely not easier for beginners. A few steps later, the skirt is closed in the round, then assembled to the bodice (which isn’t supposed to be a tube at this point, but I suppose you have to close the back seam as well…), then the back seam is unpicked with a seam-ripper to install the zipper in the center back. Sure, why not, except that they also instruct you to sew the skirt lining in the round to the bodice, and the back lining is just one piece, with no back seam. Oh and they never mention sewing the side seams of the lining either. You’re lost? Well I was too, don’t worry, the whole thing was like this. Complete mess.
On top of that, my fabric was not cooperating. It was a lightweight cotton voile, found in a discount fabric store in Boston, and I thought it would be perfect for a July 4th dress (the red embroidery kind of looks like fireworks!). Unfortunately the weave was so loose that the seams would pull and pucker no matter what settings I used on the machine. It was also fraying like crazy, which was a nightmare with the 1 cm seam allowances. But I ended up finishing the dress eventually, sewing some parts by hand and improvising the construction as well as I could. And now it makes me so angry every time I see it! I’ve only worn it once and it’s currently at the back of my closet waiting to be donated.
Yet when I see the pictures, I think the dress had potential. Sure, the cap sleeves make me look like a quaterback and it tends to fall down of my shoulders, but I think with a simple bodice width adjustment and sewn in a better fabric it could be nice. The drafting is good, after all: all the pieces fit together perfectly, darts end where they should, and the armhole overlap looks great.
What was an issue was the “pattern object”: the layout, construction methods, anything that has to do with user experience basically. Drafting a good pattern is not the whole thing, there’s a lot of work afterwards to make sure that it can be sewn by actual people, which includes putting together a clear, correct, and complete instruction booklet. Maybe with Wear Lemonade patterns you’re only supposed to follow along with a video to sew your garment, and the instructions that come with the pattern are just filler. Except I don’t always have internet access when I sew, and I’d rather read instructions than try to catch up with a video in real time, always having to pause and rewind.
Luckily for me, I am experienced enough that I can use only the pattern and line drawing and improvize the construction. So there is still a possibility that I’ll make a new Chiara dress eventually, once I forget how annoyed I was at the pattern. I also wanted to sew their Fiona overalls, but with this one I think I won’t evern look at the instructions, and also swap the center back zipper for an invisible side zipper, which should look better. Have you ever sewn with Wear Lemonade patterns? What was your experience?
4th of July Chiara Dress
Chiara – Wear Lemonade
Embroidered cotton voile – Sewfisticated Fabrics, Somerville MA
Solid cotton voile – Sewfisticated Fabrics, Somerville MA