I’m here with exciting news today: I think this might be the first time I’ve ever decided to participate in a sewing challenge and actually got everything done on time! Last fall, Mary at Idle Fancy declared the Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses and invited others to participate in making thousands of amazing shirtdresses with her. I’d been desperately wanting to make McCall’s 6696, so I was very excited to hear about this. Mary very graciously extended the deadline a couple of times (which is why the Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses is wrapping up in winter), and if it hadn’t been for that, I never would have made it. Yay for extensions!
I’ve always wanted to make a shirtdress because button-down RTW things in general don’t fit me. I love love love shirtdresses, so it’s always been depressing to me that I couldn’t wear them. My Grainline Alder was technically a shirtdress, but not a classic one, so I was still itching to make a classic shirtwaist dress. I am very pleased with the results I got from McCalls 6696.
This dress is sort of a wearable muslin; I made a real muslin of the bodice out of muslin fabric and made some adjustments based on that, but decided that I wanted to make a practice dress out of some inexpensive fabric before cutting into the two nicer fabrics I purchased for this pattern. This fabric was cheap as free because it’s part of the massive stash of fabric I keep referencing from my friend Annah’s grandma. You may recall that I made my first Tiramisu out of red striped fabric from Annah’s grandma, and I still have one more red stripe from her! She’s apparently a great fan of red striped fabric, and she’s not wrong. This particular fabric is really interesting because the selvedge says it’s from Wamsutta, a name you might recognize from shopping for bedsheets. I didn’t know they made yardage you could buy, but I believe Annah said her grandma told her she got it from the Wamsutta outlet. I’m guessing it was made for some home dec purpose, but I think it makes a nice vintagey-looking shirtdress. It has in interesting texture, which you can see in some of my closeups at the end of this post.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually like a classic shirtdress on me because I’d never found one that fit properly enough to make an assessment. I am pretty happy with this, though. I think this dress probably emphasizes my bustline a bit more than I’d like, but I’m honestly so thrilled with finally having a shirtdress that I don’t even care. In the picture below, you’ll notice that I took out the back gathering. I like it on many of the versions I’ve seen on others, but I don’t like it on me. I also removed a lot of width from the front and back skirt pieces. There were two reasons for this – first of all, my fabric was pretty narrow and it would have been necessary to not cut on the fold to fit the skirt pieces on my fabric. I didn’t want to deal with that, plus I generally don’t like as much bulk in the skirt as most pleated or gathered skirt patterns call for. I probably took four inches out of the back and two or so inches out of the front, and I think it worked out perfectly. I was able to fit the pattern pieces on my fabric while it was folded, and I really like the amount of ease below the waist.
You can also see in this picture that the back waistline is a little low. Readers, I’ve already taken off like two inches from the back length! I chopped about an inch off the bottom and I folded out about an inch at the yoke seam. I always have a ton of problems with excess back length, and this dress is apparently no exception. I’ll keep working on this in my next two versions. All that being said, I’m pretty happy with my stripe matching here. The collar matching is a total fluke – I initially cut the back, yoke, and collar all on the same fold so they’d match, but then I accidentally sewed the collar without my interfacing. I didn’t feel like ripping it out, so I just cut a new collar because I had extra fabric. I’m glad it ended up matching the bodice stripes because I didn’t think of that at all when I was cutting the new one!
Speaking of interfacing, I still don’t have any quality fusible interfacing, so I decided to use bleached muslin as my interfacing for this dress. I’d heard of people doing this on Pattern Review and decided it couldn’t be that terrible of an idea. After I finished this dress, Tasia revealed that she used bleached muslin as a sew-in interfacing on her new Granville shirts (which are amazing and I must have this pattern immediately!) because it’s what David Page Coffin recommends in his shirtmaking book, so I felt justified in what I’d done. I had been admiring the gorgeous crisp cuffs and collars on Tasia’s samples and wanted to know her secrets – little did I know that I was already practicing them!
For another tip on getting crisp collars, I’d recommend using this method for shaping your corners: Tilly’s tutorial on How to Shape a Sharp Corner. I’ve seen a few people recommend this method, but Tilly’s is the only tutorial I can remember right now (I think Tasia might have also talked about this one?). This method works, people. It works much better than reducing bulk by snipping crosswise, and it also works better than this method I’ve seen where you sew a thread into the corner and then pull it from the outside.
In the picture below, I might look like I’m doing the robot, but what I’m actually doing is looking for the pockets that this dress is supposed to have. I cut out the pockets and everything, but then I totally forgot to sew them. I didn’t realize it until everything was done except the finishing and once again didn’t feel like ripping things out, so I just left them off. Unlike others, I’m not one who freaks out about pockets–I feel like they often sit strangely and make my hips look bigger than they are–but I do feel like a proper shirtdress should have pockets so I’ll try to remember to put them in my next two versions!
Because this was a sort of wearable muslin, I decided to pink the seams instead of finishing them with my serger. It also seemed like a good idea because this dress has a sort of vintagey feel to me. I’ve never done this before, so we’ll see how I like it. It was certainly a lot quicker, especially since I have a pinking blade for my rotary cutter, but the seams don’t seem to be laying as flat as my overlocked ones do.
This dress called for some hand sewing, which is something I normally hate, but I’m trying to get better at it. Part of the reason I hate it is because my hand sewing is messy, so I’ve been trying to work on making it neater. The picture below shows some of my best hand sewing to date! But man, was it annoying. My thread kept tangling like crazy even though I used this Thread Heaven wax that’s supposed to prevent that from happening. Has anyone tried this stuff? I feel like my thread was worse with it! Perhaps I should try some regular old beeswax?
You can see the texture I was talking about earlier here – it has a sort of slubby look to it. The red stripe is printed on, and in some spots, the the little bumps that you see are loose, if that makes sense, so the dye didn’t take in those spots and there are a few white speckles throughout the fabric (you can see one of those spots on the left side of the waistband above the stripes in the photo below). Very interesting! The fabric is cotton, but I’m not sure if it would be called a slub cotton (I’ve only seen slub knits – can a woven be a slub?) or if there’s some name for this.
There are a couple of things I’d like to fix on my next version, even though changing anything up on a version made from nicer fabric makes me nervous. First of all, I don’t know how evident it is in the pictures, but there’s some significant bubbling at the ends of my darts, even though I ironed them over my ham like a crazy person. I had to widen the bust darts to eliminate some gappage at the armhole, which is a pretty standard alteration for me. I’m thinking that maybe the dart is just too enormous now, so I might try rotating some of it into the waist dart. You can see my mega dart below. As a side note, I’ve never quite fully understood how moving some of the bust dart width to the waist dart would, as people claim, not make the waist smaller. If you’re making the dart bigger, wouldn’t you be taking some width out of the waist and therefore be making it smaller? But I finally realized that if you rotate your dart properly, you’re not taking width out of the waist. If you just widened the dart by redrawing the dart legs wider, yes, you’d be cutting off some of the width from the waist. But if you do what you’re supposed to do, which is make your pattern hinge at the dart point to make one dart larger and one smaller, you won’t be affecting the amount of fabric on either side of the dart, which means your dart will be wider but the width of your waist will remain the same. I’m not sure whether that explanation makes sense to anyone else, but it was a lightbulb moment for me!
The second thing I’d like to fix (actually the third if you count taking some additional length off the back) is to do something about the collar size. I’m not sure if you can see in the photo below how wide and tall the collar is on me, but it’s very noticeable to me when I wear it, so this might be more of a comfort issue than an appearance issue. I have a short neck, so I think I just don’t have the room for a tall collar like this. There are a few things that I think would need to happen to fix this: I need to make the actual neckline, the collar stand, and the collar itself all a bit lower. I think all three are combing to make me feel like there’s a lot of excess fabric at the neck, and if I shave a bit off of each, I think it will seem a little less like I’m being attacked by fabric when I wear my future dresses. The trick will be making sure everything still lines up for the collar when I make everything smaller. I’m really pleased with this dress and I can’t wait to make more of them! I have a floral cotton voile for a summery dress and a canvas with cats on it (this one) and I’m super excited to start working on my cat dress! I accidentally bought too little of the cat fabric because I thought it was wider than it is, so I’m waiting on some additional fabric to arrive so I can get started on it. My cat dress will have sleeves, and I’m excited about seeing how that looks on me.
Thank you so much to Mary for thinking up such a great group sewing idea and providing so much great inspiration for McCall’s 6696! I’m so glad I decided to sew up this dress!