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Oct 292013

It seems like every time I think a project is going to go smoothly it ends up being a disaster. I decided to make an empire-waist dress using the Renfrew with a scoop neck for the top half, and the gathered skirt from Butterick 5456 (you can see my first two versions here), joined at the waist with elastic. I’ve made the Renfrew twice and the Butterick dress twice, so this should have been a piece of cake, right?


I like this picture because it reminds me of the sassy preschoolers I taught one summer. Can you hear me stamping my feet and saying, “NO!” to this dress?

WRONG. OMG you guys, this dress almost put me over the edge! First of all, the fabric.  It’s a Derek Lam rayon/cotton blend I got from Emma One Sock. I don’t know if the cut they gave me was short or if it just shrank aggressively in the wash, but I was 10 inches short of the two yards I ordered and needed to make this dress. I managed to squeeze this dress out of what I had, but it was really close. Also, I somehow missed that this fabric was super lightweight on the website. I thought it might need lined, but it definitely needed lined because it was like a featherweight knit.

Since the fabric was so lightweight and lacking in body, I thought I’d be clever and hand baste the lining to it (I’d decided to underline to give the fabric a better hand instead of just lining). Well, that was a terrible idea. Here’s the hand basting I did – it’s the red thread running around the edges:


Aren’t those colors pretty, though?

I used this rayon embroidery thread that’s really slippery. I always use it when I make muslins or machine baste things because it’s super easy to pull out of the fabric if I need to make any changes. Turns out, it also makes the fabric slide around on it when you use big old hand basting stitches. So I had to pull it out and just machine baste them together.

Which is when I found out that my sewing machine HAAAAATES this lining fabric. It’s also from Emma One Sock, and it’s called Venezia 4-way stretch lining.  I’ve used it before and didn’t have any problems, but this time, no matter what needle I used (and I tried them all – sizes 10, 12, and 14 in both ball point AND sharp – no dice), I got skipped stitches and the thread would snag or something and then bunch up. WTF? Who’s ever heard of this?! I was just banging my head against the wall anytime I was at the sewing machine with this fabric, and the sewing part is usually my favorite.

At some point during all this, I saw that the fabric had a tiny little hole in it near the bottom of the dress. AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! I nearly cried. Don’t think sewing hasn’t driven me to tears on multiple occasions. This just wasn’t one of them, I think because I was sort of over it at that point. The hole isn’t that noticeable, so whatever. I’m just leaving it as is, because the last time I tried to darn a little hole like this, I just made things worse. These little ones don’t tend to spread unless you put a lot of stress on them, and I think this one will be fine since it’s near the hem.

So after all that, I put it on and decided I didn’t really like it that well. Much like my black and white Butterick 5456, the all-over pattern didn’t give my waist enough definition.


kinda frumpy, no?

So I got out the trusty single belt that I owned and slapped it on, and I like that much better. It’s a new age of belts in my household. I just bought another one to wear with my fall Belladone that I just completed and hope to show you soon.


better, yes?

I got a lot of compliments on this dress, so I guess it came out okay. All I can see is hours of frustration, though. I do like the colors, so maybe the trauma will wear off with time and I’ll love it.


I realized that I never wrote anything about sizing on my last few posts, so here’s some info about that. I made the Renfrew top in a size 14, and the Butterick bottom in I think like a size 18. But I should say that I think I greatly reduced the size of the Butterick skirt because the gathered skirt they had was just too bulky for me. What I ended up with is a piece of fabric 27 inches long by 28 inches wide, which I then gathered down so that it fit my waist.


That reminds me – one thing that did work out very well on this dress was gathering on my serger, which I tried for the first time. I HAAAATE gathering by pulling threads, but I’ve always been too nervous to give up the fine-tuned control that method allows for the serger, which just sort of does its own thing. I did some tests on scraps beforehand, though, and it all worked out okay. I thought it wouldn’t need much gathering, but I ended up turning the differential all the way to the highest amount of gathering and going with almost the longest stitch length, which is the way to get maximum gathering on my serger. I think it worked out because the serger gathering is kind of stretchy, so if it ends up a little small, you can easily fudge it.

You may notice that the sleeves don’t have the typical Renfrew banded hem. I decided to just serge the edge, flip it under and top stitch it because I felt like the banded hem wouldn’t look right with this style.


Or maybe I was just feeling lazy.

I also did the same thing with the bottom hem. I’m still kind of learning how to get my coverstitch machine to do what I want it to do without annoying me, and I just did not feel like taking the time for that with this dress. I wanted it to be done, and the serge, flip, sew method was the quickest way to get there.


Yep, lazy.

Lately I’ve been taking shortcuts like this, and I think a lot of the reason is that I’m just not sure how long I’ll be this size, so it’s just not worth it to go the extra mile. It’s kind of freeing to just not worry about all those little details all the time.

  4 Responses to “Renfrew Dress”

  1. Ooh, well I think it’s pretty! It definitely needs the belt for waist definition, but the overall shape (and fabric!!) is just lovely 🙂 Isn’t that just typical, though, that the “easiest” projects will make you want to rip out your hair the most? I hate that!

    • Thanks! I do love the way the fabric *looks* – it feels so perfect for fall to me, and fall is my favorite season! It truly is the kiss of death for me as soon as I think something’s going to be easy – I guess I need to approach all my sewing projects with the assumption that they’ll be super difficult and then maybe they’ll go smoothly?!

  2. I really do like this dress, and your fabric choice! I’ve been thinking of making a Renfrew dress myself, so love to see other people’s take on it.

    I sometimes get similar issues with my sewing machine. Sometimes changing the type of thread I’m using helps, sometimes changing the needle, and sometimes a combo of both. If that doesn’t work, I usually have to step back, swear for a bit, and try rethreading the machine to see if that makes it behave 🙂

    • Thanks! I’ll be interested to see what you come up with for a Renfrew dress!

      Different thread – that’s a good idea! It’s also time for my machine to get cleaned, so maybe it just has some lint somewhere that’s making it unhappy. I always avoid taking it in because then I’m without it for a week. 🙁

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