Hi everyone! I’m here to provide a little distraction from post-Christmas mayhem (or whatever it is you choose to celebrate at this time of year) with my first proper bit of maternity sewing on the blog: a party dress made with the new maternity version of the very popular Tilly and the Buttons Agnes top/dress.
Believe it or not, this is my very first maternity dress make. I was into dressmaking when I fell pregnant with Gabriel, but because of my inexperience with and general fear of sewing knit fabrics, I thought most maternity sewing patterns looked too much like hard work. Since having Gabriel, however (3 years ago this week–doesn’t time fly?!) I’ve truly embraced sewing with knits and now prefer sewing them to wovens.
So although this is going to be my last pregnancy (I know those might seem like famous last words, but I’m 40 and three children is plenty, thank you very much!) I really fancied sewing up some new clothes, even if they only get worn for a few months. And I figure I can always pick them apart and turn them into regular clothes afterwards, if I can be bothered. And if I’m not sick of the sight of them by then 🙂
I do have a small “capsule” wardrobe of basic maternity wear (mostly in black or navy) left from last time, but nothing I’d consider fancy enough to wear to party. What with the festive season looming and a date for a posh Xmas do at Ashton Gate Stadium, I figured I’d better make myself a proper party dress. And what says Christmas party more than a leopard/zebra print wiggle dress, I ask you?!
Well, okay, I was the only one in animal print at that particular Christmas party, but I think I stood out in a particularly good way, so that’s okay. And I’ve never been afraid to be wearing something completely different to everyone else in the room. I remember my school leavers disco (we didn’t do proms in the UK back then) when I wore a white dress and everyone else was in black or dark shades of red/blue. I know many women are horrified by the idea of looking completely different in those sorts of situations, but I’ve always enjoyed it. You get attention and it’s a conversation starter. Plus I am a total party animal when I get going 😛
Now, I’ve never made the regular Agnes top as on the whole I find most indie patterns to be on the expensive side, so I’ll try to find something similar from my existing stash if I like a new pattern. As my much-loved Knit Sweetheart Top from the Gertie Sews Vintage Casual book is pretty similar to the original Agnes I’ve not felt the need to part with my hard-earned –not until I fell pregnant, at any rate. I know there are some great tutorials out there for adapting regular patterns to maternity use, but I was loathe to spend the amount of time required when I could buy something where the drafting work was already done for me. That might not have been the best decision this time, so read on to find out why.
I’m in love with my finished version of this dress, but the make wasn’t without it’s fair share of troubles. The chief culprit here was the spectacularly unhelpful size chart. On neither the website nor the pattern instructions does it specify whether you should use your pre-pregnancy size or your current size. I’m guessing they mean you to use your current measurements as the sizes on the maternity chart are different to the ones on their regular chart, but if that’s the case then there’s a serious grading issue. My measurements taken a few weeks ago put me between the size four and five, so I decided to sew up a straight size five and then take it in if needed.
I have to admit I thought the pattern pieces looked pretty huge, but I put it down to them being maternity clothes. But really I should have paid more attention to that little voice in my head because it’s not like my shoulders and arms have suddenly grown wider, is it?
Before I go on, a word about my fabric. It was a mystery buy at the Great British Sewing Bee Live, but it’s a John Kaldor fabric so I know it’s a decent quality. I’m guessing the fabric has a fairly high lycra content as it has 4 way stretch and is probably mostly polyester, as it really doesn’t crease at all and has that cold feeling against the skin that poly always does. However, it’s unlike any polyester fabric I’ve ever encountered before with its matt surface texture and incredible drape. I wondering if this is that ITY knit I’ve been reading all about on sewing blogs? Whatever it is, I’d love to get hold of more for sewing holiday dresses, as it is definitely the kind of fabric you can chuck in a suitcase and will never need ironing. Big plus in my book!
I sewed up the dress in the order the instructions specified, which has you putting in the neckband and topstitching it before you sew the side seams. All the time I was worrying that this dress could end up being a total disaster. In this loud polyester fabric it was either going to be super-sexy or super-frumpy–I couldn’t see there being a middle ground.
Well, that first version was definitely super-frumpy, and I’m kind of annoyed I didn’t take any pics of me wearing it to show you, but it ended up being so oversized all over that it ended up looking like a cross between one of the granny dresses that used to lurk in my dressing up box as a child (there were some real monstrosities in there, I can tell you!) and a kaftan. Now, I’m all into a bit of granny chic and kaftans, but this really wasn’t the look I was after for a party. At all. So I threw the dress into the corner in disgust and sulked for a bit.
Okay, what I really did was get on with sewing up a couple of other projects (pattern testing ones I hope to share here soon), but with the party looming I figured I’d better get back to fixing this dress. I had a look at the Tilly size charts again and decided this time to go with the sizes on their normal (non-maternity, that is) size chart that my regular pre-pregnancy measurements put me in, and use my high bust rather than full bust measurement (always a good idea if you have narrow shoulders and a cup size larger than a B). That was a 3 at the top/waist and a 4 at the hips. You can see below how much smaller the new pattern pieces were by the lines I’ve drawn within the originals:
Retracing the pattern pieces this way let me see it would be possible to rework the existing dress to this smaller size, with the exception of the front neckline which would be a little wider at the shoulders, but I could live with that.
First though, I needed to get out my unpicker. Arrrgh! Carefully unpicking all that overlocking was a time-consuming, fiddly business, but I knew I needed to do it that way as I’d already lost a fair bit of my original seam allowance to the overlocker, so I might well need all the fabric I had in some places. I hacked the sleeves down to the shortest length as both Andy and I agreed that there was way too much animal print in the original dress.
As it was I managed to cut the new pattern pieces out of the existing ones, and got on with sewing them up. This time, however, I waited to finish the neckline until I had tried the dress on. And oh wow, the second version was pretty much exactly what I was after, fit-wise. The only bit I wasn’t happy with was the neckline, so I pulled out my trusty Knit Sweetheart Top pattern and used that neckline instead, which was scooped deeper and wider. I also used the pleating technique there as I’d found the elastic ruching method in the Agnes instructions to be a real pain to use and I didn’t like the unfinished elastic ends inside. Also, Andy thought it looked granny-ish for some reason. Maybe it did in this fabric.
And it seemed like the sewing gods really were smiling on me for this second version as I was able to use the original neckband with absolutely no adjustments–it fit perfectly! And here’s the finished dress in all its glory:
I love the way it shows off my bump and it’s insanely flattering from the back too:
And yes, I can see there’s something funny going on at the shoulders and back neck (as well as a swayback adjustment needed), but I think that’s just because I needed to hoik it down a bit. Normally it looks fine there.
One more big bump shot:
I honestly feel like a real party animal wearing this dress: super confident and sexy, and I think it’s one of the most flattering dresses I’ve ever made. I love the way it looks great dressed up with heels, but can also be made more everyday with a cardie over the top and leggings and boots underneath. I’m so glad I decided to make a dress rather than a top with this fabric–definitely the right decision!
So, I wore it to the party after finishing it a few hours before we left, but this is the best pic I managed to get on the night:
Hehe, a fun night was had!
I’m definitely going to be making more versions of this pattern, so I’m really glad I took the time to sort out the sizing and resew. Next up will be a couple of top versions in stripes and a dark floral, but I’m sure there’ll be at least one more dress version coming up before I pop this sprog!
Pattern: The Maternity Agnes Top and Dress from Tilly and the Buttons.
Size: 3 on top grading to 4 at the hips
Fabric: 1.5m of a mystery John Kaldor stretchy knit bought from the M. Rosenberg and Son stall at the Great British Sewing Bee Live. It should have been £10 per metre, but for some reason I was only charged £13.34.
Time to sew: 1 hour 58mins for the final version, but I did spend 1 hour 29 minutes on the first unsuccessful version, so I guess that makes this about 3 and a half hours in total! (this doesn’t include pattern tracing, cutting out, threading up machine, trying on for fit purposes, and general waffling!)
- Pattern: £7.13 (normally £9.50 but bought in Black Friday sale)
- Fabric: £13.34
- Notions: £0.00 (elastic and thread from stash)
- Total: £20.47
Not a bad price for a dress this cute! And it will get cheaper as I definitely plan to use the pattern again at least three more times.
Other inspirational versions: It’s been tough tracking down other makes for this one, but I love this floral version by @adelewestmade on Instagram, and there’s a couple of plain but really useful top versions on Celeste’s blog.
Anyone else made an Agnes dress or top–either maternity or regular? And what’s your thoughts on wearing bodycon leopard print: tarty or elegant?!
Disclaimer: some of the products linked above may use affiliate links, meaning if you follow the link and make a purchase I will receive a small referral fee (at no added cost to you). Any extra income to help fund my sewing habit is greatly appreciated, but rest assured I only recommend products I love and think you might find useful too 🙂
Coming up next on the blog:
I’ll have my very first post as part of the Minerva Blogger Network going up tomorrow: this cute knitted cowl! And you’ll hear from me again in 2017 as I do a few end-of-year type posts as part of the #sewingtop5 series.