The story of this dress really begins in Sir’s Fabrics, a store in a little town in Tennessee that is renowned in local sewing circles for the amazing bargains you can find rummaging around on its tables. Sir’s is a vast store, so big it’s actually two stores across the street from each other, and their prices are very low. I imagine that they buy a lot of remnants or mill-ends from other places, because most of the fabric is in cuts a few yards long, folded on tables with no information on the fiber content besides the table signs, helpfully indicating things like “upholstery remnants $1.99” and “wool and wool blends $2.99.” So shopping there takes on the thrill of the hunt as you rummage through the tables looking for treasures.

On my last excursion to Sir’s I arrived in the middle of a sale event that had the whole wool table priced at $1.99 a yard. I bought a length of black wool for hats, several yards of a dark hunter green wool, and a bit of a striped lightweight woven wool blend. The green and the stripes, I determined, would be used for a winter dress; I had recently discovered (at an outdoor, winter event) that even with my cloak I would not be warm enough in my cotton garb, and I had several events that I planned to attend before the weather would be warming up again.

I took the fabric home and added it to my stash, and time went by, and before I knew it I was a week away from an event, the weather was frigid, and I needed my wool dress ASAP. It was going to be a quick and dirty job, laden with shortcuts, but I hoped I’d be warm that weekend.

To start, I laid my wool on the ground folded in half, laid an existing dress I had (a simple tunic dress) over it also folded, and cut out around that dress. Unfortunately I hadn’t folded the wool evenly, so one side ended up shorter than the other… I had to cut another strip of fabric to graft onto the bottom of the skirt. Oh, well. Piecing is period.

I then cut out two underarm gussets, and cut them in half to make two triangles for each side. I sewed the gusset halves to the body of the dress and then sewed the whole thing together down the sides. I cut strips a few inches wide of the appropriate length to use as decorative accents on the hem and cuffs, and sewed it on. The idea was that these would be sort of like facings, turned to the outside and sewn down to make hemming unnecessary and add a touch of color. I made a long belt out of some more of the striped fabric that would finish the look.

What I wanted to happen was this: I would sew the fabric into a tube and then sew it to the sleeves and skirt bottom, wrong sides together. Then I would flip the striped fabric around the edge and up, which would leave a narrow edge of stripes on the inside and a wide edge on the outside of the garment. I’d then fold the raw edge under and stitch it down (normally I’d have hemstitched it by hand, but in this case for reasons of speed it would be topstitched by machine.)

All of this went well except for one thing – I put it together wrong, so that when I turned it the raw edges of the seam where I had sewn the strip of striped fabric into a tube was on the outside. *facepalm*

Again, I should have ripped it all out and started over, but I didn’t have the time – so I cut additional strips of fabric and sewed a patch OVER the offending raw edges.

Now all that was left was the neck. I had left a portion of the shoulder seams unsewn so that I could try the dress on but I hadn’t cut a neck opening yet. My plan was to cut a curved neck and bind it with the striped fabric. I put the dress on, got The Lobster to pin at appropriate points where the bottom of the neckline curve should be, and used something (a bowl, I think) as a model to cut out a curve.

Then it was time to bind it, and here I made another shortcut decision. Instead of making bias binding out of the striped fabric, I cut binding strips on the straight grain (right along the stripes) and used that. Of course, putting straight grain binding on a curved neck, it puckered. If I’d applied the binding by hand I could have eased it on, probably, but again, time- I used the machine.

Quick and dirty, but the dress was finished in time for the event, and did indeed keep me gloriously comfortable.

Now, the overview of the dress.

Good things about the dress:

  • The wool is wonderfully cozy but does not cause me to overheat, making it very good for winter wear.
  • Upon washing, the wool got fuzzy and soft and even snugglier to wear.
  • The final effect of the color is very nice indeed, and the striped accents really pull everything together.

Not-so-good things about the dress:

  • I failed to pre-wash the fabric, and it shrunk in the wash. Instead of ankle-length and long-sleeved it’s now tea-length with three-quarter sleeves. However, this is still salvageable by wearing it as an overdress.
  • I either cut the neck off-center or the puckered binding or some other error is causing the neck to pull to the left, making me feel as though the whole thing is hanging off my shoulder.
  • The patches on the sleeves and hem and the pieced on bit on the front skirt are the evidence of mistakes, though they’re not terribly conspicuous.

The verdict:

Even with its faults, I am very fond of this dress. It is warm without causing me to overheat, and as comfy and snuggly as a winter nightgown. If you don’t inspect it too closely it looks quite nice. I do need to make an undertunic to wear with this and my other tunic dress, as the full, gathered chemises I have don’t look right underneath this style. The sleeves in particular give me trouble. I have bought a nice cotton/linen blend that is intended for this project, and it’s the next thing in the sewing queue. It will go well with my earlier period clothes (the Messenger and I do early period to match his persona and late period to match mine, depending on weather and other considerations), especially after I make the gothic fitted dresses and sideless surcote that I have planned.