Coco dress pattern by Tilly and the Buttons
I really liked this pattern from the first minute I saw it. It somehow managed to be cute and stylish – two things that don’t usually come in the same package. But why was I surprised? As a Tilly and the Buttons design, cute and stylish seems to be part of her brand. In fact, when the pattern arrived, I thought I should frame it as the pattern envelope and instructions booklet were so beautifully designed that they were almost works of art and would certainly look amazing in a frame on my craft room wall.
There were a couple of things that troubled me about this pattern. First of all, I am a very new and inexperienced sewer. I’ve taken a couple of courses at Morley College (see skirt and many shirts on What’s Aneeta Not Knitting), and I’ve taken two classes and many twitter Q&As with The Thrifty Stitcher. Apart from that I work via trial and error, head-scratching, and hiding mistakes in the back of the closet.
Secondly, I’ve never worked with stretch fabric. My sewing machine balks at anything that isn’t plain cotton and I’m usually too scared of it to try anything new!
Thirdly, whilst I loved the look of Coco on Tilly herself, the dress seemed to me to be suited to a very slim and petite figure type. As a curvy-licious lady, I think that large swathes of stretch fabric will only make my boobs look lumpy and my lumps look like many spare tyres. SCARY! I usually wear cotton dresses that skim my figure and don’t cling anywhere they have no business clinging to. I knew that would be a concern if I wanted to make this dress.
And wanted to make it I did! I figured my best bet would be camouflage. Not army green camo…I mean a stretch fabric in a busy pattern or print that would distract from the clingy silhouette (and from my novice sewing skills). I’ve been searching online and in shops for a while but have found nothing to tempt me. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money as I knew that my skills might ruin any fancy fabric and I didn’t want to waste my pennies.
Yesterday, I pedalled over to Watney Market on the grim and gritty Commercial Road in East London (not to be confused with hipster Commercial Street). It’s an area full of Asian restaurants, wholesale outlets and the delightful Watney Market. I’ve loved this place for years with its very uncool Iceland and a proper little library (don’t even get me started on how much I dislike shiny Ideas Stores). All I wanted was a length of elastic for the waistband of the pyjamas I was sewing but like most crafters, of course I couldn’t resist a snoop into the fabric stall.
I found this unusual knit fabric – white knit backing and black, stretch lace ‘upper’ fabric, quilted (I don’t quite know how else to describe it) together with a black swirly stitch that can’t be seen from the top. I couldn’t quite decide if it was gorgeous or hideous but…hold onto your seats now…it was only £1 a metre! 100 measly pennies a metre! Even a scared stitcher like me can’t be afraid of ruining that…so I snapped up 3 metres of fabric after a chat with the stall holder about the promise of a stylish and ever so inexpensive new dress. (Note to self, I must pop back to the stall next week wearing my Coco to show off the fabric to the lady on the stall).
I decided as further distraction from the extra half a stone I carry on my hips (I’m probably being kind to myself with that amount) I would make the funnel neck and ¾ cuffed sleeves. I usually prefer a low necked dress…well if you’ve got a decent rack you may as well show it off, but I didn’t want to experiment with this style as well as with as with new stretchy fabric so I decided to stick with the pattern (which by the way comes in so many variations it’s hard to not find one to suit you!)
I graded the pattern from a 4 at the bust to 6 at the waist and 7 at the hips. I extended the length by a couple of inches to give myself hemming options. Then I traced the pattern to save the original (which is so nice and sturdy it’s a dream to trace from). As suggested in the pattern I pinned it and tried it on before properly sewing it together at the sides. And it fitted gorgeously first time! The ease in the pattern is enough for it to feel fitted at the top and nice and swingy at the bottom. Fitting is my bête noir of sewing as (I’ve learnt) I’m a 12 with a small back and a full bust. But the good thing about stretch fabric is that it works with curves in a different way to non-stretchy fabric and this seems to make it cling nicely in all the right places.
I think it also looks great with a belt!
I had to shorten the sleeves by about 3 inches as I wanted cuffs that weren’t folded back. I thought the fabric might be too bulky for that.
One thing I did differently was line up the centre of the funnel neck with the centre back and not the shoulder seam. It helps me see easily which is the front and back of the dress when I put it on. The funnel neck doesn't stand up as I think my fabric is too floopy (word invented by Claudia Winkleman on GBSB), but it looks good draped to the front.
I sewed some of it on the overlocker but preferred using a zig zag stitch on the regular sewing machine as that was less bulky on the seams.
It took me around an hour to grade and trace the pattern and cut out the pieces (there are so few of them!) and about 3 hours to sew the dress up. It’s definitely the quickest thing I’ve made in ages.
Then…at a complete risk of ruining the dress at the final hurdle, I thought I’d have a go at following the pattern of the fabric and scalloping the hem! I did a few experimental practices first and decided the best way was to top stitch a zig zag then cut the fabric below that. And it worked! I admit that the excellent pattern matching at the hemline was a complete fluke. I don’t want to take any credit away from Lady Luck for that!
I don’t know how long this dress will last. The fabric seems quite fragile and I definitely don’t think it would survive even the shortest bicycle ride, but for now, I’ll wear it happily and in good health and drink a toast to Tilly’s lovely and easy to use pattern and my bravery in having a go at something new!