I have always wanted to be able to make my own dresses – I love sewing, and I love dresses, so it’s the obvious result! But I have tried in the past without much success. I attended a dressmaking class at The Papered Parlour in Clapham about 6 years ago which I really enjoyed and, with help, made a pretty but simple chambray shift dress, but when I tried again on my own I made a series of dresses which either didn’t fit, fell apart or were full of puckered seams and wonky zips. In retrospect, I think I made some mistakes in choosing the wrong fabrics and also trying to take on patterns which were too complicated for a beginner. All in all, it put me off as I wasted some lovely fabrics (including a quite beautiful Liberty lawn!) and I thought perhaps dressmaking just wasn’t for me.
But, 6 years later, I’ve decided to give it another shot, starting with something a little simpler and trying to learn from my past mistakes! My first project is the Bettine dress pattern from Tilly & the Buttons. I was inspired by the fabulous Bettine which Teresa of Shirley Rainbow made and all of the lovely Bettines I have seen on instagram, and I thought it would be a good pattern to try as a semi-beginner as there are no tricky zips or fastens to insert, and it has kimono sleeves and an elasticated waist so no need to worry about fitting on my first attempt.
I chose a colourful but not too expensive fabric with a retro inspired print and then took the plunge, and I am delighted with how the dress has turned out! I found the pattern was very clear and easy to follow with lots of helpful hints and tips along the way, and a simple design but with enough details to create a dress I would choose to wear. You can make the Bettine with or without pockets but I am a sucker for a dress with pockets so I decided to give it a go, using a plain coloured yellow/orange fabric for the pockets and cuff details to add contrast, and I enjoyed the challenge of these added elements.
I might just be riding high on my first success, but I’m now planning to work my way through Tilly’s brilliant book, Love at First Stitch (which I am ashamed to say has sat on my shelf for the past year), making each project and trying to learn new techniques as I go to build up my confidence in dressmaking. I’ve already made a Brigitte scarf, the first project from the book, to match my new dress but with an added wire as my hair is just too fine to wear a headscarf otherwise!
I am also already planning my next Bettine, partly because I think it would be a good learning exercise to work on the same pattern again and try to improve, but mostly because I just love the dress and have lots of other ideas for it! I might shorten the bodice slightly next time as the waist sits a fraction below my natural waist, and I may alter the skirt as whilst I do like the shape of tulip skirts I am more used to wearing a fuller skirt.