“Saving” My Emery Dress

Young woman wearing an ill-fitting short sleeve dress. The dress is green with frog faces on it.

In May/June of 2021, I enrolled in an Intro to Classic Dressmaking class at Notion, where I attempted to sew an Emery dress out of a frog patterned quilting cotton. Attempted for a few reasons, for starters, it was hard and I’m by no means an expert sewist (yet?). The more important reason, however, is that when I blended two sizes together to form what I thought would be the correct size bodice I was left with a shoulder area that could have been smaller (aka I probably didn’t need to blend a larger size into a smaller size)! This is probably why people sew a mock version before attempting the project in their final project, similar to creating a large swatch in knitting. Needless to say, the only way my Emery dress would fit would be if I suddenly grew about two cup sizes.

If I’m honest, the dress sat on the floor of our bedroom for several months. Literally staring me in the face day in and day out with its cute (and just a tad creepy) frog faces. My husband, who hates clothing on the floor, stopped offering me pitying looks about the situation after about a week. At least he didn’t say anything about moving it, I was suffering from a feeling I’m sure his inner artist understood.

A size 6 month pinafore dress with a repeating frog pattern laying next to a pair of matching baby bloomers.

It finally came to me, after spending probably too much time on Pinterest looking up sewing projects for babies (their clothes don’t require a lot of fabric!) and a strong desire to have the little frogs live out their destiny to adorn someone’s body. In less than an hour, my missized Emery dress became an adorable Crossover Pinafore (free pattern from Smashed Peas and Carrots) with matching bloomers!

Pros and cons of the Crossover Pinafore really come down to how well you can manipulate fabric around the tight corners that form the straps (which in my case means that they’re a little wonky). I like that the pattern is reversible, but I used some leftover black cotton from an art project my husband was working on, and don’t foresee anyone flipping this particular version to that side. It was also a fantastic excuse to pull out my machine’s buttonhole maker, which always blows my mind a little bit. All in all, I can see myself making this when a friend announces that they have a little girl (Is this too girly for a boy to wear? Do babies even really care?) on the way with purposefully picked lining fabric so that it’s actually reversible.

Now that it’s done, I can’t help but think about the remnants that can be found in my fabric stash. I must have enough fabric leftover to make another one (combined with more black remnants of course!).

Diving into knit fabrics with the Isla Dress

Several years ago, I took a refresher class at Gather Here where I made a box bag. Although living in a studio apartment with another person and paying my way through graduate school meant that I didn’t have the funds to buy a sewing machine (or collect fabric as well as yarn and fiber) nor the place to work, the class was a fun way to work on skills that I hadn’t used since I was 14.

A few months after finishing school and leaving the city behind, I found a vintage machine for $20 and found myself dipping my toes into the water. Friends graciously accepted felt catnip toys, no one commented on my asymmetrical pleating as I wore my first handmade dress or the pointy corset of my second one and our dog enthusiastically curled up on a fleece dog bed. During the time, I took advantage of my large kitchen table and the fact that I lived alone, which is a nice way of saying that, in addition to yarn, fabric and thread were left everywhere.

I don’t blame my husband (then boyfriend) moving in for changing the pace at which my exploration into sewing occurred, I blame the pandemic and the need to suddenly work from home full time. Overnight, I went from having space to spread out (and a patient partner who doesn’t mind creative chaos) to needing a table and desk for us to work. It was more practical to take on additional knitting projects, I didn’t have to break down a work from home set ups in order to be creative.

Then we bought a fixer-upper and the focus shifted again, this time causing both of our creative minds to pivot towards turning our house into a home. Months of peeling a hundred years worth of wallpaper (literally), plastering and painting later, my husband turned to me and asked if he could build me a craft table now that the first floor was mostly complete. Two days later, he was encouraging me to do my research on a new sewing machine so that we could by a new one on black Friday.

A few more virtual classes later, via Notion Fabric and Craft and Creativebug, and I found myself taking on sewing my wedding dress and buying fabric to attempt to make a button down. My niece received a sewn dress for her birthday and I upcycled a thrifted chair. Despite all this newfound enthusiasm and confidence, I couldn’t help but continue to limit myself to woven fabrics because they were predictable (more or less) and didn’t require me to do anything special to work with them.

An impulse buy of a blue knit fabric with strawberries from Notion forced me out of my comfort zone and into the world of stretch fabrics. Armed with the Isla and Jade patterns from Made by Rae, I worked through the directions and managed to sew an Isla dress with long sleeves (the sleeves came from Jade). The neckline does not lay straight because I didn’t realize I needed to pull the neck binding while attaching it, but the sleeves turned out ok because I learned from that mistake. In the end, I created a cozy dress that fits great and, by working with a knit fabric, I forced myself to realize that my understanding of how sewing works has come a long way.

Not only will I make this dress again, I’ve already purchased fabric to do so! Assuming I find the time to iron and cut fabric, I’ll be sporting a handmade ghost Isla dress with Jade sleeves while handing out candy on Halloween this year!

A young woman taking a photo of herself in a floor length mirror wearing a blue handmade three quarter sleeve dress with a strawberry print.