At the 2018 sewing weekender, I was lucky enough to hear from the inspirational Frances Tobin about her company, The Maker’s Atelier. With a range of beautiful, classic sewing patterns, Frances’ products are all graceful and elegant – pretty much works of art in themselves, with beautiful photography, designs and packaging that you want to keep. She also produces a lovely magazine with fascinating and relevant articles about the whole process of making garments, again with high production values. A coffee table sewing magazine, if you like.
So it wasn’t a massive leap that I would buy one of her patterns and try on ‘elegant’ as a new concept. The pattern of choice had just been released – the Madeline Robertson jumpsuit and dress. I drooled over the style at the sewing weekender, and decided that my daughters would love the jumpsuit and I would love the dress.
An aside here – the pattern isn’t just named for Madeline Robertson – she’s the fashion student who designed it. Frances has commissioned a series of designs from students and graduates starting out in their careers, “to encourage the craft of dressmaking”. It’s great that she’s lending her expertise and network to help new designers get started.
I bought the fabric for this make from Fabrics Galore – a lovely blue cupro – a material I’d not even heard of before let alone sewn. The Laundress tells me that it is “a fabric of regenerated cellulose fibers from recycled cotton linter, [it] breathes and regulates temperature like cotton, drapes elegantly, and feels like silk.” What I can say for myself is that it’s a lovely fabric to work with – it has the drape of silk without its wilful slipperiness, can take a reasonably hot iron and feels lovely to wear. I’d definitely opt for it for future makes when I can source it. I don’t know if this is true of all cupro, but mine had a sheen on one side, and the other was a kind of matte finish – do you call it that when it’s fabric, not paint? Anyway, you know what I mean, and I chose to use the matte side as the right side, with the shine on the reverse.
Some sites I looked at claimed cupro as an eco-friendly fabric option, because it uses parts of the cotton plant that might otherwise be discarded and requires a closed-loop production system and non-toxic dyes – but I’m afraid I don’t have the knowledge to assess the truth of those claims. But if it is both lovely and kind, I’d say it’s a definite win.
Making the dress was reasonably straightforwards, though the instructions are less detailed than you get with many independent pattern designers. With only a little head scratching it all came together pretty well however, until I got to the waist tie.
Not going to lie, I think the issue I have with the waist tie is nothing to do with the design, and everything to do with me being a grumpy old woman. It just didn’t make much sense to me – like Snapchat and using the word ‘sick’ as a compliment. The back waist is defined with a short piece of elastic in a channel, but the front waist is defined by a similar channel with a rope tie, knotted on either side and kind of gathered in the middle. Perhaps the problem was also that I’d already decided to swap in a bias binding ‘ribbon’ for the rope, so what would have been a feature that properly anchored the gathering, just looked a bit droopy and odd (see above, on the stand).
I spent a good while staring at it, trying it on, and trying to make it work on me but it just looked frumpy. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t going to work for me in the way the pattern intended, but that there are many ways to skin cats, belt dresses etc – so I began to play around with the options.
For new year’s eve, I wore it with the long ‘ribbon’ belt wrapped around several times to create a tie. I experimented on the stand with a kimono-style of belt, like a cummerbund, and then struggled to turn the way that worked as a knotted piece of fabric into something that might work as a belt. Finally I used a Mimi G article to turn the belt-in-my-mind into an obi belt. I then bought an obi belt in Collectif in Brighton in the January sales (showing in the main photo above), because frankly theirs is a lot neater than mine, and it was in the sale (I also bought some amazing shoes there that are my new favourite things – seriously if you love 1940s/1950s style, they’re having a quite stunning sale until the end of Monday 14th January, so you might want to check it out
Debates about my waist definition aside, it’s a lovely dress. The sleeves are particularly nice – the drape of the fabric and the fact that they aren’t ‘closed’ at the bottom makes me feel just a little bit of the elegance I was aiming for. Obviously I’ll probably just dangle them into my soup, but I liked using the same bias binding (in a beautiful green silk from our trip to Kolkata last summer) to edge the sleeves.
The back is also quite interesting – it’s open from just above the waist to the hook and eye at the neck. It does call for a bit of thought around underwear – I went for a black slip on new year’s eve, but a backless bra, a camisole or a pretty bra top would also work. Actually, the hook and eye came undone a few times when I wore it at new years’, so I’ve squished the hook a bit – but if that doesn’t work, I might just sew it closed at the neck point as the dress can pull on over my head without undoing it.
Reflections on this make? Well, looking at these photos, most of my reflections are on how much I need a haircut to be honest – and it’s fair to say that an elegant fabric/dress style doesn’t immediately make me elegant, but I’ll take anything that might help. More pertinently, as well as being a new fan of cupro, I’d definitely seek out more patterns from the Maker’s Atelier – they’re unusual but stylish; classic styling with a twist. I feel they are particularly good for people like me – a slightly (ahem) older sewist, who is after a challenge but is nervous about stepping up to full-on tailoring.
Because that’s next month …