Time trial: Tabitha Drawstring Dress

I’ve wittered on before about being a slow sewist – but in fairness that’s been an assumption on my part until now. I generally sew alone (sewing weekends notwithstanding), so my points of reference tend to be contestants on the Sewing Bee, Next in Fashion, Project Runway etc. So in reality, I had no proof that I was slower than your average dressmaker. Until now.

I was always going to buy Tilly’s new book ‘Make It Simple‘ – I’ve got her other two books, lots of her standalone patterns and I really like her style. Not everything works for me, but her size 4 measurements rarely need much adjustment for my frame, and I end up with garments that I feel fit really well. The premise of the new book being “easy, speedy sewing projects to stitch up in an afternoon” sounded too good to be true.

Back from a lovely holiday in Bruges, I curled up last weekend with the book and picked the Drawstring Dress (based on the Tabitha t-shirt pattern) as my first project. I had some lovely bluey/lilacy t-shirt fabric (no idea of its provenance) that needed a purpose, and everything else was in my stash. I had a lovely Sunday project ahead of me.

So, I decided to do a time trial. Tilly’s optimistic predictions were:

  • Cutting time (including drafting the skirt): 45 minutes
  • Sewing time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Let’s see how we got on …

9:50   Assemble tools, make coffee (an essential part of all sewing) and clear down breakfasty remains adhering to all kitchen surfaces.

img_235010:01 Start tracing pattern pieces in size 4.

10:55 Tracing complete and paper pattern pieces cut out. Skirt piece drafted (some head scratching as ‘place on fold’ instruction in diagram appears to be on wrong side).

10:55 Break to sort laundry and dishwasher. Make second pot of coffee.

11:10 Iron fabric and try to get the piece folded on grain.

11:20 Start cutting out pattern pieces in the fabric.

11:57 All cut out; break for more coffee and crumpet.

img_235112:04 Find eyelet kit and a scrap piece of fabric to test it on – not inserted an eyelet before.

12:08 Finally manage to open the pack (staring at you Hemline packaging).

12:26 Eyelets fitted. Kitchen island slightly dented. Feel I have a (slightly wonky) new superpower involving a crazed woman with a hammer. Another laundry break.

12:32 Cut drawstring from a dark navy piece of ponte di roma jersey that will contrast well with the lilac jersey.

12:40 Break for family stuff – homework, snacks and conversations.

1:05 Stabilize shoulders and stitch together. Take a gamble on neckband – I haven’t got any ribbing in a suitable colour, and I have no patience to wait until I can source some. I cut the piece in the main fabric, on the basis that it’s pretty stretchy.

1:35 Neckband attached – ok, not perfect but quite near – certainly not redoing it. Now for the sleeves.

img_23581:56 Sleeves in: time for lunch.

2:33 Lunch done – onto sewing the side seams.

2:48 Side seams sewn and quick try on confirms it’s all ok and the neckband gamble paid off. Now for the skirt side seams.

3:02 Break for words of encouragement, frustration and weeping (aka helping my youngest with her homework).

3:09 Fractions sorted. Back to attaching the bodice to the skirt.

img_23593:27 Bodice attached but with too wide a seam allowance – so the eyelets are now in the wrong place. Seam rip (bonus of using beautiful new seam ripper, gift from a lovely sewing friend from work) …

3:42 Easily distracted and bored while seam ripping – bit of time out to book tickets for next weekend’s Stitch Festival.

3:56 Back to seam ripping.

4:05 All ripped. Joining bodice to skirt #2 …

4:30 Bodice and skirt joined. Casing for drawstring sewn.

img_23604:35 Drawstring fail. Fabric not thin enough to roll into a tube so now sewing it together and turning it through – dullsville.

5:46 This long to turn through one drawstring! Albeit while helping youngest daughter to focus on her English homework but that didn’t slow me down – it’s just a slow and tedious job.

5:59 Drawstring inserted and eyelets promptly fell out. Think this fabric is just too stretchy? Either way the drawstring seems to be working still. But now I’ve tried it on, and sadly I’m not feeling it. Looks a bit sackish. Maybe I need a bit of distance from it. Now I’m in a bad mood with the whole enterprise.

6:43 Finally hemmed (obviously with the bobbin running out 20 cm before the end, because it’s turning into that kind of project) and on the dress form. Definitely a sack.

So start to finish for me was just under 8 hours. Slow sewing indeed. However let’s do the sums properly – excluding all moments of error, distraction, refreshments, laundry and tracing the initial pattern pieces (as I wouldn’t need to do that again). My back-of-an-envelope calculations put my final tally at about 4.5 hours – assuming that next time around I wouldn’t re-trace my fabric, I’d join the bodice accurately, and I’d manage to use fabric for the drawstring that would actually form a tube.

img_2431Sooo – rather higher than the 3 hours and 5 minutes estimate from Tilly – but as we can see, when bearing in mind the reality of my life, expertise and general approach to sewing I should sensibly double all future estimates! And you know, that’s really fine – sewing isn’t something I do in batch (as a rule – the six pairs of PJ trousers I recently made for a girls’ trip away with my old university friends was a definite exception) or to a schedule. I sew because I love sewing. My output may not be great, but I enjoy every (OK, almost all of the) minute(s).

In terms of this pattern – well I’m still not sure. When I put it on later for these photos, I didn’t feel half as negative about it as I did at the end of its construction. I think mostly I needed to reposition it in my mind – not a dress for work, it turns out, but one that I could wear to kick about in at home, at the weekend or in the holidays. It’s a nice relaxed outfit – and in a different fabric might feel a bit dressier.

Will I make it again? I’m not sure right now – at a guess, no, because there are So Many Other Patterns (new patented acronym #SMOP: you’re welcome). But when we have slightly sunnier weather and I’m likely to leave the house without wearing all of my warmest clothes, let’s see how wearable this one is.

I do know, at any rate, that if I do it’ll take me about four and a half hours….

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