I am writing this post from New York where I am on holiday with Charlie. We have just been to a Brooklyn Nets basketball game! Anyway…
The first item of clothing I ever made was the Coco dress (pattern courtesy of Tilly and the Buttons – Coco pattern). Coco is an excellent project for the beginner seamstress: it is effectively a sack with no fastenings, but while this may appear a rude description, it is without doubt a lovely garment and one I would buy if I were to see it in a shop.
Something I really was not aware of (perhaps somewhat ignorantly) was the fact that fabric shops change their stock with the seasons in the same way an ordinary fashion shop does too. Therefore, I find shopping for fabric a varied and interesting experience each time I go.
Places to buy are endless- there is a long list of online retailers- some favourites of mine include The Village Haberdashery and Sew Over It. I have the fortune to work in the West End so have a large selection of shops on my doorstep. However, I have to admit that I have a tendency to buy most of my fabric and supplies from John Lewis! I really must make more of an effort to support smaller suppliers, but I frequently find myself perusing the clothing section in JL and then taking a quick trip to look at the new in fabrics… (My excuse anyway)
Now, back to Coco. The best and most flexible way to make this dress is using a jersey fabric; in addition- it is by far the most comfortable fabric and therefore, dress, that you will ever wear! I chose a stripey blue and cream for mine from The Cloth House on Berwick Street for mine. My mother was most concerned that I had been so foolish to choose stripes for a first project, but they actually worked in my favour as I was able to use them as a visual guide for aligning the pieces.
Sizing choice and cutting out
Do not under any circumstances lie to yourself about your size! I have made the mistake both ways over the different projects I have made and it just ends up doubling your work as you need to alter the garment (I am currently having to bring in a dress I have made too large and it is truly boring work). Perhaps obtain the help of a friend or family member to wield the tape measure.
When you have settled on your size, the next job is to trace the pattern size that fits. I have been using grease proof or baking parchment for this as it is fairly cheap; comes on a roll so you can make large pieces; and is translucent like tracing paper. I am sure there are other methods though. My next tip is to really make sure you trace on all the crucial details from the pattern, especially where you need to cut out notches- that way, you can reuse the paper for when you want to make your next dress without the faff of all the tracing first.
Cutting onto the fabric can be very scary in my opinion. Firstly checking that you have folded it correctly (right sides together) – you would never draw on the right side, so that is how I remind myself. I usually lay the fabric out over my whole dining table and spend quite a while doing this so that I do not mess it up. Generally speaking, the pattern gives you a guide as to the most effective way to use your fabric in regards to cutting all the pieces from the purchased dimensions, but after a few projects it is easy to work it out for yourself.
To begin, thread your machine in your chosen colour. Most have little instruction books as to how to do this, and I definitely spent at least the first six months having to re look at this each time I got out my sewing machine!
Begin by reinforcing the neckline and adding strengthening ribbons to both shoulders. These ribbons are rarely seen- I use scraps from bags from fancy shops for mine (I always hoard these…and ribbons on the price labels of clothes if they are used instead of plastic!).
This is followed by sewing the front and back pieces together (right sides facing) at the shoulder seams. I constantly find the next part of finishing the neckline impossible. Hemming tape and an iron are supposed to make it easy, but my little mistake as witnessed by the photo below is a frequent issue for me. If anyone has any tips as to how to stop this happening, that would be great… However, hemming tape is very quick so I would definitely give it a go. All that is required is a hot iron over a damp cloth with the tape tucked in between the two pieces of material you wish to stick. It is rather like a form of double sided sellotape!
Inserting sleeves can be daunting; however, I mentioned remembering your notches earlier, and this is where this comes into play. If you line up the notches, the sleeves should insert fairly easily as long as you sew it slowly and with care.
Now to form it into a dress. This consists of sewing from the tip of the sleeves up to the armpits and then round and down to the bottom hem. Fairly straightforward. Finally, hem the sleeves and bottom. Coco only provides that you turn the material up once, which is what I have done here, though in future versions I have been more concerned about appearances and turned them up twice to neaten it.
I realise that the whole way through this post I have failed to mention pressing and ironing. I must stress that this is hugely important and vital to have a neat final product. I will touch on it in further posts, but needless to say, this is my least favourite part (I cannot stand ironing and purposely buy non iron work clothes for this very reason!).
I will finish by saying that Coco is exceedingly quick and easy sew, and has provided me with endless pleasure since I first made it. I remember how excited I was when it was finished and how amazed everyone was that I had managed it! I hope it provides you with as much pleasure if you choose to take up the challenge!
Have a lovely week,