I love the shirtdress. It’s the type of garment that looks flattering on so many different people and nicely straddles the divide between casual and smart-casual. I probably notice them a little more than the average person since they’re one of those garments that I’ve never really been able to buy from shops. I’m one of the many women whose experience with anything buttoned has been to either settle for a giant sack shirt just so it fits over the bust or to put up with a gaping top and either unbutton the shirt low and wear a cami, or just grin and bear it. This has been the case at my thinnest and my heaviest.
Which all leads me to the fact that I am so happy to finally have a shirtdress that fits! Yippee! The Alder shirtdress from Grainline Studios has become a classic in the few years since it was designed and there are many, many lovely versions on the internet. The final push for me to make a shirtdress came as a result of the #sewtogetherforsummer initiative that’s been going on the last few months. You can read all about it here, but it essentially involves making a shirtdress before June 21st and the organisers: @rocco.sienna, @sewsarahsmith and @sewing_in_spain have all produced tons of tips and hints to get you going. They’re all so friendly and supportive too – great stuff!Onto the Alder. As I mentioned, this is a classic and popular design, so you will find many, many other blog posts on it, but here is my take. First things first, there are a ton of resources for the Alder. The booklet that comes with the pattern is very good, but quite concise if you haven’t made a shirt/shirtdress before. So I used this in tandem with the extremely detailed Alder sewalong that Jen from Grainline has posted on her website. Between the two of these I managed to get the dress finished without needing any other resources.
Sizing: I swithered quite a bit on which size to make. The Alder is a loose-fit shirtdress, but I don’t suit a total sack/cocoon shape, so I decided to go for a size 16, which would provide a loose, but not too loose fit from waist down and then make a one-inch full bust adjustment (FBA) for the bodice. And it was my first FBA!
The good news is that Jen provides all the details you need for fit adjustments in the sewalong. It’s a really great FBA guide and it was pretty straightforward, honestly. The only part that required a bit of thinking was how to adjust it. I thought that would have been cut and dry, but it seems you can calculate it a number of ways. I decided on: my full bust is 43 inches. The 16 is sized for 42 inches, so I made a one inch FBA, which involved adjusting the pattern by 1/2″ (since there are two of those ladies).
And it all worked rather well in the end. These pics were taken after a full day of wearing the dress, and wearing a new, slightly more padded bra – and there isn’t any gape. The bust darts have ended up being just a fraction too high however, so I will lower them by quarter to half an inch the next time.
I decided to make the shirtdress as a (nice) wearable muslin using the fabric that came with the pattern in a kit (from Craftsy I think?) which is a Katarina Roccella AGF voile. I was going to use a different fabric initially, but figured it would be a safe bet content-wise (since it was chosen for the pattern) plus it’s quite a busy pattern, so no matching required and small mistakes are well hidden. 😀 Rather like I’m well-hidden in this mural, don’t you think?
I’ve never made any sort of collared shirt before, so a quite a bit of the construction was new to me. If you haven’t either (or don’t know the Alder), here are a few things I noted while putting it together. I made View B, which is slightly more shaped by way of a skirt section that gathers from the sides all the way round the back. View A is just a straight shirtdress with no separate skirt piece. Both versions are sleeveless and the armholes are finished with self made bias binding. The skirt has a high-low hem (not normally my cup of tea but feels totally suitable for this dress) and are buttoned from top to bottom. It’s worth noting that Grainline have published various hacks which can be found on their website, including a mandarin collar version and even a hack to turn the dress into a shirt.
Preparing: One small thing I found confusing when preparing the pieces was that you cut a section off one of the dress fronts before you even start sewing. The reason is that it would have been too cost-prohibitive to create pattern pieces for the two different front pieces (different because of the button bands), so you cut two identical fronts and then trim one. Took me a little while to figure out what was meant, so just a note for anybody else facing the same issue.
Darts and pockets: Straightforward to create. Jen has a tip about putting the dress on a tailor’s ham to get good pocket placement since it sits over the darted area. Works like a charm! I followed the pocket placement directions on the pattern, but it seemed way too close to the button band (and much closer than in Jen’s photos) so I just measured the distance out by eye in the end.
Yoke attaching: There is one method in the instructions – I guess a more conventional method perhaps – but in the sewalong Jen gives both this and also the “burrito method” of attaching the yoke. I used the latter and it was super cool – a veritable magic trick – and that’s always fun. It’s kind of impossible to explain without many diagrams/photos, but I’ll show you why it’s called the burrito method:
You end up with something that looks like this. It’s the two yokes (one is the facing) with the rest of the dress rolled up in the middle and it looks like a… burrito. Cool eh? After this you sew both the shoulder seams together:
And then you pull it all out and you end up with the yoke and facing magically sewn on both sides. Try it – it’s great!
Skirt and collar: The skirt came together very well – there’s one tricky wee bit about clipping corners when attaching the skirt to the front piece, but the pictures helped a lot. Then onto my first proper collar! Again, this was reasonably successful. I thoroughly recommend flipping between the Alder and Archer shirt sewalongs for this part as there are some videos in the Archer sewalong (it is linked at the appropriate place in the Alder sewalong) and that cleared things up for me immensely.
The only slight issues I had were: 1) I ended up with the main collar upside down. I thought I had it right, then doubted myself and flipped it and… I was right the first time. No big deal. 2) My collar seemed to be on the short side for the collar stand when I attached them. There was just enough collar to be able to sew the whole piece to the top of the button band on the main dress, but it was a bit touch and go. I may have made a measuring error, but I’ll look out for that next time. For my first collar, I was very happy!
Buttons: The armhole and hem finishing both went without a hitch using the sewalong, so all that was left after that was the buttons. It took me agessss to find ones I liked, which is unusual for me, but I ended up scoring these yellow ones from a local craft consignment store we have here. Nine buttons for $1.20 – pretty nice price too! They remind me of lemon drops. I found a great tip from Suzy on the dedicated buttonhole tips page for #sewtogetherforsummer which involved putting buttons directly at your most gaping parts, i.e. the fullest part of bust and/or stomach if applicable, and work backwards from there. I did this and it happened that the bust button was pretty much where the pattern had it anyway. Having said that, this was the main place I made an error. Luckily it’s not very noticeable on the final garment, but see if you can spot the mistake below.
Of course you can. I put that top buttonhole in four (yes, four) times before realising it wasn’t working properly because it should have been horizontal. Duh. Note to self: always, always start buttons at the bottom where nobody will notice mistakes.
Anyway, I fixed it in the end and that was the dress done! I’ve already worn it out all day and it felt perfect for summer. It really was a pleasure to sew and I can thoroughly recommend the Alder as a first shirtdress for anyone, as well as just as a great garment.
Well, this has been a mega post of photos and text, but I suppose it’s always like that with your first “type” of any garment. Thanks again to the ladies from #sewtogetherforsummer for the push and to Grainline for a fantastic product. Did anyone else make something for the challenge? I already spoke to a couple of people about it, but I’d love to hear other experiences. Now I’m off to enjoy the sun! 🙂