New dress: Colette Penny shirtdress for spring

You may recognize this dress if you follow the Sewcialists blog as I made it for the currently running “Stripes” theme month. I ended up with two garments for the post in the end (you can read why on the original post here) but I wanted to also post about them separately with a bit more on the construction and sewing, since the original post was meant more as a summation and I didn’t want to bore the pants off people stopping by for a bit of picture-fun.


This fabric was REALLY hard to get good pics of with little natural light available!

To cut a long story short, I was aiming to make some woven striped pieces, since I’d only used knits before, and this blue seersucker from Robert Kaufman was one of my only suitable pieces (I’m trying to use up stash this year, like so many of us). This is a classic fabric with the potential to look incredibly sweet and girly – and, honestly, that’s just not my personal style – so I decided to try and use it in a more tailored garment and decided on: the Penny shirtdress from Colette Patterns. I decided to make Version 2 with no sleeves and a belt, which could add a nice bit of contrast. I also decided to add the pockets from Version 1, for further contrast, plus I just really like pockets on a shirtdress.


The pdf from Colette is quite large at 61 pages, but I must say it’s much more economically laid out than some of the others I’ve used from them. Most of it is skirt, which is understandable given the fullness. Now, there is one big problem with this dress and me, which is something I should really have thought about in advance. I did, in fact, make a muslin in a size 16, which corresponded to my current measurements, even thought I normally use a 14 with Colette. The 16 fit very well around bust and waist, but I had some diagonal draglines from shoulder to waist and the shoulder looked a little long. I pinned the shoulder according to the seam allowance and thought the draglines looked ok. The shoulder still looked wide but the armhole looked good, so I decided to go ahead with a 16 rather than 14 plus FBA.


Those last few sentences are from my notes and I don’t really know what happened, because yes, the shoulder is too wide for me (IMO, but, you know, the more I look at the official Penny pics, the more I see a wide shoulder on the models too – a little different from the line drawing, so perhaps it’s a pattern issue) but, more importantly, the armhole is HUGE. I’m not sure how it could have looked okay on the muslin, because it is a good way HUGE. Even worse, I had this exact same problem with my Seamwork Gretta top, which was the first thing I had made with Colette’s redrafted block and I completely forgot about it. GAH! It’s such a shame, because Colette’s old sizing was great on me (obviously I was in a niche minority, because that’s why they reconfigured the block), but I must remember this in the future.


You can see how stiff the armhole is here

Admittedly, it’s worse in the final garment because the waviness of the seersucker style adds quite a bit of stiffness to the armhole area which, coupled with the facing, makes it stand quite rigid. I’m telling you, you can see all the way to Canada through my armpit area if you happen to be at the right angle. I’m not sure how to fix it either. How do you fix a negative space? Maybe I could remove the facing and then use bias binding, flipping it to the outside somehow? I’m not sure.


The armscye looks kinda deep even on the hanger to me…

The fabric also wasn’t the best choice for the ruched belt, which is just too bulky with the rigidity of the seersucker. It didn’t feel so stiff on the flat, but I suppose that’s where experience gets (or doesn’t get) you. It’s a shame really, because otherwise the dress fits me rather well and I do like the style.


20180126_094055As you can see, I decided to get slightly experimental and add some bright yellow piping to the yoke area to break up that pinstripe a little. It was fairly straightforward to do (although I really would like a piping foot) and I like the effect. It made the buttons incredibly hard to match, so I ended up painting my own. I had some clear buttons and simply used masking tape to mask off a straight line, before painting the area in hardware paint. I let it dry a little and then varnished the buttons. They came out pretty well I think, although I’m somewhat dubious as to how long that paint’s going to survive.


Construction-wise I thought the instructions were good. The Penny is a fairly challenging dress with a number of pieces. Watch when you’re cutting pieces and check the layout guide as some pieces are reversed. There’s a lot of staystitching and interfacing to start, which is all good, necessary stuff. I would use a lighter interfacing next time as I picked something a little heavy I reckon. The pockets were okay, although I think I prefer the Melilot style of pockets now. I made a little cardboard cutout to help with pressing those awkward curves up and it helped, but it’s not my favourite method of pocket forming.


Some people had issues with forming the placket and I did also come a little unstuck. Unfortunately I wrote notes on my paper instructions to add here and I can’t find the notes! I know it was mainly to clarify one of those instructions, but I’m afraid I’ll have to claim ignorance now. Here are my pics if it clarifies anything for you?!

It’s a shame the armhole is too big as the facings actually went on very neatly, as did the collar and stand. The instructions were very good here and resulted in a nice finish.


One thing that I’ve seen people miss is the instruction to add snaps on the botton half of the placket (from the belt downwards). This is what keeps the lower half in place! It’s a bit fiddly but has the desired effect.


So, overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. My fabric wasn’t quite the right choice and the armhole needs some work, but the pattern does has some nice features. Whether I’ll fix the issues and wear it much remains to be seen, but I can imagine a version in a finer fabric would be lovely. I have a number of shirtdress patterns in my collection, however, so I reckon I’ll probably try one of those first.

12 thoughts on “New dress: Colette Penny shirtdress for spring

  1. The dress is lovely and looks good on you. I hope you can figure out how to deal with the armholes so that you can wear it. Maybe you can find a light cardigan to wear over it. I know it’s discouraging to make up something so pretty and not be able to wear it. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank Jeanette! I will certainly give it a try. I did try putting on my cropped Astoria jumper with it and it looked pretty good. I just have to watch that bulky belt. But yes, you certainly can’t win them all and if nothing else, I got to practice a lot of new skills making this! šŸ™‚


  2. I really love your design touches on this project. The buttons and piping take the dress to the next level.

    I’m sorry about the fit issues. After the issues with the Rue dress came out — after the company’s strange response to criticism in particular — I kind of gave up on Colette Patterns, especially the new releases. I have a few older Colette and some Seamwork patterns that I’ve had decent luck fitting, but I don’t think I’ll be getting their new stuff.

    And so far I’m really enjoying my love affair with Burda šŸ˜‰


    1. Thanks Kamila! It was fun to add a few decorative details and they were pretty simple, so it wasn’t a headache.

      I have a lot of Colette and Seamwork patterns, but I think all of the ones I’ve made have been based on the old block, with the exception of Gretta, so I totally forgot about it. I remember seeing a blogger compare the pattern piece of the “new” Sorbetto and the old one, and there was a huge difference in the armscye area. The old one fit me pretty well, so I was a bit worried from that point. The whole Rue debacle seemed to me the result of a new and inexperienced team being let loose without the proper checks and Sarai’s explanation seemed to back that up. Seemed a lot like a few experiences I’ve had in business. šŸ™‚ Either way, it didn’t do them any favours, but the bottom line is: if all their new patterns are going to need significant adjustment for me now, I won’t be using them. Shame.

      And yes, I MUST try me some Burda. I do have a few magazines and, I believe, the same book as you have. At least I recognize some of the artistic Burda photoshoot pics. šŸ˜€ I also did buy their recent trouser bundle as there were so many different styles. I will try one day!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With Burda, I was worried at first about the lack of seam allowances in the magazine patterns… and now I not only don’t care but am finding it almost easier for alterations, actually.

        The instructions make very little sense to me, so I rely a lot on previous sewing experiences.

        My other complaint is that their “misses” —
        or whatever you’d call that size range — and “plus size” patterns are always completely different collections. Typically I’m just stuck admiring the plus sizes and sighing because I don’t know how (or: am too lazy to figure out how) I could grade them down a bit. Those patterns are usually stunning.

        Not a new year’s resolution — but a plan I’ve had for a while now — is to try to sew with mostly stashed patterns. I got most of my Burda magazines as a gift from a dear friend who knows I’m obsessed with them, so they’re a major part of that stash.

        My motivation will be seriously undermined once the new collection from Named comes out if I know life šŸ˜‰


  3. I agree, although I do have a habit of forgetting to add those seam allowances sometimes! At least in the Ottobre patterns I’ve used, which are the same deal. I guess it has its advantages in that you have your stitching line, plus you can add your preferred seam allowance too, but just takes some getting used to as you say.

    I am doing a very similar thing with my fabric and my patterns. So far so good, but I have given myself the odd pass, such as when the Sewing Expo is in town next month. New collections are bound to turn your eye, so just hope they have a design meltdown or something. šŸ˜‰ Speaking of Named, I saw the perfect fabric the other day for the Tuuli dress. I already have the pattern and haven’t made it because I didn’t have the “right” fabric. It was very hard to resist. But I did! For now…


  4. What lovely work you do! The details really make this version special! I personally passed on this Colette pattern, because of the fit across my waist, but you have made it look amazing!!! I just found your blog and would love to see more of your work! Thanks for visiting my new one!


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