I took part in the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge last year, when it was the push I needed to make my first shirtdress: the Grainline Alder. This year, the theme is the wrap dress and, after raking through my pattern collection, I decided to make the Colette Wren dress. I have already made the Named Kielo wrap dress and the M6884 wrap dress, so it was never going to be a technical challenge in the way that the shirtdress was, but wrap dresses definitely have their own fitting issues to be overcome – and so it was in this case too.
I also recently purchased a coverstitch machine after many, many months of watching out for sales. Finally, my luck was in, and I managed to pick up the Brother 2340CV for a decent discount. The Colette Wren is an ideal garment to practice coverstitching as there are instructions for hemming the neckline, armholes and the regular bottom hem with a coverstitch technique.
Of course, you don’t have to do this, but it was the ideal opportunity for me to give it a go! Lots of people have asked about my impressions of this machine, so I think I’ll write a separate little post once I’ve had a chance to try it out some more.
There are two versions of the Wren dress, both with the same wrap front. The first is sleeveless with a 6-gore skirt and the second has short sleeves and a gathered skirt. There’s also a free long-sleeved pattern bonus, should you be so inclined. I made the first version as I thought it would be more suitable for the slightly stiffer knit fabric I chose to use. I bought this green and white interlock knit from JoAnn Fabric a long time ago. It struck me as a cheery, retro Scandi-type knit, but I couldn’t think what to do with it for quite a while, until I realized that the smooth silhouette of Wren Version 1 would be a good match.
I did my usual research on the net and there were plenty of write-ups about Wren. Some very positive, others not so much, and the less so were mostly down to the fit of the pattern. I couldn’t help but notice that most of the glowing reviews came from my smaller-busted sewing comrades, so that did give me pause for thought. Many reviews (in fact almost all of them) pointed out the short bodice length. Empire-waisted dresses and I inevitably lead to passers-by kindly asking when my baby is due, so this is something I wanted to avoid. Therefore, one of the first things I did was trace the bodice out onto tracing paper and check for length by folding back the seam allowances.
My measurements put me between L and XL and I plumped for making the L since I have been losing weight (slowly but surely) since taking up triathlon training. Sure enough, the front bodice just about reached the bottom of my boob – way short of anything approaching waist length. I added 1.5 inches to all bodice pieces: the two front overlapping pieces, the back bodice and the neck piece, which is attached to the front of the bodice. I do have a tendency to swayback, so for a next iteration I would lose 1/2 inch from the back piece as there is a little excess in the back. Otherwise, this worked out to be a good length for me.
The dress is constructed fairly simply and quickly. The neckline pieces are serged to the front bodice pieces and then some gathers are put in the bodice side of the shoulder, which is a nice distinctive little touch to the design. You hem the neckline ( I used coverstitch here) and then join the front bodice pieces to the back, whereupon you’re advised to test the bodice fit, which I duly did.
There are three main complaints I’ve read about the pattern, which are 1) the length of the bodice, which I already tackled, 2) the front wrap gaping and pulling upwards and 3) the armholes gaping. I encountered all three and the latter two were obvious upon fitting the bodice. Colette anticipates the issue with the armholes gaping. This is apparently a very common issue with knits, which makes sense when you think about it: after all you’re trying to fit a triangular shape around a spherical/conical object and asking it to contour. The instructions refer you to an article with three methods of addressing any gaping.
I decided to use the first method suggested and pinched out the excess to form small bust darts starting at the armholes, with the aid of my ever-helpful husband. (One thing he doesn’t mind doing is pinching around my boobs, lol). And you know what? It worked perfectly for very little effort, so fair play Colette. You can see the resultant fit below and I have to say I’m pretty happy with it.
The final issue is with the general front area of the waistline where the two front bodice pieces meet. This is such a classic problem area for a wrap dress and even Diane von Furstenburg has gaping at the front of her famous wrap dresses in plenty of iconic photos. Nevertheless, when I first put on the bodice, the whole waistline pulled and flipped up in the centre as if trying to crawl up my belly. Not a good look, and one which seems to have been met with by a few Wren sewists. This was after the extra added length, too.
First, I took out the basting stitches holding the two front pieces together and laid them over each other in a new position that didn’t pull like a bugger (above photo). It’s a difficult balance, because if you overlap them too loosely, your boobs are exposed, too tight and the dress pulls upwards. I settled on a compromise between the two and reasoned that the weight and elastic of the attached skirt would help gravity pull the bodice down a little. This was certainly the case with the Moneta dress, also by Colette. I then re-basted.
The skirt goes together very easily. Serge, serge, serge (or zig-zag, zig-zag, zig-zag) and a quick press. The instructions have you sew on clear elastic for stability (I presume). I didn’t have any, but I did fancy the idea of adding some heft to the waistline, so I used regular 1/4-in elastic instead and I think it was worth it.
The bodice was then attached to the waistband and, in a not-too-hopeful frame of mind, I put the dress on for assessment. Amazingly, the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine beamed down upon my green-birded garment. It wasn’t half bad you know! A tiny bit of pulling here and there, but on the whole I rather liked it!
All that remained thereafter was to finish the armholes and hem, both with the coverstitch and ta-da!
I have two final notes: one is that I realised I was wearing a completely different bra in these photos compared to when I was fitting, and it does make a little difference actually. The dress is pulling a bit more today and it took me a while to figure out why, so make sure you choose your underwear appropriately.
Secondly, I didn’t gather the shoulders enough. I have a little gaping in the centre despite my adjustments and it is more prevalent on one side where I gathered the shoulder less. It makes quite a bit of difference again, so I’m going to go back and fix it. I think I’ll also add a snap or a bit of stitching on the front just in case of exposure. Overall, I think it’s nigh on impossible to get a perfect fit when the wrap ends are sewn rather than, well… wrapped, as in a classic wrap dress.
Whew – this turned into an epic old post! All in all, I ended up being fairly satisfied with this pattern, so give it a whirl if you’re interested. Did you take part in the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge?