Something a bit different today, both in terms of style and colour. If you’d asked me 25 years ago if I’d ever wear a caftan, I would have said something along the lines of, “No way! They’re for old ladies” (which was anyone above 30 back then). Fashion is a fickle mistress, however, and that wafting 70s shape is all the rage again (patchouli oil optional). Being older and wiser, I also know that such shapes are often worn by “older ladies” because they are very kind to lumps and bumps and ungroomed Covid legs (who am I kidding – that was de rigeur in my household pre-Covid too), as well as being extremely comfortable and, well… draughty to wear. So I say, hurray! Bring on the caftans! First up:
The Cris Wood Sews Envelope Dress is one of those patterns that’s taken the Instagram world by storm in recent months and I really went back and forth about it. I don’t know Cris Wood personally, but I’ve followed her on Instagram for a while now, drawn by her very formed and hip sense of style, and also by the fact that, like me, she lives in Seattle, I suppose. This is her first commercial pattern (although feel free to correct me if not) and it looked fabulous on her and lots of other lovely sewists, but I just wasn’t convinced it would look fabulous on me. At all.
However, I’ve made plenty of things I wasn’t convinced would be wonderfully flattering on me because I admired the pattern, or wanted to learn a new technique, and, in this case, the thing that intrigued me most was the fact it was a zero waste dress and I was positively itching to know how it went together. In the end, Cris did a fundraiser for BLM for a long weekend, where she very generously donated all profits to the organisation, so that sealed the deal and I made my purchase.
This is an unusual pattern. It’s a zero waste pattern because you use every bit of your fabric (assuming you use a piece that’s 1.5yds long for sizes up to a 14 and an exact calculated yardage thereafter). This means that all the pieces are, essentially rectangles. Three rectangles, to be precise. There are no pattern pieces either – you follow a set of very clear instructions and the whole dress takes maybe an hour or so to sew.
But it’s very clever. Oh yes, very clever in its apparent simplicity. I love the fact that you can take any piece of 1.5yds (ish) of fabric and make a dress out of it with zero waste. And, although, I wouldn’t have predicted it, I truly think that the final dress really looks more than a rectangle, and particularly when it’s worn with a belt, in my case at least.
Sizing, Fabric and Construction
I made my first dress from a 1.5yds length of pretty cheap crepe from Joann. The texture is somewhat crispy and I figured it wouldn’t be any great loss if it was terrible. Crispy is not a good attribute in a fabric. I used exactly 1.5 yards because I made the dress up in the one-size version, which I believe was the original sole sizing, and that calls for exactly 1.5 yards.
There are no real sizing measurements given in the pattern, which confused me at first, but simply a stated size range: 0-14. I made the assumption that was a US 0-14 and I do sometimes fit a US 14, but it depends very much on the pattern designer. Of course, when I spent more than 30 secs considering it later (I have a Maths degree for God’s sake), I realised that calculating the hip measurement (and width all the way down actually) is very simple and works out at 51″. It’s an interesting design, because you actually use the fabric crosswise and therefore aren’t restricted by the width of the fabric as you might be normally (it does make using prints tricky, however as they will orient sideways). I have a 46″ hip measurement, so technically it fits, but there isn’t really sufficient ease for a “proper” caftan.
It doesn’t look terrible exactly, but it pulls a bit on the bum and even though it doesn’t feel tight, I think it gives the impression that it’s pulling around the neck. Don’t get me wrong – it’s wearable, but at this point I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to make another one.
If this were a mystery story, I would have completely spoilt the plot, because you know from the top photo that I did indeed make another one – and I’m glad I did. There is a formula provided for “customized sizing” above the 0-14 one-size, and it’s very, very simple. I used the recommended 13″ of ease and this time, well, I absolutely loved the result. Really, it’s truly amazing what a difference a couple of inches makes (stop it, that’s filthy).
I was also surprised because the fabric actually looks okay, I think? I rarely wear yellow, but I had this very soft piece of crepe in my stash, which I bought years ago from LA Finch Fabrics and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I spied it when I was perusing the old stash, choosing what to use for a second attempt. This seemed a good bet for a wearable muslin – but you know, I actually rather love it. Something about it feels a bit vintage glam to me and it feels lovely on. You can see it better above and below – it was a little washed out against my fence.
I’m not going to detail construction, but suffice it to say it’s very straightforward. I left this one as a maxi length dress and I added little tiny bar tacks at the point of the V neck both on the front and back to strengthen the area as I think I could tear it quite easily. A couple of other fit comments I had:
I’m not sure how to wear the shoulder seam. It naturally falls back more like a yoke on me, but I can see a lot of people pulling it forward to make pleats – or perhaps that’s just the natural slant of the shoulders/back for some people – I’m not sure. I quite like it pulled forward, but it doesn’t really like staying there because of gravity. I haven’t seen anyone comment on it, so who knows? If you have made it and can enlighten me, please do.
I also can’t get away from the fact that although the hem is intended to be higher at the front than the back, and that that happens because of proportions and stuff, to me it looks like the dress is slipping backwards. I’m not sure if it’s because I know that it kind of is, or if it’s just an illusion that I can’t unsee now that I’ve thought about it. So I’ve been debating whether to level the hem off. For now though, I’ve left it as intended – higher at the front and lower at the back.
All in all – this is a dress that, in my opinion, is greater than the sum of its parts. Take a look at the hashtag and see what you think if it appeals to you. In the meantime, I can see running up a couple more of these the next time I need a quick, satisfying sew and there’s no shame in that gratification. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Cris Wood Sews to see what comes up next for her, as she definitely has an interesting take on things. Bye for now!