I am so into summer dresses right now. I can’t say why exactly and, strangely, (because I like them a lot) I actually haven’t made many dedicated summer dresses. I now have several cut out and plans for another few, so that “problem” should be rectified soon!
The first of them is the free* Peppermint Wide Strap Maxi dress, which has been produced via a collaboration between the Australian Peppermint Magazine and designer Elbe Textiles. I’ve admired this pattern since it came out, but I was a bit wary of it for several reasons:
- The shaping: I didn’t see many versions by fuller-busted sewists and I know that this kind of dress can give the impression that I am the ringleader of a miniature cat circus, cleverly concealed underneath my voluminous skirts. The dress is semi-fitted right at the top of the bust, all the way round to the back, but the volume starts right under this point.
- The wide straps: I have slightly narrow shoulders for my size and I was concerned the straps would just fall off my shoulders.
*Donations are welcomed, but technically, the Peppermint Magazine patterns are free.
However, in more recent months I’ve seen some great versions from some sewists with figures more akin to mine and I decided to give it a shot. It didn’t quite go to plan as I’ll talk about below, but on the whole, it was a good experience.
Sizing and Fabric
This pattern is available in sizes A to J, or 30-51.5″ bust. Peppermint Magazine has recently mentioned it is working on expanding the range further.
I was always going to go with my high bust measurement when choosing the size to sew for this pattern. It was important that this garment fit well at the shoulders and armhole, so I went with the Size G. I am a D cup, but had some advice from a fellow maker on Instagram, with a similar bust to me, that a C cup full bust adjustment was plenty because of the ease. I took her advice and made a 1 inch FBA to the pattern, rather than a 1.5-2″ adjustment, which would be necessary for a D cup adjustment. This was indeed plenty, so I was very glad of the advice, but more on that later.
I usually have to lower my bust darts by an inch or two, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. However, the full bust adjustment slightly lowered my bust point anyway and when I held the adjusted pattern up against my body, it seemed about right. In the end, it mostly is about right, but I have a slight issue with the dress pulling backwards after some adjusting, so it does depend where the dress is sitting! It will also depend on how much you shorten (or not) your straps, so it is a little difficult to judge right off the bat. In general, I think the dart is about right though.
The fabric is a mediumweight linen from Joann. I think linen is a great fabric for this dress, but there is a lot of square volume on the lower half of the dress because it’s a little weightier. I think the fabric will soften up, but I would consider softening the lower half a bit another time, perhaps with a curved hem or similar. If I’d used a lighter fabric with more drape such as rayon or crepe, it would have resulted in a narrower profile. I love the light blue colour though, and almost block-printed design.
I really enjoyed sewing this dress up (well, until the end, but that’s another story). Although it’s a fairly simple dress in many ways, the construction was well-thought out with lovely detail. The pockets, for example, are designed with a fun cutaway effect and are large and roomy.
Another detail I appreciated was that the instructions build in opportunities to try out the crucial parts of the dress on as you go – the straps and the back elastic, for example. This turns out to be quite vital for the fit. Which brings me to:
The final furlong and the infernal facing
I got to the point of construction, which was not far from the end, where I could try on the dress and test the straps. The dress did not have the elastic in at this point and both the instructions and other sewists mentioned that the elastic would pull the straps in a bit, so I didn’t worry about them widthwise at that point. However, the dress was hanging quite low at the back and you could see my bra, so I shortened the straps by 2 inches, evenly balanced between front and back.
The second point of fit-checking was after the elastic was added. I used the recommended length, but it felt quite loose when I tried the dress on and a little baggy at the armhole area. I also felt my straps were close to falling off. I shortened the elastic by three inches, but that turned out to be too much. It’s a better fit at the armhole, but it’s actually exacerbated the strap problem. It is now pulling the dress strongly backwards as I move around, resulting in the straps falling down pretty quickly as I wear the dress. You can see them teetering on the edge in some of these pics. Bummer. Now, it’s not a humunnngggous issue, and is easily fixed by using some bra attachments, as in this post from The Frugal Girl, but it would obviously be better to avoid it from the start, if possible.
I’m not yet sure what to do to fix it. I could definitely start with a size down and do a bigger FBA, since it was the looseness that caused the adjustment in the first place. I could also move the straps a little. I quite like the wide front and I think that just moving them inwards a bit at the back could work. I could also move the whole neckline in by a quarter of an inch or so. Lots of options! I’ll have to think it over.
The final thing to talk about is the facing. This is 100% my own silly fault, but I mention it to avoid you making the same mistake (although I’m sure you wouldn’t) as it was a PAIN to fix. It was a simple error. The dress is finished around the neckline with a facing. I adjusted the front to add the full bust adjustment and… FORGOT to adjust the facing. Urgh. I only realised when I couldn’t get it to sit nicely right at the end. I unpicked that bugger THREE times. I basted, I pinned, but I couldn’t get it to work.
And then the lightbulb went on. Argh! There was nothing for it but to draft a new facing, recut and then unpick the whole front facing, to replace it with the new one. What made it so painful was the added elastic in the back – it also had to be rematched, caught and sewn. The new facing went on perfectly first time (whew!), but the 5 minutes I needed to finish the dress turned into literally two evenings of work. So DON’T do this! You have been warned.
The picture above shows the full bust adjustment and the difference in the two facings (new facing underneath). I guess because the adjustment doesn’t affect the actual neckline I didn’t think about it too hard. But of course the facing is a few inches wide, so it certainly does affect the length further down the facing and also the angle at the armhole. It made quite a difference!
Overall, this is a very pleasing summer dress. It’s simple, but with great details and fun to sew. I didn’t get the fit quite right and gave myself a headache at the end, but, hey, these things happen. It’s loose and comfy, but fitted enough at the bust to be somewhat figure-enhancing – perfect for beach days. The main thing for me is that I need to add those strap holders to ensure I wear it!