New dress: Seamwork Killian and a fitting tutorial

Another dress so soon, I hear you say? Well yes – this is one of the new patterns for Seamwork this month and I have to tell you, it’s a great month! I love both of the patterns on offer for July, but wasn’t too sure about the bust support factor for Siahra (although I know some ambassadors got around this, so am interested to read their posts on the matter), so I opted to make this dress – Killian. This style is absolutely up my street with its slight vintagey vibe and I’m delighted to report that it’s jumped straight into my favourite-dress-patterns-of-all-time list. I will definitely, definitely be making more of these, and perhaps with some variations, so stay tuned for those.

First though, you might wonder why I like it so much? Really, it’s because it has features that I think really suit me. It’s that simple. I’m also very happy with the fit I achieved and thought that it might be helpful for beginners (or anyone who’s interested) if I explain how I went about the fitting process. Obviously everyone is different, but one thing I found hard as a beginner was just assessing a pattern and figuring out what to tackle, and in which order. I’m not a fitting expert by any means, but I’ve definitely gotten better at fitting my body over the years, so perhaps it will help someone. I’ll pop that detailed section at the bottom of the post. Let me know if you have questions!

The Pattern

The Killian is rated an intermediate pattern and that’s probably because it has a couple of slightly trickier elements than recent Seamwork dresses. The bodice is shaped with three sets of darts: bust darts and then waist darts on both the front and back. The sleeves are also set in, rather than the more recent grown-on or dropped shoulder sleeves we’ve been seeing. This results in a more tailored, fitted bodice and produces some lovely contours, which are very handy when you’re busty, although I would say it’s universally a classic look.

The skirt is gathered and attached to the waist and there’s a full set of 12 buttons down the front, which is a favourite feature of mine. It takes a little while to add them all, but I really love the effect. There’s no collar, but instead a fairly deep V-neck, which is finished very neatly with a facing (centre front is also finished with the facing). I greatly enjoyed sewing the V-neck on the Seamwork Benning dress earlier this year, and this one is no different. Love a V-neck!

And don’t forget about the pockets – they’re one of my favourite features. They remind me a little of a mini version of the Peppermint pocket skirt pockets and they’re just distinctive enough to differentiate the silhouette of the dress from others like it.

Fabric

I am so excited to have both located and used this fabric and it took me a while to get it into my sweaty paws. It’s from The Scenic Route, designed by Victoria McGrane and carried by Nerida Hansen Fabrics. You’ll have heard me mention Nerida Hansen before – it’s a sort of collective for individual designers and I love so many of the bright, bold designs they produce (well-known designers there include Lisa Congden, Katie Kortman, Jennifer Bouron and Holli Zollinger). This particular fabric is the cotton sateen and it’s perfect for this dress. A little structure, plenty of drape and, of course, silky smooth.

I ended up actually purchasing it from NekoNeko in Singapore though. After falling head over heels for it, I had happily placed an order at Nerida Hansen and then… Covid lockdown happened and international mail was cancelled (they are in Australia). It was pretty much the last of the fabric and the store couldn’t hold, so I sadly kissed it goodbye with sad eyes. It was one of those designs that I didn’t forget, however, and so when I saw recently that NekoNeko in Singapore had a little in stock I LEAPT to it and managed to snag some. Happy days! There may even be a little left (if you hurry)! Edit: It sold out! Sorry.

It behaved beautifully and I just adore the vibrant colours, flora and fauna. It proved very useful for distracting my son with an “I Spy” game one day and I can’t help but feel that I’m wearing the best adult colouring book in the world EVER – and I mean this in the most positive way. So fun!

Construction

As mentioned, this is rated an intermediate pattern, but don’t let that deter you if you’re a beginner. This is a great pattern to work on those set-in sleeves and buttonholes. The instructions are fantastic and it’s a very standard, straightforward sew for this type of design. Here are a few small notes:

Seams: Many of the seams are pressed open, so you could finish the edges before you sew the seam. I tend to do this with woven garments because, unfortunately, I’ve come a cropper a few times with my serger by serging straight through the body of the dress by mistake when trying to finish a seam edge after it’s sewn. It’s fiddly! Some people don’t like to finish raw edges before sewing, but it’s very common in Europe. Just an option for you…

Setting the sleeves and gathering the skirt: The instructions ask you to use three lines of gathering stitches for both the sleeves and the waist. I’m used to two, but I must say I rather liked using three. I felt I had better control and I got not a SINGLE tiny pucker or tuck in the sleeves, so that must be some sort of record. The sleeves actually only need to be slightly gathered and everything matched up well.

Buttonholes: I’m very lucky that my plucky little sewing machine LOVES a buttonhole, but I know that’s not always the case. If you’re new to buttonholes or they scare you a bit, I wrote a whole post with tips and tricks on achieving the perfect buttonhole.

Fitting and Sizing Tutorial

As you may have gathered, this is the important part, in my opinion, to getting this pattern to look fab-u-lous. As background, my measurements are 44-37-46 and my high bust is 40″, which makes me a sewing D cup (4 inches between my high and full bust). I’m 5’6″ and Seamwork patterns are drafted for a height of 5’8″.

There are many different approaches to fitting, but I would say the majority of them take a “top-down” approach. That is, you start fitting at the top and work your way down the garment.

Overall first look: I first take a step back and look at the garment as a whole. Where is the shaping? In this pattern, pretty much all of the shaping is in the top half, so I know that’s where I’ll make most of my adjustments. The skirts are rectangle pieces, so I know right away that I can alter them later on for height and so on, as it won’t make any difference to the shape.

Which size do I start with?

Ah yes – the eternal question. There are lots of ways to tackle this, but here’s my method:

Shoulder/armhole area: The first thing I work out is the shoulder area as that’s where the dress hangs from. My own figure type is one that many other people share. I have a curvy front: my bust, stomach and, to a lesser extent, hips are all slightly larger than my frame. My back is probably a size smaller than my front because of that. It’s difficult to phrase body-related language without sounding body-negative sometimes (and I’m certainly not) but if I say that I carry my weight on my front, particularly since having children, I hope you know what I mean.

All this leads to the fact that I usually pick a starting size closer to my high bust measurement than my full bust, so that I get the upper fit on my smaller frame. Seamwork is a little unusual in that its Misses range is drafted for a C cup and its Curvy range for a DD cup (the industry standard is a B cup). I am a D cup, as I mentioned, so I could theoretically choose either. I have had good results by using the Misses range, so I used that again here. However, I would recommend checking both to see which you align with better if you’re in the straddle zone like me, as the body shapes and blocks are slightly different.

Here is the Seamwork Killian chart that I used. As you can see, the 16 matches my measurements almost perfectly. But because of how my measurements are distributed I know that if I use the 16, my shoulders, armholes and back will all be too large and the proportions will be wrong. My high bust is 40, so I could pick a 12, but since Seamwork uses a C cup, I know the actual high bust they drafted the 12 for is 37″ (40″- C cup 3″) and that seems a bit tight. The 14 is closer to my high bust measurement at 39″ (42-3″), so that’s what I go for. This is backed up by looking at the finished measurements, which is always important. The 12 definitely looks small at the waist too. Okay, size picked!!

Sidenote: I do sometimes use a 12 for Seamwork patterns: this is almost always with a knit garment that is oversized or has lots of ease.

Mirror, mirror on the wall… who’s the most diligent sewist of all…?*

Next, I cut out my pieces at the size 14. I double-check the bodice roughly by holding it up to my body. Don’t forget to fold back the seam allowances for an accurate estimate. I check the shoulder looks roughly the right length (it does) and, very importantly, I mark my apex/nipple/pointy bit on the pattern piece. I also have a quick glance at the waistline, which, in this case falls at my natural waist, where it’s supposed to.

In the case of set-in sleeves I also sometimes measure the shoulder length of the pattern piece with a tape measure to be more accurate and compare the measurement to my own shoulder. The tricky part is knowing exactly where the neckline sits on your body, but lining up centre front can help with that.

*Not I

Hooray, hooray for the FBA

Full bust adjustments FBA (or small bust adjustments SBA) are not very tricky once you’ve got your head round them. The idea is to add more (or reduce) room in the bust area while not affecting the length of other pattern piece seams, such as the armhole. The shape may get changed a little, but the length stays the same, so other pattern pieces, eg. the sleeve, still fit nicely.

First I want to point out where my apex is in relation to the pattern (see above). If it’s not marked, you can generally find it by drawing a line right through the middle of the dart and then using a point about 1-2″ from the point of the dart on that line. Since there’s a waist dart that also points upwards to the apex, I can estimate that accurately by finding the point where they meet.

You can see immediately that my apex is lower than the drafted apex (it’s about 1.25″ down” and that it’s also further in towards centre front when you compare its location to the size 14 waist dart. So I want my fullness to ideally be down a bit and in a bit from where the pattern has it. Technical language, eh?

First, let’s add that room for my boobs. As we’ve established, I’m using a 14, which has a full bust measurement of 42″. My full bust measurement is 44″, so I need to add two inches to make up the gap. Since I have two breasts and the pattern is for one of them, I only need to make a one-inch FBA on the pattern. I have not done a full tutorial for that, but recommend the Colette Aster tutorial or the Cashmerette tutorials. You’ll end up with something like the above.

I have the space, but my apex is still much lower: about an inch now. I need to lower it. This is very simple to do. You cut out a big rectangle around your dart (orange dots above) and then just slide it down (or up if you’re raising the dart) until it’s in line with the apex you marked on your pattern.

Finally you smooth out all the lines. I would advise folding your dart up to make sure it’s neat and works and there aren’t extra pieces poking out. You can just trim if there are. Finally, you need to tackle the waist dart. I would advise rechecking your bust apex at this point and remarking it, if it’s shifted a bit. Then draw from the dart legs to an point about an inch from your apex. Here is mine.

And we’re done with the front bodice. Whew! That’s the most complicated part by far, so feel free to congratulate yourself for getting here. It’s a little hard to tell in this busy fabric, but I think you can just about see below that the darts are in the right place and have added nice shaping. Hooray! Now we need to deal with the knock-on effects and keep moving down the body.

Getting down and dirty

As you saw above, doing this FBA added an inch in width and 1/2″ in height to the front. A common question sewists ask is: should I adjust the back too? The answer is no! You need that extra length to go around and over your bust – and you don’t have boobs on your back!

However, you do have to consider the effect on the waist and other pattern pieces. This adjustment has increased the bustline, but also the waistline by an inch. Now, in my case, since I started off with a smaller size, I need the extra width anyway. That extra width x 2 gives me an extra 2 inches in the total waist measurement (don’t forget – the pattern is only half the body).

Now, there are a couple of ways to deal with this. What I did was look at the finished measurement and see that the size 14 finished measurement is 37 3/8″. I have added 2 inches, so my finished measurement at the moment is 39 3/8″. My waist measurement is 37″, so that will give me a 2 3/8″ ease amount, which I’m okay with. You can, however, also look at the body measurements and work it out using those, which may mean you prefer to add a little extra on top.

Adding the extra fabric here when I cut to allow for the one inch increase

What I need to do is make sure I increase the skirt waist by the same amount, so it matches the bodice. I will hold up my hands and admit to being lazy. I didn’t add it to the pattern, but just added it to the fabric when I went to cut, but making a note on the pattern. If you’re a beginner, I advise putting the effort in to adding it onto the pattern, as it’s easy to forget when you cut!

The last knock on effect is with that extra 1/2″ of length. I decided not to alter the overall length (see below), but I did have to take the facing into account. The facing is drafted to match the length of the centre front, so I added an extra 1/2″ onto the bottom to make the two match again.

Misc. and finishing

Time for me to take another step back and see if I’ve forgotten anything:

Overall length: Even though I’m shorter than the draft, my length is slightly more in my body than my legs, so if I make any height adjustments to a pattern, it tends to be to shorten the leg area unless it’s a big discrepancy, in which case I would divide it between the two areas. Since the skirts for Killian are rectangles, any extra length is easily taken off at the bottom of the pattern, because there’s no shaping. If the skirt were not a rectangle, I would remove it at the Shorten/Lengthen line, usually towards the middle of the pattern, before I cut the fabric. For the Killian, you can leave the skirt length until the end when you try it on, and I ultimately didn’t remove anything, giving me a midi style.

Another common knock-on effect for this kind of dress to watch for is to add length to a button placket. In the case of Killian, there is no extra placket piece, so it wasn’t applicable here.

And that’s it! A final note: these were all sizing adjustments and not design adjustments. You may, of course, want to lower or raise the neckline, change the gathering ratio, adapt the sleeves – all kinds of personal preference things. I would say that in that case you would do this at the muslin stage. I did not make a muslin because I’m fairly comfortable with my standard Seamwork sizing adaptions and I wanted to make the dress as is, but it’s definitely not a bad idea to make a muslin or two at all! Crucial, some would say 😉

I hope this was of some help and I hope you have fun with Seamwork’s fab July patterns! I love both of them and may even try Siahra, if I can figure out how to accommodate my boobs. Talk to you soon! Oh and one last thing – it was HOT out there! Woweeeee!

15 thoughts on “New dress: Seamwork Killian and a fitting tutorial

    1. Thanks Lety! Yes, it’s a good month eh? I forgot to mention that the bonus is long sleeves for the Killian and I just saw a cool version one of the other ambassadors made (@sewstartino) and I’m tempted by that version too now! I’m glad the tips were of some use! 🙂

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    1. Absolutely! That’s exactly what I thought too. I actually mentioned that on my Instagram post and the designer left a comment saying she’s bringing out a colouring book too, lol. I think it will be a successful one!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks so much for the tutorial on altering for a full bust on a pattern drafted to a C cup and choosing a pattern size to use when you need to do an FBA on a C cup pattern. Clearest instructions I’ve seen yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you are so welcome – I’m really happy it was of some use! There are so many ways to do these things, but I figured my thought process might be helpful to somebody. Even if your measurements are different, I think a lot of the process is the same.

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  2. This is incredibly useful. Thank you. I was going to go for the curvy but having read your blog I think the shoulder fit will be better as I am a slim fit there … also asymmetrical (sigh) so starting at the top and work down is brilliant advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so welcome! I’m really glad it’s helpful. That’s interesting because I’ve recently been scrutinising myself and have come to the conclusion that I’m slightly assymetrical at the shoulders too. More adjsutments eh? 😀 But yes, the shoulder fit of the Misses is good for me and hopefully it works for you too!

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    1. Thanks Alison! Yes, you definitely should! The great thing about a full bust adjustment is it’s exactly the same every time, so when you’ve done it a couple of times, you’re golden. I’d definitely recommend getting stuck in and giving it a go. It looks worse than it is 🙂

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