Yesterday I finished sewing my first Cleo dress. To give you an idea of how much I like it, know this: I haven’t felt compelled to blog about any makes for seven months. I’ve definitely been sewing (my husband moaned recently that I’ve stolen all his hangers for my new makes and he’s stacking shirt on shirt!), but there’s just something about Cleo…
For anyone who’s been living in a cupboard, or just isn’t into the online social world of sewing, Cleo is the hugely popular dungaree/pinafore dress by Tilly and the Buttons . Aren’t bibs/overalls/dugarees just for kids you might ask? Well, that’s kind of what I thought until recently.
I’ve come to realise of late, that sewing my own clothes seems to be emboldening me to try out styles that I don’t think I would glance twice at on the high street. Why is this? Culottes were a great example earlier this year: made some, didn’t like them, forced myself to step out of my comfort zone, fell in love. As the saying goes… “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there”.
When you make things yourself, there’s no taking it back if you don’t like it.
So, onto the sewing part. I traced the pattern in a size 4, but graded out to a 5 at the hips after taking measurements of the pattern. Many indie patterns now include finished garments measurements, but I like to figure out my own if I want to be sure something will fit well. I bought some beautifully soft ‘gunmetal’ cotton velour from Croft Mill. It was actually the fabric which made me want to make this dress – sometimes there really is such a thing as a match made in heaven. As is often the case with buying fabric online however, upon arrival this fabric felt more lightweight than I had anticipated. By happy chance, I had also purchased some really lovely viscose lining in black, from Croft Mill. I snapped it up because it just sounded perfect – got to love a breathable lining fabric with a little stretch to it. I also bought some in gold, which I just sold on to a student in need at this morning’s sewing class, so have put in a new order including navy. Yes, it’s that awesome.
One of my favourite sewing tricks is underlining, and as the velour and the lining both have a similar amount of stretch, these fabrics worked perfectly together. Underlining is a useful technique if you want to add weight to a fabric, or provide a backing for a fabric which is a little too sheer. Essentially, you cut the lining fabric the same as the fabric, and carefully tack/baste them together. I do this by hand to ensure that nothing shifts out of place. For the Cleo, I then overlocked the edges together, and the result was a beautifully weighty fabric with a smooth interior which won’t get caught on my tights! Once the fabric has been prepared in this way, just treat as one. In the photo below you can see how nicely this worked.
Once the real sewing begins, this is a dress that comes together in a quick and satisfying way. Because the fabric has some stretch, I stabilised the pocket edges with fusible tape to prevent the heavy top-stitching process from stretching things out of shape. You don’t need to use top-stitching thread, but I chose to and feel that it adds to the feel of traditional dungarees. If you’re using this heavy thread, use a top-stitching or denim needle if you have one, and try increasing the thread tension. Use a standard thread in the bobbin.
This is such a neat pattern – everything worked out beautifully. Seriously, the symmetry is like a work of art…
There’s not much more to say. I like it a lot. I made the knee length version but omitted the front vent, and turned the hem up by 3cm. It’s the perfect length for me because I don’t do mini.
I put it on this morning and it passed the school-run-by-bicyle test, which is a big deal for me. The stretch in this fabric means ultimate comfort. It was such a beautiful misty morning and I managed to get a few snaps before my students arrived.