Colette Dahlia

Well I’m back. A month of travel with a flight every 2.5 days is awful. Makes you hate planes like nothing else. However, there was a bit of this …

himalayas small

…and a bit of that …

rhino small

…so I suppose there were compensations!

On returning I wanted to make something quick, so it had to be a sewing project. I tried out Colette Pattern’s newest, Dahlia. I used an old fabric from my stash as a wearable muslin, but unfortunately the permanent crinkles in the fabric make the whole thing look rather un-ironed. Anyway, this is experimentation. I’ll try to be brief and organised in the rest of the post.

dress small 2

Pattern Analysis: The Colette pattern aesthetic – vintage, feminine – is one I’m ambivalent about. Most ‘vintage’ inspiration in sewing patterns nowadays (not only Colette) seems to come from the 50s and early 60s, decades whose fashions I find irritatingly cloying. The ultra-saccharine feminine stereotyping of that period just sets my teeth on edge. If I wished to sew vintage fashion, I would seek inspiration from the 30s, when women were expected to be dashing and spirited, and fashions reflected those attitudes. I see the change in attitude over and over again in movies (Indian and western), books and clothes; the fire and spunk of female characters in the 30’s is slowly drowned in syrupy, fluttery femininity by the 50’s . Even poor Nancy Drew did not escape (pdf link) – her spirited, back-chatting character was turned dependent and fearful as the decades went by.

It seems inconceivable to me that modern sewers would choose nipped in waists, gathered skirts, high necks and twee little peter-pan collars over long, lean, elegant lines. But apparently they do, and mine is a lone rant.

And so, when I saw the Dahlia pattern, I wanted it. The high-ish waist and the long vertical panels (in v.2) had potential for grown-up elegance as opposed to prissy femininity.

Looking at the photos, I thought I spotted a scoop neck – yay! Which brings me to a minor gripe I have with most Colette patterns – if they obligingly draft for larger cup sizes, why are most of their necklines high and wide? Why not deep and narrow, or scooped, which are the most flattering necklines for larger busts? Probably because they draw inspiration from those cursed decades, that’s why. And finally, a size zip – double yay!! Centre back zips require way more practice of the Head of a Cow than I’m prepared to do. I always move CB zips to the side anyway, so thank you, Colette, for doing it for me.

Fabrics: I used an embossed self pattern with crinkles, which make the fabric as a whole slightly stretchy. Anyone have any idea what this type of fabric is called? Upon sewing the edges frayed very quickly, so I had to do a sort of reverse flat-fell seam, tucking and folding from the inside. Very tedious! I originally thought the embossed pattern was butterflies, but they turned out to be bows!

fabric small

I made bias tape out of a small paisley print.

binding small

Size: I laboriously measured the pattern pieces to calculate what the garment dimensions would be at several key points. Size 0 at the bust gave me about an ¾” ease so I went with that since the fabric was stretchy. But I graded the waist of the bodice to size 2, and continued with size 2 for the waistband and skirt. The sleeves remained 0, to go with the chest measurement.

Why did I not go straight for size 2? I’ve learnt from my knitting that the key to a well-fitting garment is to get the shoulders correct. Everything below can be increased or decreased, but the shoulders and upper chest are critical, because that is your basic skeletal frame. If I’d gone by my actual bust measurement guidelines I would have made size 4 And everything would be gigantic.

Pattern Changes: I used skirt of v2 with bodice top of v1.

Sewing: I followed most instructions as given, except I inserted a lapped zip, not an invisible one. Narrowed sleeve cuffs and added shoulder darts because cuffs and neckline were really wide. Gathered front more than instructed, to about 4 inches.

Final Analysis: After all the changes I made, I actually quite like the dress. I think this would be great on busty shapes (by busty I mean larger cup size, not just band size) because the gathering allows for an adjustable fit and the waistband highlights the narrowest part of the torso beautifully.

However, there are some things I would definitely change:

a) Narrow the really wide sleeves. Since I didn’t want to mess with the underarm area (which actually fits well) I reduced about 2 ½” at the cuffs (tapering to nothing at the underarm) and added a shoulder dart about 3” wide and 3 ½” long.

b) Look at that neck – I started out thinking it was scooped, but it’s a scoopy, wide V, drat it! The sleeve dart did reduce a lot of excess width, but I still had to gather the front to 4” (as opposed to the 6” recommended in the pattern). And the back neck still gapes a tiny bit. So I would gather the back neck too. And perhaps change the front shape into an actual scoop, not a scoopy V.

c) I will definitely add a lining, if only to avoid attaching zips to several layers of cloth where the outer and inner waistbands, their seam allowances, and the bodice or skirt meet.

d) Reduce the flare of the skirt, to promote the whole long-and-lean aesthetic. Perhaps make it fall straight down from the hip.

PS: on reviewing my post, I’m a bit startled by how vehement I sound in the first few paragraphs. For that I squarely blame vintage inspired patterns with peter-pan collars. The sight of adult women in peter pan collars has deranged me!

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15 thoughts on “Colette Dahlia

  1. Congratulations! You’ve made a very wearable garment. I love the neckline and don’t feel that the sleeves look too big. Your size modifications have worked out well.

  2. Not vehement at all – I completely agree with you. I like the timelessness of vintage patterns, but feel choked and suffocated (physically and mentally) whenever I see high necks and nipped waists. Though I find the sleek lines of the ’30s aren’t very accommodating to the bust at times…
    Your dress is lovely though!
    I don’t know what that fabric is either, but could it be some sort of jacquard?

  3. I have bought Dahlia and been a little put off by some that I’ve seen, but yours is the best yet. Feeling a bit more hopeful now. (I can bear to look at Peter Pan collars on others, but I would look plain daft in one…)

    1. I think once the sleeve cuff and shoulder are made smaller, it fits well. It was the gigantic neckline which dismayed me about the others I’ve seen sewn up; the shoulder dart takes care of that.

  4. The dress looks lovely, no matter the fabric’s crinkled tendencies, but I’m mostly fascinated by your critique of the Colette Patterns aesthetic. I admit I’ve shared some of your style reservations about Colette patterns’ necklines and sleeve lines — they’re not always to my personal taste, though I like the overall approach and ideals of the company. (And I love Dahlia! It’s rated beginner — do you think that’s accurate? I am tempted, but I’m definitely a sewing beginner…).

    I’ve always felt that patterns from Colette (perhaps obviously!) heavily reflect the personal aesthetic and style preferences of the founder, Sarai. She’s blogged about how she analyzes her personal style (e.g., http://www.coletterie.com/wardrobe-architect/my-core-style), and based on that it sounds to me like you and she maybe aren’t that far apart (though of course you can speak best to that!). Yet it seems that maybe you each find your ideal expression of femininity in rather different style cues?

    Specific to necklines and bust size, in another post Sarai said, “I have a large bust and don’t like showing cleavage. It isn’t because I dislike my chest. I just don’t want that to be the first thing people see. It has much more to do with my identity and how I wish to be seen in the world than anything else.” (source: http://www.coletterie.com/wardrobe-architect/week-4-proportions-and-silhouettes). I remember reading that the first time and thinking, “Aha! That would explain a lot about the Colette look.” I also have a larger bust, but have historically found it more pleasing to wear lower-cut necklines than many Colette patterns feature. Then again, recently I have had a love affair with wide-crewnecks/boatnecks, which I have found can work for me if there are enough vertical elements elsewhere in the design — for instance, a cabled panel on the center third of a sweater.

    More generally, I think there’s been a lot of debate among sewists about how to square their love of vintage styles from certain periods with a rejection of those eras’ gender politics. Have you read any of the (many) posts on this theme at Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing? (I’m thinking of most everything here http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/search/label/feminism, but especially http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/2009/08/vintage-sewing-and-gender-politics.html and http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/2009/08/your-brilliant-thoughts-on-vintage.html). I do think some modern women can draw from a palette that includes the hyper-feminine styles of the 1950s while reinterpreting those looks for their own purposes, but I also know that for some other women those styles will never feel relatable.

    I agree with you that the 1950s and 60s have gotten lots of play in vintage-inspired modern patterns, and it would be interesting to look further. That said, based on the blog post that introduced the Dahlia pattern (http://www.coletterie.com/colette-patterns-news/introducing-dahlia-15-off-this-week), it sounds like 30s and 40s fashion was part of the pattern’s inspiration — could the tide be turning?

    Anyway, maybe this is one of those comments that should have been a blog post — except that I don’t have a blog! Thanks for giving me lots to think about, as always, and hope I haven’t overstepped with my musing (or included so many links that I get filtered as spam).

    1. Thank you for your long and thoughtful comment!

      I do admire the fact that Colette have such a distinct visual aesthetic, I just find that the details (necklines, sleeves) don’t match mine. I do love that they draft for larger cup sizes – the basic body always fits me without adjustments, which is such a relief!

      Also, my irritation with the prevalence of 50’s and 60’s styles isn’t just with Colette as such, but with many other sewing bloggers who sew from those decades. I agree that it is absolutely possible to be inspired by a decade’s fashion without supporting its prevalent politics, but what also annoys me is how unflattering those styles are without the ‘benefits’ of strapping oneself into a 50’s style corset. Yes, nipped in waists can look very feminine, but only once your waist has been nipped in with an undergarment! If the tide is turning to an earlier time, I’d be delighted!

      I too remember reading that post from the Wardrobe Architect series and thinking that explained why Colette necklines were always high and wide! However, like you, I’ve found deeper neck styles much more flattering. Not deep enough to show cleavage, but enough to break up a large swathe of fabric across the chest.

      And finally, yes, I would rate Dahlia as fairly easy. The seams are all mostly straight, there’s no sleeve to be set or buttonholes to be bound. The sleeve adjustments, I feel, are necessary; but even those are easy and can be done while trying on the fit.

  5. Hi! I’ve juste discovered your blog from a comment you left on Nicole at Home’s blog – and I’m glad I did 🙂 I agree with your rant about indie stuff being twee and all about peter pan collars. I didn’t like these as a kid, and I don’t like them now either, even with their widespread presence on sewing blogs.
    Thanks for your review on the Dahlia, I’m just making one myself and also found the neckline extremely wide. I take note of your shoulder darts and heavier gathering at the front. I’ll probably do darts at the back rather than gathering. We’ll see how it works..

  6. Your Dahlia is stunning, and definitely a wearable muslin. I’ve made the V.1 and after seeing yours I much prefer V2 skirt with V1 bodice. It does look very elegant. My second one will need a few adjustments and after reading your post I’ve a few new ideas now, so thankyou!

  7. What a gorgeous Dahlia! It really suits you 🙂

    I can see what you mean about the 50s dresses, however I think the biggest thing for me is the fitting of clothes on my figure. I’m slim-ish, with a difference of at least 2 sizes between my hips/ thighs and waist – I have a naturally hourglass figure, meaning that making clothes which fit closely at the waist and flare out in the skirt (at least A-line, if not fuller) tend to be much more flattering and comfortable than slimmer fitting skirts! I love slim fitting clothes, but on my figure they require a lot more fitting which I lack the skills/ enthusiasm for! and even then, they don’t always looking flattering due to my proportions. However, I think they look fantastic on other people, and I love 30s and 40s fashions, too. And just because I love the clothes, doesn’t mean I identify with the politics in any way… Just one reason to wear full skirts is that I can easily cycle in them, without needing to change at my destination…

    1. Thanks! You make really good points about how full skirts can flatter some figures – and ultimately of course it all comes down to personal preference, lifestyle and body shape. And of course it’s possible it wear the fashions of a decade without agreeing with its politics — it’s not like the 30s were known for broadminded, liberal thinking either! I think part of my irritation with 50s inspired modern patterns is how they promote a sort of twee-ness — a lot of them look like ‘frocks’ to me, as opposed to ‘dresses’ for adult women.

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