This winter I was on the search for a comfortable jersey dress, one with long sleeves and reasonably thick fabric which wasn’t a mini. You’d think that would be an easy ask, but apparently not. After scouring the shops, both local and online, I resorted to making my own. I ended up making two dresses using two similar patterns, so if you’re the kind of sewing nerd who likes detailed pattern comparison (or a PATTERN SHOWDOWN), read on!
My first attempt was the ever-popular Tessuti Frankie Dress. I’ve made this up a couple of times before, but never quite been satisfied with the fit around the shoulders. This time I cut the size according to my measurements (M) with the long sleeve variation. Due to fabric restrictions, I cut just above the knee length mark but added a hem band for length. I also altered the neckline to accomodate a 5cm neckband instead of the drafted turn-under facing.
As the goal of these garments was practicality, I traced off a pocket pattern from a merino dress and inserted them in the side seams as per this tutorial, with the additional step of topstitching the pockets to the front of the dress for stability. The sleeves were also slightly widened as I find Tessuti’s sleeve draft very narrow.
The next pattern I turned to (for reasons you’ll see below) was Ottobre #18. Ladder Stripes – viscose knit dress from their Autumn/Winter 5/2017 Woman issue. As the style of skirt wasn’t what I was after, I took the top half of the dress (there is a division line on the pattern) and altered it to have a more evenly flared body, rather than one that flared out dramatically from the waist.
The method I used was partly based on Heather B’s Pattern Review post for drafting a trapeze dress from a basic top, but I traced the rest of the skirt from the Frankie dress after aligning the centre lines. If you didn’t have a pattern for reference, you could just draw the side seam down to your desired length before slashing and spreading, then curving a hemline to match.
I suppose I could have just traced the Frankie dress from the underarm, but there was something in the back of my head telling me the underarm needed to be shaped with slashing and spreading to properly support the flared side seam. As the hem band and pockets worked so well last time, I added them to the Ottobre dress.
A note on the fabric: each dress is made in similar cotton slub from Aliexpress, of all places. They were having a big sale and I decided to take a chance on some knits which ended up about $10AUD/m. Imagine my shock when they were better quality than any knits I’d sewn with before, at a lower price! I’ll definitely be making more orders from this store (the exact fabrics with links are listed below).
So, how do they compare? You can see in the photos that the Frankie has a slimmer fit through the upper body with a bit more swing in the skirt – this was obviously in the draft but I wonder if pocket placement and fabric choice contributed to its drape.* The neckline on the Ottobre dress is a bit wider and more comfortable than the Frankie, but as I drafted them both on the fly, that’s an arbitrary measure.
What makes the most difference for me is the shoulder fit. The shoulder on the Frankie is quite narrow, as I suppose one would expect in a close-fitted knit garment. But the armscye is incredibly tight fitted and placed high on the chest, so it sits right up in your armpit. It’s not a comfortable feeling.
I understand the Ottobre dress has the stylistic difference of having a looser, slightly dropped shoulder, which might not be desirable if you want a shoulder seam that fits right on the shoulder bone and is very fitted through the sleeve. But the difference in comfort and practicality (for me at least) is huge. Shoulder fit has been a problem that has plagued me during all my version of the Frankie dress and top, so it’s time for me to set aside this pattern for good.
It’s a shame that the Ottobre dress did not photograph well, as it’s the clear winner for me. My slapdash drafting aside, it’s exactly what I’m after in a knit dress – enough room for movement but not oversized, with a bit of flare in the body. And at this point, I’m kinda over styles with very tight sleeves and extra swing in the body.
It just needs a few little tweaks (forward head adjustment, shortened sleeves) then I’ll sew up a few more with short sleeves for summer wear. I am disappointed that I cocked up the drafting somewhere along the way – the side seam collapses at the hem, rather than flaring evenly like the Frankie. I’m kinda stumped as to where I went wrong and how to fix it, so if you pattern drafting experts have any ideas, please comment below!
Above: my reaction when I realised my apparently successful semi-drafted dress had a collapsing side seam. Perhaps I messed up the slashing and spreading?
Although the Ottobre dress was my favourite, I have worn both dresses a lot this winter. It’s been really handy to have a uniform of sorts to rotate out when I’m not feeling up to choosing clothes. I also wonder whether my issues with the Frankie armscye are due to me being tall and therefore having a longer shoulder-to-underarm depth (though it’s not a fitting problem I’ve encountered before).
In conclusion, I’d recommend the Frankie dress pattern for those who prefer a slim fit in the upper body, who dislike sewing neckbands (the original pattern has a turn-under facing at front and sewn-on facing at back), and who prefer a PDF pattern over tracing. The Ottobre pattern would suit those who like more ease for movement, may have broad shoulders or larger arms, don’t mind a bit of drafting to get the shape they want, and prefer to trace magazine patterns than tape together PDFs.
Pattern: Tessuti Frankie Dress and Top
Pattern details: “This perfect jersey knit style is a fabulous wardrobe winner suitable for all seasons. The pattern features a flared hemline, set in sleeves and comes with numerous style options – two dress lengths, a top and four sleeve lengths (short, elbow, three quarter and full). The stitched down, back facing creates a neat and secure neckline.” Available as a PDF download or limited stock paper pattern in sizes XXS-XL.
Fabric: 2m x 180cm wide 32s combed cotton slub lycra knit (K302622). 94% cotton, 6% spandex, 195gsm. 01 Black. From Aliexpress.
Other materials: Clear elastic to stabilise shoulders.
Mods: Size M
– Moved shoulder seam forward just a couple of mm’s
– Widened sleeves 6mm either side at hem and throughout, to nothing at underarm
– Brought shoulder in towards neck 1cm, lowered front neckline 5.5cm, back neck maybe 2cm? Added 5cm strip neckband
– Length approx. 5cm shorter than knee length dress variation, added 8cm hem band cut against grain for extra length
– Added inseam, topstitched pockets using this tutorial (though omitted interfacing)
Pattern: Ottobre Autumn/Winter 5/2017 #18. Ladder Stripes – viscose knit dress
Pattern details: “Figure-hugging dress with a flared hemline. The back of the dress is cut as two pieces to keep the fabric requirement down. The beautifully shaped neckline is stabilised with clear elastic tape and finished with a self-fabric facing.” Available in Ottobre magazine, sizes 34-52.
Fabric: 2m x 170cm wide 16s plain cotton slub knit. 100% cotton, 190gsm (K302545). 01 Black. From Aliexpress.
Other materials: Clear elastic to stabilise shoulders. Lightweight fusible interfacing strips for pocket insertion.
Mods: Size 40
– Using top half of dress only, flared out side seam from underarm using Heather B’s Pattern Review hacking post
– Then extended side seam using Tessuti Frankie Dress as base, going to approx. 5cm shorter than knee length hem
– Added 8.5cm band for length and weight to hem
– Lowered front neck slightly, added 5cm strip neckband (instead of facing)
– Added inseam, topstitched pockets using this tutorial
– Narrowed sleeves approx. 6mm either side at hem to nothing at underarm
*The Frankie dress is made from a smoother, heavier knit with more spandex. The hembands added a significant amount of swing with their extra weight, perhaps moreso in the heavier fabric.