A Balancing (Plaid) Act

My friend David recently bought a house (yay!) in a lovely community out near Occoquan. The community puts on a July 4th fireworks display over one of the lakes and he is allowed two guests, which Robert and I readily agreed to being! We planned to make a full day of it: a cookout at David’s, some swimming/floating in the lake, and finishing up with the community fireworks display. I thought it might be a nice opportunity to make a new dress for the day’s festivities. I wanted to try out the Lenox shirtdress pattern (I’ve always liked the idea of a shirt dress, but had yet to find a ready-to-wear version that I thought looked good on me). While perusing the available shirting choices at Fabric Store Basement, my eyes fell on this one.

Now, normally I’m not one for donning a red-white-and-blue ensemble for Independence Day. [Don’t try reading things into that statement. It’s just not a thing I normally do.] However, I thought the shirting was a nice mix of the colors, and the red was just small enough that I could get away with wearing the dress on other occasions without it screaming ‘MURICA, F*CK YEAH! So I picked up a couple of yards, and set to work.

I actually went ahead and did a step I almost always leave out: washing my fabric. I know, I know. We’re supposed to wash our fabric first, and then work on stuff. Obviously, I don’t always follow the rules. I did this time, though…and my dryer promptly stopped actually drying my laundry. It does this from time to time, and I have a sneaking suspicion that all it needs is a good vacuuming of the channel where the lint screen goes, and it will be good as new.

Pattern matching became a wee bit tricky when I realized that the plaid was both uneven and unbalanced. Doh! That’s what I get for not taking a closer look at things when I’m in the actual store!

[cue screeching brake sound]

Note how folding it along a dominant line does not result in a mirror image

“What is an uneven and unbalanced plaid?” I hear you say. The short answer is…this. This is an uneven and unbalanced plaid.

For a little more detail:

A balanced plaid is a plaid that is mirror-imaged when you fold it along a dominant line in the pattern. A plaid can be balanced vertically, horizontally, or both.

Still not a balanced plaid. I know it looks that way at first, but take note of the red lines.

An even plaid is a plaid that is mirror-imaged when you fold it along the diagonal.

Nope. Not even.

If the colors and lines match along the diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines…congratulations! You have an even, balanced plaid! You can now proceed to cut out your pieces in either direction.

If, however, you are like me…you wind up with a piece that both unbalanced and uneven. This is called a two-way, one-directional plaid. Which might seem like an Old West curse and, I would maintain, is entirely warranted. This is considered the most difficult plaid to cut and sew, because of course it is. If you’re going to give yourself a challenge, might as well commit to it!

[On a hunch, I took a moment last night and pulled all the plaids** I have in my stash, and wouldn’t you know it…the majority of what I have purchased are uneven plaids. Half of those are also unbalanced. I wonder what it says about a person who is drawn primarily to uneven, unbalanced plaid. Maybe I’m reading too much into this…]

So, knowing this now about my fabric, I set about carefully cutting everything out, doing my best to match the stripes and keep the nap of the fabric (in this case, not a textural nap, but a visual one) the same for all of the pieces. For the most part, I think I did pretty well, although I was not happy with how the side seams met up. That’s entirely my fault, though, as I wasn’t paying as close attention while cutting the lower back pattern pieces as I should have been, and then didn’t consider that when moving on to cut the front. Oh well, You win some, you lose some.

I thought of using some of my vintage bias tape along the seam lines, to break up the visual, but when I pinned it on as a test, I didn’t like the strong lines. I decided to just embrace the slightly wonky lack-of-matching.

In the end, the plaid actually did a pretty good job of matching up and keeping in line, from the bodice down to the skirt…which is amazing, considering they are not one piece, and are broken up with a waistband.

Because I knew trying to match up the lines of the bodice and skirt to those on the waistband and front button placket would, ultimately, be the thing that killed me, I decided to cut both of those pieces out with the grain going the opposite way it was suggested. I wasn’t sure whether it would work out, but I’m pretty happy with the way it looks, all finished.

The lining for the button placket and waistband is from a remnant from a previous pattern test. The cotton weave is a lot lighter weight than it probably should be, but I liked the idea of having additional stripes running through the dress — albeit, on the inside where you won’t see them. Plus, the metallic thread reminded me of fireworks.

The pattern calls for 13 buttons, which went nicely with the whole July 4th theme. 13 buttons for 13 original colonies! Because I knew I didn’t have 13 of a single color button (except maybe some random purple ones that really don’t go with the dress), I opted to pull from my stash of random buttons. I pulled out all of the red, white, and blue buttons I could find, and began sorting through the pile, pulling out the ones that were one-of-a-kind. Since they were going to be different colors and, in some cases, slightly different shapes, I wasn’t as concerned about them all being the same size.

I sewed everything on, but was a little concerned that the top button wasn’t actually designed to be at the top of the button placket. I’m not sure if this is a design feature, or if I just did something wrong while making the dress, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving it open. Of course, I also didn’t want to add another actual button (because that would throw off the whole 13 buttons=13 colonies thing I had going in my brain). I dug through an old jewelry box I bought a couple years back and pulled out one of the tie tacks that my father had given me, way back when (Law enforcement guys love their tie tacks…at least in Indian Country). I went with this Secret Service pin. I think it added a nice touch to the ensemble.

The dress was perfect for the day – especially because the pattern includes functional pockets! YAAAAAAY! (When will designers learn that women value functional pockets in their clothing?!) I was able to throw my keys and my phone in the pocket and head out to see fireworks, without having to worry about lugging my purse along, too.

The only problem I had with the dress — the sleeves were too tight, and the waist could have used a smidgen of extra room — were likely the result of me cutting out a size smaller than I have been cutting for the Cashmerette patterns. In my defense, the finished garment measurements looked like they were perfect, and the other woven patterns that I’ve made so far have been a little big (I am going to go down a size or two in those, when I make the next versions), so I thought it would be safe to start with the smaller size for this dress. I didn’t, however, take into account that this pattern is a much more fitted look. I plan to make a couple more versions of this dress, and the next will see me going up one size, and determining if any more adjustments need to be made. This go around, I solved the sleeve problem by simply removing the sleeves and binding the armholes with bias binding. I might make a little button band adjuster for the waist button. We’ll see. For now, it’s still wearable.

Those little fitting problems aside, how do I feel about this pattern?


Like I said, I’ve been looking for a shirt dress pattern that worked for me, and I believe I have found it! I think the greatest reason for this success is the fact that, in addition to coming in a range of sizes, the patterns can be cut for a range of cup sizes. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to have a pattern allow for your boobs, right off the bat, instead of having to revert to hacking it all up to make it work.

The directions are easy to follow, and I even learned a new technique that I have heard of, but never tried (the burrito technique for sewing a lined yoke).

I was SO comfortable wearing this all day, and it was nice that I could also sort of wear it as a robe, of sort, when I got out of the water that evening. Despite the headache that the pattern matching gave me, the shirting was the perfect material for this dress. It felt light enough to be comfortable in the humid summer that Virginia is so known for, and still crisp enough to make me feel “put together.”

I already have plans for some more shirt dresses, using a cute print that has been sitting in my stash for a while (and maybe another plaid one, but that might have to wait until I can think about matching lines without screaming internally)


**real plaids. I’m not talking about ginghams, checks, tattersall, and houndstooth (which I would never consider in the same category but apparently a lot of other people do



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