My first client dress

My sewing business was never meant to become a real business – I was supposed to quietly sew awesome stuff for myself and be a proud wearer of me-made clothes. Then my sister-in-law Agne approached me and asked if I could make a dress for the wedding she would be attending shortly as a guest. I was like – sure, why not! Little did I know what I was nonchalantly saying yes to!

So there is a bit of context that should be provided here. I am incapable of drafting patterns. I have been sewing for a year and a half, have only sewed for myself and used commercial patterns for all of my makes. Agne and I are not quite alike – she is some 12 cm taller than me, her shoulders are perceptibly wider than mine. So essentially, by agreeing to sew a dress for her, I was stepping into an unknown territory.

On the other hand, when I took her measurements, I determined that proportionally we are actually somewhat similar. It’s just that because of Agne’s height she is one or two sizes up from me. This made me think that the project might actually be doable. I should manage it. And I did! Am more than proud how the dress turned out! Now, let me tell the story about one of the most challenging projects I’ve had so far.

Agne and I started from trying to understand what kind of dress she would like to wear for the occasion. We spent probably few hours for browsing the entire patterns world and discussing which particular dress would work for her. At first we settled on a very nice Vikisews wrap dress pattern. It has flounced skirt and flounce around the neckline. I knew that it would be a difficult project, but was ready to try it out. But for some reason, for that particular dress there was only one size available online – my size. I did not feel like I’d be able to adapt the pattern for Agne, and thus we were back to square one. After another session of deliberation we decided to go ahead with Closetcore patterns Cielo dress.

It was a risky choice, when I think of it now. For wider shoulders those mega wide sleeves could have raised a brow or two. But back then we probably weren’t too concerned about that. Instead, we were thinking what fabric to choose for the project. So we headed straight to the fabric store and started trying all sorts of fabrics there.

It was such an interesting experience for me! For myself I either buy fabrics online already knowing what I’ll make out of them, or if I go to the fabric store, sometimes I’d just buy something that I impulsively liked. I usually don’t contemplate too much as it is fairly clear what works for which patterns and for myself. This time around I was standing there and realizing that it is quite impossible for me to know what Agne likes, dislikes – we simply had to look at many options.

This light, ornamented and transparent silk appeared in front of us. It was very expensive fabric and clearly demanding. Making the dress out of it would have been probably too much in many respects, but then we figured that sleeves out of it matched with neutral body of the dress could actually work nicely. This silk is a bit sturdy, but at that stage I thought – “that’s fine, sleeves would hold their shape, that should be nice.”

We purchased a small piece of silk for the sleeves, enough lightweight viscose for the main dress and lining, and I started planning how everything will happen.

At first I made a toile. When Agne tried it on, it became clear that we were looking at multiple problems. The dress was too wide, shoulders were ok, but sleeve openings at the back were too small, thus the upper back was hanging too lose. But the main thing I wanted to test was the length of sleeves and overall shape of them. Provided that the toile was made of cotton, I was expecting it to demonstrate how real sleeves would look like. Agne quite liked what she was looking at, but also admitted that it is tricky for her to image how the real garment would look on her, which is fair enough. In addition to all necessary amendments, I made notes to go one size down for the entire dress.

We are both busy women. That is why this entire sewing enterprise was not a natural fit for our calendars. Agne was supposed to travel in the period of dress making, while I was supposed to have a health related break which had been planned from before. So timing wise I had to plan quite a bit to accommodate our schedules. And that’s because while sewing for someone else, you can’t try the garment on at whatever stage for whatever number of times.

I decided to make the main body of the dress, attach the lining and sleeves, leaving seams unfinished if any of them had to get ripped. And then Agne would try the dress on for the first time for me to see if anything needs adjustment.

The lower section of the sleeves is quite tricky to make actually. And I just kept my fingers crossed so that I would not need to rip all of that apart. I attached silk part of the lower section to the main sleeve and only tacked the lining in place, left it unfinished, just in case.

The time for the first trying on session came. Agne put semi-finished dress on and we both saw that there were multiple things not working out all that well. First, the sleeves were HUGE. For her shoulders those sleeves were doing a disservice. Knee length of the dress was making her look older and this had to be addressed. Chest darts were in wrong place. The dress was still too wide even though it was one size down from the intended size. I was like – “OMG, that will be many amendments that will need to happen!” It was a blow.

We agreed that I’d try to make the sleeves narrower and less gathered. We agreed that the dress would need to have a belt and be shorter. Darts had to be redone. I essentially ended up taking the dress apart. Sleeves got removed (I left that meticulously attached lower bit still on), side seams, darts got ripped. What was left was the main body connected at shoulder seams and that attached to the lining at the neckline.

After all the ripping, this delicate viscose had needle holes all over the place. Moreover, I had marked dart points using light blue pencil from the wrong side, but due to all those needle holes, those tiny blue dots were slightly visible from the right side. I tried to gently clean that small area with few drops of water and a tiny drop of mild detergent. This did not work, instead, small stain became visible because of water applied. And then I was like – “screw this, I’ll just go ahead and wash all of that”. I washed what was few fabric pieces joined at the shoulder seam, hung it to dry and then ironed. Luckily those tiny blue dots were gone, needle marks were gone too. But I was now unsure whether the fabric had shrunk or not. Deciding on the length not seeing my client would now be a substantial risk. Of course I tried the dress on myself and used my proportions to try and guess how the dress would look on Agne. But still, till the very end I was unsure how the project was going.

Before I had the puzzle to solve on the length of the dress, there was a mammoth size challenge with the sleeves. I did not want to remove those lower lined sections of sleeves, so essentially the volume of sleeves had to be reduced to the extent that this middle seam would allow me. I ended up making the sleeves narrower and removed some 2-3 cm off of sleeve heads. At that point I had little clue how all of this would look when sleeves get reattached to the body of the dress.

Then the belt was made, side seams got finished. After deciding on the length of the dress I had to hem it. At first attempt I used an invisible thread, but probably applied too much tension while making an invisible seam, this meant that those invisible stitches were still visible from the right side. I couldn’t leave it at that, so ripped the entire hem and stitched once again by hand using regular thread and applying less tension. All in all there were only few seams that stayed intact along the way – majority of seams were redone few times.

Finally, oh finally, the dress was complete, but I could not say or feel how it would fit my client. It was clearly too big and too long for me, so trying it on on myself was not much use. I had to wait for few more days until Agne arrived and finally tried it on. When she was arriving, I was thinking – “oh, gosh, please please let it fit well, I won’t have any time left to fix it”.

Agne said she had had a plan B (didn’t trust me, did she? 🙂). But when she put the dress on, it became clear that everything was finally fine! The length was appropriate, the sleeves didn’t make her look heavy, quite the opposite – her shoulders were hiding in slightly gathered sleeve caps and this made shoulders look narrower. Belt was working fine. The dress was really really nice.

It was such a good feeling to receive the above photo of Agne wearing the dress at the wedding event. I was still inspecting how everything looked in the photo – perfectionist’s habits! But more than anything, I was really proud. I even asked her if anyone had complimented her, and her reply was – “oh, yes, everybody!” 🙂 So I guess, yay, I’ve just made my first client happy! 🎉

For this dress we needed 0.80 m of transparent decorative silk fabric, 1.80 m of grey light viscose and the same of grey viscose lining. All fabrics were bought at the local fabric store. The pattern used here is Closetcore patterns Cielo dress, cut in size 8, and we added a belt to it. Other notions were – interfacing for the belt, a bit of narrow interfacing tape for the neckline and coordinating thread. Fabrics and notions cost in total 85 Eur. The dress was made in September, 2021.

I am exceptionally proud of this project. I took larger challenge on than anticipated. And managed to deal with it! But when the ordeal was over, I have asked my husband to never ever allow me to say yes to another sewing request from anyone! Even if it is his dear sister 🙂 Maybe this will change in the future, but now I really want to get back to good old sewing for myself. Sewing for someone else, even though hugely exciting and rewarding, means that that time can’t be used for my own projects, and I have so little time in my busy life, that starting sewing business is hardly a way to go at this stage of my life.

I wonder what are the views of other sewists. Do you sew for others and how do you fit it into your busy lives? I would very much appreciate if you shared your experience in the comments section below!

Thanks for checking out this post! Let’s catch up next time!

~Giedre~

4 thoughts on “My first client dress

  1. Well done. At the start of your post I’m thinking this looks like the Cielo pattern but the sleeves are so much better than the Cielo sleeves. Of course they are – you improved them tremendously!

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    1. Aww, you are too kind Elle! 😘 In fact I was somewhat surprised by how the original sleeves turned out at first. Probably some drapping fabric like viscose would make original sleeves decent. But made of a bit sturdier fabric they looked just disproportionate. I am glad I managed to redo and subdue them. And if I make Cielo top or dress for myself, regardless of fabric, I will make the same adjustments to the sleeves as I did for this project.

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