Helena Dress by Sew Me Something


As promised in the previous post, I set aside my original plans for August in order that I could test-sew the Helena dress and pass on my findings to Lizzie before she attempts her version.

Helena is a relaxed easy to wear dress. The front curved yoke anchors the pintuck detail at the centre front. The elbow length sleeves are held in place with a simple button and tab. There are side pockets which are a must and keep the lines of the dress clean and simple.

Preparing the fabric

First thing was to prepare the fabric. As this is cotton and I am dressmaking I didn’t want the finished garment to shrink. As I have an overlocker, I always run the raw ends through the overlocker and this way the fabric will stay neat and stable whilst going through the wash. It also means that even if I don’t use a fabric immediately, it will be ready to cut and stitch. So, a quick run through the washing machine, dry and press ready for laying out the pattern. When pressing the fabric I am also be able to see whether the fabric has been cut ‘on grain’. I found that my length had been cut at an angle so when laying out the pattern I will have to make sure that it does not run off the ends.

Pattern preparation

In the instructions it says ‘measure twice – cut once’. In addition to that I would say ‘be aware of the amount of ease in a pattern’. Personally I know that I often have to do an FBA (Full bust adjustment). I therefore checked the finished garment dimensions and although according to the size chart I should have cut a 22, decided to go for a 20 which has a finished bust of 58 and 5/8ths. This will be more than ample across bust and hips whilst being sufficiently narrow across the shoulders which is where I want a really good fit.

Before I cut out the pattern there were just a couple of checks on the sleeves. Firstly to check the length, I have short arms but as these have a tab and button fastening for rolling up, then for now it won’t matter if they are too long. Secondly, the width of the sleeve across the bicep. I measured around the fullest part of my arm and then compared with the width of the sleeve at the underarm point. There should be around 2 inches of ease. All was OK so I went ahead and cut out.

Laying out the pattern

I adapted the layout of the pattern pieces and by putting the back piece parallel to the selvedges and nesting with the front I used just over 2 yards of fabric. I have just about 1 yard left of the 60 inch wide fabric – sufficient for a sleeveless top!

Preparing the fabric pieces

I marked all the notches with little snips into the seam allowance, doing the same with the dots. I cut tiny triangle shapes at the centre front of the main body and front yoke pieces. Also centre back of the two back yoke pieces. I applied Vilene F220 medium weight fusible interfacing to both front yoke pieces and also to two button tabs that will be used when rolling up the sleeves.

Stitching the Helena

I checked a couple of things on the sewing machine BEFORE I put the pedal to the metal!

What size needle was in the machine? Had it been used for more than 6-8 hours of sewing? If so, it needs to be replaced. What thread am I using? I did a test stitch on a scrap of the fabric to check tension and stitch size.

On the main front piece, I marked the pin tucks and bust darts with a Clover chalk marker. Stitched the bust dart from the outside edge towards the point. Pressed downwards over a ham to increase the shaping. I Stay- stitched the neck edge from each shoulder towards the centre front. When stitching the tucks – from the right side, I started with the ones on the far right of the bodice. In this way I did not get ‘fouled’ up with the pins in the other tucks.

Once the tucks were stitched with the contrast thread and pressed away from the centre front, I then re-stitched across them at the neckline edge.

Next came the slightly more complicated procedure of attaching the front yoke. This is a ‘sad’ curve that needs to be attached to a ‘happy’ curve. But with the stay-stitching on the main front acting as a guide I pinned carefully around the shape.            

Pinning the yoke to the main front piece – ‘sad’ to ‘happy’

Once stitched, I used a contrast thread to triple top-stitch around the outer edge of the front yoke. I neatened the raw edge of the front neck facing with my overlocker and then attached to the inner curve of the front neck before securing by stitching in the ditch from the right side.

I attached the back yoke and back yoke facing by sandwiching the main back pieces in between. I flipped the facing out of the way (so that there were not too many layers of fabric) whilst I top-stitched in the contrast thread.

I checked the placement of the pocket bags and moved them up by 2 inches. I would rather have them too high than so low that I could only reach them by pulling up my skirt!

The side seams of the front and back were stitched, incorporating the pocket bags and then neatened with the overlocker.

Now came the most difficult part of construction. This was a new method for me and although the final result was good, I would rather have completed it in my ‘old-fashioned’ method. The recommended procedure involved a lot of tussle with the fabric of the back and front, not to mention pocket bags. The sewing level on the pattern envelope states ‘beginner plus’ but by following the recommended method I think it puts the ability and experience level up to intermediate.

Sleeve tabs and button fastening

The sleeve tabs (which are referred to as plackets in the instructions!) are straightforward and by attaching them (plus the buttons) when the sleeves are flat, makes it an easy operation. Easing of the sleeve head into the armscye was also very easy – in this area Helena is a well-drafted pattern.

Finishing off with double-fold machine-stitched hems to the sleeves and the front & back meant that the garment was quickly completed.

In conclusion, I will be making Helena again but will reduce the fullness considerably if to be worn as a day dress. If made as a nightdress the fullness would be comfortable. There is plenty of scope for adaptations; finishes to the yoke, changing tucks and gathers to unpressed pleats, changing the length of the sleeves,adding trim and fabric/pattern blocking.

2 thoughts on “Helena Dress by Sew Me Something

  1. Super advice Caroline, thanks! My sewing room is painted and I have almost put everything back in so that I can start my Helena possibly tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it!

    1. Hope that it has been of help and I look forward to seeing your finished version. Happy stitching!

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