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I know I'm kinda late to the bandwagon with the lovely Cleo dress, but I'm a busy woman and I don't get very much time to sew for myself these days. However, I was determined to have a crack at the Cleo this year, and happily I can say that I succeeded! Read on to find out what I thought...

Post by Amy Gilbert

Pattern Review: The Cleo Dress

What I used:

How it went...

Now I'll be the first to admit that I don't know everything about dressmaking, that's really mum's forte, but I love to dabble in me-made items and it's always been one of the things on my sewing bucket list to improve on. At the start of the year, I also made it my resolution to finally get down to sewing a Cleo dress after seeing so many gorgeous versions on Facebook!

As a gal with large hips, a comparatively small (but high) waist, big boobs and narrow shoulders, I often struggle with the fit of RTW clothes. It also means even if I'm making my own that I can be one or two sizes smaller on the top than on the bottom to account for my wide hips. 

Luckily, the Cleo is sooooo accomodating, no matter your body type. I haven't seen a single person that it doesn't suit yet, and it's actually relatively easy to get a good fit on it even if you are all up and down sizes between things like me! I've not done much grading of patterns before, but this one I managed to successfully grade by myself, and if I'm honest, the shape of the dress was pretty conducive to making it easy for my body shape.

After taking my measurements, I came out as between a 6 and 7 on the bottom, and between a 5 and 6 on top. Given that I prefer things not to be too tight on the hips, I went for a 7 on the bottom, as by the finished measurements, it would give me half an inch of extra space (for when I have to eat a whole large pizza to myself). On top, I figured I'd go for a 6 to allow for my bigger bust size. 

First job was to grade the areas that needed it on the pattern, between the sizes. Luckily for me, the Cleo is pretty definitively split into two parts, right where I needed to grade, so it was clear where the hip section was for me to grade above that point. All i did for the main body pieces was to simple trace in between the curves of the 6 and 7 with a pencil, starting at a 7 and ending on the 6 at the top. Easy peasy! 

The facings were a little more difficult as the way the pattern lay meant that if I got it wrong, I'd have cut some bits too small/the wrong shape and would have to recut the pattern. I aimed to do the same as above, working from the side seam points as the hip/size 7 measurement and grading out from there up to the size 6 lines. I cut it out and checked the pattern piece against the main body and it seemed to be a pretty neat fit!

Really, I think tracing and cutting the pattern pieces was probably the most difficult part. Even as what I'd call a confident beginner/overly-ambitious nightmare, I found it came together quite easily and the pattern made sense - which is exactly why I love Tilly's patterns! 

I followed her recommendation for fabric but actually chose a slightly lighter weight denim than recommended, to allow for summer wearing (and the fact that I didn't have a heavy duty denim needle to hand). I knew I wanted to layer my Cleo a lot so preferred to have something not too heavy to pop over a jumper or top. This light weight denim had a slight stretch and sewed together beautifully, I was so impressed!

Cutting out was easy, I followed the layouts but still had plenty spare in case I made mistakes. As it wasn't a printed design, I didn't have to think directionally, but with so few pattern pieces to this garment, it wouldn't have been difficult anyway. 

The basic construction order is front pieces, pocket(s), back piece, connect, straps, facings and then finish the edges. It came together so quickly, I was amazed and my easily-bored self was supremely satisfied that I actually managed to finish it in the same week as I started it (a rarity)! 

Sewing the front two pieces together was easy, and I opted to go all-out for an extra special finish and do the double lines of stitching, as well as using a lovely turquoise coloured topstitching thread. I can't resist a splash of colour and I didn't want my finished garment to look like it came from the high street! The fabric fed through the machine beautifully, and I think I probably achieved the neatest top-stitching of my life! #sewinggoals

Next came the pocket - easy enough to do, though I did fudge the seam allowances a little so mine ended up slightly smaller than the pattern. This was my own fault as I didn't bother measuring them properly and did it by eye, pressing under as I did it. Be warned: you will need to do a lot of pressing for this dress, but it makes it so easy to sew that it is well worth it!

After I'd lined up the pocket and stitched it on - thank god I'm pretty good at eyeballing a straight line and centre points, I had to do the back and then attach the front and back together. I think from starting the front to finishing putting them together it probably took about an hour and a half? So I was getting pretty excited as by this point, it almost looked like a finished garment already, and I could pop it on and check the fit! My sizing was pretty spot on and it was figure hugging enough to give me shape without being too tight so I didn't bother adjusting further.

Next I had to sew the straps - the bane of my life, as I'm sure many of you appreciate, when it comes to having to turn them out! They weren't the worst ones I've had to do though, so I can't complain... once they were done, it was a tack in place and ready to go nearly (I would recommend this step as it helps you not sew the straps to the edge later on). 

Once the straps were on, it was time to tackle the facings. If I'm honest, I was really dreading this bit, as I've found them tricky in the past, but it was easier than expected. I double checked my graded facing pieces against the curves of my sewn dress, and they seemed to fit pretty good. So I went ahead and added the interfacing to the denim pieces and joined them on. What was I worried about?! It was a relative breeze, except for having to ease them in slightly when pinning as I had about 5mm extra, which you couldn't tell when I'd sewn it all in anyway. It sat lovely and flat too. Really the worst bit for the facing was having to finish the bottom edges on it all! The only thing to watch out for is to make sure your straps are lying flat when you sew the back centre, and I would recommend pulling the strap you've just sewn over, over the other one, once you've sewn both and before you twist to sewn down the other side of the centre back piece. This ensures that you don't accidentally catch the edge of the strap in your stitching as you go back down (easily done but I was extremely careful). 

After that, it was a good press all round, attach the buckles - easy by the way, just follow the instructions on the pack and use cardboard on a hard surface, they go in quite easily - sew your straps to the right length, and hem! I was so happy with the quality of my top stitching on all of it (it required a lot of concentration though!) and the fact I managed to get my metal jean buttons for the buckles lined up exactly the same with the stars at the top on each one. 

Overall, a cracking project... and I'm itching to sew another, hopefully in this colourful and summery Aztec Stripe canvas type fabric, for summer! Personally, I'd give this pattern an 11/10 - partly because it was super easy to make up, partly because I think I could sew another one in just a few hours, and partly because I thought it was super flattering on so many shapes. You can't really go wrong with all that under it's belt! (well, straps...)

May 07, 2018 by Amy Gilbert

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