Our Makes: Holly Dress Hack

Being that none of us here at Ray Stitch really like showing off our legs, and that we in fact have new mannequins in the shop window for our samples (but none with legs), we decided that we would make the Holly Jumpsuit from By Hand London as a dress! It was a pretty spur of the moment decision to change it to a dress, and actually quite a problematic and challenging one - it's almost as if you would need to constantly carry around pattern cutting supplies just in case there arose a pattern cutting emergency... On the day that we set up at Rachel's house to sew sew sew, we actually needed to pattern cut in order to hack the jumpsuit into a dress. With no realised idea, and a bit of an anxious need to get something made, I jumped straight in with tracing paper and the Holly pattern packaging as a ruler...


Holly jumpsuit in prep at Ray Stitch


Using my pattern cutting knowledge, I started altering the trouser block in order to make a basic fitted skirt block that would have an elongated placket from the bodice. Adding back darts to help the skirt panels fit the bodice panels worked well and I was proud that I had managed to do it spontaneously with limited supplies. By this point I had ditched the skirt placket in favour of the standard side zipper and buttoned bodice that Holly originally came with, purely because the fabric we had chosen had a bold horizontal pattern that down the skirt front didn't need to be messed with.

The patterned fabric itself was the first headache. It was ever so slightly wonky on the grain on one side of the fold (Tip: refold your fabric yourself rather than relying on the existing one as this way you can check the grain), which threw off the matching and consequently, the bodice had to be recut. This was a good decision however, as the bodice did in the end match on either side of the placket once made up. Other details that needed considering were the waistline and the cuffs, and the ensuing battle with ensuring the pattern pieces were lined up just so was pretty horrific. But again, it was worth it! The skirt though, in hindsight was a sham. It's just a bit too hippy. It clearly is the basic skirt block without alteration, and I didn't even manage to get the skirt and bodice darts to line up despite measuring!

If I had done my research before just racing ahead, I would have seen that Katie of What Katie Does had successfully managed many Holly dress hacks by plainly gathering up a rectangle to create the skirt, with a full length placket. Oh well. We ended up with a Holly that has a side zipper and a bodice button placket - still easy to get on for wearing, and you have that smooth skirt front that's good for lightweight fabric - and maybe there is actually a size 14 out there with the perfect curvy hips to fill it out...


whatkatiedoes_holly What Katie sewed...


Nevertheless, it does show off the Temple lawn very nicely. It's a bold, lightweight summer dress, yet if you wear a slip underneath or some woolly leggings you then have an autumn outfit - because let's face it, blue is trans-seasonal. There were a fair few niggles with the pattern that I have to talk about though...


Holly dress hack at Ray Stitch


As previously discussed, I'm a newbie to commercial patterns. I'm coming round the idea of making clothes from ready-made patterns, purely because I don't have the space or the big table to be drafting from scratch. Yet, I can't help feeling that commercial patterns just don't explain well enough. Sometimes it is the case that a step is self-explanatory, but if you're going to explain one bit, then you may as well explain that other bit too. And there's also the matter of quadruple checking that your construction method is the most efficient way to construct the garment, and that you're not expressing to do something that isn't as necessary as something else. Which leads back to the beginning; the draft pattern needs to have all of it's markings and fit perfectly between pieces (accurate cutting is key here so you don't lose or add even one millimetre).

I really don't want to be harsh, but a couple of things truly got on my nerves. The instructions said that you may need to gather the sleeve head if the fabric had a lot of give, but in fact it needed to be gathered for ease anyway as there was about 5cm needing to fit somewhere. I couldn't figure out if I had gone wrong - it was the correct size and my backs were backs and fronts were fronts. The instructions didn't state that you needed to overlap the front and back shoulder to help the curve, and I ended up with excess fabric there. It didn't say to sandwich the facing in the placket either, presumably because there was a diagram - but really, the diagrams should match what the text is instructing so that all types of learners can learn. I also felt that the instructing of stay stitching of curved seams, such as the armhole should be optional - you could in fact inefficiently stretch the fabric as you do the stay stitching.


hollymakeup Trying to figure out how the cuff should go using the instructions and diagrams, and the excess fabric at the shoulder.


When I made up garments for my fashion degrees I had a construction method list that outlined every single detail. I didn't want to have to unpick as I didn't have time, nor the funds to buy the fabric again and, you always have in mind that you'll be critiqued and so will need to know what you did. So perhaps, with commercial patterns, I'm being too finickity due to my extensive lists and detailing. But then, I consider again; if I was a beginner dressmaker and something important was missed out of the instructions in place of something barely necessary, I would feel deflated, and feel that I needed to make a toile for every garment, despite with something like a simple waisted jumpsuit it shouldn't be overtly necessary.

With my Holly hack, a toile would have been useful for the skirt part - I was distressed by my inability to create a solid skirt block despite my training, though I wouldn't expect to be so confused over how a sleeve cuff should be constructed when there was instruction for it. It keeps going back to this thing of having confidence in your skills, and understanding that in some situations you may need to hack the construction method as well as perhaps the shape, as well as learn to take your time. If I made the dress again, I know how I would approach it differently - and it's for this reason that we are making up garments and truthfully discussing how we felt about it, so that we can share tips and hindsight. Now that I've seen Katie's range of Holly hacks, I'm exceedingly jealous and want to make a proper one. But I've just got to see the good things and respect the understanding that has come from making up my first By Hand London pattern.


Pinterest Board: By Hand London made up Your Holly jumpsuit and dress makes via Pinterest.


Truthfully, I've only ever made one garment that I am happy with. It was a smooth process and the finishing was exceptional. So anything less than that gets me down! What I do like about the hacking process is that with a bit of extra time it is possible to take a commercial pattern and make it your own with slight adjustments. It extends the life of a pattern purchase, and the £14 or so can spread itself even more thinly with some creative thinking (and research) to make it an investment. The dress itself has a really nice scoop neckline, but not so low that it's offensive and so works for casual and evening because of this. The cuffs I can imagine in a contrast fabric, and you could even cut the pattern so that the placket is separate for a contrast band too. As a jumpsuit, the Holly looks swish in jersey, flirty in lawn and ever so sexy in silk - so it's a really versatile and well thought out style. Where By Hand may fall short a bit with their instructions (at least with the ones we have tried out so far), they jump right up with their styling, choice of garments and the consequential versatility.


Holly dress hack at Ray Stitch


In a nutshell: get a By Hand pattern because of the style of the garment - this is what you want it for anyway surely. And then just take your time with what they have given you, and also consider all the possibilities. Take a look at what others have made, and see if they have any tips for construction or fabric choice.

Despite my woes, if you fancy having a go at your own Holly jumpsuit or dress for an upcoming wedding, holiday, birthday... or would just like to try it out for it's completely feminine style, take a look at our fabric recommendations:


Holly recommendations fromRay Stitch


From first row left to right: Liberty Tana Lawn Tiny Dancer Multi 137cm wide £20/m / Moda Grunge Raspberry cotton 110cm wide £14/m / UrbanChiks Nomad Plume Bone cotton 110cm wide £14/m / Liberty Silk Satin Mayrose 137cm wide £22/m / Kokka Koushi Blue cotton sateen 110cm wide £22/m / Organic Bamboo Silk Black 140cm wide £16/m / Japanese Polka Dot Navy double-gauze cotton 110cm wide £22/m / Nani Iro Shine Many Ways Grey cotton sateen 110cm wide £22/m / Robert Kaufman Pick Stitch cotton 150cm wide £15/m

Words by Steph.