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Anna Dress Sewalong #1: It's all about the fabric

Aloha and good evening! Before we properly kick off the Anna Dress Sewalong, we really wanted to take a moment to go a little more in depth with our discussion of fabrics and notions than we have in previous sewalongs. Being such a simple make with modestly elegant lines, the Anna Dress is the blank canvas to pull out all the stops when it comes to your choice of fabric.

Anna Dress Sewalong - By Hand London

Those of you who have made Anna before will know what we mean when we say that this dress is a dream to sew up, and works beautifully with a huge variety of fabrics. It might have been easier perhaps to write a post on what fabric not to use. It probably would have read something like this: ''maybe don't use stretch satin, but actually, on second thoughts, make it maxi with a plunging V-neck and you've got yourself a pretty spectacular Prom dress right there''. Seriously guys, we've seen the Anna Dress made up in cottons, silks, wools, rayon, jersey, you name it, we've seen it, and it's been fabulous. So this is us, officially giving you leave to go nuts in the fabric shop.

To put things into context, for our three sewalong Anna's we have:

  • Variation 1 - maxi, slash neck, thigh high split - emerald green silk charmeuse - for Victoria
  • Variation 2 - maxi, V-neck, no split - multicolour dotty silk cotton voile, fully lined in white cotton voile - for Charlotte
  • Variation 3 - midi, slash neck, 3/4 sleeves (bonus tutorial!) - goldfish orange -home dyed- silk noil* - for Elisalex

Things to bear in mind when fabric shopping:

Sheer fabrics will probably need to be fully lined (unless you're brave enough for pants on parade - a look we clearly advocate!). Make sure you go for a super light fabric as similar as possible in weight and colour to your main fabric, and needless to say, you'll need as much meterage of your lining as your shell. If you are daring enough to bare all and go full on, unlined sheer, you might want to rethink the neckline facings. Using bias binding instead will make for a much neater finish. Also be sure to stock up on invisible nylon thread for all your invisible handstitching needs, as explained by Oonaballoona...

Oonaballoona in her sheer Anna Dress - By Hand London

Silky fabrics and jerseys will need their appropriate machine needles in order to be sewn perfectly and painlessly. For silks (and indeed other silky or very lightweight fabrics such as voile or rayon) go for a super fine, super sharp needle, and for knits opt for ball point needles. If in doubt, ask your haberdasher for advice!

Lladybird in her silk Anna Dress - By Hand London

Image courtesy of Lladybird

Woolly fabrics such as tweed, herringbone, flannel, wool crepe, voltaire and serge, although super cosy and Autumnal, can feel pretty scratchy worn against bare skin, and even worse - ride up tights! Wools will massively benefit from a full lining in a lightweight slippery fabric.

Super stretchy knit fabrics don't need a zipper! Just remember to remove the seam allowance from the centre back and cut that back piece on the fold. And check out this post over at Dixie DIY.

dixie diy in by hand london anna dress

Don't be afraid to colour block! The very first Anna toile we ever made had a pink bodice and fluo orange skirt (she even had two splits back then, one up each thigh...), and she looked pretty damn rad. In fact, so damn rad that we're definitely going to have to recreate that first Anna at some point...

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That's all for tonight folks, just a little bit of fabric porn and food for thought to get the creative juices flowing. Things get real serious on Friday... We'll be tracing, altering, FBAing, 3/4 length sleeving and cutting all over the shop. Until then, over and out.

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*Silk noil... a recent, and incredibly pleasant discovery on our part. Silk noil is a raw silk with a low sheen, dry texture similar to wool voltaire. Beautiful drape and a dream to cut and sew (unlike most silks). We found a great big roll of off-white silk noil in Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road (London, UK) for under a fiver a metre! One packet of Dylon later and hey presto, goldfish orange silk noil. Highly recommend. Cats love it too.

silk noil

  • Elisalex de Castro Peake
  • Anna DressAnna Dress SewalongdressfabricSewalongSS 13

Comments on this post ( 15 )

  • Dec 08, 2015

    Hi Nik, it really depends on how fine your rayon is and how snug your finished dress fits… If you find that the seams are pulling a bit (side seams, darts/pleats and centre back seam particularly), you could always go back and reinforce them if need be. Hope this helps!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Nov 16, 2015

    Hi
    I’m almost finished my first Anna. I’m using a rayon but I’m a bit worried about the pressure on the stitching on the bodice. Should I have used a vilene tape or something to prevent the stitches pulling?

    — Nik

  • Sep 30, 2015

    Hi Jeanette, you’ll be fine with a 56" width fabric! Happy sewing! ~Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Sep 30, 2015

    Hello! I recently purchased the Anna PDF pattern and I’m looking forward to getting started. However, I have a question: Do I have to use fabric that is 60" wide? The reason is that I’m having trouble finding fabric that’s exactly 60" (or more). I understand sometimes this could be a problem with the skirt part, especially if it’s supposed to be “swishy”. Though I found a fabric I like in rayon challis that is 56" wide. Could I use this?

    — Jeanette

  • Jan 19, 2015

    Hi Robin – hmmm, it’s a tricky one… Personally I reckon a dupioni/shantung would be too stiff, and I would instead opt for a silk crepe. However, the light catching quality of shantung would look amazing, especially on a beach! And stiffer, more stable silk is MUCH easier to work with than the drapier variety. I think it’s up to you, really, but if it were up to me – I’d go for something drapier!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jan 18, 2015

    I want to make this for a wedding on the beach and am a novice. I am also terrible at making up my mind. What do you ladies think of a dupioni/shantung silk for this? Is that too stiff for this dress?

    ps – you guys are fabulous.

    — Robin

  • Sep 30, 2013

    No that should be fine! Sounds lovely and cosy and perfectly Autumnal…

    — byhandlondon

  • Oct 01, 2013

    I’m not going to be able to make it right now, but I think in the new year I might make a full-length version with the split for ballroom when I start competing again. That version looks perfect for smooth/standard.

    — Mary

  • Sep 18, 2013

    This dress is so versatile and looks great on everyone. I can’t wait to get started on mine. Thank you for including the 3/4 sleeve tutorial!

    — Shar

  • Sep 20, 2013

    Oooooh yeah!! Loving the sound of that Christmas party Anna!

    — byhandlondon

  • Sep 28, 2013

    I just acquired some lovely stretch corduroy… do you suppose that would work all right, or would it be too stiff/heavy?

    — Alice

  • Sep 17, 2013

    Oh that fabric is called sikl noil. I once brought 3 meters of a fabric exactly like the one you described here, but just used the last piece recently, and need to find more. For me its the perfect fabric.
    I have to much on my sewing table now for joining the sewalong right now, but hope to catch up later on :-)

    — Sandra

  • Sep 17, 2013

    Darn you’ve done it again!! I was resisting the lure of the Anna even though I’d seen loads of gorgeous versions on the blogsphere, because I need to sew more wintery things. But then I thought, hmmm Christmas do, maxi with thigh high split and black suede Duo boots…. And now I’ve just ordered the pattern. I think first attempt/muslin will be midi slash in royal blue poplin. But I’m really interested in learning the techniques for lining to use in the next version!!

    — Louise

  • Sep 17, 2013

    I’m just about to go on holiday, but I have the pattern already, and will play catch up when I get back. I hope to buy some fabric while I’m away.

    — Fiona M

  • Sep 17, 2013

    Great ideas. I have a purple linen I want to make this with. I’m in love with how linen moves. So exciting, I really hope I get this made in time for the end of the sewalong. I have seen many beautiful versions of this dress :)

    — Jo

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