TL; DR – Great free beginner pattern but not very size-inclusive, neck facing is a pain in the ass, it’s easier to fix too big than too small, and make sure you have a stretch needle – beware, those fuckers can pierce your thumbnail, which will cause the needle to snap in half.
What’s the first thing I did when I started getting obsessed with sewing? Google “free sewing patterns” to start building a collection of patterns. The second thing? Start trolling Mood Fabrics’ website. I’d been watching Project Runway for ages (here’s the blog post to prove it), and Mood Fabrics was like a fever dream of fabric choices. Since it was a pandemic, the website was really as good as it was going to get.
I am grateful that they also send you an iconic Mood Fabrics bag with any large order you make.
The Copen dress by Made to Sew kept popping up. It was probably the gorgeous floral pattern that caught my eye, but also the fact that it came with a full YouTube tutorial. There’s even a facebook group! As soon as I found this scuba knit from Mood, I knew it was perfect for a Copen dress (holy shit I paid a lot for that fabric, it’s nice but it’s not that nice).
What’s also great about the dress is that it gave me finished measurements for the garment. What does that mean? Well, you have your body measurements (usually bust, waist, hip – I have mine memorized now), and the chart will tell you what size to make. Except there is something called ease, or, how loose or tight a garment will be on you once you sew it. The best patterns have finished measurements, and you can decide how loose or close-fitting you want the garment to be, depending as well on the fabric. I was exactly between sizes (between the two largest sizes, so this isn’t a size-inclusive pattern) and erred on the side of too-big.
(My waist always trips me up as I am thick-waisted, as compared to my chest and hips. Someday, I’ll grade between sizes, but today was not that day, nor is today that day. Or something.)
I did darts for the first time, which were easy enough, and sleeves which I managed fine (I know sleeves can be tricky, but I’m kinda a “let’s shove it in there and hope for the best, and it has been the best so far, or at least good enough). But this was also the first time I had done a neck facing.
Neck (and sometimes arm for sleeveless garments) facings are a way to finish a neckline or armhole. You have a bit of fabric in the shape of the hole, and you iron on interfacing to that piece, pin and sew the two pieces together, right sides facing each other, and then flip the facing in, tacking (or hand-sewing it) to the various seams in order for it to stay down.
Readers, it doesn’t stay down, not really.
I tried to just tack it, and then finally said, fuck it, I’m going to sew it down, like the collar on the Geneva dresses. And still, every time I pull the dress over my head, the damn facing pops up.
I would learn a better method in a few dresses.
I managed to avoid having to put in a zipper in the back because of the stretch of the fabric allowing me to pull it over my head. Whew. Still not ready for zippers.
The other thing is that because I made the dress in a stretch fabric as stiff as scuba, there was no drape, and the larger size did NOTHING for me. I decided, rather than take it in on the sides and potentially screw up the sleeves, I would extend the front darts all the way down, inadvertently creating princess seams. So, darts just nip the fabric in in one place, usually the waist or the bust under the arms, while princess seams go all the way down. You can see the before and after picture at the top/side of this post. It looks WAY better.
Over-all, it was a relatively easy sew, the videos really, really, really helped (a lot, and I re-watched some parts constantly, trying to get my brain around what I was supposed to be doing with the neck facings). If you have never sewn with stretch, scuba is a great (if pricey) option because the fabric is really stable (won’t slip, easily bunch up, or get chewed up in the feed dog, aka the part of the machine that you put your fabric over that is supposed to help move the fabric along but will chew up lighter fabrics).
Another thing I learned is to keep your fingers out of the way. A lesson I’m still learning. Somehow, and I couldn’t reproduce it if I tried, I got my thumb caught under the needle while the machine was going full-tilt. It pierced my nail and my skin (OUCH) and snapped the needle. Thankfully, I had an extra stretch needle.
I at first thought, a needle is a needle is a needle (lolololol), but not there are myriad needles for different fabrics! It makes sense that you wouldn’t use the same needle on jeans as you would on silk (tough thick fabric vs soft, thin fabric) – the jeans need a bigger needle than the silk. But what tripped me up was understanding wovens (cotton, polyester, silk, canvas, etc) and knits (jersey, um…basically anything that has a lot of stretch). The way the fabrics are held together, basically means that you need a different needle to make sure the stitches don’t slip or snag. The fabric needs to be pierced differently, if that makes sense.
If I make it again with a stretch fabric, I’ll size down, but I think I’d keep the size with a woven because there wouldn’t be any stretch. But if you want a satisfying first sew (and are my size or smaller), I highly recommend the Copen!