McCall’s 5435: A more challenging than usual birthday dress

Hey, look, I made something! Really! And it was only about 2.5 times more frustrating than usual!

Thank you all so much for all your kind words, encouragement and well wishes on my last post. I will say that my scrapes are almost all healed, and my wrist is not painful at all, just annoying. Turns out that when you can’t bend your wrist or touch your thumb to your index finger on one hand, it makes everything take like twice as long. (Constant internal monologue: “How do I do this… okay, twist the shoulder… push with elbow… poke with fingers… and… there it is!”) It gives me a real appreciation for having all four limbs in normal working order, that’s for sure. But dammit, it was my birthday this week, and I wanted a new dress for it, and no stinking broken wrist was going to stop me… just slow me down.

I thought, for some reason, that making a knit dress would be my easiest option. I’m familiar with knits, no finishing required, minimal fitting, etc. But it turns out that fiddly thin ITY (but it is the awesome polka dotted fabric I got in Oakland this summer, and I love it!) was not the best choice for ease of one-handed operation. I had to use a lot more pins than I usually do (I’m generally all about the hold-it-as-you-sew-it method, but that’s not super well suited to only-one-opposable-thumb sewing), but it got there eventually.

My biggest error was probably in choosing this pattern, McCall’s 5435 (a pattern so out of print I can only find it on etsy), which I picked out of the dollar basket at my local fancy fabric store a few months ago. It’s designed for wovens, but I thought it would make a great knit dress. I was kind of right. This pattern has a really odd design, in that the contrast neckline is actually formed by turning the facings to the outside and slipstitching them down. Weird, right? I certainly wasn’t going to do that, so I decided to convert the facings to a neckband. I cut two of each facing piece and sewed them together along the inside neck edge to make a band, then I attached that band to the bodice pieces like a t-shirt neckband. I had to remove a half inch along the neckline of the bodice pieces first to make the neckline end up as drafted, since in the original pattern that’s how much of the bodice is covered by the facings. Ultimately that did work, though the back neckband gaped a bunch so I made a dart at center back to take in the excess (this is an adjustment I’ve made before, so I’m not sure if the gaping was caused by my neck finish mod or if that’s just how the pattern was anyway). But you totally can’t see the dart in the back view, so it’s fine. I also omitted the back zipper for obvious reasons, so I cut the back bodice, midriff and skirt on the fold.

It took a little futzing to line everything up just right at the point of the midriff, but I got it with just a little residual wonkyness that’s only noticeable when it’s not on a body. Other issues: The short sleeve is actually almost a bell sleeve, which is not at all evident from the pattern illustration. I had to narrow the sleeve by about 3 inches because the bell sleeve was neither fashionable nor flattering. Unfortunately this necessitated a bunch of unpicking since I didn’t think to narrow it before I sewed the contrast band on… and we all know how fun picking black stitches out of black knit fabric is. I also ended up taking 2 inches off the length of the main skirt to keep the hem band as wide as it was while shortening the dress to a less dowdy length. This too, of course, required unpicking the entire hem band. Finally, because I was using a knit, I made a straight 10 (the smallest size in my envelope), and I still had to take it in about an inch on each side seam to get the midriff fitted. I made a minor SBA by pinching out some of the horizontal fullness (I made a vertical dart in the pattern between the gathering marks), and I think that helped. The shoulders were much too broad for some reason (and I have broadish shoulders), so I took the top of the sleeve seam in to bring it up a little. I also found the armscyes way too low (I usually have the opposite problem), but there’s nothing to be done about that. The perils of making a woven pattern in a knit, I guess. (My full pattern review is here.)

Okay, so I’m starting to think this dress would have taken me just as long even with both hands at 100%… but I’m happier blaming the cast than admitting that I just made some of my usual bonehead sew-first-think-later mistakes. All the same, I finished it in time to wear it to dinner (and work after, boo) on my birthday, so mission accomplished! I actually like the way the dress turned out, and I do think that the pointy midriff is flattering and interesting in a contrast. The neckline is fairly plunging, but since I have literally no cleavage it’s not a problem.

And, hey, look, in this picture everything looks totally normal:

Just a regular, non-bike-crashed sewist looking forward to making something in a nice, stable woven fabric next time.

  1. Cute dress! I’ll never know how you did it with a broken wrist. What a trooper you are! 🙂

  2. Looks great! And I think your shoes are adorable where’d you find them?

    • aleah said:

      Thanks! The shoes are Kenneth Cole Reaction, and I found them at TJ Maxx a year or two ago, actually. Sometimes that place has great shoes…

  3. What a great dress! The shape is great on you and I’m so impressed that you sewed it with a cast on! Wow!

  4. Angela said:

    Your dress looks fabulous and I can’t believe you did that with one hand! 😉 Love the fabric! Hope you have a fast recovery!

  5. susana said:

    Me encanta este vestido y las telas que eligió son un gran acierto .Hasta el verde! de su yeso hace juego con las plantas.Cariños,

  6. Katy said:

    Gorgeous – you’d never guess that you had problems with the construction!

  7. You do better with a cast than I would do with an assistant!

  8. sewdjsew said:

    Happy Birthday! The dress is very cute, and looks great on you. It’s hard to imagine completing a dress with that cast. I was impressed with your other projects (especially your recent wardrobe contest entry), but, now, you’ve proven yourself to be amazing.

    • aleah said:

      You’re so sweet! I think I just have a strong will to do what I want to do and not be kept from the things I like by a stupid bike crash…

  9. Dottie said:

    Very nice dress – you did a great job on it. I have recently started following your blog and am enjoying it immensely. Hope your wrist mends quickly, by the way.

  10. Amanda in Colorado said:

    This is one of my favorites of your makes! It looks great on you.

  11. Pam said:

    Happy Birthday! I’m so impressed that you not only tried, but succeeded, in making a dress with a broken wrist!

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