Monday, March 17, 2014

Merchant & Mills Factory Dress

Here at The Drapery we recently received our second shipment of patterns from the incredibly stylish UK company Merchant & Mills.

Originally Merchant & Mills released their patterns in single-size format on sturdy brown cardboard, which was lovely but a bit inaccessible to overseas shoppers due to postage and sizing uncertainty. Their new 'Classic Export' pattern range brings us multi-size patterns in standard envelopes. Hooray!

The instructions are all contained on a double-sided A4 sheet. The diagrams are charmingly hand-drawn. The pattern is printed on quality paper that's sturdier than standard tissue.
(extra scribbles on instructions are my notes to self)

I chose to make the Factory Dress for its combination of austerity, comfort and - let's face it - kind of schoolgirl sassiness. To up the 'Depression-Era Chic' factor I selected this beautiful, drapey Yuwa Japanese cotton that has a definite dusty-old-armchair vibe.

The pattern description:
"A smart and easy to make statement dress, inspired by generations of industrious women with things to do in style. Features bust darts, front skirt tucks, a straight collar and dropped shirt sleeves with rolled cuff finish." It also has in-seam pockets - a definite plus in my books.

With no zips or buttons, and forgiving loose styling, it's a fairly easy sew that just requires a degree of patience and accuracy.

Size: The pattern suggests to go by bust size only for this loose style. I made a muslin of the size 12 bodice, based on my upper bust measurement of 36" (in the interests of sharing useful fitting info, my full bust is 38"). The fit seemed good so I proceeded with the size 12.

Alterations: After attaching bodice and skirt together and trying on, I noticed substantial excess fabric at the back waist seam area. I am short-waisted and this is a common fitting issue for me. I re-sewed the back waist seam with a slight curve, taking out about 2cm from both bodice and skirt at the centre (i.e. 4cm depth total), tapering gradually to nothing at the sides. Excess fabric was then trimmed from the seam allowance on the inside. The fit was then much improved.

- This is a really loose-fitting style. For a closer fit I could probably have gone down a size and done a full bust adjustment. (But sometimes, life's too short for FBAs, yeah?) As a loose dress I think it will be good for layering in winter.

- Pay close attention to the construction diagrams, since I often found them more useful than the written instructions. Often the diagrams show seams being finished (zigzag edge) where the written instructions have not mentioned this.

- My first attempt at attaching the collar was a failure since I matched it to the wrong notch. The ends match up to the outer notches (furthest up the neckline), which means a bit of easing the collar into the neckline, particularly around the tight curves at the shoulder seams. Rest assured, this easing helps give the collar its proper end shape. Once I did this, and then pinned the facing in place on top, I found it helpful to hand-baste the layers in place (hand-stitch with a long running stitch) and remove all the pins before machine sewing.
hand-basted layers: facing, collar and bodice neckline, prior to machine sewing
(interfacing is our lightweight woven cotton fusible, available at The Drapery)

- There's a fair bit of 'press seam open, press from the other side, press closed' kind of thing which I obeyed. But to be honest, it all seems a bit like witchcraft to me and if you just want to press things the way they will finally be going, I reckon it won't make a jot of difference. But feel free to enlighten me.

- I'm about 5ft 3in (163cm) and I turned up quite a deep hem to bring this to just above the knee on me. The instructions suggested overlocking or zigzagging the raw edge then hem-stitching by hand, however for a cleaner inside finish I turned and machine sewed a tiny edge before turning up to the correct length and hand-stitching.

- When the dress was finished, I was slightly worried I looked a bit too much like a Depression-era factory worker. But my husband rather liked it and had the perfect fix: "It just needs a brooch!" And I think he was right.

- Jane x


  1. I love this Jane, depression era chic! Yes to the brooch being perfect. Hmmm, you do know that I have now added yet another pattern to my wish list?? ;-)

    1. Glad you 'get' the aesthetic, and glad to be an enabler :)

  2. Ohhh, I like this and we are twinsy for sizing.
    I'd best come back when you are open.

    1. Oh please do come in when you are down our way one day!

  3. Did you Aussies have a Depression during the "Depression Era"? Just curious, always think of that as such an American (US) reference! But if you know me at all, you know I love that era, and spend a lot of time poring over old photos taken at labor camps in California, admiring the simple loose cotton dresses, clearly handmade with love by their hard-working, scrappy wearers ... I can't get enough of it!

    Anyway, I love this dress on you, Jane! It has a really nice shape - loose and lovely but quite flattering. I am having a really really hard time imagining my husband EVER saying "oh, it just needs a brooch." Yeah, no way, it would never happen. Andy has a good eye!!

  4. Oooh Jane, may you hold a Trapeze dress for me? I will be in town in a few weeks.I am happy to pay for it now.


    1. Absolutely Nicole! We will pop it aside for you - I'm sure you're good for it so just pay when you come in :)

    2. Thank you!!!!
      You can help me pick out some AMH voile for Justine's birthday.


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