I am never one to pass up an opportunity for what I sew to convey some understated irony. The opposite of wrinkly is irony, after all (in case you haven’t heard that joke)! In all seriousness, though – this post’s dress was perfect for a day traveling out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of Death Valley. I blend right in with my setting’s colors and am ‘under surveillance’ amidst the open scrub land in my boldly patterned knit version of a Rachel Comey designer piece. My dress is paired with a casual, relaxed twist on the classic moto jacket for an outfit that accommodates the temperature swings of the desert in spring.
In 2014, Vogue Pattern Company released the pattern to her popular RTW item called the “Surveillance” dress. It’s always so exciting when Vogue gives a home seamstress the ability to make her own ‘copy’ of a New York fashion item which sells for about $700 normally!! Granted, I am in no way ‘up to date’ with things by finally getting around to sewing this six years later, but hey – better late to the game than never when it comes to personal fashion. SO many times it is best to let my fabric and my patterns be paired up naturally as the inspiration strikes or as the setting feels right. Forcing projects is often a recipe for later being unhappy with the outcome.
Making a jacket out of this lovely burgundy knit has been a long time coming as well, so everything about this outfit is something to be excited over. As the wardrobe I chose for my travels out west was everything which would pair well with such a rich color, I finally dove into finding the right pattern for the burgundy knit and now have a new favorite versatile piece I dreamed of for years. There never seems to be enough time in life for all the ideas and aspirations in my head and heart!
FABRIC: For the dress – a cotton, rayon, and poly blend knit; For the jacket – a rayon and poly blend tiny ribbed knit, fully lined in a lightweight black poly interlock
PATTERNS: Vogue #1406, a Rachel Comey dress pattern from 2014 together with Burda Style #105 jacket from March 2015
NOTIONS: Just lots of thread, some cuts of interfacing, a few vintage buttons out of the stash I inherited from my Grandmother, and scraps of bias tape went into this ensemble!
TOTAL COST: As the fabrics for this whole outfit have been sitting in my stash for almost 10 years now (bought years ago at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics), I am counting these pieces as equal to free by this time! Either way, I only needed 1 ½ yards for the jacket, and almost 3 yards for the dress (because I was working with a large scale repeated print) so I could not have paid all that much because I always found the best prices at Hancock! My guess is no more than $30 in total.
Now, for a designer pattern, Comey’s Surveillance dress has really simple but smart design lines. The listings describe it as having an “asymmetrical neckline, hugging the body in just the right places, this fitted dress features a tailored bodice with clever tugs at the waist sides (gathers) for a flattering fit.” I noticed that all the models in the RTW versions had no significant weight or body curves, so I surmised a close-fitting dress for their body type would not fit the same on me. I made sure to go up one whole size than what the chart showed I needed, and I am glad I did so. My sleeves were shortened because I like the versatility of ¾ length, and it made the sleeves easier to match with the striping on the dress, but otherwise no other changes were made to the design you see on the line drawing.
The original instructions call for very nice finishing techniques, such as cutting your own bias binding to finish the inner raw edges for the armscye and a fully lined body. The detailed instructions are great because it gives a glimpse into how the expensive designer dresses are made. Also, though, after you exhaust yourself doing such details, you may just realize that high end price is rather appropriate for the time, effort, and quality (RTW Surveillance dresses are silk) that goes into them…and they are made in the USA!
Now, I am not one to shy away from (or lack appreciation for) time-consuming ways of sewing high quality garments – goodness, I absolutely love spending ungodly amounts of hours to hand-sew suit coats! However, my chosen fabric for this design was loose and much too relaxed to be highly tailored, so I stripped construction down to the bare bones here. I eliminated the full body lining, facings, interfacing, and seam edge finishing (the knit does not ravel). This made my dress only a 5 hour, ‘one-afternoon-sewing-binge’ kind of project. As I had went up a size, and my material was stretchy knit, I left out the back zipper as the pattern called for, making this a pop-over dress for effortless dressing. The center back skirt godet panel was also left out in my version and I merely drafted directly onto the dress itself. This way the oversized print does not get broken up.
Even with the dress being simplified I had to think out of the box to accommodate supporting certain sections. The one side of the neckline has a defined shoulder seam, which I supported with seam tape in with the stitching. However the other shoulder – the one that wraps around from the back to come into the front at the neckline side that dips down – is one piece that drooped off my body. To fix that I hand stitched down a strip of double fold, ½ inch wide bias tape to the inside across where the shoulder seam would have been. Bias tape has just a tiny bit of give when it is double folded, but it is a pretty stable – yet simple – way for me to steady the one side of the upper neckline. I also used double fold bias tape (the red is 1/4 inch wide) to stabilize the side seam and center back waistline gathers.
Can this dress still be in the shadow of New York’s high fashion or considered a designer knock-off when I have reduced it down to such a simple thing to make? I almost feel badly, but hey – sewing my own clothes makes me a designer too, in my own right, so I am tickled deep down for finding my own unusual way of interpreting Comey’s design. Even still, I do think that I stuck to her aesthetic, which is described as “combining thoughtful materials, bold prints, and modern silhouettes.” That is the case with my knit which is a soft as a baby blanket, yet definitely bold, and certainly made into a modern body skimming fit. “Comey’s collections blend function, fashion, and form. You will find designs that are sophisticated and cool, smart yet playful.” I find that I made her Surveillance dress much more versatile with no closures needed in an easy-care knit. My ‘downsizing’ of the details in no way brings this dress away from her trend of classy work-to-dinner-date wear so I’m happy to have a multi-purpose garment done my way! With modern heels and chandelier earrings this would look so different.
My blazer is the opposite of the dress – it took more time, has finer details, and is not named designer pattern. It is still a mix of casual and dressy. It is fitted loosely, almost boxy, so there were none but two tiny bust darts to sew. With the full body lining and soft knit this jacket feels as cozy as a sweatshirt but appears so much nicer! The asymmetric closing has many differing ‘looks’ depending on how many (or if any) buttons I close, so it is closer to suiting in this respect, and a nice variant on the traditional moto jacket.
It does have suit jacket style, two-part sleeves for great mobility that doesn’t solely rely on the stretch of the knit. I played upon the opportunity the seaming and moto style offered to use the other side of the fabric – the side with more of a black overtone and less of a twill finish as what is seen on the main body – for the underarm sleeve panels, collar, and insides of the revers. For as bold as the dress is, I love the subtlety I added to the details of the jacket. Choosing vintage leather buttons might not be the best in wash ability, but I liked how they standout without being too obnoxiously different. As I said above, this is a set full of irony – yes, black, burgundy, and brown can complement one another and a moto jacket doesn’t always have to be in a stark biker style.
My outfit only has me chuffed to go along these lines even further. As my second Rachel Comey dress, it is quite different from my first – this 40’s inspired Vogue #1209 pattern from 2010. It will certainly not be my last, either. I have several more patterns of her’s from Vogue in my cabinet, with fabric in my stash already picked out for them. Also, I am itching to try another twist on the moto style jacket. Burda Style has been really killing me with their amazing moto jacket designs over this past year. Each one they release (and it has been many) has great features, so it will be hard to pick, but I will let the fabric “speak to me” to help decide things for next time. One thing I do know is how easy it is to determine whether or not I am open to returning to the desert…the answer is a hearty YES!