The Mortmain Dress

Mortmain 4When I was on a holiday in Greece last year I remember admiring a dress that the daughter of the owner of the apartments we stayed in was wearing one evening. It was a pink striped dress, quite a simple design but perfect for the warm evenings and the sunny climate.

Fast forward to the end of last year when I spotted the Mortmain Dress on sale for a bargain £2 and was reminded of that dress and holiday, all I needed then was the material. I spotted the perfect material a few weeks ago when browsing one of my favourite online fabric shops – Sewisfaction.

Pastel Candy Stripe Viscose Linen

The fabric is a Viscose/Linen blend and the stripes are the perfect colour tones for what I had in mind.

I am not generally in the habit of sewing up toiles, I very much steam ahead and hope for the best but I decided that if I wanted to re-create the perfect dress then I would need to take my time especially given the fact that the dress is fitted and it is a pattern company that I am not familiar with. I am so pleased that I actually decided to take the time and effort because the first toile didn’t fit! I went with my body measurements: 34/32/38 which put me at a size 10 for the bust and then grading to a size 16 on the waist. The toile was definitely too small across the bust area but the fit on the waist seemed ok.

For my second attempt I went up a size on the bust so cut a size 12 and again graded to the 16 for my waist. This time although the fit was much better I did have a gapping area under the armholes.

About 18 months ago I went to a bodice fitting class and have kept my bodice block for such occasions when I am struggling with fit issues. From this I was able to add a wedge to the underarm section, from the photo below you can see that very little needed to be added but it is surprising what a difference it makes.



The pattern uses facings around the neckline and arm holes but I wanted to give it that extra feeling of quality so decided to fully line the bodice. I had some deep red lining fabric tucked away in a cupboard and decided that would work well. Lining a bodice is not nearly as difficult as I thought and it is well worth the effort to make everything look nice on the inside. Basically it is a case of cutting out 2 bodices – one in your main fabric and one in your lining fabric, adding any darts to both bodices and joining the shoulder seams right sides together on both bodices. You then line the main bodice up with the lining bodice right sides together around the neck line and the armholes taking your time to make sure there is no puckering. I sewed with a 5/8″ seam allowance all around the neck and armholes and then trimmed the seam allowance to remove the bulk.

The magic happens when you pull the back bodice piece through the gap that is left on the shoulder seams, this needs to be done at both shoulder seams and then voila you have a lovely lined bodice with all the messy bits on the inside.

I can’t stress enough the importance of giving everything a good press, take your time over this because it really will make a difference. Once everything is nicely pressed then the side seams can be sewn up, again it is important to match up the seam on the underarm and then the seam can be stitched right along starting from the bottom edge of the outer bodice and finishing at the bottom of the lining.

The pattern gives instructions for a pleated skirt but I decided I would prefer a gathered skirt. I joined the front skirt panel to the back panels, firstly wrong sides together using a 3/8″ seam allowance and then trimmed the seam allowance and turned it right sides together before sewing a 2/8″ seam allowance to give lovely french seams, I really do want this dress to be pretty on the inside as well. I then ran 3 rows of gathering stitch along the top of the skirt panel and pulled them in to fit the bodice.

Another adjustment I made was to decrease the width of the waistband. I originally sewed it up as per the instructions but once I added the skirt I thought that the waistband was too wide. This was a fairly easy adjustment to make, I simply sewed another row of stitching 5/8″ from my original seam that joins the waistband to the skirt, I was very careful to make sure all the gathers were sitting neatly as I sewed.

The original pattern doesn’t include a waistband facing but I added one which I attached to the bodice lining sewing right sides together.



The next stage was the back seam with the zip. The pattern uses an exposed zip but I didn’t have one to hand and also wasn’t too confident in doing this so I decided to go for an invisible zip which is something I have done before. Everyone probably has a preferred method for adding an invisible zip, for me the best method was discovered last year when I pattern tested the Rosalee Dress for Experimental Space:

Rosalee Dress : Sewing Pattern (PDF)

I dug out the instructions for the Rosalee and followed those. I did take the dress in a fair amount on the back seam and used a 1.2″ seam allowance instead of the 5/8″. Once the zip was in I had to repeat the process to join the lining along the back zip area, this was a little tricky because the lining needs to be right sides together against the main fabric and it can’t be laid completely flat but a little time and patience and I managed it. Once this was done I overlocked the back seams in order to reduce the depth and to neaten them and then pressed the seams open.

The final stages were joining the waistband facing to the waistband at the bottom edge, to do this I turned to some hand stitching and then it was onto the hem, I had originally increased the length of the skirt panels by 2″ when I first cut them out and I didn’t want to lose too much length so just turned up by 1 cm and then by 1″ and again hand sewed.

I am really thrilled with how this turned out and also had enough fabric to sew myself a matching head band/belt. I have really enjoyed a bit of slow sewing. This dress feels special and I will look forward to many sunny days of wearing it and imagining holidays by the sea.

Mortmain 3