home from holidays dress

This dress has the single best pockets I have ever made.

Important details folk. I could not care about anything else about this dress, and still wear it for the pockets. Fortunately, I like the rest of it too; but the pockets I am storing up for future reference. (It’s because I’m back in the NZ hospital, and a few of my normal hospital outfits don’t have good pockets – so I’m really noticing the difference it makes.)

However, let’s take this story back to the start.

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Picture yourself, if you will, in Uganda. It’s a sunny day, it’s humid (it’s always humid – ok, I was only there for six weeks!), there’s no wind. I’ve been there two days. On the Tuesday, I arrived into the city around 4.30pm, and went out for a walk; did some exploring, but didn’t manage to find anything much. On the Wednesday, I had been to the international hub of Kampala twice, first with someone from the hospital and second with another doctor living in my lodgings. I’d even caught one of the ubiquitous minivan “taxis” – kinda like an informal bus service. Now it was Thursday, I didn’t start placement till Monday, and it was time for my first foray alone into the centre of town.

Armed with a water bottle, a phone with internet access and a map, and the name of a street of fabric stores, I decided I was catching one of the “taxis”, as it was a 50-minute walk to the city centre (later in my stay I actually more often walked it – although for the most part I avoided the central city where I could). The problem with the informality, though, is that I had no idea what the route was, and also am still not sure how fixed the routes were. This makes a problem when you’re tryng to go somewhere you don’t know well, although it’s fine on the way home. In the end I took the taxi for probably half the distance to my destination. I followed with my map, and got out when it deviated from my straight-lines path to my destination, to walk the rest of the way. (Again, later in the stay I would have caught it further – but then I would have had a better chance at identifying the street I ended up on. I went for the safe way for the first time.) I had already discovered that when it rains in Uganda, it really rains. Halfway down the street the skies opened up, but I ducked into a smallish shopping mall, and continued on my way when things lightened up.

Finding the street I was after was not so difficult, despite it not having a street sign, with the aid of my trusty maps. Finding the fabric stores proved much more difficult, despite the fact that I was assured there woudl be plenty! At first I found only a few selling shiny polyesters – the fabric that’s used for the most common traditional gown, though I am not sure how anyone can stand to wear it in the heat! Then I found one selling suiting fabric at normal Western prices – much better quality, to me, but not what I was after! Eventually, I was looking in another small shop selling poly, and clearly not finding what I was after, when a man broke off from talking to the shopkeeper and offered to take me to his own shop, which had the wax prints I was looking for. He took me through a shopping mall, and out to the alleyway at the back of it, which was lined with stalls of what I was actually after. His offer worked out well for him, as I bought two lengths of fabric from him; and also for his neighbour, who sold me the fabric you see today. (The other lengths were for my sisters.) (It’s interesting to note that most of these shops seemed to be as much tailors as fabric stalls; old Singer sewing machines were evident everywhere.)

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This fabric languished in my suitcase for over three months, but when I reached New Zealand I threw my small stash of fabric straight into the washing machine so I could get started on sewing sooner rather than later. I actually wanted to sew a bra before I started this, but kept running into problems with not having what I needed, so this was a good simple project, requiring minimal thought.

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The pattern is my trusty NL6143 (I don’t even have to look that number up!), modified this time to lower the armholes since a) it has no sleeves and b) this fabric is stiff. I also sewed it with a 3/8″ seam at the shoulders, instead of 5/8″, because it seemed to be too short for my waist, but that seems to just have lifted the shoulders off mine – it’s hovering off the waist. I’m hoping that becomes less obvious as the fabric softens with washing. I also lowered the waist dart slightly, but not enough, and shortened the bust dart, a bit too much. I could do with taking out even a little more width at the front to decrease gaping. And I really need a sway back adjustment! I’ve known I need one for years, but never quite got around to doing it. Otherwise, it’s actually relatively close to pattern (compared to some things I’ve based on it!). I’ve given it a semicircle skirt, because that seemed like the best option with the stiffness of the fabric, and I have to say I love how it stands out around me. A well-suited fabric/pattern combination.

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Let’s talk pockets! These things are incredible. In my last dress before leaving NZ, I wanted in-seam pockets but also was wary about them flopping around everywhere, because wrap dress + flimsy fabric = zero structure. So I attached them straight into the waistband – still in-seam pockets, and more or less invisible, but with a more similar shape to a yoke pocket. (This was something I made up myself – I don’t know that I’ve personally seen pockets like this, though I imagine someone else has thought of it.) It worked fantastically. They have a nice flat profile, hold the things I want them to, and sit exactly where I put them. So for this dress I did exactly the same thing. I’ve used the main fabric for the back of the pocket, and a cotton lawn for the front to decrease bulk (and also look smart). 100% would do again. I love this. I think it works especially well for flimsy fabrics, as pockets are often a difficult proposition in those,  but having said that, this dress is not in the slightest bit flimsy and it’s great here.

I finished my pocket edges and necklines with bias binding of the same cotton lawn, the waist seam with rayon seam tape, and all other seams by turning and stitching the seam allowance (full disclosure: this is because it was the fastest option I could think of). The hem is also rayon seam tape. This time I pulled it out more taut than I have in the past, and ended up with a beautiful smooth hem after pressing – in the past, I’ve had troubles with it on curved hems, but not today.

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(This photo is mostly to prove the front waist wrinkles are about my posture, not about the dress.)

It’s been good to be back with my sewing machine. So far I’ve made three things in the five weeks I’ve been back – a pretty high rate for me – and it’s really nice to be creating things out of my hands. I missed that. It’s also been good to be home with my flat and my family. I belong here. I’m loving my placement – the final year of medical school is totally different to the first five, it’s much more an apprenticeship type thing, and you’re expected to be a helpful person and have the skills to do so. It’s a really nice change. I’m looking forward to all of my placements for the next 6 months, at least – and in 8 months (and I am totally counting down) I’ll be graduating! Crazy times.

Have a great Easter friends!

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