Pattern Review: The Drama Rama Anna Dress by BHL
There's quite a bit of drama that the Anna Dress provides with its ultra maxi length and thigh-high split in the front. Many reviewers have made this dress for more formal occasions with the length accommodated for high-heels to give the illusion of legs that go on forever. Then the bodice has four pleats in the front to shape the bust so that they are fully cupped like blossoming flowers. In fact, I've seen some impressive dresses made by sewers in luxurious fabrics and the Anna Dress definitely oozes red-carpet or gala appeal. For sure it'll make a great bridesmaid's dress, and with the right fabric, it can even make a wonderful wedding dress.
I was drawn to the pattern because of the aforementioned details, and I can't resist anything with kimono sleeves. In addition, the pattern comes with variations for a v-neckline or a slash neckline. The A-line skirt is made up of 7 panels, which give the dress an elegant swish. The maxi length can be modified to a midi for a more casual version.
I wanted something more laid-back for my Anna, while keeping the maxi-length and thigh-high split. So I chose a turquoise and white cotton gingham fabric to give the dress a more easy-going feel. It will be my girly-pretty dress for the summer, a dress that I can go to the grocery store without looking ridiculously overdressed. And since high-heels are my nemesis, the down-to-earth gingham will pair well with sneakers or sandals. There's also a line of shimmery silver thread woven into the grain-line of the fabric, and spaced out every 3''. This doesn't show up in the pictures, but in person the eye catches a subtle sparkle as the dress moves.
The only problem with the fabric is that it's too translucent, and I had to add a skirt lining in the same fabric with the hem ending at the level of the thigh split. A full-length lining could have solved the problem as well but I didn't have enough fabric for that. I wasn't sure if I would like this mini-skirt solution, but I pressed on with it because the alternative would be to wear a slip for sufficient coverage. Yuck! I don't own one and I didn't want to make one.
The mini-skirt lining is visible and the overall look turned out rather cute, I must admit. And I think future Anna Dresses that I make would include this addition, especially when using lighter fabrics. On top of hiding the panty line, it also aids in covering up folds of flab when sitting or eating a bucket of fried chicken. So the lining isn't like Spanx but it kind of wrapped up the flesh in the right way around the waist and hip area.
Designed by By Hand London, the size range for this dress has been recently expanded, and the pattern can be bought in two size bands: UK6-24 (Cup B) or UK13-34 (Cup D). I graded the pattern from size 6 at the bust to size 8 from the waist down. From looking at what other sewers made, I sensed that it would be wise to make a toile of the bodice since many were voicing fitting issues. The common problem brought up was the gaping at the back neckline. Many suggested adding a dart there for a better fit but I settled on redrafting the back bodice according to what Ginger Makes did for her Anna Dress (you can check out her very helpful tutorial here). The picture below shows the adjustment that I had to make to my toile for a better fit and to remove the gaping. The changes were transferred onto paper, removing the pinned up dart that you see below.
After making the adjustment, the back bodice fits great on me. The only snafu I did was that I stretched out the top bit of the neckline where the closed zipper tab ends. I should have followed the instructions to add a small hook and eye there, which would have fixed this problem. I erroneously thought the invisible zipper would be enough to close up the back, but in this case, the hook and eye would have helped neaten up that top bit.
Another adjustment is the removal of 11'' from the maxi skirt length on the pattern so that it'll fit my 5'2'' frame sans heels. When I make my next Anna, I would also do a full bodice lining to replace the facing. That would be the more aesthetically pleasing option because the line of stitching to sew down the facing kind of bothers me.
Generally speaking, the instructions are fine, but I felt some details were missing. Especially when the pattern is targeted for beginners, then I think there can be a little more hand-holding. For example, when attaching the facing to the bodice at the neckline, the sewing should start and stop 1 1/4'' or 3cm from the centre back line. This is to accommodate for the installation of the invisible zipper to the back bodice, and the fold over of the seam allowance of the facing that is required to encase the zipper tape. This detail was missing from the instructions.
Also, from the picture above, you can see that I under-stitched the facing at the neckline (where my finger is) to make sure the facing doesn't roll over to the front bodice. This was also not specified in the instructions.
The third detail that is lacking is that there should be reinforcement with interfacing along the length of the centre back bodice and centre back skirt where the zipper is installed. For me, this is crucial for successful installation of invisible zippers.
I used interfacing that was the width of 1'' because I thought that with a 5/8'' seam allowance, the interfacing would be completely covered. However, I ended up with a 3/8'' seam allowance at the centre back seam because a fitting with a pinned 5/8'' seam was a little too snug for me. So I ended up with a 3/8'' seam for more ease. The result is that the interfacing is peeking out through the zipper tape with the adjustment in the seam allowance. It's not the most aesthetic thing to happen on the inside of a dress, but I prefer to leave room for that second bowl of ice cream.
For beginner sewers, I also highly suggest using the method by Kenneth D. King in this video to install the invisible zipper instead of the method suggested in the pattern instructions. This method recommends basting the back seam closed, pinning and basting the zipper on the line of this seam, then removing the basting stitches of the back seam before sewing the zipper onto the dress. This is a great way to ensure that the zipper is lined up properly and that the waist seam line will match evenly between the left and right sides of the dress.
To finish off, hand sewing the zipper tape with a catch stitch along the length that is exposed on the bodice (not hidden behind the facing) is a great way to neatly secure it down as well. The picture below shows how I hand-stitched the exposed zipper tape down, and the hand-stitching to secure the centre back of the mini-skirt close to the teeth of the zipper.
The Anna Dress was a pleasant make. There wasn't anything too fiddly with the pattern and it has an overall WOW! effect. I made sure to close up the seams with French seams wherever I could. The hem of the skirt is 5/8'' folded up twice, but instead I did 1/4'' for the first fold, then 3/8'' for the width of the hem. I wanted to keep the hem daintier, and the equal width as the french seams. Another piece of advice is to label all the skirt panels while because they all look the same after cutting them up.
I love my Anna Dress! So far, I've worn it 3 different times this past week. It certainly helped to lift up my spirits just putting it on. And my spirits needed quite a bit of lifting. One needs a splash of optimism, and sometimes a pretty dress gives me just that. Sounds frivolous but it assists in providing a positive vibe when I'm making it and wearing it. I will check in soon in a few days. In the meantime, stay healthy and safe!