Sienna Shift Dress Pattern Review With Mandarin Collar Hack
Since I've been on this cheongsam-making quest, it's hard not to look at sewing patterns and imagine a mandarin collar on it. When I saw the Sienna Shift Dress designed by Annie of Sew This Pattern), it called out to me to be a worthy candidate to cheongsam-hack it.
Then I saw a competition announcement on Instagram from Sew This Pattern. The contest rules are to make a version of the Sienna, wear it, take a photo, and post a picture of it by November 30, 2020. My competitive nature couldn't resist taking part, so I'm entering this dress for the competition. I encourage anyone to take part as well because it's fun, and it's a fun dress with fun frills. There are 2-3 more weeks before the deadline at the time of writing. So get sewing!
Confession: I hacked a pattern without first making the original version - probably a big no-no. When I made a similar hack to the Kalle Shirtdress, I had already made 3 versions of the original pattern (here and here), so I had adequate experience to hack it. If I was smart (I wasn't), I should first make a toile to check that the drafting changes to the Sienna would work. Admittedly, I was led by laziness instead of prudence, and jumped off the cliff without a muslin for a safety net.
What attracted me to the dress were the fun frills at the sleeves and the empire waistline. It has a round collar which meant that it wouldn't be such a biggie converting that neckline to insert the mandarin collar. The only thing that I had doubts about is that the skirt length is not something that I usually go for. Another confession: Longer skirts and dresses, and long pants are my jam because I am too lazy to shave my hairy legs. But this dress was too cute for me to say no to it. I will go to the extra trouble of shaving so that I can put it on.
And you ask: if it's such a cute dress, why change it at all? More specifically, why put a mandarin collar on it? (Actually, why not?!?) I've been asking myself this question since I started hacking patterns and putting cheongsam spins on them. I guess it's part and parcel of what my "style" is now. Cheongsam-inspired clothes reflect who I am. Most of the sewing patterns that I make are in the category of "western" designs, and to fulfil my growing fondness and appreciation of the beautiful Chinese dress, I add elements of a cheongsam to these garments. The clothes are who I am - an Asian that has lived in the West for most of her adult life.
The marriage of East and West in the garments I make is my way of extracting the best out of the two cultures. Issues of belonging arise for me when I return to Singapore for a visit and feel like an alien because it is all unfamiliar to me now; and where I live now (and where I lived in the USA) I will always be considered "the other". Instead of focussing on this feeling of displacement, I decided to celebrate how I've become a combination of two separate cultures. So making these clothes and wearing them give me a sense of belonging to both worlds at the same time. As a metaphor: it's a process of drawing from my roots to plant them on new soil. These garments ground and centre me in both cultures.
Technically speaking, inserting the mandarin collar required redrafting the front and back bodice pieces, drafting the mandarin collar and adding button loops to secure the back collar. I also decided to fully line the bodice, instead of using a facing. A high mandarin collar works best on a bodice that has more structure as a foundation to support it, and if it's possible, I will always do a full lining for the bodice instead of a facing. Some cheongsam patterns have a facing and a lining. For the lining, I simply use the paper pattern of the new bodice and the original side (front & back) bodices to cut out on the lining fabric. The button loops are rouleau loops made from the self fabric cut on the bias.
You can see from the pictures above the adjustments that I made in the drafting to the front and back bodices. The original bodices are layered below so that you can see the extension in the neckline towards the neck. Also, take note (see picture on the right) that a the sliver had to be taken from the side seams of the back bodice to match the shoulder seams of front and back bodices.
This pattern is rated intermediate for sewers. There is an invisible zipper to insert, and the installation of the ruffles and the bias tape can be fiddly. Sizes for the pattern are 6-18. I sewed a size 8 based on the hip measurements. I did measure the finished waist measurement on the paper pattern itself to double check if size 8 was the right size for me. And it measured 74cm (sans seam allowances and darts) and I felt there was enough ease for my 66-68cm waist. Maybe I could have gotten away with a size 6. The smaller size would be more form-fitting, but it might mean that belly expansion from zesty eating might have to be avoided. Eating with gusto is hard for me to give up. So size 8 it is.
Redrafting the front and back bodice wasn't so complicated. It required extending the neckline upwards for a smaller circumference. I also reduced the seam allowances (where both seams meet) around the collar and the neckline of the bodices to 1cm (instead of 1.5cm). This facilitates easier installation of the collar. With the new measurements of the neckline, the mandarin collar can then be drafted on paper. I use this method to draft my mandarin collars, and it works really well. The collar is 4cm wide and the outer collar is interfaced with fusible horsehair canvas cut on the bias, while the inner collar with a lightweight fusible interfacing.
The instructions of the pattern are pretty solid but because of the hack and the lining, I had to do some steps out of the suggested order. After sewing up the bodices (lining and self-fabric) with frills included, I then basted the lining to the bodice at the armscye, and closed that seam with bias binding. The next thing was to attach the bodice to the skirt, inserting the invisible zipper, and then hand-stitching the rest of the lining at the zipper and the skirt seam. The last thing to insert was the collar.
I also installed the bias on the frills in a different way. The last step after folding the self-made bias to the right side of the fabric, I hand-stitched the whole length of the frills on both sides. This just gives a better finish in my opinion. When I machine sew it down, I find that it stiffens the frills where it meets the bias tape, and I want a softer fall of ruffles.
The fabric is a very special double-layered cotton from India. Two ultra light cotton fabrics are sewn together at the selvage, then attached at one inch intervals with tiny stitches throughout the length and breadth of the fabric. One fabric is denim-coloured and the other is a multi-coloured plaid. If you take a closer look at the pictures, you can see the plaid peeking through the denim-blue. This is a very cool but subtle effect, especially when you see it in person. For this reason, I had to be careful with the pattern matching even though the plaid is on the inside of the main dress.
It's a fabric that is pretty on its own but is extraordinary combined together. This two-in-one fabric continues with the theme of how I am also a two-in-one - made up of two cultures, belonging to both East and West. The contrast and co-existence of the two is who I am. The contrast of two is what this dress is. The shift dress that shifts easily from one culture to the next.
This dress provided lots of joy in the making, and lots of pleasure in the wearing. There's still quite a bit of time left before the deadline of the contest, and I am considering making another version because you can enter multiple entries. I better start cracking!