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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Tilly & The Buttons Cleo Dress. Part 1. In which I discover two flaws

If you are a habitue of sewing blogs, dressmaking shops and sewing Fairs then you must know about Tilly and The Buttons patterns.  They are celebrated for their stylish designs, the quality of the packaging and the pattern paper (no flimsy paper envelope and easily torn tissue here) and the calibre of the instructions.  They are more expensive in price than the big commercial companies but, in my opinion, the superiority of the aforementioned justifies this.
I have never tried one of the patterns but, when I was at the Renegade Craft Fair in November, I came upon Tilly's stall and thought that I should try out a pattern for myself.  I almost bought the famous Coco dress pattern but then my eye lighted upon a new issue- the Cleo Dungaree Dress.  This was marked as a pattern for beginners and looked very easy with no zips, sleeves to set in, pleats or gathers, not much in the way of fitting issues.  Plus it was the perfect all year round wear, layered over a T shirt for Summer, a blouse for Autumn or a sweater for Winter.
I was determined to use some fabric from my stash to try to alleviate my guilt at buying a pattern when one of my 2016 resolutions was not to buy any.  The back of the envelope suggests medium to heavy weight fabric. After pondering I chose a textured grey fabric, bought many years ago from Abakhan in Liverpool.  I don't know the fabric content but it has a certain amount of body and resists creasing.  The picture below does not reveal its annoying tendency to fray on handling.

There is a good choice of sizes for this pattern from 61 cm waist and 84 cm hip to 96.5 cm waist and 119.5 cm hip.    I wanted to do the knee length version but the pattern came above my knee.  There was no indication on the pattern of the height for which this pattern is drafted so I decided to seek help from Tilly & The Buttons Facebook page 
The  prompt answer was that it was for a height of 5' 5" to 5'6".  I am 5'7" and I needed to add more than 1 inch to the pattern  but I know the proportions of the various parts of my body do not conform to the "norm"- whose does?!   I traced out the pattern for pattern size two, and, as well as lengthening, slightly decreased the waist size.  The pattern instructions includes the finished garment sizes (Hurrah!) and also warns that you should not take in the waist too much- this garment is a pull-on but in a woven fabric so does not have any give.  If you have any doubt then cut larger and pin the garment together to try on.  This is very easy to do, there are only a few pieces and you can easily reduce the dress where appropriate if you need to do so.  A cutting layout is provided but play around with your placement, taking note of the grainline, as you may be able to use less than the given quantity.  I did.

The pattern pieces are clearly marked so that you have no doubt which edge is the armhole edge or side seam.
The instruction booklet, that's right- a booklet, is illustrated with photographs and clear instructions for every stage.  For someone who first started sewing when you were lucky to get half a page of brusque directions without any illustration, this is sewing heaven.
So I started sewing merrily.  All went well, my two back pieces and two front pieces were sewn together and top stitched.  I did contemplate sewing on the front hip pockets ( this is the version I decided upon)  before sewing the two front pieces together but decided against it because I reckoned that I would be better able to ensure that the pockets were evenly aligned once the fronts were joined.  I had sewn the side seams and I was top stitching the second strap when my thread ran out.  Too late to go and buy some more so I thought I would jump to applying the interfacing to the facings.  This is when I discovered the first problem.
The front facing should fit the front of the dress exactly but it doesn't, it is too big.  At first I thought I had been stupid and traced off the wrong size but I had not.  It seems to me that the facing was drafted as though it was intended to have a centre front seam the same as the dress itself.  There is no need for the facing to have that seam and to have it would make the front bulky.  I took a photo, see below, to demonstrate this problem but, unless you peer at it closely, it is difficult to see, due to the nature of the fabric, that it shows that the facing extends beyond the dress front at the sides.  Luckily I have spare fabric so I can cut another facing, once I have changed my traced pattern piece to match the dress front by deducting the necessary amount from the centre front of the facing.  Luckily I have not yet cut out the interfacing so I will be able to cut the front interfacing correctly on first go.
21 November 2016. I posted a query about this error on Tilly & The Buttons Facebook page and 3 days later I got a response to say that only the patterns sold between 3 and 8 November had this error and all  patterns sold subsequently have been corrected.  Those who ordered the pattern and received it prior to 8 November have been sent instructions on how to correct it.  I was just unlucky as I bought mine direct from the charming Tilly herself, who was wearing a great example of the Cleo dress in dark blue.

Subsequently I noticed a minor discrepancy in the instructions for the straps.  The instructions indicate where there are variations in the method of instruction depending upon the version of the dress that you chose to make.  The strap construction is clearly labelled "For all versions" and tells you to sew two of the open sides of the folded strap piece.  Later on, if you are making the version with button and buttonholes, you are  told to trim the short end, according to the length of strap required, and overstitch or turn and topstitch the now raw edge.  In this case why do you need to sew the end when creating the strap?  Maybe it was thought not to be possible to turn a tube without sewing the end  but I can do this using a big safety pin  and here is a video that shows you how.
I am hoping to buy the thread tomorrow, if I can get the same colour, and crack on with the dress at the weekend because, despite these minor hiccups,  I think it will be a great addition to my wardrobe and it is a pattern any beginner could make.


  1. I am trying to sew this dress at the moment but I'm confused by the second step that tells you to sew the back dress pieces on the straight centre back seam. I only have one back piece because I cut it on the fold line like it says in the instructions. Do I need to cut down this centre piece to make tow pieces? Thanks for any advice!

  2. Hi! I didn't sew this dress myself so I don't really know but the instructions do make it sound like you should have two separate back pieces. The best thing to do is to check the paper pattern piece: what notches are shown on the back centre seam? If there are none but the symbol for cutting on the fold (two arrows pointing to the back centre seam that are connected) or the instruction to cut this on the fold, then it should be one piece. If there are notches that you should match then it is two separate pieces.

    Having said that: the centre back seam looks dead straight so I don't see the point why it should be cut as two pieces to be sewn back together - two pieces have the advantage that you can adjust a gaping back neck or follow the curvature of the back a little but you'll only need that with a curvy figure and bigger sizes.

    If you want to keep it as one piece that's on the fold: this might be too big by twice the seam allowance so you would need to cut this narrower at one of the side seams (or both, depending on pattern distribution), or just sew the back centre seam to get rid of the seam allowances. You may not have to cut it apart.

    It's a good idea to do a sense check and pin the badk piece to yourself at the side seams and have a friend take photos - if these show that there is too much fabric then you can take the decision (as above). If you already allowed for the seam allowances by overlapping the pattern piece at the fold/back centre, then obviously don't cut it smaller.

    I hope this helped! If not just ask again. You could also post at the London Dressmakers Club meetup page, there are photo albums for a posted photo where you can then ask questions for advice.

    1. Here is the link:

      Also, what I meant by 'pattern distribution' is if the fabric is patterned with large motifs, then you want to make the decision about where to place the big motifs that draw the eye and therefore where you want to narrow the on-the-fold back piece if you are leaving it as one piece.

      Good luck! And happy sewing.


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