Vogue 8870, High-Low Hem Surplice Birthday Dress

V8870 Thumbnail

It takes me a long time to warm up to a trendy trend, like the high-low hem.  At first I hate it.  Then I am skeptical.  Then I see some cute examples.  Then I am ready. This process can take years. 

After seeing several cute iterations of this pattern on PR, I decided I could take the plunge with the high-low trend (I may be willing to do the trend, but I am not willing to butcher the English language by calling it "hi-lo") using Vogue 8870, sized XS-XXL.  I even went bold with double trending by using this ombre silk, one of the gorgeous pieces BadMomGoodMom picked up for me for a song.

After I had the dress almost done I saw this Lela Rose for Fall 2013.  It looks like my trends should last through at least next season!

Broad Back Adjustment

I did my usual adjustments, including a broad back.  I should have been more aggressive with the broad back.  I didn't want the hassle of bringing the adjustment into the raglan sleeve, so I just did it on the bodice piece, and I don't have as much movement through the back and shoulders as I would like.

There was universal praise for this pattern among those who have sewn it, but I had an *awful* time with it.  I think the flowing silk charmeuse added a level of complexity the pattern could not take.

Back Neck Dart

I had a little gaping at the back neck, which is not unusual for me.  I added a tiny dart, which took care of it.

My main issue, though was the length of the bodice.  The side seams drooped a full two inches lower than the center front and back.  I sewed it to the skirt like that thinking that once the waist was elasticized there would be some sort of miracle transformation.

There was not.

So I put the dress on inside out and tied elastic around my waist and snugged it even with the lower edge of the center front and back of the bodice, then marked on the side seams where the elastic lay, which was two inches shorter.  Then I ripped the skirt off (poor silk!), reinforced the stitch line with strips of interfacing, trimmed the sides of the bodice at my markings, and sewed it back together with the shortened side seams.  Much, much improved.

The side seams of the front bodice are cut on the bias because of the grain direction, so I assumed the problem was my carelessness in letting the seam stretch out (though the back side seam is pretty close to straight grain).  But comparing the pattern piece to the finished dress, the side seam was as drafted.  I really don't know what happened.

Small Bust Adjustment

Part of the problem may have come in with my Small Bust Adjustment of shortening the front bodice crossover.  I probably could have shortened it half as much and not had gaping; this is *very* unusual for a Big 4 pattern.  Anyway, the front pulls up a little and it's hard to keep the shoulder seams exactly square on my shoulders.  (I did nothing to the length of the back bodice, though, and it had the same length problem there with a very high center back and the drooping side seams.)

Experimenting with the elastic in the "waist" casing, it looked best if it started and ended about 3 inches in from the side seam on the front, with the center front completely flat and unelasticized and the majority of the gathering in the back. 

Back UnbeltedFront Unbelted It still isn't great, so I went for the universal solution to a bad waist:  the sash.  Without the sash it is just bad.

However, the Bust Pleats to Nowhere I will not take credit for.  I don't know if they are angled wrong, or too close to the center front (and I overlapped the fronts about an extra 3/4" from the design) or what.  But they do not create flattering draping over the bust.  They just create a bubble of fabric above the waistline.

Speaking of which, the waistline is way high!  It is dangerously close to empire, and I swore off empire last year, no matter how much I am tempted, because it is very of a moment for 2011 and the expiration date approacheth.

I like the raglan sleeves, though they are a tad restrictive.  The downward slope of the shoulder is pretty severe.

Dyed to Match Bias Tape

I finished the neckline with bias tape rather than a facing.  I used the leftover bit of white fabric from below where I cut the front skirt to make the bias tape and then dyed it using a mix of Teal (mostly), Aquamarine (a little), and Navy (just a few drops) liquid Rit dye.  I managed to get an almost perfect match for the turquoise in the fabric, much to my surprise.  In the photo at right, the dyed bias strip is above and the original fabric is below.  (Alas, an attempt to dye cotton in the same dye bath did not have good results.)

Stitch Bias Tape over SA

After sewing the bias tape to the right side of the neckline, I stitched the raw inside edge of the bias tape over the neckline seam allowance before pressing under.  It is kept in place by strategic hand stitches at the sleeve seams.

I cut the back skirt on the fold rather than with a CB seam, as did most everyone who made the pattern.  It required ignoring the grainline, but a seam would have interfered with the smooth ombre look of the skirt.

I lined the skirt only with silk/cotton Elegance from Martha Pullen.  This stuff is a dream for lining!  I drafted a straight across hem for the lining, rather than making it high-low as well.  It shines through a little, so maybe that was a mistake.  My pet peeve for patterns with "specialty" hemlines like this is when they do not come with a "regular" hemline marked as well.  It limits the versatility of the pattern.

French Seams

It's frustrating that this dress turned out kind of meh.  I put a lot of work into it; I sewed it while my serger was in the shop so it has gorgeous French seams for everything but the waist.  It's a luscious silk.  And it will have to be my birthday dress (tomorrow!) because I had only 3 weeks to sew for the Greek islands instead of a month and a half.


When it is all dressed up with accessories, it passes for a cute dress.  But it definitely cannot stand on its own.

I like the idea of this pattern but I'm not sure I'll give it another try.  Definitely not the crossover bodice.  If the mood strikes I would try to draft a plain bodice with sleeves based on the spaghetti strap version.  I like the spaghetti strap version as is but seriously, bra.  Strapless bras are horrible.  I would recommend a stable but lightweight cotton as the best fabric; a good quality lawn would be perfect.  I think this could also work in a knit.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.


Trip sewing continues apace!  So far I have made:
-3 bikinis
-yoga/hiking capris


I have a knit dress done except for the hem, and a knit top about halfway done.  The last two pieces on my list are a little sweater and another knit top.  Though this is a long weekend, it will be full of birthday festivities so we'll see.


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