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  • Writer's picturegeriberman

Another Sienna Shift Dress - Mandarin Collar + Back Cut-Out Hack

November has been a productive and a competitive month for me. I entered 4 sewing contests this past month. My second Sienna Shift Dress is my last entry for sewing contests. I think I've definitely fulfilled my overachieving competitive side thus far, enough to last another year. But you never know, that part of me might flare up sooner than I anticipate.

The first contest I entered was Sew My Style for the month of October. OK, so technically speaking, that was in October, and not November. But they extended the 31st deadline to the first few days of November because of some Instagram hashtag restrictions for US participants (due to voting shenanigans, I suspect). My entry was the Pona Jacket by Helen's Closet Patterns, which I covered with sashiko embroidery. You can read all about it here. The fabric was gifted to me by Minerva in exchange for a blog post. That jacket remains my greatest sewing achievement yet. And even though I didn't win, it whet my appetite big time for more competitions.

The second contest was the CREATE 2020 organised by to celebrate the loveliness of linen, and to spur on our creativity for the myriad of things that can be made from linen. Well, competitive me entered not one but three entries. Here they are:

The 3 entries are the Blanca Flight Suit by Closet Core Patterns, the Pona Jacket made a reappearance (I'm milking it, I know), and the shibori-dyed Wide-Strap Maxi Dress by Peppermint Magazine and Elbe Textiles. If you've missed these blog posts, you can read about them here, here and here.

And I am happy to report that I WON!!!! - with my yellow Koi fish sashiko-embroidered Blanca Flight Suit by Closet Core Patterns. I managed to clinch the People's Choice Award which was awarded to the entry that garnered the most votes during the voting period.

I was on edge the last half-hour of voting because I was still 20 votes behind the top spot. Miraculously, my family and friends all over the world (especially in Singapore) began to vote feverishly. They also recruited their friends to vote, and in the last minute, I pulled ahead into the top spot by 9 votes before the voting closed. It was heart-stopping, like a horse race, except that it's a sewing competition.

That in itself was a huge prize because I was thoroughly moved by all the well-wishers from all over the world. A large portion of them were strangers, people I've never met before who did me a kindness by showing their support. Incredible. It still warms my heart when I think about it.

Now let's move onto the third contest which was the Sienna Shift Dress Competition on Instagram held by Sew This Pattern. For my first version of the Sienna Shift, I hacked the dress with a mandarin collar, and used contrasting fabric at the collar, the side bodices and the frills. Multiple entries are also allowed for this competition, and while working on the first, I started to concoct a second in my head with sashiko embroidery. But I released it into the ether since I didn't think I'd have time to finish it. And also, wasn't I being too shamefully greedy? Shouldn't I put those overachieving tendencies to rest? So I put the idea aside and moved onto the next contest. Haha, do you recognise some addiction problems here?

Organised by Pattern Review, this Little Basic Dress Contest was attractive to me because I don't have anything "basic" in my wardrobe. Or I don't make much of anything in a solid colour. It was more challenging than I thought because it was so hard for me not to use contrasting fabric, or embellish with sashiko or liven things up with some shibori. In the end, I settled on making the Sofia Dress by Victory Patterns featuring self-dyed turquoise silk, shirring and statement sleeves (click here to see my dress). The voting period starts today for the week, so if you're a member of Pattern Review and you like my dress, please head over to their website page to cast a spell and a vote for me. Thank you in advance!

After finishing up the dress, I had some time on my hands, and the competitive itch still needed to be scratched. That's when I decided to give a final push and birth this second Sienna Shift Dress. The idea of the dress was sitting in my brain and haunting my soul for a week.

Even though it's my second one, I still couldn't move away from the mandarin collar, but I did decide to make a version that will be dressier than the first one. The mandarin collar was heightened to 5cm from 4cm, and I fully lined the dress. I also included a back cut-out that I had to draft. I wasn't so confident drafting this cut-out because it was my first time doing something like this. My greatest fear was that there would be gaping or drooping.

As you can see, there is a teeny bit of gaping where the invisible zipper begins. And I think that it is fixable next time with some strengthening (fusible interfacing to the rescue, perhaps!) at that edge, and also to take in a little bit more at the centre back seam to have it lay more flush against the back. So this version is not perfect, but I can embrace some unintentional wabi-sabi in my life.

This fuchsia Belgian linen has been sitting in my stash for a while and I thought that the striking colour would be perfect for this dress. I really like how the more structured linen created fuller and frillier frills.

The colour of the embroidery is a variegated green, and I used a No. 397 VOG Perle cotton embroidery thread. The green varies from pale to dark forest, and the amazing thing about this thread is how it shimmers like gold when juxtaposed against the fuchsia. It's a really neat effect that took me by surprise. Up close it looks like green, but take a step away from it and it looks like gold.

There were 2 sashiko thread-looping stitches that I used in this dress. For the front bodice, collar and side front and back bodices, I used my favourite stitch called kawari kikkozashi (tortoiseshell stitch variation).

For the back cut-out, I tried a new stitch which I don't have a clue what it's called. Credit has to be given to Yi Crafts (@yicraftslondon) for some Instagram posts featuring this stitch. I learned a lot from absorbing her photos and videos. The resulting effect is like chain mail or mermaid/fish scales or reptilian skin. It is quite mesmerising to look at.

From her website, I gathered that she hails from southern China, belonging to the Bai ethnic minority. Most interesting is that there seems to be overlap of stitching and dyeing traditions between the Chinese fabric folk arts that she practices with Japanese sashiko and shibori. Fascinating!

Here's a video that I made to show how the stitch is done:

To conclude, winning wasn't the goal when I entered all these competitions. I mean, I like winning - I'm not gonna lie. But the contests lit some kind of creative fire in me, and pushed me to try out many new techniques and break some creative boundaries. That in itself is a definite win for me. The contests shook me out of my comfort zone, and I am grateful for all the lessons that came with it.

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