Somebody once explained the difference between someone who is a beginner at sewing and someone who’s pretty experienced. The beginner throws the offending project on the ground, swears loudly, paces the house for half an hour demanding sympathy from anyone within earshot, and then starts unpicking the badly made seam. The expert just unpicks the seam. I am not an expert.
Basically, there were two strategies for dealing with my imperfect cocoon dress.
The perfectionist route.
Deal with the tight-fitting sleeves. This is currently outside my skill set, to put it mildly. However, Andrea Schewe has a brilliantly clear explanation of how to do this on the Threads magazine website, complete with historical parallels and advice for dancers who just have to have mobility in what they’re wearing. See http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/46609/video-how-to-modify-sleeves-for-better-arm-mobility. Faced with a badly fitting, half-made garment, the perfectionist unpicks the sleeve from the armhole and inserts a custom-made gusset to give more movement. (Ideally, of course, the perfectionist would have identified the problem earlier and adjusted the pattern before cutting the fabric, but that option is now history for this project.)
Those protruding pockets. Probably they should be replaced with pockets in a finer fabric. I might even have some blue Japanese quilting cotton stashed away which would do.
The baggy torso. The perfectionist goes back to the size 14 version of the pattern and grades the size 16 pattern down, below the level of the arms, to the smaller size.
The non-perfectionist wants her cocoon dress now, and also she wants to make it again in a different fabric. With the tight sleeves, it’s all or nothing: live with them or attempt a gusset, in a relatively heavy fabric, with no guarantee of success. The pockets: well, if you unpick the ends a bit and sew everything back together by hand, checking your work on the right side of the fabric, they might pass muster. You can oversew those lumpy ends by hand on the right side of the fabric if necessary: one good thing about very dark blue linen is that the stitches are almost invisible. The baggy torso? This is heavy linen, very good quality. It will soften with age and washing. Baggy linen dresses can be lovely – look at Tina Givens’s patterns, massively draped and layered. These are all perfectly legitimate short cuts. The dress is just not quite what I expected.
But it’s nearly finished. Last night I sat up late machining the neckline and hem. All that’s left to do is some hand finishing of the seams inside. (The instructions suggested finishing the seams before assembling the garment, but I didn’t do that.) It looks quite good. It’ll be cool on hot summer days. The colour is very dark, but with, say, a bright necklace it’ll be fine. And next time I make the dress, in a paler linen, a little bit more light weight, I will follow Andrea Schewe’s instructions about how to loosen up tight arms.
Also, this is resilient fabric. If I discover my inner perfectionist somewhere down the track, I can take the dress apart, even after many wearings, and alter it.