Jennifer Lauren Handmade Isla Dress

I recently pattern tested the Isla Dress Jennifer Lauren Handmade. I very rarely participate in pattern testing because of the time constraints that are usually imposed. With sewing being my hobby, I resist the idea of sewing to a deadline. Pattern testing is usually time consuming, too. There is always at least one toile that needs to be made so I need to really love a pattern to participate in a pattern test. When Jennifer Lauren put out a tester call, there was no image of the garment, but I knew the moment I read the description that it was right up my street, so I had to join the testing team. The Jennifer Lauren Handmade patterns are always reminiscent of vintage styles and some of my favourite patterns are from the JLH line, including the Juniper Cardigan and the Gable Top and Dress.

Isla is, in Jennifer’s own words, “a little bit of a mix between a 50’s house dress and a casual modern wrap dress”. It is a back-wrap dress which features grown-on sleeves and a wide, gently rounded neckline (buttoned at the top back), waistline darts for bodice shaping and a gentle gathered skirt. It also has pockets – and, even if it didn’t, I would have added some.

Isla is suitable for light to mid-weight fabrics with some gentle structure, so I decided to sew with a cotton lawn, as the pattern felt like a perfect option for a summer picnic dress.

I get a lot of my inspiration from period drama and films and one of my favourite looks has to be Marguerite’s wardrobe in The Hundred Foot Journey.

The Isla dress is very similar in style and shape, with two main differences:

  1. It omits the waistband – the gathered skirt is sewn to the bodice; as a result, there is a little more ease in the Isla dress, which you can fit to preference with the waist ties.
  2. It features a back-wrap which can help avoid gaping – all you need to do is ensure you get the length of your bodice right.

A Note on Size Ranges

While I fall into both JLH size ranges, I chose to test the Curve block as I was curious as to how it compared with the Original size range. When a pattern designer creates two size blocks, I have varying experience as to which fits better; for example, the Original blocks of By Hand London and Megan Nielson work better for me than their extended sizes, whereas I have recently discovered that the extended size range by Tilly and the Buttons works better for my shape.

The Curve block created by Jennifer Lauren has a bit more built-in ease through the bust, waist and hip area (rather than just everywhere which is what it feels is the case for some other pattern designer lines); Jennifer seems to have more finessed grading rules, especially for the upper sizes in the Curve block.

For me, the main difference in fitting was that I found the Curve block to work better for me in the bust area – I didn’t have to do a Full Bust Adjustment! It’s one of those little wins I celebrate when I try a new pattern for the first time. The Original size chart ranges from a A-D cup whereas the Curve range is graded in 3 cup sizes (D-F); the F worked perfectly for me. Both blocks are graded for a height of 170cm (5′ 6”); at 5’1 I’ve always found the length of Jennifer Lauren patterns to need adjusting but that’s one of the easiest pattern adjustments to make.

Aside from adjusting the length, the only other pattern adjustment I made was to move my waist darts. It is a simple thing to do – positioning the bust and waist darts to point to your bust apex – but a lot of people don’t bother with this adjustment to the pattern pieces. You’d be amazed at the difference it makes to the final garment to make the darts work for your specific shape. The shaping of the dress – particularly the use of the grown-on sleeves – means that the fitting process is minimal.

I think it is worth noting how much work Jennifer goes to in order to make her patterns as inclusive and accessible as possible. Isla is aimed more at intermediate sewists, but I think – given the amount of work that has been put into the grading of this pattern, that an adventurous beginner should feel confident giving it a go.

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