Studies in Party Dresses: By Hand London’s Kim Dress

We’ve talked about it being wedding season already. The first one we went to this year had three parties in two days, so to keep up with the costume changes I took a stab at the sexxxy Kim dress from By Hand London (I am a sucker for a tulip skirt). Something about the purple one the cover model wears got me.

Anyway, on me, it looks like this:

bhl kim 8 bhl kim 1

Not terrible! But it took a while to get it there and I’ve got a few things to say. A lot to say on fitting, actually, because that’s the journey I’m on at the moment.

I took the time to make two muslins for this one (shocking, even to me). But I wanted this to be right, and it looked like it had the potential to really go wrong. Using the finished garment measurements for the first muslin, I graded between sizes for the first one like so:

Bust: size 8/12 (US/UK). My high bust is 34.5″ and my full bust is 37″. Hey internet, welcome to my body! I decided to use the measure closer to my high bust and then do a full bust adjustment of 1″.

Waist: size 10/14. My waist is about 29″, depending on how much food I’ve had. The waist measure on the size chart is 30″, but the finished waist measurement was 30 1/4″. A tiny amount of ease! So I figured best to go with this rather than the size 8/12.

Hips: size 8/12. I’m almost exactly 37″ around, so this would be perfect! I thought.

Nope, because I made two muslins.

On the first muslin, the chest and rib cage felt good — and I generally feel that I have a wide rib cage — but there was still pulling at the bust. The waist was far too big, which was good for my ego.

Also, I had a lot of excess hip width at my side hip. Lots of folds, etc. But! My ass back hip needed the room. SO! This is what I devised for the second muslin.

Bodice: size 8/12 in the bust and waist. I did a 1-1/2″ full bust adjustment (so 3/4″ on each side). Because I had mad back gaping — as many sewists seem to have had on this pattern, actually — I did a 3/4″ adjustment for that (correx!). How that didn’t make the overall circumference of the bodice too small is something only the gods can know.

bhl kim
still with the back gaping though. probably didn’t help that i forgot to do up the hook.

Hips: oh baby. size 4/8 with some major surgery. So since I carry most of my ‘hip’ weight in the back (gross. there is really no euphemistic way of saying this that sounds better than ‘my ass is big relative to my hips’), I decided to grade down to a size 4/8. I then did a “full butt adjustment“, which sounds really inappropriate, adding back in 2″ — one inch on each side back piece. So! I preserved the hip circumference but transferred the room to the back side from the hips. I think this is a good method for me going forward.

I also lowered the butt darts about 1″ (I don’t want to talk about what that might mean for my body) and took a 1” sway back adjustment. But unlike that tutorial from BHL, I took all the distance out of the skirt piece. It might have something to do with my height (5’3″), but the fabric pooling was happening below the waist seam, which was level.

On fabric and construction

I used a lightweight cotton lawn that is an absolutely bonkers pattern. For me. I’m just really into solids. But I liked this, and it was cheap and I wanted a dress in it. Whatever.

I underlined the bodice with silk organza since I thought the cotton might need some substance. At first I tried to machine baste them together, and then I remembered past lessons, and did a quick hand basting. HAND BASTE your layers. It sucks, but puckered seams suck more.

I used a light weight china silk for the lining and used the same bodice assembly method BHL described. It’s the same idea as the construction used to illustrate in this Fashion Incubator post.

On the skirt, I used the china silk essentially as an underlining, an idea I ripped from Jenny at Cashmerette’s post on the same dress. I did mine a bit differently, though, cutting the three skirt pieces in china silk and then sewing them all together, essentially as a second skirt. Then, right sides together, I sewed the entire length of the tulip hem, but left the waist open. I turned right sides out, pressed, and then attached this ‘lined’ skirt to the bodice.

I tacked the underlayer of the wrap to the top layer. Because this.

bhl kim 2 < — oh hey leg.

I did not, however, avoid sweetheart neckline woes. Nearly everyone pointed out that the sweetheart neckline stands away from their body, and said it would be better to cut a strip of selvage shorter than the neckline and then ease the neckline into it. That is a totally necessary step. Ask me how I know.

bhl kim 6

I wanted a better picture showing how much the neck stands away from my body, but damn if I couldn’t figure out a non-obscene way to do it. Sorry. It stands out a lot, you’ll have to trust me and those little shadows on this one.

Also, the shoulder straps are still about 1/2″ too long. That only exacerbates the gaping problem.

So! I like it. But it really needs some tweaks to be perfect. I HAVE worn it once, so I still classify it as a finished project. Let’s see if I can stomach ripping my seams and redoing some major construction before the late July wedding I’ve got!

(I was actually contemplating throwing the whole thing in the wash to see if a little second-wash shrinkage would do the trick — all my fabrics were pre-treated. Thoughts/chastisements on that idea? )


  1. I’m glad you mentioned washing – I just found your blog (love it by the way!), and wondered with all your lovely silk linings whether you do machine wash things – I guess this answers it!

    My worry with trying to shrink that way is what if everything shrinks by the same amount ie. the straps come right, but then it’s too tight? But I don’t know much about how fabrics shrink, maybe that wouldn’t be the case. I always have to shorten straps too, it’s a pain.

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, with silks I machine wash on the gentle cycle with just a little sulfate free baby shampoo, like burts bees (I’m sure someone will quibble with that, but there you go). They feel quite stuff when they come out, but that seems to go away with the pressing. I do try to hand wash completed silk garments but am lazy enough to revert to the gentle cycle from time to time! (And, em, I don’t wash my clothes every time I wear them, so they aren’t getting too much jostling.)

      1. Thanks for your reply! I don’t wash everything every time I wear it either. I wash it when it’s dirty. No other reason to waste water and wash things in my opinion! Glad to hear about the ease of washing. I’ve just ordered some silk for a tank top, which I’m excited about wearing, and only slightly concerned about washing, but very worried about getting around to ironing!

  2. It sounds like you put in a huge amount of work! The dress looks lovely in the pictures and the fabric is beautiful but I know how you feel about bring aware of the issues and less likely to wear it. I have been thinking of trying this pattern for a while – is it worth all the work?!


    1. I think that depends on how much you like the look of the dress, and how well you know your fitting issues. I’d never done a BHL pattern before, and am only now getting a firm grasp on typical fitting issues. So– it depends!

      1. I haven’t yet got to grip with my ‘regular’ fit issues! The longer I sew the more problems I find but they don’t seem to be consistent! I like the shape of the Kim bodice but I might use a half circle or pleated skirt instead


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