Penny Dress in our Tulip Cascade Digital Print Viscose by Lady McElroy

Posted by Laura Wilson on

It was love at first sight when I spotted this gorgeous viscose at the CHSI Stitches show earlier this year.  The colours are so rich – I had to have it!  I wanted a pattern with minimal interruptions so the print could really sing and the Sew Over It Penny dress with its relaxed bodice and full skirt was a great match.  I bought it ages ago and had been waiting for the good weather to come around to make it up. 

I’m really pleased with this dress and I learned a few things along the way to share …

Laura's penny dress hot off the machine

The Fabric

This Lady McElroy digital print viscose has a great texture - a soft hand and a lot of drape.  A fabric with this much drape is always going to be a bit shifty to work with, but on the flip side, it gives you a little wiggle room when it comes to lining things up.  I used a few techniques which will be familiar to many of you – cutting with weights and a rotary cutter, keeping the pieces flat when not in use, and starting seams a few millimetres in from the edge.  

This viscose isn’t quite completely opaque but that's not a problem with the full skirt of the Penny dress (half circle).  If I were making a skirt with less fullness, I would consider wearing a slip or adding a lining.

Lady McElroy Tulip Cascade viscose swirl



This was another lockdown stash buster, notion-wise.  I used a light grey thread as it was close-ish to the base colour and I had plenty of it. The buttons had been saved from a favourite cardigan some years ago and I had the waist elastic on hand too.  I used an interfacing that I picked up in Sew 'n' Sew in central Belfast – it’s a light-weight woven fabric with a very sparse amount of adhesive on one side.   Quite different to fusible interfacings I’ve used before but not in a bad way – I’ve made a note to try and find out more about it.

Penny dress bodice detail

The pattern

The pattern is described as featuring “a sleeveless button-up bodice, flat collar, pretty gathered shoulder panel, easy-fit elasticated waist and on-trend midi-length skirt. The flattering dropped shoulder offers a nod to the 1950s whilst her simplicity will keep you looking contemporary and cool.  Though shirt dresses can often be fiddly, Penny makes for a refreshingly simple sew. With no darts, zips or collar stands to contend with it is a simple project, perfect for sunny summer days.”

Penny Dress pattern cover 

A note on the gathered shoulder panel – I didn’t notice this in my trawl of the #soipennydress hashtag on Instagram so when I saw the pattern piece for it I was really surprised that more people on Instagram hadn’t chosen a contrast fabric for this element.  I think it would work really well and they’re such small pieces, it would be a lovely way to personalise the dress and requires very little fabric.  Next time! 

The drafting of the pattern was fine but I found the instructions a little wanting.  Perhaps I’m becoming more discerning as I gain experience, but I’m told that this is not uncommon for SOI’s PDF club patterns.  Luckily, the pattern has been around a while and is extremely popular so there is a wealth of pattern reviews out there, a few sewalongs and SOI have published a placket tutorial on their website.  I cannot stress enough that the placket tutorial is an absolute must-watch if you are making the Penny dress.  Also, I would recommend reading it all the way through carefully before starting, as there is a line of understitching that becomes visible and very prominent in the finished garment.  They advise you to be neat but don’t explain why until a few steps later!

 I had read a few reviews that suggested different sequencing of the construction and I would have to agree with them:

  • Sew down the back facing before the side seams are completed. I hand-sewed the facing as I thought this would look better in such a fine fabric.
  • Hem the armscyes after sewing the side seams.  This allows you to avoid snipping in to the fabric. 

Finally, Sewing Lab is an absolute legend and has a YouTube sew along that takes you through the entire construction process.  There’s no dialogue – just captions in English and (I think) Korean – but it really holds your hand though it.


No adjustments this time – I made a straight size 12.  My measurements put me between a 12 and a 14 based on the body measurement table but Sew Over It patterns are known for having a lot of ease so I checked the finished garment measurements too.  Given that the bodice has a relaxed fit, the waist is elasticated and there is a lot of ease at the hip, I felt confident about ‘rounding down’ to a 12 and this worked out well. 

For next time ...

I didn’t add pockets to this dress given how fine and lightweight the fabric is.  If I were making this again with a more robust fabric, I would cut the skirt in two pieces rather than on the fold, making sure to add a seam allowance, and add in seam pockets.

I would prefer a little more length in the skirt - I'm 5'8'' and I would estimate that the rolled hemming technique used only about 1cm of hem allowance.  Sidenote - am I the only sewist who has one foot in imperial and one in metric?


I tried out a few techniques with this make, with varied success.  

French Seams: Given the nature of the fabric, I was keen to include some French seams in the bodice at least.  This was fine for the side seams but the seam allowance for the shoulder panel seams is just 1cm.  Combined  with the gathering on the bodice pieces, this made it extremely tricky to attempt a French seam and if I make this again with a light weight fabric, I will adjust the pattern to include a bigger seam allowance here and possibly replace the gathering with a dart or pleat.

Finishing the facing edges: I am now a total convert to the very clever trick of sewing the facing fabric pieces to their interfacing counterparts before fusing them together.  It’s described more fully in this Threads magazine article – “Face the facing with interfacing”.  It makes for a lovely, clean finish and major smugness. 

The hem: I left the dress on a mannequin for a few days so that the hem could ‘drop’.  With 2 small kids in the house 24/7, there were few opportunities for my husband to help me level the hem so I carefully spread the skirt out and then laid the pattern piece on top so I could cut away the excess fabric.  The result is ‘even-ish’ – I definitely subscribe to the belief that ‘Done is better than Perfect’!  I got my old machine out so I could use a rolled hemming foot on this EXTREMELY long hem as I couldn’t face pressing it – what a time saver.  On Aileen’s suggestion, I actually did this twice, rolling my rolled hem, to make extra sure that it didn’t unravel.  Thanks Aileen! 

All in all, I’m delighted with the dress.  I wanted to use quite a posh fabric to make something with a relaxed feel that I wouldn’t have to save for an ‘event’ – job done!

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