The Orla affair

Orla dress

July was all about summer dresses here at the petite passions because of the #wardrobebuilder project. It was also the month of 'the Orla affair', hosted by Maddie Made This, Maker Style, Anna-Zoe and (my favourite sewing blogger) Allie J. The idea was incredibly simple - take one free downloadable pattern and invite everyone's take on it. I loved seeing everyone else's creations and managed to squeeze in my own Orla hack....

Pattern and Instructions

Hooray for French Navy and their brilliant freeeeeee download! It's not often you can lay your hands on such a versatile dress pattern for £0. The Orla dress pattern is designed with a semi fitted bodice and short sleeves. It has a rounded neckline and uses an invisible zip at the centre back seam. The waist is slightly above the waistline, joining a gathered skirt falling at about knee length. The download is one pdf, which includes pattern pieces, layout plans, sizing charts and instructions.

This is not a pattern for complete beginners - the instructions have no diagrams or illustrations at all. If you have made a few dresses before you should be fine but this is definitely not going to be easy for your very first dress. (If it is your first, just go with Tilly and the Buttons - you won't be disappointed). However, if you have made a few dresses, it is pretty straightforward and you don't really need illustrations to accompany the instructions.

I did deviate somewhat from the instructions to accommodate my alterations though....(more below).

Orla dress French Navy


I decided to shop my stash for this dress. I did need to buy a zip, and almost ended up with 2m of brand new viscose, but resisted! I've had this gorgeously coloured blue poplin that I bought over two years ago from John Lewis. It was one of their 'anniversary' colours and I've never had the right project for it. I thought this might be the time to use it to make a comfortable and practical summer dress. With the pleats I would be adding, this cotton would give a crisp structure. If I was making the Orla dress as per the instructions, I wouldn't use this fabric as I don't think that it would go well with the gathers. It was very easy to work with, but does crease a lot when wearing.

I had also decided I wanted to add a contrast fabric at the hem and at the waist with piping. Having delved into the stash I found unused pink cotton lining and some other ivory remnants. I was leaning towards ivory but my local haberdashery only had pink dress zips in stock, which is what largely swung this decision. To be honest, I would have preferred ivory, but I also had matching pink bias binding which was going to make the piping a whole lot easier. I'm still not entirely sure about this colour combination to be honest - a little air stewardess a la 1950?

Orla dress alterations


Lots to write about here! Having seen Anna-Zoe and Allie J's hacks, I decided to make the following alterations:
  • remove sleeves
  • lower neckline to a V shape
  • add a waistband
  • insert pleats instead of gathering
  • add a contrast skirt panel
I followed Anna-Zoe's tutorial to redraft the shoulders so they could be made sleeveless and to drop the neckline to a V at the front. I didn't follow all the instructions (some were optional); this was a mistake. If you follow the tutorial I suggest you move points 1 and 2 exactly as directed. My shoulders are too wide and don't sit as nicely as they could. 

I also ended up cutting a v neck at the back. This was after I had cut out and was trying on the bodice. There was a lot of excess at the lower neck area, and the simplest option was just to cut it looks fine and reminds me more of the Betty dress now.

Allie J has a really easy method for adding a waistband - basically tear a strip of your waistband fabric and sew it in! I made piping using pink bias binding and piping cord then stitched this to the top and bottom of the waistband before using an invisible zip foot to attach the waistband to the bodice (the invisible zip foot gave a nice close stitching line to the piping). The skirt was a little trickier because I needed to line up the bodice darts to calculate the skirt pleats, and then after basting these in, line up again to attach the skirt to the waistband. I used Anna-Zoe's tutorial to help me figure out where the pleats should go but did need to deviate because I was using a different waistband method....basically I used the already stitched bodice and waistband to figure out the pleats rather than drafting this into the pattern. I do like the pleats and am glad I put them in.

To add the contrast panel I removed 15 cm from the bottom of the skirt pattern pieces and then cut 12 cm of pink as one long strip. This does make the skirt shorter than it's meant to be, but I would have had to do this anyway because the pattern is intended for someone a fair bit taller than me. If you are 170 cm tall it will sit higher on you than it does on me. I simply folded the strips and stitched them to the bottom hem.

orla affair waistband alteration


I have no issues with the pattern itself - I like the range of alteration options and think there's a lot of scope to enjoy this dress. I'm not particularly keen on using bias binding to finish the neckline and armholes (in my case for a sleeveless dress) and would recommend using facings instead.

My fabric choices were not good - I don't like the pink. I do like the blue and wish I had drafted the shoulders better because I think this is letting the dress down.

I mainly enjoyed having a go at pattern alterations. I learned a lot through the tutorials and alterations I made that I can apply to other patterns. I am going to investigate this area a bit more thoroughly as a result of making this dress and am quite excited. Although it hasn't been an overwhelming success, I am mainly pleased with the changes I made to the pattern, especially the neckline and waistband. I prefer pleats in general to gathers and think I might use what I learned here on the Day Dress in future.


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Welcome to Sewing and Other Stories; my journeys with sewing and knitting; pattern reviews, tips and guides for beginners. I'm also the designer behind West Beach Knits knitting patterns and I host a Knitting and Sewing channel on YouTube where you can see all of this in person. Come have a look!

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