Tilly and the Buttons Cleo Dungaree Dress!

Cleo Dungaree Wide Shot
Me in my new Tilly and the Buttons Cleo Dungaree Dress!

Corn-Town Curvy

When I was in middle school Computer Lab, I learned how to edit Wikipedia pages so that Beyoncé’s “Bootylicious” was now inspired by corn-town girl, Madeline Tecmire. This, of course, was not true, but it surely was the first sign of me accepting my broad body for what it is – utterly bootylicious. Since my shoulders are broad and my hips are wide, I tend to go for clothing that accentuates my shape. The Tilly and the Buttons’ Cleo Dungaree Dress – with it’s swooping armholes designed to highlight the shape of a curvy woman like myself – was just the spice my wardrobe needed! This dress can be made in mini length, though I opted for the knee-length dress with the sassy slit, because I know that’s what Beyoncé would want.

The Fake Foldy Seam

This beginner pattern is beautifully easy to follow with a language key and colored pictures at the front of the booklet to inform the intrepid tailor on the techniques to come. For example, I had no idea what “mock felled seams” were though I’ve made them on every denim garment I’ve ever altered. I would’ve understood much faster if it had said, “do the fake foldy thing” like we used to say at my previous seamstress job!

Tilly and the Buttons (more properly) defines “mock felled seams” as: “A strong seam finish made by pressing the seam to one side and top stitching them to the garment.” I chose to double topstitch my mock felled seams to bring out the contrast thread more, and to match denim seam tradition. But a single topstitch 3/8inch from the seam is just fine, too.  I’d suggest finishing the raw edges of your fabric with a serger to strengthen your fake foldy seam, and to keep the fabric from wearing. 

A fake foldy seam up close!

No matter the nerves surrounding your project, Tilly and the Buttons is like a close friend checking in with tips scattered through the trickier parts of the pattern and even defining in parenthesis how to make a “bar track” at the top of the slit. I would recommend this pattern to anyone starting out with sewing garments or for a more experienced seamstress in need of a weekend project!

Know Your Tools

With each new pattern I attempt, I find my struggles start with getting too excited throughout the cutting process! Typically, I cut patterns with shears, which is altogether a more accurate cut. At the same time, I’m an efficiency queen, and I’ve just discovered rotary cutters (mind = blown) which are a dream to use. The problem? I tend to lean right when cutting, and, if I’m not careful, I’ll trim off parts of my seam allowance or cut too far into my pattern paper. Speed comes with its mistakes, so I try remind myself to take things slow. I’d recommend using a rotary cutter only where there’s a straight edge, and shears everywhere else–especially around curves! 

I made my dungaree dress with Robert Kaufman’s 10oz Denim in Washed Indigo!


For my Cleo I used the gorgeous Robert Kaufman 10 oz. Denim in Washed Indigo. A nice mid-weight denim with a good mix of structure and drape, it’s perfect for my summery version of this dungaree. What’s more, because it’s a lighter denim, the seams were never too bulky to manage, and I didn’t have to fuss much with tools like the Big Jig. I’d love to try this pattern again with a patterned Cotton + Steel canvas, corduroy, or even a structured wool once fall rolls around!

Missing the Point

Side note – I definitely wish I’d known there was such a thing as a “point turner” before beginning this project! If you are like me (oblivious to most sewing tools but knows her way around a seam ripper) then you would tuck the pointed edge just beneath the seam and – using the dull side of the seam ripper to avoid abusing the fabric – pull the fabric right-side out bit by bit. A point turner, though…that sounds a lot easier. Next time.

Sign Your Work

I like to put something unique into every project that can act as my signature. This is why I love to craft. Be it writing, sewing or quilting, we get creative freedom to express more intimate details about ourselves. As I begun work at The Confident Stitch, I learned very quickly that I wear sewing horse blinders to avoid things I don’t yet understand. I’ve only ever used the straight stitch on my sewing machine because I’m scared of literally all the rest of them. Sometimes the needle moves sideways and the fabric moves backwards…I don’t know. It’s stressful! But my middle name is Rose and my machine embroiders roses, so I chose to face my fears and go with a fancy topstitch across the top of the pocket. It brought some extra excitement to this pattern, as well as urged me out of my sewing shell a little more!

I struggled to find a pink contrast thread bright enough and settled on outdoor polyester thread. Your topstitching thread needs to be heavy duty to securely hold all those layers together.

Embroidery Tips

Here’s what I learned from my adventures in machine embroidery:

  • Be sure your bobbin’s thread matches the topstitch as closely as it can.
    • The hot pink topstitching thread stripped in the bobbin since it was such a heavy thread. I switched to a thinner polyester thread to ensure my bobbin would behave. I opted for pink bobbin thread so the roses looked full.
  • Turn your machine’s speed all the way down to give the needle time to move properly.
    • My machine set at the slowest setting kept the roses uniform. When the machine went faster, the roses turned more into blobby rectangles.
  • The top corners of the front pocket are the trickiest parts to embroider. Try a Big Jig!
    • Since there’s so many layers of denim, the machine struggled getting over that hump. This made the roses on either side blobby. Insert a big jig between your presser foot and your fabric to give your needle space to do its thang!
    • For God’s sake use scrap fabric first!!
    • Trust me, you don’t want to be ripping those seams…like me…
    • Test your chosen stitch several times and test the different speeds. Once you and your machine have reached an understanding on how to behave, sew right across the top!


Strap Attitude

Even though Tilly and I have grown fond of each other, I did reach the limits of my sanity when attaching the back facing of this dungaree pattern.

It was supposed to be easy! I make the angled strap edges flush with the back facing, stitch at ⅝ seam allowance, flip it out–voila! Straps secured and ready to hold the weight of my front pocket snacks! But to my dismay, I had to redo that step a whopping four times.

Beyoncé bringing the sass so I don’t have to.

When I flipped that back facing right-side out, the straps would pucker and wrap around my shoulder. I tried ripping it all out and following the directions more closely, but I kept coming out with subpar straps. Like my dog, I spun in circles trying to grab that pestilent patch of denim at the center of my back when Maisie so kindly offered to model the dress. I created an angled line with a pin where the strap needed to be sewn in place so it would wrap closer to the top of her shoulder. After ripping that seam (again), I inserted the straps from the outside of the garment like a true alterationist. The straps cross slightly inside the sandwiched fabric. It’s not noticeable and the straps look as they should, but this is not how Tilly and the Buttons intended. It’s also not the easiest way to avoid this issue. 

My nemesis, the back facing and straps.

Lose the Attitude

After remaking the back, I found my issue – the ⅝ inch seam allowance suggested in this pattern. I suspect this is a size-specific issue considering the straps are 1 ¼ inch wide and the back of the size 6 is only 3 ½ inches. This doesn’t leave enough room for the ⅝ inch seam allowance. Unbeknownst to me, my seam along the curved back facing was catching the straps’ edge, which in turn caused them to angle wider once flipped right-side out. The way to avoid this problem would be to use a ¼ inch seam allowance around the back facing where the straps attach. But, if you’re sticking to the ⅝ inch seam allowance, adjust the straps as you sew to avoid unwanted strap attitude.

See where the seam encroaches on the strap’s side? This is what you’re trying to avoid. Secure the tops of the straps with pins and stitch only across the angled edge of the strap.


Need to Know Before You Sew

After finishing my Cleo Dungaree Dress, I did a quick web search and found additional resources on Tilly and the Button’s website! (Yes, I know this is backwards, but, as they say, hindsight’s 20/20.) Tilly’s website provides tips and creative adjustments for the Cleo dress!  Their article about the different straps to be made for this dress made me swoon, especially the denim braided straps. This is the information I needed before my fourth go ’round with embarrassingly simple straps. Check out their Cleo page here! 

Show us your Cleo Dungaree Dress on our Confident Stitch Instagram!

I’d encourage everyone to dive into all things Tilly and the Buttons before starting their project! Their styles are super fun, and they provide an encouraging and empowering place for the bootylicious beginner to start!

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