I love Kew; ode to my favourite pattern

The Kew dress is one of my all time favourite patterns. When I first became interested in dressmaking I was living away and didn’t have a sewing machine so set myself to planning (read: spending too much time on Pinterest) and the Kew was one I heavily pinned and bookmarked.

Photo from the Nina Lee website

I think the reason I like it so much is, like the rest of Nina Lee’s patterns, there are so many possibilities and variations from a really simple and classic silhouette.

With the original that had 3 sleeve variations to the expansion pack that includes 2 different skirt options, there are SO many ways you could interpret this pattern and make it your own. I’m not one to repeat patterns very often but realised recently I am now on my 6th make (won’t be the last) so I should definitely write about the different ways to sew this pattern!

The classics

The first time I made the Kew was for a wedding in Scotland in 2019. Despite wanting to try it for ages I hadn’t felt confident enough in my sewing so finally took the plunge – and put the sleeves in upside down. However I actually quite liked the effect as it forms a little lip on the sleeve – I left it that way and the dress went down a storm!

For this first Kew I used a cotton lawn from Abakhan that was outrageously cheap and my life’s regret is not buying more.

For my first Kew I chose the original design with the off shoulder sleeves, stylishly placed upside down…

The dress was a roaring success with my friends, so much so that my best friend requested her own version for Christmas to fulfil her dreams of her perfect ‘red dress’

For this one I chose a red stretch jacquard from Abakhan again, which was a heavier weight and features raised embroidery. In a heavier weight fabric the pattern looks really lovely and holds its shape. Sadly I didn’t get a good photo of her in it so here is me trying it on; I think it’s a testament to my willpower I didn’t keep it myself! (Excuse the mess…)

Next I had a go at the more traditional ‘tea dress’ view with full sleeve and the front yoke, using a viscose I picked up at the Create & Craft Show in Manchester in 2018. This was one of those pretty fabrics I’d had in my stash for ages and I thought it would make up into a lovely tea dress.

In retrospect this being my first time sewing with viscose I’m not actually too thrilled with this make. I managed to stretch out the fabric on the yoke, meaning it didn’t fit properly to the facing and has several wrinkles. It’s worth noting that this view of the Kew has quite a high neckline, so if I make this view again I would lower the V for my personal taste and use a cotton lawn (wouldn’t it look DIVINE in a Liberty lawn…

Not my best photo, but you get the idea!

I now style this Kew with a denim shirt or cardigan which feels more ‘me’

I’ve also made the strappy version without the off-shoulder sleeves. This was made in a cotton linen from Abakhan for a holiday in Thailand. At the time it was slightly too big for me around the middle – thankfully lockdown solved that problem so it now fits perfectly! I used vintage buttons for this one, from an Austrian blouse my auntie bought in the 90’s.

Kew expansion pack and hacks

Nina has since brought out the Kew expansion pack which I couldn’t resist after seeing some lovely iterations on instagram. The expansion features two new skirt views, a sleeker pencil view and full skirt, both levelled at the bottom which I prefer to the drop back skirt.

Photo from the Nina Lee website

As if these weren’t enough views, lots of clever sewers have hacked the pattern which gives endless ideas. One of my favourite hacks is the Kew crop which I had a go at in this viscose linen blend I bought at a souk in Dubai. This is such a handy little crop top; knowing the pattern hits my waist spot on, it fits great and matches so many different outfits, it’s also a great stash-buster pattern needing only maybe half a metre.

Another hack I had bookmarked for a while was the hack to remove the buttons on the Kew from Gingerthread Girl who did such a fabulous job of it. I think this really changes the look of the dress so I am currently working on a version of my own, with the gathered skirt and I have also lengthened the straps to have them tie at my shoulders. I’m using a gorgeous soft viscose from Dragonfly and, of COURSE, have added pockets.

Isn’t this make fabulous!

The next view I’m aspiring to is the pencil skirt, in a cord or denim for an autumn wear. I think it would look great with a chunky jumper for autumn/winter – I might shorten it slightly, but otherwise no alterations (see pinterest inspo from And Other Stories)

My top tips for sewing a Kew dress

  1. Get to know (and love) your button hole foot. I cannot stress this enough – always practise your button hole stitch several times before starting, and take your time measuring out the button placement! There’s nothing worse than ruining your work with a buttonhole disaster on the last leg. I’d recommend interfacing your facing pieces too as this will stabilise your buttonholes.
  2. Toile first and use as your block. I’m lucky that the Kew fits me spot on and I don’t need to adjust the pattern but it’s always important to toile and I will be doing this for the pencil skirt to check it on my hips.
  3. If in doubt, use a heavier weight fabric. I’ve had the most success sewing the Kew with linen or cotton; for me viscose is a little slippy and I’ve also noticed it gets pulled down by the skirt so even understitching can mean the neckline can gape. Using a linen or cotton blend will help hold its shape.
  4. Have fun! The Kew dress has so many variations it’s a really fun pattern to play with once you have made it once, there’s almost endless possibilities. Check out the #kewdress hashtag for more inspo! My current obsession is the Kew jumpsuit hack…

So, happy sewing and I’ll see Kew on the #kewdress hashtag!

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