I regret to report that not a lot of sewing has been happening lately. I have arranged and rearranged my sewing room three times but I think I am now happy with it. After a week of not feeling very well I am getting my sewing mojo back and hoping to get through a few UFOs this week so my brain can move on with new projects. So for now I thought I’d finally post the construction of my “maxi”dress.
I called this dress the NSFW dress, because there is far too much boob action and I cannot wear a bra with it. It’s not meant for work anyway, it’s meant for summer and the beach, two things that are several months away here in Wellington. Also, it’s NSFW because there was a lot of swearing involved in the process…let’s talk about that shall we?
I’d wanted a maxi style dress for a while, something to run around the house on a hot day in, nip down to the beach or to the shops and feel pretty. It was meant to be a bit of fun sewing, a quick project to get my sewing mojo back on track but the facts are that it almost killed me. The reward is that by the end of it I realized that if I stick with a project, through all its (many) problems, nut out the solutions and then get it done without moving on to something else I get an amazing feeling of satisfaction, who would have thought?
The truth is the only thing that kept this dress alive was the fact that I am completely in love with the fabric, I just couldn’t let it beat me. And I do admit, that while thinking through solutions to the fitting problems that reared their head I did cut out a new project, but I didn’t officially start anything new until I sorted this one out.
So, on to how I made this dress:
Want a sneak peek of me preparing my pattern pieces? Here’s me laid out on the dining room floor, piecing together parts of each piece, the skirt was so large it was 3 pieces for the front and 3 for the back…I didn’t copy enough sheets so I had to supplement with tracing paper (the yellow stuff).
Here is the pattern layout (sorry it’s a photo, not a scan, I haven’t got that set up yet):
This dress is fairly basic in terms of pattern pieces. Two triangles make up the bodice with long rectangles for the neck ties. There is a front skirt piece and a back skirt piece, both cut on the fold and an extra rectangle that makes up the shirred rear panel.
Because my cotton fabric was very light weight and therefore see-through I chose to underline the entire dress. I cut all pieces from my printed fabrics and then again (except for the shirred panel rectangle and neck ties) from a plain white cotton of similar weight.
I was super excited about my first project involving shirring so I tackled that first. Following what I read in a couple of my sewing books and online I hand-wound the elastic thread onto my bobbin while putting a little tension on the elastic. It was quite fiddly and I dropped the bobbin several times undoing my hard work but eventually I got into a kind of rhythm. I put the elastic thread on one of my machines spools to give me both hands free to fill the bobbin. I filled it all the way since I had no idea how quickly I’d go through it and then I threaded it up. Your bobbin goes in the normal place (obviously) but thread your needle with your usual thread choice, I am using a white Gutterman 100% polyester thread.
I always do a test when I try something new or reset my machines settings. Use a scrap of the actual fabric you are using, in this instance I folded it double since I’ll be sewing through two layers when I do my real shirring. Here is my first practice attempt:
Because this fabric is quite thin, I upped my tension to 5 and just had a go. It seemed to be the right choice so I moved straight on to the real fabric piece.
Fold the rectangle in half, wrong sides together and mark your line spacing, the pattern instructions suggest 1cm intervals and when marked out this left a perfect 1.5cm seam allowance at the bottom edge. I used a chalk marker but you could use a quilting foot with adjustable guide if you want.
Place the rectangle under your machine and start your shirring. Leave a decent thread tail when you start and at the end of your first line leave another. Pull your top thread to the back and knot it off with the elastic thread.
When you sew your second line and so on stretch your fabric flat again as you sew.
Ahh, after the wedding dress I’m happy to admit that I am a little over white thread and loooong straight seams and my sewing machines will only go so fast no matter how hard I push on the pedal Amongst my other nerdy talents I’m also a bit of a car girl but I only lead-foot it in my sewing room, hehe
Then I slipped the lining skirt inside the outer skirt, pinned and basted the front pleats.
It’s always fun to try things on Scarlett even when they are nowhere near finished yet. I was concerned at this point that the skirt was HUGE and would swallow me whole. This is not just a case of picking the wrong pattern size, I think it is more the pleats, we just don’t get along. I had the same problem when I attempted this BurdaStyle pattern. I ended up looking like a pregnant elephant and the entire thing got thrown in the corner until I rescued it into a Jenny skirt.
This is how the shirred panel will sit once it’s attached to the top of the back skirt piece. The sides join onto the bodice, which I made up next.
The bodice is quite quick to assemble. I did it wrong, well not wrong, but I thought of a better order of construction about half-way through. What I did was place the lining and fabric pieces together, right sides facing, stitch the inner edge and outer curved edge then turn and press. Pin and baste the pleats in each cup.
Fold the neck tie rectangles in half and stitch the long open edge and upper short edge, turn and press.
What would have been better would be to only stitch one edge of the bodice triangles closed, open it out and then attach the neck tie to the to edge, fold right sides together, stitch and turn.
But too late for unpicking now, it’s time to add the shirred panel.
Like so: Again I turned in the raw edge of the bodice and slid the shirred panel raw edge inside and top-stitched closed. I guess you could apply the same method as before, open everything out and stitch it more cleanly then shirr (is that the singular of shirring?) this panel afterwards but the instructions definitely suggest shirring the panel first.
And here is how it looked on Scarlett:
Next the bodice gets attached to the skirt. The cup pleats line up with the front skirt pleats, side seams line up also, pin and stitch.
I was quite excited to be almost finished, just the hem to do, but that warm fuzzy feeling didn’t last much longer. I was halfway unpicking the skirt from the top when I realized I hadn’t taken a photo of it. I was unpicking it because after I tried it on it was, as I suspected, super gigantic.
The skirt has waaaaay too much extra body in it and the shirring was not tight enough across my back so the weight of the back skirt drags it down below my bra strap, I end up with a pool of fabric on my shelf-bum, not good.
So I put the top part on myself pinned the cups together at the centre front and re-pined the side seams so that I had some stretch to get it on and off but felt tight enough across my back.
Next I disassembled both skirts, pleats and all. I mentioned my concern for the pleats earlier and I was close to getting rid of them entirely but for some reason convinced myself to first try reducing the number of pleats and adjust their positioning.
This sewing lesson bought to you by “ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR BRAIN”.
So I played with the front skirt piece in front of the mirror and decided on two pleats at 32cm apart (16cm either side of center). I re-pinned these then pinned the whole front to Scarlett.
Is this that thing called draping? I’ve never done that before but I guess that’s sort of what I am doing. I wanted to redesign the skirt from scratch. I wanted the least amount of bulkiness but still have a flowing long skirt.
So 7.5cm came off the sideseams, most of that was due to removing the large center front pleat and the two outer pleats.
I did the same for the back skirt, I stretched the shirred panel and pinned the back skirt on and from this piece I discarded 15cm off each side seam. That’s a lot I know but my butt just didn’t need the extra bulk and fabric!
This got me thinking about what would have happened if I’d cut a smaller or even the smallest size. Well the cups of the top would be too small for my breasts so I made the right decision there, I guess I could have cut just the skirt from the smaller size but then I can see problems with lining everything up. The skirt is just bulky and maybe it would work with a silky fabric as it’s made in the magazine but my cotton is super thin and flowy so…ah well, on with the modifications…
Next I considered leaving out the lining to drop some of the weight but the fabric is just too light-weight and see though, so I marked all my measurements with chalk and transferred them to the lining as well, then I repeated my construction as per the original skirt.
I was starting to get desperate but at this point there was no way I was going to biff the wreck of fabric into the corner no matter how much I wanted to.
So for my next attempt I basted the skirt to the bodice with no pleats at all and got in front of the mirror with my pins. I needed darts and badly. So I roughly pinned darts front and back (sometimes Scarlett just doesn’t cut it and you got to get flexible!) and new side seams too. I have marked my pins in green below:
After a few photos I realized I had completely pinned myself into the dress and I couldn’t get out of it. Husband came over for a laugh but wasn’t much more help than that.
I managed to wriggle my way out of it and as I sat in my sewing chair recovering and looking down at the pin scratches on my ribs I had a realisation: The shirred panel, that I was so proud of, had to go. Plainly it was in the pattern to make it possible to wear the dress without adding a closure but MY dress was quickly becoming too fitted for it to fulfill that ideal.
It wasn’t easy but I had to swallow my pride and un-pick it. I would replace it with a plain rectangle panel of fabric and insert an invisible zipper in the side seam.
Then as I was unpicking the skirt for the third time that day I had a second revelation. I simply didn’t like the dresses length. Despite my desire to want a maxi-dress I have never been a long skirt or dress kind of girl, it’s just not me. So I decided to also shorten the whole thing.
Decision made I set to work
I had to start my darts markings from scratch since working with a border print means I couldn’t just lop the bottom of the skirt off. My back darts ended up being longer and wider that my original pinning effort and it took several try ons to get them right. I have what is known as a ‘shelf-bum’ but I believe the technical term is ‘sway back’ although I’ve never been formally diagnosed. I assume I have one through observation of fit. Generally, in RTW clothing, fabric pools on top of my bottom, on my shelf-bum, just where it starts to curve out from my back and is fixed by reducing the amount of fabric there either by altering the pattern early on or chucking in a couple of vertical darts (my preferred method).
Another problem I needed to address was gapage at the front, I fixed this by reducing the gap between the cups, giving them a slight overlap and pulling them down slightly. Then, at Sandra’s suggestion. I curved the lower seam where they meet the top of the skirt but kept the skirt seam straight, this gives your breast somewhere sit because the pleat simply wasn’t enough.
Unfortunately I do not have any more photos of the process because my level of frustration is inversely proportional to my desire to take photos. All I wanted to do was finish the stupid dress but in the end I finished with a dress I actually really love in fabric that is a cherished souvenir. It was more than a small challenge but when all the un-picking was over I really enjoyed the challenge.