Constructing, failing and saving the NSFW Dress (#12 Patrones 289)

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.

Suspiciously absent rear image? Does this make you nervous? You should be…

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).

Constructing the pattern

Here is the pattern layout (sorry it’s a photo, not a scan, I haven’t got that set up yet):

Dress #12 from Patrones 289

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.

Laying out

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.

All the lines stitched…

I wasn’t really sure how to go about underlining this dress as it was the first time I have tried it so the first thing I did was stitch the side seams on both skirt pieces skirt.

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.

Then I turn in the top of the bodice and slip the neck tie piece inside and top-stitch it closed.

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:

Nice! I was pleased.

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.

Ugh! Better, but still not a winner, the pleats have to go, completely, so I unpicked the skirt again.

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:

Do you like my peach laundry tiles?

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.

Sewing a Foreign Language: Patrones Blouse #9

Remember this blouse? It’s from Patrones 290, #9, I promised a how-to and here it is.









The first thing I always do when working without instructions is get my head around the pattern pieces. Here they are nicely laid out and labeled.

Because this blouse has princess seams both front and back we have two front pieces and two back pieces (with the center back cut on the fold). The center front is self-faced and there is also a back neck facing, the pattern piece for this was traced from the center back pattern piece (see the blue curve at the top). Then we have two different rectangles, one for the ruffles and the other is to become self bias-binding for the armholes, these pieces are given as dimensions in the instructions.

Preparing the pieces: There’s not a lot to be done to these pieces, there are no darts or pleats or gathers, just the front self-facing and the back neck facing. For the front I folded the facing to the outside, right sides facing and pinned the neck edge then stitched along the curved edge only, neaten and turn.


Here is a close up of the neck edge, after turning I decided to topstitch it to keep it in place but after the next step I realized I needed to attach to the neck facing first so I had to unpick it. You’ll see what I mean in a bit.



Place the neck facing onto the center back piece, right sides facing, lining up with the curve of the neck. Pin, stitch along the neck curve, neaten and turn.





This is the step that caused me to undo my top stitching. I realised that when I sew my shoulder seams I can also sew my facings together at the same time.

It’s hard to see in the photo but you fold out the front facings on the front pieces and fold up the neck facing on the back piece. Now you can pin the front and back pieces together at the shoulders and across where the facings meet as well.

I hope that makes sense, in the photo you can see the seams are pinned and then I have opened the whole thing out, I have tried to label each piece.

Turn the facings back to the inside and now if you want you can either under stitch or topstitch them. I chose to do this since my silk is slippery and I want to keep the facings in place.

Now for the ruffles: I neatened all edges of the ruffle rectangles then created a narrow hew along one long side and both short ends then along the other long edge I ran two lines of gathering stitch (longest stitch length 4.0 on a low tension)…and here is where I discovered a problem with the pattern.


What you can see in the photo above are the blouse pieces lying open at the shoulder seam and the finished ruffle rectangle lying beside it. You can see the two orange headed pins in the blouse body, they mark where the ruffle is to be attached and even un-gathered the rectangle is barely long enough to span between them.

Frustrated I checked my measurements and no problems there so it must be a typo in the magazine. I was loath to re-cut them since I have plans for the tiny bit of left over silk that remains so I re-cut two more rectangles and joined them together at the short edge. This extra seam will be in-line with the shoulder seam and since it is gathered I’m sure it will be almost invisible so I stopped stressing and got on with it.

Here you can see one newly lengthened and gathered ruffle pined in place beside an un-gathered one. Doubling the length was perfect and I am wondering if the instruction/diagram was meant to show it cut on the fold. Gather each ruffle to match the length between the pins/markings, pin in place right sides together and stitch.

Attaching the ruffles

Here is the blouse, with ruffles attached laid out. Excuse the lazy Photoshop stitch attempt – I couldn’t get high enough in my room to snap the entire blouse:

Side seams are stitched next, and then I hemmed the bottom of the blouse. You can turn the self facings out as you hem to make really neat, sharp corners at the bottom.

Scarlett models the almost finished blouse

Mark the buttons holes next. I have always had a problem with gaping at the bust on my blouses so I have started ignoring the button hole markings on the patterns and instead I mark one button hole at the largest part of my bust and then space my buttons evenly around this hole, usually one above and then the rest below.

I use this Simflex Expanding Gauge to mark even spaces, it’s a great tool that I use all the time and you can use it for pleats as well.

To reinforce the silk I used some rectangles of interfacing behind the button-holes, under the facing and again behind the buttons.





I’m always a bit nervous sewing buttons holes, they feel so final and permanent.

My machine has a 1-step button hole, I set the dial and stitch length to suit the fabric and use this special foot, which expands to take one of the buttons an sets the overall button hole length. A pull down guide catches some thinga-ma-jig near the back and makes the machine return at the end of each hole.

Always make a test button hole on a scrap piece of fabric and fold it over on itself to mimic the final thickness of fabric you’ll be sewing your real button holes on. Adjust your tension and stitch length until you are happy with your practice hole.

The most common problem I have with button holes is forgetting to reset the machine after each one is complete.

The most important switch

And there you are: one button hole. I prefer to pull the threads to the back and knot them off rather than cutting them at the front.






Now for buttons: I bought this foot when I first bought my machine, it’s amazing! I never sew buttons on by hand (well flat buttons anyway). You could probably use a satin stitch foot for this but the rubber tip and back edge of the foot helps keep the button in place.

To use this foot you need to be able to adjust your machines zig-zag width. For extra slippery button/fabric combinations I quickly hand tack each button in place before slipping it under the machines foot. Set your machine to a wide zig-zag and stitch length to zero. Hand-turn the wheel and adjust the zig-zag width so that the needle clears each button hole then put your foot down for a few stitches and move onto the next button. I always hand-wheel the first stitch for each button first to test position otherwise you risk snapping a needle and damaging the button. I have been told you can just snip the threads off flush with the button but I prefer to pull them both to the back and knot them off.

I was a bit unsure of how to finish the armholes. I think you are supposed make self bias-binding from one of the rectangles given in the instructions and encase the raw edge but this can only be done to the lower half otherwise you end up catching part of the ruffle so I turned in the ends and worked the bias around the lover half of the hole then just overlocked the upper half as you can see. I don’t think this is entirely correct but it works.






And that’s it. I really love the silk that I use, I bought it from the Joveeba closing down sale about a year ago, both the colour and pattern of it and how it feels to wear. I’ve never owned a silk item before (lame huh?) and even though I have to hand wash it I can see many more silk items in my future.


Completely fascinated

First up, a quick correction to my last post: I should have mentioned that the pattern pieces you saw me gleefully cutting up were just copies. I feel awful that I may have inadvertently given several of my wonderful sewing friends heart attacks. Let me explain: I am lucky that through my job I have access to a large format copier, printer and scanner (as in A0) so whenever you see me hacking into what looks like expensive magazine sheets fear not! I promise they are copies. You might have noticed the blue highlighter markings on the pieces, this is because Mr Large Format Copier only copies in black and white so I have to go back and mark on any of the coloured markings pertaining to that pattern because they blend in with the million zillion other lines that are now all black.

Completely unharmed, promise

Now I know my last post was super long (I had no idea I’d want to write so much about the Melbourne cup) but I wanted to add a little bit about fascinators because I LOVE them!

If you haven’t tried to make a fascinator before I highly recommend it, it’s quite a lot of fun buying all the little bits and bobs (especially if trying to match a dress as I did this year) and you get to play with a hot glue gun, my favourite craft weapon of choice – hot tip, buy a pink one so hubby doesn’t steal it.

2009 Melbourne Cup Fascinator - clearly it didn't go with this years dress so I had no choice but to make a new one

Here is how my fascinator started out:

Little bits everywhere!

I got all the parts from Spotlight and used a scrap of dress fabric to help me choose colours. While I was choosing I played with them in the shop a bit and then some more when I got home to see what was the best layout (they all kind of look the same in the photos, bring on 3D blogging)


Don’t forget to think about how it will sit on your head and which way the slide comb or clip will attach to your head. Once I am happy with the final layout and orientation I warm up the hot glue gun and get gluing.

Here’s a closer photos of the finished product.

2010 Melbourne Cup Fascinator

I think next year I’m going to have to go BIGGER 🙂

Here’s some more inspiration gathered from the web:

I am thinking that I might like to make myself one for my wedding.

Speaking of weddings, today I bought all my fabric requirments for my wedding dress. I spent a perfect fabric shopping morning with my wonderful friend S and we drove all over Perth to find exactly all the bits that I needed. It’s hot today, my brain is tried and my feet are killing me so, in the interest of not making a huge mistake, the cutting out begins tomorrow.

*claps hands

Most of this came from Fabulous Fabrics in Balcatta (who have apparently just merged with Fabric Gallery which used to be in Greenwood) except for the corset tape which came from Beautiful Fabrics WA in Innaloo, opposite Ikea, they have some amazing fabric in at the moment so I suggest you pop by and check them out.

I also accidentally bought some other fabric…but it was on special, how can a girl resist?

oops 😉


Sewing a foreign language

With my wedding ring crisis averted last Saturday I spent the rest of that weekend working on my Melbourne Cup/Honeymoon dress.

Said dress is #10 from Patrones 289, which means the instructions are in Spanish. I speak English (obviously) and a little Japanese which is so rusty it makes my jaw ache.

Patrones 289 Dress #10

Google Translate is close to useless when it comes to sewing instructions so I though it would be helpful for other sewers who subscribe to magazines in languages they do not speak if I documented my thinking process as I tackle a pattern more or less sans instructions. It differs for different patterns and I’ll sometimes consult instructions from a similar pattern to give me a quick feel for order, then I do some brain sewing before I get started. If I get stuck or am in doubt of the next steps I’ll pin or baste pieces together or place it on my dress dummy Scarlett to get a feel for how the item is shaping up.

This might be a bit epic so be prepared for far too many images and lots of words…feel free to skip ahead 😉

Right, lets begin: You might remember this image from my UFO post.

The pieces were already cut out (it’s the envelope on the far left) from a little while ago. I bought the fabric with the Patrones pattern in mind and I really liked my choice, a printed jersey from Spotlight.

Tangent: For those of you not from NZ/Australia you might no be familiar with Spotlight, it’s a kind of mashed together craft/knitting/sewing/homewares warehouse kind of store at the mid to lower end of the budget. I know a lot of sewers really hate them and wouldn’t be seen dead inside of one but I think they are getting better and they have their place in our sewing world. Recently I even saw the exact same fabric in a Spotlight store that I had only just seen in one of the higher end fabric stores. They sell Gütermann thread and Schmetz needles at good prices, two brands I use without a second thought, and they often have Birch and O-Sew overlocker thread on special. When I got my overlocker I was given 4 cones of (apparently) very high quality thread, the sign said $6.00 per cone retail. I chose black since I was sewing a black dress at the time but I also wanted white so I went to Spotlight and bought some O-Sew thread at $4 per cone. I’ve used both colours equally and never found a knot in the white cheap thread but the black expensive thread has had at least three (and still counting) and two of those were on the needle thread, luckily I saw them (I have high-speed vision apparently) so I guess “you get what you pay for” isn’t always true…and yes, I am aware of the irony that I got the black thread for free 😉

Ok back on track: This fabric however was not really a Spotlight success story, it was a fairly good price but the print was woefully off-grain and you can’t really correct an off-grain print in jersey. It fact it was so bad that I think it’s more plausible to assume it shifted during the printing process, jersey is tricky like that. I barley had enough for the dress but I wasn’t about to be defeated by some cheap fabric so I threw out the cutting layout and spent an entire day trying every which way I could to lay the pattern to not only match up the repeating chevrons but also to keep the important seams looking straight. I think I did a pretty good job and eventually I was ready to cut…then I made the mistake of cutting the back skirt piece on the fold…and it wasn’t supposed to be…I realized halfway though cutting but I was lucky enough to salvage it by moving it across and shrinking the outside edge seam allowances to just under 1cm, never the less it was enough for that weekend and into the envelope the cut pieces went until the other side of winter and here we are…

Ok, let’s get started: First things first, after transferring any markings I sew or baste any pleats, darts or other manipulations that need to happen to each piece before any main assembly, I think of this as the “first shaping” and helps me get my head around which pieces go together and the construction. This dress is pretty basic as far as that’s concerned, no pockets, just a heap of pleats on the front skirt piece and your basic bodice darts front & back. The faux wrap pieces on the front of the dress are attached at the armholes and have lots of  pleats too.

UPDATE: The pattern pieces below are copies of my Patornes pattern sheets, I promise I didn’t cut up the originals, see my explanation here.

Bodice front & back with darts pinned

Skirt front & wrap pieces with pleats pinned


Next I assembled the basic dress parts, forgetting about the wrap pieces for now.

I attached the bodice front to the skirt front, the bodice back pieces to each of the skirt back pieces.

Bodice front & skirt front

Then I sew the centre back seam and insert the zipper.

Centre back seam sewn, zipper gets pinned

Now I have the dress front and dress back assembled.

Ready! My zipper colour choice was limited, it was either this dark purple or super hot omg blinding pink, so I went with the purple

There were four front wrap pieces and four tie pieces so I assumed there are two for each side, one as the outer and one as the inner facing.

Attaching the tie to the end of the wrap piece

I attached a tie to each wrap piece then lay the assembled pieces together and stitch the outside seam leaving it open at the armhole curve. Turn and press, baste open armhole edges together.

Inside out completed wrap piece, ready to be sewn, then turned…

Testing, testing & testing – Scarlett plays dress-ups

Next I pinned the wrap pieces to the bodice front and basted in place.

Attaching the wrap pieces

Nerd Moment Alert: after all that pleating – perfect 1.5cm shoulder and side seam allowances still in tact

Now it was ready to pin to the dress back and sew the shoulder and side seams.

Side & shoulder seams

After this step I tried the dress on myself. It looked a bit too big on Scarlett and indeed on me it was a bit too big also, I think the jersey I used had much more stretch than the pattern allowed for. I could also put it on over my head without even undoing the zipper so I ended up taking the zipper out and sewing the center back seam again and taking it in the sides.

I think the armhole and neck openings were supposed to be enclosed in bias strip but I did not have enough fabric so I did a basic seam edge and then hemmed the skirt. I used Scarlett’s hemming attachment for the first time and it was brilliant.

Ready for the big day

I think that’s enough pink fabric photos for one day, I promise more finished dress photos when I upload on the weekend. Photos here 🙂

Sewing in a foreign language really isn’t all that scary or difficult if you have a basic knowledge of all the main clothing items: dresses, shirts, skirts and pants. Just take your time and look at other similar patterns instructions to help you along.

Ok, I promise, that’s all for today 🙂