Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Polkadot dress

I promised to make a step-by-step ‘how-to’ for the polkadot dress and here it is. I wanted to simply make another dress for myself as I took the photos of each step but was unable to locate any suitable fabrics. Yeah, shopping with a particular taste is not the easiest around here. ;) But, I made a drawing for each step and I hope they are clear enough. If anything remains shady, then do not hesitate to ask and I will explain it further! I hope I did not forget anything and that you will enjoy making AND wearing this dress as much as I have! ;) And as soon as I locate fabrics I like, I will exchange the drawings for photos! Also, if you come up with any cool additions, tricks of the trade or something like that yourself, then do share the knowledge. ;) This is simply my version of how to do a dress like this.

Measuring yourself:
Well, as you can see from the photo, then one needs to measure above the chest, under it, the waist, hips, height of the chest panels, distance to the waist and the overall length of the dress from under the chest. And then the length of the neck-strap from under the chest on one side to the same place on the other side.

My dress is made of really soft jersey. That way I did not have to worry about making the chest piece fit, since the stretching will do it for me. If you decide to make it of two different fabrics, then make sure they would be of approximately the same weight and texture. Although, a red fake fur chest piece would be preeetty darn cool! ;) I usually take a drawing of the dress and the measurements to the shop when I go to get the fabric. Any shop assistant should be able to tell you the amount of fabric needed.

The pieces of the pattern (I usually use old newspapers) you will need:
1. Back of the chest piece, 2x chest length, half of the (under)chest width.
2. Front of the chest piece, 2x chest length + some extra (about 10 cm) for rouching, half of the (under)chest width. The width of the two chest pieces together should be the circumference under the chest.
3. 2 dress’s side panels.
4. Dress’s front/back panel.
5. Neck-strap, length of the neck strap and about 12 cm wide.

Getting the width of the dress panels:
First divide the under chest measurement by 2 (this should also be the width of the chest piece), then see what would be a good ratio for the front/back and side panels. On my dress the front/back panel is roughly 1,6 times wider than the side panels. So: my under chest measurement was (at its widest, while freely breathing in) 80 cm. I made the side panels 10 cm at the top, and front/back is 16 cm. That is after I fitted the dress on me, and took it in a little since the fabric IS stretchy and it did not need to be all that wide. But when making the pieces, rather have a little more. Then you just use the same ratio for the other measurements: waist and hips and draw them that wide at those places. The waist should be at the distance from the top as you measured (distance to the waist from under the chest) and since the dress is rather flowing over the hips, you simply need to make sure that the hips can fit in there. Length of the dress panels is as you measured from under the chest.

Arranging the pattern on the fabric:
First of all: fold the dress fabric (green) length-wise, so you now get two front/back pieces at once, when cutting. Then arrange the dress panels on the fabric (you need to end up with 2 front/back panels and 4 side panels). Put them all facing the same direction, do not turn any of them upside down. Because if you have a patterned fabric, it could make a difference in how the pattern runs and also how the fabric will eventually fall on you. It is just safer this way. Depending on the size of the dress and the width of the fabric one should need around 1,5 times the length of the dress panel piece for the dress and about the neck-strap length piece for the chest. Do your math, though and if in doubt ask the people at the fabric shop. Heaven knows, I always harass those people with questions like that! And be on the safe side, it is better to have a little left over. :) Also, leave around 2-3 cm in between all the pieces. That is for the extra room for sewing etc. Fasten the pattern to the fabric with bobby pins. Make sure you measure everything 10 times. Also, make sure that the stretchiness is in the right direction – horizontal across your chest, across the midriff etc. Only then cut about 1 to 1,5 cm from the pattern (like along the dotted line).

Now you should have 6 panels, including 2 front/back panels and 4 side panels, 2 chest pieces, one of which is 10 cm longer than the other and a neck-strap.
Arrange them before you as on the picture and first of all sew together the sides of the dress panels. 2 side panels in between the front/back panels. Try it on! Make sure that it fits you nicely (under the chest!!!), that it is not too wide, not too tight, perhaps it needs to be tightened here, let out there, make sure the dress part is perfect on you.

Fold the front chest piece over so one side is the exact length of what you measured the chest piece should be. Then arrange the longer side into folds, rouches, whatever you prefer (along the dotted line). Make it the same length as the other side with the rouching and sew through the dotted line to keep the folds in place. Do NOT sew the two sides together. You should end up with 2 chest pieces, that are the same height now (2x measured chest height) and one of them is half way rouched.

Attaching the chest piece to the dress:
Now take the front rouched chest piece and put it to the dress so that the rouching is at the seam and so that the front panel is in the middle of the front of the dress, with the 2 side panels on either side. It should be about the right width, with a little bit of the chest piece hanging over on either side (the sewing room). Sew it to the dress part along the red line. Do it by hand at first if the fabric is really stretchy or if the rouching could get in the way.

Do the same with the back side.

Sewing the sides of the chest pieces:
First see, that you have something similar to what is on the drawing. Then turn the dress inside out and sew together the sides of the chest pieces. Once again, make sure that the rouching stays intact, so a little manual labour might be needed before going under the machine. So, basically it should eventually be that the red lines and turquoise lines are seams.

Hand sewing:
Now comes the tough part. You will have to fold down the double of the chest length, into the dress, and sew it by hand to the dress. Make it as neat as possible. It is not going to show, but you want it to be safely fastened and also not showing from the right side of the dress. Hence also no machinery for this part. The seam has to be completely invisible when you turn the right side out.

First sew the one long open side of the neck-strap together thusly forming a looong tunnel. Turn it inside out and you have the neck-strap. Now, since the dress is all nice and neat at the top, you do not really want to go messing that up with the neck-strap, pulling and stretching at all the wrong places. So, what I did was I attached it to the seam where the chest piece meets the dress piece. And right in the middle of the two side panels, so the neck-strap comes from pretty much my under-arms. Try different locations, if you prefer. The first drawing is to show where the neck-strap attaches to the dress and the second is how it should look, once you have sewn the neck-strap to its place (by hand!!!, so there are no visible seams on the right side of the dress). If you want to, you can also attach the chest piece to the neck-strap with a couple of stitches closer to the top of the chest piece as well. Mine is snug enough, so it did not need it, stays up all by itself as well. ;)

Now, all there is left over to be done is the hem of the dress. Turn it back once and definitely hand sew loosely first as the fabric is stretchy. Try not to stretch it too much under the machine and it should be alright.

Hopefully the explanations were clear enough. If not, then DO feel free to ask for clarifications. If you decide to make this dress then I wish you the very best of luck and definitely let me know how it turned out and send me photos through my profile! I will be posting them as well, if you want me to!
I hope it works out!!! Best of luck and break a needle. ;)

Sunday, October 7, 2007


I wanted to be a fashion designer before I ever even knew what the word truly meant. Life had other plans, though and so I became a computer graphic designer, but I still sew and have not given up on the fashion design dream. Besides it IS easier to haul around a laptop than a Singer sewing machine. :P I have sewn pretty much as long as I can remember. I used to make dresses for my dolls at first and many a good mother’s lesser worn dresses got victimized. :P When I was about 12-13 I started sewing for myself as well. I have done some pretty horrific things (sweatshirts, oversized jeans), and I certainly do not have photos of everything I have ever sewn. :)

I am not very good at following guidelines, nor am I too patient. So, everything I do has to be fairly quick (doable in one day) and I take shortcuts pretty much everywhere possible. Anything rarely gets sewn together by hand before throwing the entire thing under the machine. That’s for what they invented bobby-pins, right? ;) Usually I make my own patterns as I do not feel like messing with tracing the real ones. They are certainly far from perfect, but if it fits right, then who really cares? It is not really all that complicated: I usually just take something that vaguely reminds what I want to make for myself and see what kind of pieces they have used to put it together, measure everything and then draw my own pattern on newspaper. Due to MANY life’s lessons in this field I have however discovered that every single thing has to be measured 10 times before even thinking about using the scissors! And even then one should cut it a little bigger. You never know when that extra centimeter could come in handy. Also, if in doubt, cut the same piece out of some scrap fabric left over from another project and see how it fits, only then move to the real fabric. While every sewing teacher-professional will advize you to sew the pieces together by hand first, at some places it can be overlooked. Sewing together the sides will not take too much effort anyway. :P I have definitely done my share of unstitching and raveling, but in my mind that is easier than having to bend over handstiching everything… There are some places where it is unavoidable, though – more difficult hems, crimping and gathering, collars, putting on sleeves... But overall it is good fun and especially when the end result is something no one else in the world has! Do not feel intimidated about sewing as it really is much easier than one might think! So, here are some of the things I have done.

This dress is made of really soft jersey and so it is incredibly comfortable and great for the Summer. The top is folded over fabric (rectangular pieces, nothing fancy) with a little rouching of the front piece. The rouching is done at the sides. The skirt part is made of 6 panes that are narrower on the top and wider at the bottom.

This is one of the more recent projects (not even a month old :P). It was made of a fabric meant for a skirt that I found in my grandmother's stash. So, needless to say, there was not much to work with. I was certain I would barely get a vest and was thusly psyched when I had enough for short puffy sleeves as well. The pattern is once again made by myself. At first I made the pieces of the jacket in another fabric, tried it on and only then moved to the real fabric. There literally was NO room for errors! The collar is actually fairly simple. I had only ever seen this kind of collar on a photo, but overall it turned out to be much easier to make than for instance regular suit lapels. The blazer also looks really good with a long-sleeved t-shirt worn underneath.

This is a dress I made for attending a wedding. Well, the wedding itself is yet to happen but at least I have the clothing worries behind me. :P It is made of rouched slightly shiny fabric with little sparkles woven into it. Once again no pattern, but the dress itself is very simple. 2 chest pieces, 2 (back and front) mid-section pieces and 3 layers of the skirt. The shoulder straps are crossed on the back and the dress is fastened by a zipper on the left hand side. I used a shirt with a similar design to see what kind of pieces would be needed for the top part of the dress. This one required a lot of handstiching due to all the rouching of the fabric and to make sure they were all equally distributed. It also has a soft jersey lining to prevent it from scratching my skin. :P The little interwoven sparkly bits can be really hurtful. Overall it is a decent mermaid costume if nothing else. :P

This strapless dress is not entirely made by me. It was bought as a very pale pink shift dress from a second hand shop. I chopped off the top part of it, made it a little snugglier and threw it into the dye. Several times... The fabric is a linen-cotton mix so thankfully it put up with the abuse quite well! The first time the dress came out of the dye pot it was dark-dark purple. Definitely not the kind of colour I wanted. Next I threw it into the bleach and out came a very blotchy lavender dress... Once again, nothing I would have worn! Third time (thankfully!!!) was the charm and with a different dye I finally got a decent turquoise colouring. It is one of my most favourite Summer dresses now and I might have to dye it again for next Summer. The colour has started fading a little...

My most recent project!!! I have a really cool soft jersey dress that unfortunately is so snug and clingy that it definitely needed either a lining or a petticoat. So I made one. I discovered much to my surprise that petticoats are no longer sold in Estonia! What, the dresses nowadays do not climb up your legs? They do not cling to all the inappropriate rolls? Anyway, I had to make my own petticoat and I think it turned out pretty decent. No pattern again, simply cutting two identical pieces and then making the back piece straight across my upper back. The shoulder straps are left-overs from a bra that came with extra straps. And the dress fits MUCH better thanks to the petticoat now. ;) And when I tried it on with the dress, it really made a difference in how I felt as well! I felt so feminine thanks to all the different frilly layers. ;) I have decided to make more little 'dresses' like this one to be warn as camisoles over jeans...

What an unattractive angle at which to be photographed! :D But, to the point: I have made tons of these tops, both for myself and other people. They are perfect for warm Summers and are also super-easy to make! Yes, all it is is a rectangular piece of lycra, sewed into a tube, and then the top and bottom sewn together to avoid any hemming (can be messy when you do not have the special machine). When worn, you simply turn the tube when the hem is inside it and put it on. It does take some consideration when the fabric is patterned as to where the inside hem will be, but it is still by far the simplest top around! ;)