The dress must be out there.
May 19, 2012 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Mefi Sewers! I am a beginning sewer and just found a fabulous vintage patterned length of fabric (two yards x 58 inches) at a thrift shop for two bucks. I want to make a very simple a-line shift dress that is made from two cuts of fabric, front and back, that sew together on the sides of the body. A zipper in the back is ok. I cannot seem to find a pattern, vintage or otherwise, that fulfills these criteria.

Every shift dress pattern I can find has all kinds of kips and tucks and panels that would ruin the pattern.

Is it because I don't know enough about sewing and this unrealistic? Is this even enough fabric for a two-panel dress?

If you can help me find one that sounds like what I'm looking for I'd be mighty grateful.

I think the fabric is what is called a thin knit. It's made out of the same polyester-seeming fabric a lot of 70s vintage dresses are.

If it matters: to make the pattern fall the "right way" it looks like I may have to cut against the grain.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the patterns you're looking at are probably designed for woven fabrics so they need the tucks and panels to shape the fabric to your body. If your fabric is a stretchy knit (like a t-shirt) it doesn't need those seams; it's made to stretch around your shape.

Look for a pattern specifically designed for a knit fabric. If you're adventurous you can make your own pattern based on a t-shirt that fits you well. Something like this tutorial.
posted by doift at 1:50 PM on May 19, 2012

You can use my old sewing method. It works well enough. Get a non-stretchy dress with the same basic shape of what you want to make (or a shirt and skirt - non-stretchy is the key), lay them out on the doubled fabric and cut around it. Leave a LOT of room for error. Cut it at least a couple of inches bigger on all sides and leave enough length for a hem. To make facings, cut out another top out but to just under the armpits. What you want to do is make a rough approximation of the dress you want and then pin (inside out) and take it in until it fits. I used to make shift dresses like that in high school when I barely knew how to sew. If you use something that fits you and make it too big and take it in, it shouldn't go wrong. Make it more a line than you think you need too. I can't tell you how to sew the facings with out drawing pictures and gesturing a lot, so memail if you decide to go this route. And if the top ends up too hard to do, you will still have a skirt.
posted by artychoke at 1:52 PM on May 19, 2012

But in any case, get some other knit fabric and practice sewing on it first. I have trouble hemming knits without it coming out sort of ruffled on the bottom.
posted by artychoke at 1:58 PM on May 19, 2012

I agree with doift on the different in using a knit fabric and would recommend you choose a pattern that only has darts at the bust - you can then leave the darts out.

View B of McCall's 6355 explicitly states that the darts are optional.

McCall's 6465 is nice as well. 6102 has a little more flow (though the illustrations are awful.)

I really like the shape of Butterick 5211 - it shows it with a seam in the back but you could easily cut it as 2 solid pieces. With the knit, it could probably be a pullover, so you wouldn't need to mess with a zipper.

As for hemming knits, it is really difficult without using a serger, though it's certainly doable. I wouldn't turn up more than 1/4 inch though.

Good luck!
posted by cessair at 2:05 PM on May 19, 2012

Even easier than a zipper would be an elastic waist (if you want an elastic waist, that is - I suppose that would make it less shift-ish but it's still a fun skill). Here are other patterns/tutorials you could look at:

anda dress - super simple, and there was even a sew-along for it.

most flattering shirt dress diy - like the diy doifit posted above, but with instructions for shirring, if you want to try that.

30 minute jersey sheath - another way simple option.
posted by violetish at 6:24 PM on May 19, 2012

Sewing knits is a whole other thing (that I've just barely gotten into myself). I'd add to the suggestions upthread that you'll want to pick up some needles for your machine that are made for sewing knit fabrics; they'll be called ballpoint, jersey, or stretch needles. To make the hemming easier without having to use a serger, there are twin needles. In a nutshell, you use two separate spools for the top threads, thread your bobbin like normal, and end up with a hem like the ones on most of your store-bought t-shirts: there are two parallel lines of top thread and the bobbin thread automagically catches them both and creates a zigzag on the back side.

Clear as mud? If you google around some, you can find a crapton of tutorials and blog posts about sewing knits; reading up on those beforehand will probably make your project way easier.
posted by clavicle at 6:42 AM on May 20, 2012

A couple ideas from Cation Designs, a blog I enjoy:

A-line dress made from 2 yards of thrifted fabric
Very easy maxi-dress, likely could be made shorter
posted by pie ninja at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2012

Response by poster: These are great ideas. If it turns out I have enough fabric, could I just make one of the two-piece shift patterns longer for a maxi dress?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:39 PM on May 20, 2012

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