Sewists of MetaFilter: can I recreate this dress on my own?
March 14, 2013 3:12 AM   Subscribe

I saw this dress on Pinterest and fell in love. I don't want to buy it--I'm trying to get away from buying new clothes entirely. I have extremely basic sewing skills (curtains, sunglasses cases, skirts) and I'm tempted to try to make this dress on my own.

To me it looks like a fairly simple shift dress with medium-length sleeves. Can anyone recommend a pattern I could use, or a way to design my own? Could I use straight-up quilting cotton or an upcycled cotton sheet for fabric? I am a petite 0-2 with a fairly straight figure, if that makes any difference. I would really appreciate some advice, even in the form of "you will need eight more years of sewing experience before you should attempt this!"
posted by chaiminda to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: SHIFT dress. sorry.
posted by chaiminda at 3:30 AM on March 14, 2013

Best answer: It looks like a great project for you to try, and any (prewashed and ironed) cotton fabric will work as long as it's noot too heavy or super gauzey.
I cannot search for patterns right now. You can have lots of fun at the fabric store searching through the options. And, some patterns are very helpfully labeled as "beginner" or "easy".
posted by mightshould at 3:49 AM on March 14, 2013

Best answer: It is indeed a simple shift! Would be a great project for a beginner. One thing to keep in mind though: sleeves can be tricky. You'll want to pay close attention to the directions, and pin, pin, pin before sewing. Good patterns include ease on sleeve caps, which means that there will be more sleeve fabric than may seem to fit in the sleevehole: but if you pin judiciously, i.e. carefully "using up" the ease evenly, rather than bunching it up, the sleeve will turn out beautifully.

- This B5812 shift from Butterick shows it made from lace with a slip beneath, but you could easily just sew the "overdress" part as a dress itself, from a solid fabric. What's nice is it comes with sleeveless, cap sleeve, and 3/4 sleeve lengths, so you could try out a sleeveless one first (easier). It also has neckline variations: bateau (like your photo) and square-ish.

- M6551 shifts from Mccalls are simple, but the pattern doesn't have the longer sleeves.

- M6465 shifts have sleeve variations, but simple bust darts, where the others don't use darts - darts are more of a "pain" than they are complicated, this pattern would be a great introduction to them since these are very simple ones. The "pain" part of them is mainly that you need to mark them accurately for them to turn out right. They're actually dead easy to sew though; just a matter of sewing in the right place. This pattern has your sleeve length and bateau neckline, too.

All those patterns can be done in non-stretch fabrics, so yes, cotton could work! You'll want something a bit drapey since a stiffer fabric won't skim your figure as nicely. Quilting cottons tend to be lighter weight, so that could be perfect, although depending on color you may need a slip or a lining. I've done several dresses in quilting cottons, they're really great in spring, summer, and autumn. None of them are shifts, but it could give you an idea of possibilities: my favorite in a Japanese quilting cotton (the fabric was delightfully named "Happy mochi yum yum - snow of happy zombie"), that one is lined with cotton voile, and a Butterick pattern in a border print, only the bust is lined.
posted by fraula at 3:50 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make it up first in muslin (ie plain cotton fabric- traditionally this is white, tight weave cotton fabric, but a lot of folks buy old bedsheets at thrift stores to use). That will allow you to, most importantly, see how the garment will fit you. You can also make goofs on it without worrying about messing up your good fabric. Once you have a muslin version that you like, then do it up in nice fabric that you like but aren't super in love with; think of it as a wearable muslin. Make up the dress in that fabric and actually wear it for a day or two- make sure that the arms aren't too tight, it doesn't pull or bunch up anywhere. If it doesn't, then- go for it! Make it up in some great fabric and enjoy it!
posted by lyra4 at 4:24 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Adding more details to Fraula's excellent post:

If you have previously sewn flat, square pieces, you need to slow down and pay attention while you sew a garment.

Sewing is 75% preparation and 25% execution.

You need to transfer the pattern markings. On the outside edge of the pattern, the markings are solid diamonds or double diamonds. When you sew two pieces together, you match the corners, and you match the diamonds.

Carefully "snip snip snip" around the outside edges of the diamonds to cleanly delineate the shape. Some people snip in, making notches.

In the body of the pattern piece, you may need to mark points. You can transfer the markings with chalk or washable pencil, or you can make a tailor's tack.

Sleeves are complicated because you are joining one tube [the arm] to another tube [the body] at an oblique angle. There is more bulk on the shoulder than the other parts of the arm. On the pattern, the armhole is scooped out [concave] and the sleeve is rounded [convex]. You will need to ease the sleeve head between the notches.

I was taught to pin the sleeve and the body together, but I have better luck when I tack them together. Use a needle and thread, and backstitch with each stitch about 1 to 1-1/2" apart. Place the raw edges together, and work the convex curve and the concave curves against each other.

Set your machine to a large stitch, and sew with the sleeve piece facing up. [The sleeve piece has the puffiness. ]

You are sewing in a circle, so you will need to reorient the garment as you get to corners. With the needle down, lift the presser foot and rotate the garment. Then drop the presser foot and continue stitching.

Stitch very slowly, and use your finger to smooth out pinches. If you do end up with pinches, rip out an inch of stitches, release the pinch, and resew that section. When you are satisfied that the underarm seam of the body and sleeve match perfectly, and the shoulder seam matches the center notch of the sleeve, you can go back and stitch again with a smaller stitch size.
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:01 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

additional thoughts:

The sleeves would be the trickiest part. If you can find a shift pattern with a raglan sleeve, that would be easier to manage.

I wouldn't make the dress out of a cotton bed sheet. That would be fine for practice, but the fabric quality of most sheets is not good enough for a finished garment -- the grain is often crooked, and there's no way to correct for that. Trying to make a nice dress out of a sheet is setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. I think the best fabric for that type of dress would be just a little bit heavier than quilting cotton.

The first dress I ever made for myself was very similar to that (back when it was fashion-forward, not retro). It took less than a day to make and it came out great. It's a perfectly fine project for a relative beginner. Don't be thinking about making your own pattern at this point, though -- find a pattern you like and follow it. Good luck, and have fun!
posted by Corvid at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2013

If you want to start with an even simpler project, check out the 30 MINUTE JERSEY SHEATH.
posted by she's not there at 3:12 PM on March 14, 2013

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