I recently overheard a conversation among a group of women during a shopping trip. They had just discovered a rack of clothing that included a few striped blouses, linen drawstring pants, and a polka dot skirt (you know, just a few of my all time favorite things). They all agreed–and with great enthusiasm, I must add–that polka dots were ridiculous. “Who actually wears such a stupid looking print?”
My feelings were hurt for the polka dots. Look, to each her own and all that, but polka dots?! What’s not to like? There are a few prints I will always have a soft spot for (gingham, stripes, big florals), but polka dots must be the happiest print on earth.
I found this polka dot print earlier this spring from Fashion Fabrics Club, and I love it. It’s a navy blue medium weight stretch twill with a pretty stiff hand. It would make for a lovely spring jacket, and a shift dress or full skirt would be a nice option too. When it was delivered, I knew it would be the perfect fabric choice for a vintage Vogue pattern I’d been eyeballing for weeks. There’s enough volume in the fabric to support the fullness of the skirt. No petticoat needed!
This pattern appealed to me because there’s good coverage in the bodice and the skirt is nicely flared but not too huge. I was also intrigued by the wraparound detail, which is quite flattering.
Like I do before every project with a commercial pattern, I did a little research to see what other folks were saying about it. The pictures I came across told me everything I needed to know. I thought there might be an issue with the sides of the bodice being too big, and they are (understatement of the year). So what began as an easy project quickly escalated into an enormous fitting challenge.
I want to preface my summary of the fitting issues by saying that this wasn’t a sizing issue. I am the same size across the board with Vogue patterns, and I appreciate that consistency. The issues with the fit of the bodice have to do with gaping in one specific area: the sides of the bodice where it wraps around the body. I had to contour the pattern to fit my body, which is a common thing patterns need when there’s a low neckline, a wrap detail like this, or anything with style lines that follow close to the body, like a strapless design.
The first thing I did was sew a muslin of the bodice to have a look at the fit. It was a mess, but the waist fit and the princess seams were in the correct spot.
I made three sets of adjustments to this pattern. Along the way, I had a good laugh about it because this has to be the most simple pattern I’ve ever had to adjust to such an extent. When I got into the thick of the adjustments, determination kicked in and just sort of said, “I will win this, you silly pattern!” I knew that if I could correct the fit I would have a really, really great dress pattern on my hands that I could make in a lot of colors and patterns, because it really is an easy sewing project. Once you get beyond the task of fitting it, that is.
Three muslins later.
In addition to the contouring (which is essentially just “pinching” out excess fabric), I shaped the front princess seam under the bust and removed some excess fabric from the back bodice (a swayback adjustment).
With the fit finally conquered, I could move on to construction. This dress is unlined so the seams are finished with bias tape. I’m particular when it comes to that finish. Sometimes, on white, for example, I don’t mind sewing the bias tape on my machine. The visible sewing line doesn’t bother me. On prints, however, it bugs me a little. So, all of the bias tape on the bodice is slipstitched down by hand so that there are no visible sewing lines on the right side of the fabric. Notice on this scrap how distracting the sewing lines are, even the navy one.
All that slipstitching took some time, but I’m glad I did it. The edges on the bodice are nice and clean. I used bigger hooks and eyes at the back of the neck and on the back wraparound pieces because they are easier to hook than the little ones. Plus, they’re sturdier, and I just like them.
I opted for the hook and eye and snap closures instead of the ties in view A because I want the option of wearing a belt, which wouldn’t have been possible if there was a tie already around the waist.
I mentioned this whole contouring thing in my Stories on Instagram, and there were lots and lots of questions about it so I will be dedicating a post to that concept sometime in June. I promise, it’s not that complicated and it makes a world of difference to how a garment fits. If you have any questions, let me know. Have a wonderful long weekend, and happy sewing!
For years, I searched and searched and searched for the perfect lemon print fabric. I know this may sound silly (really, Emily, a lemon print? and years?), but something that specific isn’t the easiest thing in the world to find. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of options out there, but nothing stood out to me, and I wasn’t going to settle for something less than absolutely beautiful. Everything I came across was either a quilting cotton, poor quality, or featured the lemons on a black background. Nothing wrong with a black background, I just wanted something that looked a little more light and springy and a lot more me. (Funny side note: I found an adorable lemon print fabric a couple years ago and used it for an apron design I had in my shop. I’ll post the pictures at the end of this post.)
It’s been so long since I first had the idea for a lemon print dress that I’m not entirely sure where it came from. For a couple of seasons, designers were doing interesting things with fruit prints, including lemons, so it could be that I saw something which sparked the creativity, or maybe I just had a dream about it. That’s definitely been known to happen. At any rate, I stumbled upon this fabric a few weeks ago, and all of my dreams for a lemon print fabric came true.
And it’s Fashion Fabrics Club for the win, again. I have a good laugh sometimes when I think about the fabrics I’ve found on that website over the years. I can go for ages without finding a thing and then, all of a sudden, find exactly what I’m looking for. As soon as my order arrived, I posted this fabric on Instagram and it sold out the next day. I’m sorry about that! It seems I wasn’t alone in wanting a fabric like this, and I wish there was more in stock for you to go buy. It’s a cotton/spandex heavyweight twill with a scattered lemon print, and I love it. I ordered 8 yards, because I wanted enough for two garments and a couple of aprons for me and my mom. Plus, I got it for $5.75/yd so it didn’t exactly break the bank.
Considering how long I waited for the right fabric to come along and my love for this vintage Vogue pattern, I wasn’t going to cut any corners in construction. I made two muslins for the bodice, and I’m glad I did. There were a few things that needed tweaking to get a nice fit: I shaped the front waist darts, took in about 1/2″ at the side seams under the arms grading to nothing at the waist, and pinched out fullness in the back.
I moved the side zipper to the back (personal preference), and cut the skirt in three sections instead of four because I didn’t want a seam down center front. I also added side seam pockets. When I sew a muslin for a dress with a zipper in the back, I always cut the muslin bodice back on the fold, and pin myself into the bodice in the front. This makes it much easier for me to not only get in and out of the muslin, but I can get a more accurate read on how much fabric to pinch out of the back, which is a common thing for me to have to do.
The front view. I have only pinned on one half of the bodice so that you can see what the original looked like. I transferred these adjustments to my pattern, made another muslin to ensure everything fit correctly (it did), and then I cut my fabric.
I shaped the bodice facing pieces and drafted lining pieces to match. I also drafted a pattern to line the skirt.
I’m glad I invested the time into getting the fit right. Makes a big difference!
A peek at the inside, which you know is just as important to me as the outside. Vintage Vogue garment labels can be purchased on the Vogue patterns website.
The waistline stay, a nice (and practical!) detail.
The hem is 3″ deep, which I really like. I used the blind hem stitch on my machine to finish it.
Buttons at the shoulder. Because my fabric was on the heavy side and wouldn’t have worked for the loops, I used cotton poplin to make the button loops. Buttons are from JoAnn.
Inside of the front bodice.
I omitted the cummerbund simply because I wanted to save fabric and I’m much more likely to wear a thin belt with this dress, if I wear a belt at all.
This dress is everything I ever wanted and had envisioned for a lemon print dress, and it was worth the wait. It was also worth every second of fitting and adjustments and patternmaking and sewing and everything in between.
As for the pattern, I love it too. I have plans to make it again right away, in coral and navy blue. This is one of those silhouettes that looks good on just about everyone, so if you’re in the market for a ladylike dress I’d recommend starting with this pattern. Hard to go wrong.
And, finally, here’s the apron I designed a few years ago. What can I say, I love lemons!
Have a wonderful weekend!
I usually buy patterns for one of two reasons, and the longer I journey down this road of building a handmade wardrobe, the clearer that becomes. It seems that all of my projects so far this year fall into one of these categories. Sometimes, a commercial pattern just speaks to me in that I’m-so-perfect-for-you-take-me-home-and-sew-me-at-once kind of way, or I already have an idea in mind and I search and search and search until I find a pattern I can work with and modify it to match my vision. The tops in today’s post fall into the latter category. After dipping my toes in the trendy waters of off-the-shoulder tops and ruffles, I can safely say that I love both, so my desire to add more of them to my closet coupled with my genuine need for cute, versatile tops made this a challenge worth taking on. Only this time, I needed something that wasn’t off-the-shoulder.
I knew I wanted a top with a ruffle along the neckline, but I didn’t want a messy ruffle. All these tops we’re seeing with elastic around the neckline are super cute (and, hello, I made three of them last month), but not all fabrics are suited for that particular design element. That’s a lot of fabric in one area, and I wanted something cleaner. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find a pattern that wasn’t off-the-shoulder or that didn’t have elastic around the neckline. I also can’t find a pattern for a one shoulder top that doesn’t go underneath the opposite arm, but that’s a topic for next month . . .
Eventually, during a McCall’s out-of-print sale a few weeks back, I found a pattern I could work with. I liked the ruffle and the semi-fitted bodice, and I knew I could leave off the sleeves and shorten it a little and it would be the exact top I had in mind. The pattern suggests very lightweight fabrics like chiffon and crepe de chine, but I knew that linen and lightweight cotton shirting would also work. The pattern also instructs you to fully line the top, but I ignored that and opted for bias tape at the neck and armhole edges instead.
I got to work right away making the front ruffle one piece instead of two. It was as easy as matching the front ruffle piece to the front bodice piece and drawing a new center front line.
Here, I’ve placed the ruffle piece on top of the front bodice piece, matching the circle on the neckline at center front. The lower blue arrow in the photo points to the center front line on the bodice piece, which is what I want the ruffle to match.
I re-drew the center front line on the ruffle piece by tracing the center front from the bodice pattern piece. The pink hash marks on the ruffle pattern indicate that that line is no longer part of the pattern and can be cut off.
And now the center front matches on both the ruffle and the bodice. The same result could have been achieved by slashing and spreading the ruffle piece just enough to push the center front to its new position, but it didn’t need to be adjusted that much to justify that much trouble.
Originally, I planned to have a double ruffle on this top, but opted for a single layer in the end because the additional layer was redundant and a little distracting. I did cut it out for the muslin, however, and noticed that the smaller pattern piece overlapped the fold of my fabric. If this happens to you, it’s an easy fix. Simple remove some of the fullness from the pattern piece so that it doesn’t overlap your fabric.
Here, you can see the pattern piece overlapping the fold of my fabric when center front is pinned down.
Now, cut the pattern to but not through the neckline edge of the pattern piece. I always like to do this in more than one spot so that my adjustments are evenly spaced out.
To remove some of the fullness from the pattern, overlap the paper and tape it down, keeping an eye on the side seam of the pattern piece. Once it’s been adjusted, it will look like this, and it shouldn’t overlap the fold of the fabric. You may need to true the neckline and hem edges of the pattern pieces. Because this pattern piece is so full, it won’t be terrible affected by the fullness we removed.
I added seam allowance at center back so I could cut two of the back bodice pieces instead of cutting it on the fold (which is a huge waste of fabric). I shortened the top by 2″, but made no other changes. This top is a dream to sew. It’s one of those easy projects we all like to work on every once in a while!
I had just enough green gingham left over from this dress project for this top, and I also wanted to make it in white and blue. I found the white cotton shirting at Hobby Lobby (they have a couple great fabrics this season!), and the blue pinstripe shirting came from JoAnn. They’re getting a lot of new, pretty shirtings in for spring, which I think is fantastic.
This top checks all the boxes for me because it goes with so many things. It’s comfy and cute with jeans and wedges or it can just as easily be tucked into a skirt or high-waisted pants (you know I love tucking things in). I also love how it looks with this maxi skirt I’ve had for ages. I wear maxi skirts, a lightweight blouse, and a hat all the time in the summer. Now I’m looking forward to making a few new maxi skirts!
I found this skirt at Ann Taylor a couple years ago, and I’ve worn it so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve paired just about everything with it: button up shirts, tees, sweaters, silk blouses, and cardigans. Loving how this sweet blue top looks with it!
I started making this skirt a year and a half ago, and it sat in my alterations closet for ages because it eventually became too big for me. Just last week, I finally took it in, so it’s ready to go (yay!). I used a muted pale pink heavy cotton twill to make it. It’s a full circle, and I like my circle skirts one of two ways: light as air and wonderfully floaty, or substantial enough to “stand up” on their own and look like a big circle skirt is supposed to look. For more information on making a circle skirt pattern for yourself, see this post from last fall.
One thing I really love about this top is that even though there’s no sleeves on it, the ruffle acts as the sleeve. It’s a creative way to not only stay cool in summer, but to cover your arms if you want.
And for a more work appropriate look, keep traditional color combinations in mind. I say it all the time, but that rule still applies to a lot of conservative workplaces. I absolutely love that I can put this top with a pretty pink skirt for a lovely, ladylike outfit and turn around and put it with some tailored black trousers and be ready for a meeting some other grown up function where bopping in wearing lace or a big pink skirt might not be the best idea.
I have some ideas for a few more tops and blouses, both with and without ruffles, so I’m looking forward to tackling those projects in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll be taking a little break from all the tops and pouring some energy into a few new dresses and skirts. You could say that this latest round of blouses has me “topped off” in that department. Ha!
Have a great weekend!
PS: I made my own single fold bias tape for the gingham and blue tops, and I used pre-made white bias tape on the white blouse. Ran out of fabric to make my own!