There’s something so charming about a wrap dress. I designed one in my very first collection, and even now it stands out as one of my favorites. It had short sleeves and a layered, asymmetrical skirt and a sash belt, and I loved it. (See the bottom of this post for photos.) It was part a spring/summer collection, so we made it in a delicious linen/rayon blend that moved so elegantly and felt even better on. The dress was sold in a sample sale at some point, and I never got around to making one for myself. I’ve never forgotten about that style though, and I finally had some time last spring to make one–and I didn’t have to draft a pattern!
The thing about drafting a pattern for a wrap dress or top is that there’s contouring involved–a process whereby the pattern is manipulated to lie against the body without gaping open. It’s a consideration for any garment with a low neckline or cutouts, and it can be tedious and a pain. There’s a reason why so many wrap dress styles are done in knit fabrics; the stretch factor helps ensure a better fit. That said, I still love wrap dresses in woven fabrics–I just didn’t want to invest all the time required to draft the pattern myself. In my search for one, I got really, really lucky.
Butterick 5030 is the ultimate wrap dress pattern for wovens, and when I make it in red for the holiday season, it will be the third time I’ve made it. The fit is excellent (no adjustments needed), but I did make a few small design changes: I added a cuff to the sleeve, increased the flare in the skirt, and drafted a lining. I have a hard time not lining things, especially dresses like this. It just looks more professional and polished to me. I made it in blue cotton for spring and navy for fall.
This project is more than a year in the making. Last fall, after I closed my business of five years, I needed some time to switch gears. I hadn’t sewed for myself in way too long, and I was giddy at the thought of getting back into the studio on my own terms, without pressure or deadlines. Like many of you, sewing is, among many other things, comforting to me. I’m happiest in my studio working on a project. I feel productive, and it’s immensely satisfying putting my creative skills to use.
Knit garments were never really my thing. When I thought about knits, I did not think flattering or stylish. Sloppy, shapeless, and . . . shapewear. Because when was the last time you wore a knit dress without having to consider all the lumps and bumps? Yeah, same here. All that aside, I was anxious to start some projects that were different from what I’d been designing for the past few years. I was also down to almost nothing in my closet. That is no exaggeration. In addition to selling or donating nearly everything I owned, I hadn’t bought many clothes during the business years, nor did I keep any samples or garments for myself. I was down to one pair of jeans, some ratty tees, and workout clothes.
The last time I made a knit garment was in college. I was taking an advanced patternmaking class, and we spent a good amount of time studying knits and how to create those patterns. The mid-term was drafting a knit pattern and making the garment made from that pattern. I made a wrap dress with three-quarter sleeves in this icky, scratchy mint green polyester fabric with some sort of floral metallic design. Fabric choice aside (hey, I was a broke college student), the dress came out beautifully. I didn’t hate learning about knits, nor did I dislike the final product. I just fell deeply in love with fabrics like sateen and denim and linen and silk gazar and wool.
So, back to last year. I’m not sure where the inspiration for this project came from, but it was probably the discovery of the pattern. I spent a lot of time looking at patterns because I was finally free to use them for myself. (We drafted everything ourselves for the biz.) I loved everything about the design: the pleats under the bust, the fantastic sleeves, the wrap belt, the length. Perfection. Then, as luck would have it, I found a gorgeous grey knit. Now, full disclosure here, it’s beefier than what the pattern suggests and you can see that in the photos, but I love it. It’s a performance knit that would probably make a great zippered hoodie or pants, so it basically feels like wearing a sweatshirt. The best. The challenge with knits is finding something appropriate for your project, but also substantial enough so that you feel comfortable in it. If three layers of shapewear is required just for a dress to look good, you can count me out of that little scenario, thanks.
I got over halfway through the project and for whatever reason decided to put it away. It lived in my hidden storage tote of The Forgotten for over a year. The Forgotten, all the projects we give up on, abandon, or just simply forget about. Something told me to dig around that tote last week, and I rescued this little dress. Then I finished it in a day and fell in love. No shapewear required!
Vogue 8825. Cuffs, hand sewing, and hem left to do:
A few years ago, I had a dress. It was exceptional. My mom and I had spent the day shopping together, and we capped it all off with a stop at our favorite store, Dillard’s. This is where we found The Dress. It was straight out of the 1950s: it was fitted in the bodice with an enormous, tea length full skirt and side seam pockets and a belt. It came in pink and blue; I bought blue and my mom bought pink. We were so delighted with ourselves trying it on and twirling around in the fitting room, talking about how quickly we could come up with an excuse to wear it. (Pretty sure that’s when I started saying “I don’t care! I’ll wear it to the grocery store it’s so good!”) This was circa 2004, before camera phones and social media, so I regrettably never got a picture of this dress. I wasn’t a big picture taker back then to begin with. Anyway, somewhere along the way I lost that dress. At some point I probably thought it was too mature for me, or maybe it just got lost during one of the dozen or more times I moved in my 20s. Either way, I sure wish I still had it.
I took an international politics class in college, and a requirement of the course was participation in a mock UN meeting. I chose to represent Monaco, and I thought my new blue shirtdress was the perfect thing to wear. I will never forget the feeling of wearing that dress. It was like I was floating. I remember sitting at my table listening to the international relations majors engage in mock debates, and all I could do was daydream about my dress and getting back to tailoring class to finish the blazer I was working on. My thoughts were soon interrupted when I got a note from Spain, sitting at the table behind me. This too, I wish I still had, because it one of those things that has stuck with me. It read, “Hey, Monaco, I love your dress.” There may have also been a smiley face doodle, I can’t remember. Spain was represented by a male classmate of mine, and that whole exchange stands out in my mind all these years later. The power of clothing and style and your confidence in clothes is real and cannot be overstated. Was he flirting? Did he just really like the dress? Did I look better in it because I felt so good in it? Maybe a little of all of it.
Here’s what I know: a shirtdress is classic, and it looks good on everyone. A few months before I closed my business I started thinking about shirtdresses again. So once I was free and clear to start sewing just for myself again, I was on a mission to make a few. At first, I had trouble finding the right pattern, but eventually I discovered Vogue 9077. It’s not the truly full skirt I’m ultimately after, but the details were too good to pass up. I love the front bands and the gored skirt. The first time I made it was last spring, and I used an eggshell linen/rayon blend. The skirt swishes and sways like you would not believe.
The second time I made it I used a pink linen/cotton blend, and it’s nothing short of lovely. The third and most recent time I made it was in olive sateen, and I love it. The swish factor isn’t there as much as it is with the others, but you lose some of that movement with sateen–and I’m okay with that. I went with long sleeves, and I adjusted the button placket so that I could sew a facing. Just to change things up a bit.