Shirt shifts

When I was finishing my sister’s and my dresses, my sewing brain was scheming on summer projects. As I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with altering patterns over the past couple of years, the possibilities felt even more numerous/tantalizing. So a few weeks after the wedding wrapped up, when it was as hot as blazes, I made good on one of those ideas and sewed a couple of shift dresses based on McCall’s 6436 shirt pattern. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

The pattern seemed like a good shift candidate because of the bust/back darts and the body-skimming fit. The shirt hit the widest point of my hips, so I was able to extend the side seams and square off the hem. I added extra ease through the hips just in case, but found I’d removed it all by the end of fitting. I was working with a light-weight stretch denim, previously sewn up as pants.

This dress has a split hem that’s 1″ longer in the back, a bound neckline, and an exposed zip back closure that would be too short for a non-stretch fabric. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Even though I’m in love with this dress and wear it multiple times a week, I can acknowledge its faults; the fabric doesn’t press particularly well – I can’t seem to steam out those dart bubbles – and my zipper insertion caused waves. And fit-wise, there are some lines in the front, I’m getting some pooling in the low back, and I think the back darts could use some work towards the top.

Getting close but not quite achieving a good fit triples the likelihood I’ll make another version immediately. I dove directly into my second version. To contrast the first, I chose the loudest fabric in my stash, a quilting cotton (!) bought as a souvenir from my trip to Kauai.

This was the best picture of the front of the dress… | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think everything lays much more nicely in this version, even though I wear the denim version 10x more. I raised the neckline a bit and cut the armholes in further. I’m still seeing some mild lines from bust to hip – is this just shift dress territory, or is there alteration I can make? Maybe one of those crazy darts I see on 60s shift patterns?

Not sure what I’m doing here… | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think I could stand to make a bit more of a swayback adjustment, but the back is much improved. I added a center back seam on this version, which helped me squeeze this dress out of 2 yards of 44″ fabric. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I underlined with a cotton lawn and used a neckline facing instead of binding. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I also used another one of my grandma’s spectacular buttons and made a thread loop from embroidery floss. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Here’s a gratuitous shot – I just like how nonplussed I look while wearing this festive print.

Overall, I would call this pattern mutation very wearable. I am realizing just how much I neglect fitting my back, though, especially below the arm holes. Do you have any techniques for fitting your own back?

Wedding dress: design, pattern and muslin

This is the first post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, and covers planning and design. The next posts will cover construction, the final look and resources.

When I first started working on my sister’s dress, I had hoped to find a single pattern to suit my sister’s exacting tastes. She was sending me tons of gorgeous Pinterest images, and I was sending her links to patterns, and boy, was there a big divide in aesthetics. None of the patterns ended up appealing to her even though what she wanted – a sweetheart bodice with some kind of flattering shoulder and armpit coverage, and a floor-length skirt – wasn’t too outlandish.

So we put down our phones and laptops and did some field research at a boutique where my sis could try on a dress by her favorite bridal designer, Monique Lhullier. She fell in love with this dress bodice, which gave us something more solid to work from.

Image credit:
Image credit:

She also fell in love with a-line skirts with chiffon overlays, like this one:

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

My diagnosis was that we’d need a strapless bodice – and all accompanying structure – with an overlay of lace, and a skirt that was shaped at the top with a full hem.

With some basic design decisions made, I found myself cobbling together patterns. The skirt I chose – Sewaholic’s Gabriola – was an instant hit with Bee and fit with only minor de-hipping. After a false start with Simplicity 1606, I made some flat pattern alterations to an unlikely candidate, McCall’s 6325 (a bustier top pattern with a button placket, which I’d sewn as designed here and here), by eliminating the front closure, removing the peplum, and extending the cups both horizontally and vertically. I documented three muslins (there were probably more): | making a wedding dress
Muslin 1: utterly unwearable but good enough to prove the concept | making a wedding dress
Muslin 2: with boning and batting, shown on yours truly | making a wedding dress
Muslin 3, with minor fit and design tweaks and what passes for straps at Crab & Bee Bridal

I won’t delve into the muslin construction too much, but I will mention that Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book has a section muslin-making that I benefitted from immensely. I used quite a few of her techniques, like thread tracing the muslin pieces, wide seam allowances and marking the natural waistline with elastic. I also added boning and a simulated waist stay to the muslin –  techniques I would have assumed were for the final bodice – and stabilized the neckline with twill tape, which was necessary for keeping the shape during fitting.

After the struggle of finding a pattern, fitting was the next major challenge.  Part of it was a lack of experience on my part; I rarely make or wear close-fitting garments, and when I do, I prefer a low-profile look through the bust. Bee wanted this bodice to fit like a bustier and support like a bra. Getting a good fit through the bust, especially as we wavered on undergarments, was something I had to really focus on.

As I mentioned above, I wanted the bodice support itself as strapless to reduce stress on the lace. My sister and I share the same shape, which is broad through the shoulders, no difference between upper and full bust and a fairly narrow ribcage. I can’t imagine a shape less conducive to holding up a strapless bodice! Tightening the upper edge created the dreaded back overhang and the whole bodice would eventually creep down anyway. Adding the boning and waist stay to the muslin were critical to proving the bodice could stay up. | longline bra in progress

The same fit issues with the strapless bodice applied to RTW undergarments that Bee was trying out. I ended up making a bra for Bee based on the bodice, thinking it would be easier/faster than waiting for her to find a product that may not exist. Even if it ended up getting abandoned, making the bra was what allowed us to move on from the muslin phase.

So, because I love a good summary, here’s a list of what this phase entailed:

  1. Search for dress patterns
  2. Fail at finding dress patterns
  3. Try on real dresses
  4. Start searching for skirt and bodice patterns to match favorite real dress
  5. Try Simplicity 1606 for bodice pattern
  6. Reject Simplicity 1606
  7. Choose Sewaholic Gabriola for skirt pattern
  8. Alter McCall’s 6325 for design
  9. Muslin McCall’s 6325 for fit and design, adding boning and padding
  10. Try to find strapless bra
  11. Fail to find bra, and make one myself
  12. Graduate from muslin phase

I’ll be back soon with more posts! For now, I’ll leave you with an image that captures the turning point of the messy, amorphous muslin process, when both Bee and I started to feel more confident and excited. Seeing the bodice and skirt come together, even in muslin, was magical. | making a wedding dress

Raglan progression

Like many, I’ve been taken with the raglan-sleeved sweatshirt trend. I had a vintage 1980s pattern in my stash, which turned out to be disastrously large through the armpits, chest and sleeves. (Every time I’m facing extensive pattern changes, there seems to be a McCall’s/Butterick/Vogue sale and a pattern that promises to save me from my fit issues.)

I bought McCall’s 6992 and tried it out using a thrifted jersey sheet. I used my hip size all around, but the bust came out huge. And my sister, bless her heart, tried to hide the wrinkles by pulling the shirt down before taking a picture. I felt like a cat with a coat on. | McCall's 6992 | thrifted sheet sewing

Here I am, trying to get that blouson feeling back. | McCall's 6992 | thrifted sheet sewing

And here’s the usual swayback scene. | McCall's 6992 | thrifted sheet sewing

For Version 2, I traced a smaller size up top graded to the larger one through the hips. I used some organic cotton French terry and honest-to-goodness RIBBING! And please enjoy a liberal dose of wrinkles, because I’ve been living and sleeping in this sweatshirt.

One element that wasn’t clear to me from my research or the pattern art is that the one-piece sleeve has a shoulder dart. At first I was irritated to sew a dart into knit fabric, but it really improves the shape. | McCall's 6992

Satisfied with the fit, I began working on what was my ultimate goal: a raglan-sleeved sweater-knit dress. The only initial change I made was extending the hem. I also underlined the front and back (with cotton-hemp jersey from a failed dye experiment) because the fabric was scratchy. It was supposedly a wool/acetate blend and felt a good deal cheaper / a lot less wooly than its price tag led me to believe. | McCall's 6992 dress

After basting together the pieces, I trimmed down the arm/side seam multiple times. I also added a hem band at the bottom and finished the neck and sleeve hems using – surprise! – this tutorial – which adapted quite nicely to my sweater knit. | McCall's 6992 dress

I hated every minute of sewing this fabric, but I like the dress quite a bit; it’s warm and easy to wear. There might be some room for improvement in the fit of the back raglan seams, but it’s comfortable. | McCall's 6992 dress

And speaking of raglans, my coat progress continues. I figured out the main problem with the back fit and added a whopping 3/4″ to the back shoulder seam. Everything fell into place! | Named Patterns Yona muslin

I still have some work to do on my lining pattern pieces, but I was starting to feel scattered and kind of hopeless I’d never get to start sewing with my real fabric. So, I’ve begun constructing the shell! I began with the back, just to get my bearings with the fabric and underlining on a simpler piece.

So the verdict after all this raglan-ing? I’m not sure the raglan is the best design for me, as my shoulders are supremely broad and square, but I appear to be riding this silhouette until the wheels fall off.

Triangulated scrap dress

How’s your Scraptember going? Mine got a whole lot better this weekend when my project finally started to look like a garment. I got so excited that I finished it sooner than I’d expected. Sometimes I get a little antsy when I’m doing piece work – it can take a little longer than normal projects to look promising. | scraptember scrap dress

Anyway, it’s done. And surprise! It’s made from grey and blue linen scraps!

I was planning on making a longer, button-less version of what I made for my two-piece set, but I kept returning to the idea of adding a gathered-rectangle skirt to the bottom so I could wear it as a tunic. I had some actual yardage of one of my scrap fabrics, the silver coated linen, and I went for it. (I probably would have picked one of the other fabrics if I’d had the choice as the linen is pretty heavy, but they were down to their scrappiest scraps.)


Nothing too fancy to note in terms of construction; I stitched the scraps together and serged. I liked the idea of a triangle in the middle and placed it so it would end right on the finished neckline. I used my dartless tank pattern that I drafted off my sloper and pieced around the triangles until I had enough fabric. The neckline and arms are finished by – what else – more scraps. | scraptember scrap dress

I was thinking about mimicking the triangle on the back but went for strips instead as it fit the scraps I had better. | scraptember scrap dress

I was a little concerned that the transition from the solids to the strips would be jarring, but I really like it.

Just for funsies, here are the projects that my scraps came from:

In other scrap news, I took a spin through my scraps during this project and decided to remove the pieces I didn’t like. It’s a complete no-brainer, but the artist (hoarder) in me always thinks I’m going to strike on some fantastic scrappy color combo even with colors and prints I don’t like.With a few years into scrap hoarding under my belt, I’m noticing it doesn’t really happen. Another part of me – a hoarder without artistic ambitions – has a hard time throwing anything vaguely useful into a landfill. I’ll be researching textile recycling options for those undesirable scraps… aided by triangle power! | scraptember scrap dress

Isabecca tunic

Didn’t expect to see me back so soon, didja?


As I mentioned in this post, I re-visited the Rebecca Taylor pattern (Vogue 1367) to emulate an Isabel Marant tunic I’ve had a crush on for a few years. A super-stylish former coworker of mine has the shirt version, so I got to admire it in person a number of times. It only fanned the flames of inspiration!


I adapted the pattern in the following ways:

  • Added 8″ to the front and back pieces below the yoke
  • Made separate pieces for the curved hems, cutting two of each to create hem facings
  • Split the front yoke into two pieces
  • Added flat-piping to the front and back yoke seams to emulate the original’s raglan sleeves
  • Added trim down the front


The trim and flat-piping I used were actually precisely-cut pieces of printed quilting cotton. I searched high and low for the right trim, ribbon, whatever, with no luck! Most of my wardrobe is quite unembellished, and it’s highly possible I didn’t know where to look. | Vogue 1367 modified tunic


Even though the design is printed and not woven like I was hoping, I love the final effect.


The main fabric was a serendipitous acquisition. I like the cruise the thrift store for fabric, and came across a lovely lightweight linen! It was an unpalatable-to-me brownish-creamish color, but at $5ish for over 2 yards, I swooped it up. I dyed over it with a blue-ish black. Weirdly, it didn’t get much darker, but it cooled off the offending warm tones.


The curved hems are quite deep, which makes this more of a tunic than a dress. I just couldn’t force my sweaty little legs into leggings when my sister and I were taking pictures!


I was surprised by the broad back of the sleeveless version I made, but in making this version, I learned that it’s because these sleeves are very upright. (Is that the right word for it? They are angled parallel to the side seams.) They look quite voluminous in the pattern photography, but in real life they’re fairly fitted at the top with no gathering. I love a poufy sleeve and would add some gathers at the top if I made this pattern again.



I started this project shortly after my sleeveless version and finished it over a month. It’s not a complicated project, but I sewed slowly and took my time making design decisions. I tend to have plain tastes, so I can easily talk myself out of extra details or modifications. Since I was inspired by someone else’s design, however, it was fun to study and mimic the details as closely as I could.

I’d actually hoped to make this tunic during Shield Maiden March but wasn’t able to secure supplies or sort out patterns and modifications in a timely manner – basically, I had nothing I needed to make it happen! Consider this my (6-month late) submission, please.

Bossy bees

Alternate title: How Sally of The Quirky Peach bossed me into making a beautiful dress. Yes, it’s true – Sally and I engaged in some light-hearted bossing as part of Heather Lou and Oona’s brainchild, The Sew Bossy Initiative!


Normally, I’m not much for planned sewing. I can’t even tell my own danged self what to sew without facing major recalcitrance. This was different. I felt like an elf picking things out for Sally and got Christmas feelings when I sent them off to her. And I was eaten alive with anticipation after 3 weeks of email exchanges – what would I be sewing up? In addition to the excitement, Sally and I also pushed back every loose deadline we’d set for ourselves at least once (usually twice) so I never felt like I was rushing to make decisions or sew.

Anyway. Without further adieu, I present the Bossy Bees dress! | Vogue 1395

Sally really kept me guessing. We both tried to ask vague questions about each other’s likes and dislikes, and by the time we were ready to send each other our projects, I was pretty sure I was going to be challenged to a knits project! Instead, she sent me one of her favorite woven fabrics – rayon challis, printed with bees to boot! – and this glorious new Rebecca Taylor pattern (Vogue 1395). She also included lining fabric, a lovely note AND a fat quarter of crab fabric (!) that I’m hoarding for something special. | Vogue 1395

The bodice of this pattern is interesting; the ties reach around from a back overlay with a gathered detail close to the neck. | Vogue 1395

I ended up adding an lightweight underlining to the bee fabric as it was slightly sheer and I’m a prude who can’t be trusted to wear a slip. This added some weight to the back. If I were to make this pattern again, I would forgo underlining the back overlay as it pulls the shoulder seams back a bit. | Vogue 1395

The pattern suggests a narrow hem on the sleeves, ties and skirt. I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle the corners of the ties. They look good to me from the outside, but I’ve been wondering if there’s a technique for narrow hemming a corner. Anybody know? I trimmed off the bit of excess on the side that ended up on top. | Vogue 1395

I also made my first attempt at catch-stitching the seam allowances of the skirt. It took a bit of time, but it really does keep those seam allowances flat! The challis has such a lovely drape, and I thought it might be tempted to roll closed if left to its own devices. I didn’t want the lining hem to get too much body, so I serged it instead of finishing it with the narrow hem. Sacrilege! | Vogue 1395

The only change I made to the pattern was adding 1″ to the bodice length. Since the bodice is pretty loose-fitting, I only made a muslin of the front and back pieces and skipped the back overlay. I was concerned about the skirt length from the pattern photo, but it’s perfect with the extra bodice length for this 5’8″ gal. | Vogue 1395

I’m smitten with this dress, and couldn’t resist taking a wedding-dress style photo of it. It feels amazing to wear, too – I may be a rayon challis convert! | Vogue 1395

Here’s a closeup of the bee print. | Vogue 1395

I had such a fun time with the Sew Bossy process. It was delightful to take a break from my normal sewing of separates and tunics to sew a straight-up pretty dress. And, I tend to pick a lot of solid fabrics, so I was excited when I saw that Sally had picked a print that I both loved and never would have found for myself. And, at the time of writing this post, I can’t wait to see the project I sent Sally! | Vogue 1395

Big thanks to Sally for being such a good boss, and thanks to Heather and Oona for Sew Bossy. And, if you haven’t already, wander on over to Sally’s blog and see what she made!

White, blue, blue

For the past month, the only outfit I’ve wanted to wear has been leggings and a tunic. For the past year, I’ve wanted to try the color-blocked version of Vogue 8805. The stars finally aligned.

I used a white linen from the stash shop for the top, the rest of my cotton-linen from this project for the bodice, and a bit of tencel purchased from Nancy’s Sewing Basket (in Seattle) for the bottom band. | Vogue 8805

I also lined it – more on that towards the bottom of this post – which reduced the wrinkle factor of the fabrics quite dramatically. I wore this for a full day without ironing it before taking these photos. | Vogue 8805

Based on my measurements, I graded from a smaller size through the waist to a larger one in the hips. I took a risk and didn’t make a muslin. Instead, I cut out the top piece first to make sure it fit through the shoulders before committing to cutting out the bodice. I figured I could minimize my fabric waste that way.

I like the final fit – the only additional modification I’d make would be taking 1″ width out of center-front from the neck through the waist (although I’d keep the neckline the same.) I could easily see this pattern working beautifully for a dressier dress – lace for the top and bottom contrasts, perhaps. | Vogue 8805

Aside from grading and the lining, I made a few modifications to the pattern. The first was keeping the upper back of the white piece open instead of stitching it partway closed. I’d read that some larger-headed sewists found the opening tight, and I didn’t want to take the risk – I’ve had issues finding hats and helmets that fit, and my graduation cap in college threatened to pop off my head throughout the ceremony. | Vogue 8805

I also shortened the sleeves by 1.75″ at the shoulder seam and 7/8″ at the armpit. | Vogue 8805

The lining was kind of a hybrid of lining and underlining. For the top piece, I sewed the fabric to the lining at the neckline and back opening, understitched at the seam and then treated it as one piece by sandwiching it with the bodice and bodice lining. I also skipped the top-stitching. | Vogue 8805

The bodice lining was a tiny chunk of linen-silk blend gifted to me by the textile artist I worked for, for shibori experiments. I thought twice about using it because it’s on the thicker side, but I’m so glad I went for it. It moves like a dream, feels great, and has reduced the wrinkling of the main fabric dramatically. I had so little fabric that I had to make a center-back seam and cut one piece on the cross-grain, but I haven’t noticed any repercussions.

The bottom band is sewn right-sides together on the front to both the fabric and the lining, and then slip-stitched closed on the inside. I also shortened the final length from what the pattern was suggesting. | Vogue 8805

The last modification I made was hemming the sleeves by hand. Since there isn’t much to this dress, I wanted to make it as luxurious as possible. And, after four years of sewing and reading sewing blogs, I finally had to see what the  fuss about hand-sewn hems was. I love how it looks and it was really fun to sew – meditative. I’m finding that I look forward to hand-sewing in my projects – do you? Am I crazy? | Vogue 8805

Or  just a tunic-and-leggings-lovin robot?

Purple plum

I’m just now getting around to sharing this project, which I made during my Introvert’s Birthday. It also made an appearance on Day 2 of Me-Made-May this year.

I used the same ever-abundant tan linen as my Shibori Satsuki to make this dress, and then dyed it. I hadn’t made the pattern before (Simplicity 2360), so I didn’t want to dive in with nice fabric! The looser silhouette didn’t look like it required a muslin, however, which proved true. I think I would only make a couple of small tweaks if I make this dress again: take in the princess seams a bit, and lengthen the bodice 1″ or 1.5″ instead of 2″. And I’d love to try it the pattern using a sheer or lace overlay.

I dyed the dress in two stages. First, I scrunched up the fabric and wrapped it tightly with rubber bands. Then I dyed it blackish-blue. The pattern that came out was pretty cool, and I considered keeping it as-is, but the colors weren’t very flattering.

Next, I dyed it a plummy color. A lot of the detailing disappeared; I’m not sure if it washed out or just got covered up by the purple. I got nervous about letting shibori experiments sit in the dye bath for too long. I worried that the dye would overpower my scrunching and rubber bands.  Next time, I’ll really let it sit! I used Procion MX dyes, which suggests a 20-minute period of constant stirring and a 50-minute period of occasional stirring.


This dress is easy to wear and always lifts my mood. And the fabric is unrecognizable from its humble beginnings!

I think I’ve still got 6+ yards of this tan linen stuff left… maybe it belongs in a quilt? Curtains? Bento bags? All of the above?

Would-be NYE dress

I finished my New Year’s Eve dress sometime in January and am excited to share it with you now! My sis and I got together this weekend and had a little photo shoot. I could have sworn that I blogged about how I worked on it nearly all NYE day, only to put it aside around 6pm to enjoy dinner with Nathan (a decision I still stand by!), but the post doesn’t seem to exist.. Even though my Wedding Guest Dress turned out well sewn on an extremely tight deadline, that’s no guarantee that this one would have. And, I’m starting to realize that sewing for 6 hours is a recipe for sore hands and careless construction.

And we deserve better, don’t we?

The pattern is the widely-reviewed Burda Cap Sleeve dress. I went through three rounds of muslins on this project, which included a small-bust adjustment and re-positioning of the darts. This pattern also inspired me to become a Tracer rather than a Cutter, which made adjusting it that much easier. I think the front looks fantastic, but the back (which I adjusted less) still looks a bit funny to me. Don’t get me wrong, this dress will be worn any time the occasion calls for a metallic dress, but I may need to revisit the back pattern if I make it again. I may be the proud owner of both a broad back and a sway back.

The fabric is a metallic glazed linen from Mood Fabrics, my first purchase from them. I washed it very gently in cold water and it didn’t seem to lose too much shine. It’s beautiful stuff, although I’m not sure it’s exactly right for a fitted dress since it’s both wrinkle-prone and difficult to iron. For my own peace of mind, I’m considering the wrinkles a design feature.

There was even a little treat for Orson from Mood; like many others of his kind, he enjoys a good crinkly bag.

The suggested skirt length was nearly perfect pre-hemmed, so I took another gander at a hem facing with a blind hem to adhere it to the skirt. I used the fabric I also used to line the bodice, which was a lovely grey cotton. I really like hem facings as a way to make a rich hem without sacrificing length.

The dress made its debut at a modern dance performance, which was just as special as New Year’s Eve.

I think I’m set for party dresses for now. Thanks to some of the realizations brought on by Gillian‘s Top 5 lists, I’m turning my attention to tops, tunics, jackets (!) and pants (!) this year. Has your sewing focus changed noticeably in 2013 so far?

Just a couple 2012 projects


I made this top way back in June using a modified Burda 7661, which is the second pattern I bought, ever. I removed the closure in the back and dropped the arm scye by an inch, I believe. It’s made from the same fabric as the garment once known as the Melville Dress, now referred to as the Wrinkle Dress.

Its creation was a very compulsive affair. Nathan was out of town on business and I allowed myself to descend into a sewing binge, only returning to real life to pick him up from the airport. Nonetheless, it’s well-made enough to be one of my favorite pieces to layer in spring and wear on its own during summer. The crinkly cotton does just fine as a top, unlike the dress in its current state. I’m excited to wear it again when the time comes!


This is a more recent make, from November. I had some cotton jersey on hand from a 2011 fabric purchase. I used McCall’s 6288 as a base (the same pattern that Andrea from four square walls made her cute knit shirts from) but converted it into a dress.

It’s a hard-working and useful dress, but mistakes were made. The waistband, which is just a smaller circumference of the same fabric, is stressed to the max by the larger circumference of the skirt and bodice. I think I could have made it a lot closer to the skirt/bodice circumference and it still would have looked flattering. Also, the more blog posts I read by other seamsters, the more I realize that there is more to knits than just sewing as normal and trimming/finishing my edges with an overlock foot. The biggest visible issue is the wavy hem. It sounds like I need to stabilize my hems? And employ a double-needle? Help!

(Shoe confession: even though I tried to limit myself to 0-2 new pairs this year, my shoe purchases ballooned out to 5 and the boots above were the fifth. I’m writing up a little sustainable habits post for next week!)

My last tidbit has to do with very prosaic sewing, hemming some thrifted jeans. My Bernina generally handles everything I throw at it with aplomb, but got cranky when I reached the thickest part of the hem. I was using top-stitching thread with a 90/14 needle. It looks like the bobbin case tension might have been high. Does anybody have any tricks for working with denim, or have I pushed my machine over its limit? It’s also been a couple years since its had a proper cleaning.