Greetings semi-tame burros of Custer State Park. Next time, we’re bringing carrots. Your big scary teeth are getting way too close to our fingers. Now, will you kindly remove your giant head from our car window so we can go find some bison??

Since burros such as yourselves are naturally clever and curious, I know you’ll understand when I tell you that I recently because OBSESSED with the-making-of-a-maxi dress. It was a natural progression. Again, I’ve left off making this month’s dress for my Year of the Dress project and here we are, within waving distance of June. Take that, add in my project of the week of putting together the class schedule for July (all dresses in July, donkeys. All dresses!) and then top off with eight yards of lighter-than air silk/cotton voile and what does a jenny like me get? A plotting-about-it-while-you-should-be-falling-asleep sewing obsession. The maxi dress.


[image Anthropologie]

Getting inspired

I’ll start at the beginning. As I’ve mentioned before (and will undoubtedly mention again) we’re doing ‘theme’ months in our class lineup at the shop. May is the month of skirts, June is all about shirts and in July it’s all dress classes. As I flipped through the Kwik Sew catalog, looking for dresses that were stylish and appropriate for a beginner-level class, my peepers fell upon this magnificent goddess caftan.


[Kwik Sew 3856/3868]

Perfect, right? Easy to sew, fun for this summer, totally on trend, available in regular AND plus sizes… I added to the class lineup, picked out my sample fabric and moved on to other things. Specifically, working on my May dress.

I originally intended the May dress to be a shirtwaist made from some completely over the top rose-print quilt weight cotton. But when I cut out the pieces and made muslin #1, I realized that fitting the dress is going to take a while. Plus, next month is our one-year anniversary and we were married under a rose-bedecked gazebo, so perhaps that would make a better June dress.


But we’ll save that for another month. In the meantime, what to make for June?? While prowling around Joann’s the other day (for muslin, actually, but I got distracted) I found some simply lovely cotton/silk voile in a pseudo tribal print that I found strangely compelling. Tribal print is not my thing. I also found a coordinating crazy poly butterfly print, and not wanting to have all that nasty poly against my skin, I stopped by fabric warehouse SR Harris and raided the $5.00 silk bins where I found some hot pink cotton/silk blend lawn perfect for lining what was shaping up to be a fine romp of a dress. I mean, anything that involves 10 yards of fabric is going to be a whizzbang, am I right, my braying equines?

Alright. Inspiration, check. Fabric, check. Now for the pattern. I could have easily just made the Kwik Sew pattern, but I’ll be making up that pattern as a sample for the class and I sort of wanted to do something different. Also the Kwik Sew pattern has a surplice neckline (the crossover) and I had some detail work in mind that would work better with a centered front seam. I surfed the usual suspects to check out different styles out there (Anthro, Banana, Ann Taylor, J Crew, ModCloth and Asos) and after much photo flipping I determined that the Asos Maxi Dress models looked uncomfortably emaciated and that I wanted a kimono-type sleeve rather than sleeveless, an empire seam with some shaping in the front and some gathering around the shoulders. Here’s my top three inspiration photos.

004  006  005

[images left | center | right]

I considered just draping the whole shebang, but I haven’t made many garments with kimono sleeves and I wasn’t 100% sure the best shaping for the bodice pieces with the sleeves, gathering and V-neck. I checked out the pattern catalogs at Joann’s and found this pattern from Burda.

Here’s the technical drawing.

The bodice looked perfect, although the pattern is drafted for a knit and I’m working in wovens. The skirt shape isn’t what I want, but I thought if I used the bodice pattern pieces and graded up, then left off the gathers on at the waist and just added an elastic casing and the skirt pieces I could get where I wanted to go. So let’s get started.

Tissue fitting

Here is a shot of the front bodice piece and the trim piece for the neckline and center front – in case you, too, weren’t sure what the pattern pieces would look like for this style. I’ve marked the gathering points in pink. The pattern instructions say to run gathering stitches between the two pink dots and gather until they are three inches apart – they’re a little over six inches, ungathered. Once the gathering is done, the bottom edge of the bodice sits straight across the body and is not higher in the center front as it looks when lying flat.

And here’s the back bodice piece with the neckline trim.

The pattern ran through a size 20 – measurements bust 41/waist 32/hips 43.5. For comparison, the Big 4 size 20 is bust 42/waist 34/hips 44,  and the Hot Patterns size 20 for the 24/7 A-line and Pencil skirt is bust 46/ waist 38/hips 48.

Clearly, I would need to size up. Not only are the measurements too small, but the pattern is designed for a knit, so the built in ease will be different than it would be for a woven. AND the fit of the bodice is a bit more body conscious (at least, according to the envelope art) than I have in mind for my maxi dress. While I don’t want the dress to be giant, I would like to hit an easy, loose fit.

When I know I’m going to be significantly resizing a garment I follow these general steps. 1) tissue fit to get an idea of how much to add (2) adjust pattern (3) sew muslin (4) fit muslin (5) transfer fitting changes to paper pattern (6) if the fit was REALLY off or I’m working on a very fitted garment I repeat steps 2 through 5. Otherwise, I just start in on the garment.

To tissue fit I put regular scotch tape along all the ‘seamlines’ so that I can stick pins through the tissue and try on my paper garment without tearing it to bits. You also have to pin in any shaping at this time – like darts and gathers. I taped and pinned everything together and was lucky enough to have a friend help me with the next step. Slide on the tissue garment and get it to fit as well as possible at the shoulder, neck and side seam. Pin so that the side seam and shoulder seam are lined up in the center of your body, then pin the center front and center back as far as it will go, keeping in mind the desired ease (so don’t pin it super tight if that’s not the fit you want!) We pinned the tissue right to my shirt to hold everything in place.

Here’s the back view. You can see that it nearly reaches my center back (CB)- marked in pink. If I start with a size 18 or 20, I usually don’t have to grade up or adjust the back. However, since this pattern is intended for a knit and doesn’t have as much ease built in as I’d like, I’ll be grading up a bit. See how it veers out a bit more towards the top? That’s more because I’m wearing over another shirt and because the arm opening is a little small than because my back is wide there!

Hmmmm. You can see a LOT more width is needed in the center front!!

I also need more length overall. I’d like the front bodice to hit where the pink line is in the photo below.

Adjusting the pattern

I slipped off the tissue and did some math. I considered the flat paper measurements, the measurements I took during the tissue fitting and my own measurements along with how much ease I wanted in the dress. My hip meaurements are much, much larger than my bust, waist and midriff measurements. I’d considered making the top of the skirt and the bottom of the midriff the same width, but decided to make the bodice a bit smaller and gather the skirt before attaching to the bodice. I decided to add 1.5” to the front and back bodice pieces. This will give me six additional inches, enough to grade up and provide some ease. In addition, I’ll add 2” in length to the front and back pieces and I’ll add 2” to the arm openings.

First, adding 1.5” to the back. I thought the neck opening seemed a bit small, so I added the full amount at the base of the neck. I’ve marked the edges of the inserted tissue in green below.

In the front I added the tissue between the gather marks. The gather marks are in pink, the added tissue marked in green. I wasn’t 100% happy with adding here, but I didn’t want to add toward the center front as I didn’t want to make the angled neckline any longer, and I thought adding more towards the side seam might alter how the shoulders lie.

Next I did a little math. Rather than gathers, I was thinking it would be nice to use pleats. Here I’m working on the front. There’s roughly 8” between the gather points that, per the instructions, needs to be reduced to three inches. I decided to take five 1” pleats, removing 5” from the gather area and leaving three inches of fabric. Perfect! Since I want my shoulders to look symmetrical, I will need to also figure out the spacing between pleats. With five pleats, there are four ‘spaces’ (tip: hold out your hand and pretend each finger is a pleat. Count the spaces between the fingers – four ‘spaces’!) So I have four spaces that I have to fit in three inches. Three divided by four is .75. I will mark five 1” pleats, spaced .75” apart for a total of 8 inches.

Next I added length. Here I’m adding 2” to the back bodice piece. I cut along the shorten/lengthen line, then slid the bottom away from the top, keeping the center back edges straight – it helps to work on a gridded mat for this. I filled with tissue, but have one more little fix. See on the right, I’ve marked the two  corners where I’ve slid apart the pieces, they aren’t in line any more! When you add length along a curve seam you need to true up the seam lines – basically, redraw the seamlines so they are nice and smooth.

Normally, when I true up the seamlines after adjusting a pattern, I try do it gently over as long an area as possible. This time I did it as short as possible because I wanted to avoid adding more width to my ribcage area. I just used my curved ruler to ease back to the top of the line where I cut to lengthen the piece.


Here’s the front bodice piece lengthened – shown in green.

The final adjustment is to add 2” to the arm opening. These arms are super simple – they are just openings left by not sewing the side seam all the way up the shoulder! The original marking for the arm opening is shown in green. I measured down 1” and made another mark. Since this is a double layer of fabric, by sewing 1” short, I’ll be adding 2” to the arm opening.

Analyzing the muslin

I sewed it together and was pretty pleased! Since the style of the dress is so simple, this isn’t much to look at, but I really like the kimono sleeves on my wimpy shoulders.

Front and side views.


The width feels really good. I think I might shorten the sleeves just a bit and I was thinking of lowering the neckline, but I don’t want it to be ridiculously low cut so I’ll probably leave it alone!

One change I’ll be making is to add a bit of shaping to the empire seam on the center front. I want the dress to be at more of an angle than straight across. It’s sort of messy because I just stuck a pin in it, but on the left is the muslin as sewn and on the right I’ve pinned up the center front.


Here’s a shot from the inside of the shaping. the green lines mark the fold and the raw edge. I’ll transfer these marks back to the paper pattern and trim a wedge from the bottom of the paper pattern.

One final adjustment – the pleats on the front and the back don’t line up and I don’t really like how it looks. I don’t know if it’s a result of my adjustment or if it’s just the way the pattern was drafted, but the green dot marks where the pleats start in the back and the pink where they start in the front. I’m not sure where I’ll move things too. I like the drape at the top of the shoulder on the front a lot,  but the pleats going so far down my arm cause a bit of weird bagginess that I’m not sure about. I’m probably overfitting, here! I will probably start the pleating a BIT closer to the green dot, perhaps a half inch closer to my neck.

That’s where I left off! Next up in the process will be transferring the adjustments back to the pattern pieces, then I will cut and assemble the bodice. I will probably construct the skirt a bit more by draping – no paper pattern pieces! I’m envisioning a couple of rectangles with some gathering, so it shouldn’t be too hard other than the shaping at the center front and figuring out how I want the layers to work together!

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