Thursday, 1 August 2013

Maria's Happy Dress

When I first recruited Maria for this project, we went shopping for fabric.
I had been invested in the idea of using stretch fabric. But then Maria fell in love with a poly-cotton print. So we got that too.

Sometimes when I get something nice, I'm tempted to save it for a 'special' occasion. For the record, that is a stupid plan. Because it will sit there for years and you may never get to it. Sometimes I have soooo many things I want to do next, that I can't choose one.

I decided today was the day to make this happen.

I didn't quite know what we bought this for, and I don't think Maria quite knew what she wanted. But she did give me a dress/top to copy which she liked. So I thought I would start there.

There are a few different ways to copy clothes. On this occasion, I went with dressmakers carbon paper and a tracing wheel.

  I got mine at Fabric Land for £2.55. I believe it is also available at John Lewis for about 3 times as much. Either way though, it's worth it. You can use it over and over again for heaps of stuff.

This method wouldn't work for every garment - if it's too thick or if the fabric is easily damaged I would take a different approach. But this was a simple dress, so it seemed the fastest way.

You lay your paper down, then your carbon paper (tip - make sure you put the coloured side down, otherwise it will print on your garment!) and then you lay the garment over the top of that, with the panel / piece you want to copy laid out flat in the centre. If this means squidging the other bits around so they are creased that's completely ok. You copy one part at a time. You might be able to see in this picture that the centre panel is flat, but the side panels are puckering to achieve that.

Once you have your piece laid out flat, possibly with a weight on it to stop if from moving, you roll the little wheel along each seam line.

When you remove the piece, assuming you did put the carbon paper the right way around, you will have a dotty line which is your seam line. Too easy!

From there, for a direct copy, you add on seam allowances and cut it out. Repeat that for each part of the garment.

Now, for a direct copy, that would be the end of it. But I wasn't making a direct copy, so some changes had to be made. I increased the length to make a full dress rather than a hip length top.

We also needed some serious alteration around the bust. This dress is probably suited to a B cup, which Maria doesn't have. Getting something to fit around the bust has always been a big problem (ahem).
I added a little extra around the princess line seam.

As soon as she tried it on, we revised the required alteration. By a lot.
I cut the dress under the bust to make an empire line seam, and then after a couple of trials, made a princess line bodice.

It took a whole day to do this, but the results were absolutely worthwhile. I was going to talk about how I did it - but there's something else I want to discuss instead.

What I enjoyed most about this process (and I really did have an absolute blast!) other than being able to play life-size dress ups, was the apparent revelations for Maria. She always struggles to find clothes that fit, and hates clothes shopping as a result. But for this project, she was dancing happily and swishing her skirt in delight each time she tried it on.

Maria:  This dress actually makes it look like I have a nice figure.
Me:  That *is* your figure.

We talked a lot about fit, and compromises we make when we have to buy clothes, and the fact that they don't fit - and the problem isn't our bodies but the fact that those clothes aren't made for us. But I don't think I grasped how demoralisng that bad fit can be. Having the ability to create something made for you is an incredibly liberating and empowering skill set.

Maria (while dancing in her dress): I've just realised why you always look so nice in the dresses you wear... I *like* my tummy in this. I'm not even holding it in, and it looks good!

Maria took her dress home on a hanger, dancing it all the way, and talking about other things that could be done, or that she now wanted to design. It was a complete and sudden turn-around from the perspective she held a month ago - that she wasn't really into clothes. She felt pretty. And I felt damn good that I had helped her feel pretty. I had only intended to make a dress. I had no idea how awesome this was going to turn out.

Maria: I haven't stood in front of a mirror for this long in ages.

Granted, I can still see 3 or 4 things about this design that I would like to tweak. But I'm happy to call it a win.


  1. Zoe, I completely agree with your comments about fit, and so glad to see that you're encouraging others not to put up with bad fitting clothes. I admired your dresses at CIT and have since have since made several for sheer fun. Will definitely be trying to create a t-shirt dress block to play with. Cheers, Ruth

    1. Ruth,

      I copied my block off a t-shirt and added a dart. If you're going to give it a go, would you mind looking at my posts and letting me know if they're helpful?

      These four posts in order *should* be effectively a set of instructions.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. I am in awe of your talent! I've never sewed anything, other than a weird 4 legged octopus in 7th grade home ec. I want to learn to sew now! My great gran sewed, so it must be in me somewhere! Very cool site!

    1. Sounds like you invented a tetrapus! Get in there, give it a go. :)