How to make a reversible shift dress

Recently, I have been making stretchy shift dresses. A lot of them. At some point I realised I needed heavier fabrics, in part because the weather is getting colder, and in part because: undergarment-lines!

But heavy stretchy fabrics are impossibly hard to find. So I settled on a double-layer dress. 

As I pondered making it, it occurred to me that if I am making two layers, and my dress is of incredibly simple construction, then I should be able to make it  reversible!!

Except I wasn’t sure. 

When I googled reversible dress, I found nothing useful. Maybe everyone knows how to do this? Maybe it’s impossible? Or maybe nobody has thought that a shift dress made of simple jersey is something you’d want a two-layered two-in-one of!

So I had to make a prototype. Naturally, the articulated mattel doll came out.    

My pattern making was rudimentary. (In fact I did not leave enough room for her head!)

    
And it was easy to cut four layers of fabric in one shot. It was a barbie-sized proof-of-concept! 

 
This is where the secret is. The order of the seams!!! I did them by hand because the dress was so tiny.

First, good-side-to-good-side of the front pieces (one of each colour).

Stitch  the neck and arm openings. 

Do the same to the good-side-to-good side of the back pieces.

  
Then stitch the side seams of a colour’s front and back pieces, good-side-to-good side. And then do it for the other colour too. 

You end up with a silly-looking tube. 

 
If you wiggle the tube at the shoulder seams, you can also stitch those down (good-side-to-good-side of each colour). It gets a bit tight, but not too much.

Then you’re ready to flip the dress like a sock!

And there we go. A double-sided dress.   
Shame she didn’t fit in it. But it’s ok. Because in exactly that way (plus several dozen pins) I made me a life-size one!!

The only difference: my front and back pieces are a different shape. So I made myself two pattern pieces of the full front and full back, and cut two fabrics (one of each colour) from each pattern piece. 

   
I pinned EVERYTHING like a madwoman. Thin jersey dances around like a jitterbug if given half a chance. It’s thin, slippery and stretchy! 

    
I did all of my pinning of the arm and neck openings first. 

 
Then stitched them veeeeeery carefully, progressively pulling out the pins. Notice I set the pins perpendicular to the seam line, in case I needed to sew over them. 

   
Then I also stitched the long side-seams and shoulder…. Which I completely forgot to photograph!

After the dress was flipped, I had to puzzle out the hem. The one thing I could not be bothered to check on the doll!

Firstly, I let it hang for a few days. ALWAYS do this before hemming to allow the fabric to take its preferred position with respect to gravity. 

I have seen dresses retailing at £500 whose creators forgot to do that, and whose hems were crooked by the time I tried them on!!!

 
After it had rested sufficiently, I pinned it, folding excess fabric inwards and creating a folded flat seam. 

  
I then let it hang a bit longer. 

Eventually, I took it down and stitched the hem down with one neat zig-zag seam. I used black overlocking thread which is incredibly thin, so my stitch is near-invisible. 

I wore it last night to work and then out for the evening! But I don’t have any photos. There will be some later!! 

I am currently working on a lined dress with pockets using the same pattern and principle! Except the “lining” is very thin, and therefore I will never reverse the dress. 

two-piece two-seam jersey dress

This is a two-seam dress IF you have the guts to leave the armholes, neckline and hem unfinished. Some jersey materials lend themselves wonderfully to that sort of look. I personally wanted my dresses to be worn at the office as well, so I finished them carefully.

I cut the fabric on the floor because that was going to be easier than anything else.

The pattern is one I lifted from a knit dress I already own. I wasn’t sure if it would work in a jersey, but it did!

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I cut it very carefully to be sure the stripes would line up when I assembled it.

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The tools. Bernina B330, Guterman red thread (100% Polyester) and Prym metal bobbins.

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Being a bit OCD about lining up the stripes. The machine still made them slip around, annoyingly enough so it’s not flawless. But it’s damn close!

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I was supremely lazy with the armholes and neckline and quickly just rolled them inwards. I did use pins though, to make sure it was nice and neat.

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Ta daa… Easy jersey dress. Two pieces, 4 seams (2 sides & two shoulders) with 3 “holes” (arms & neck) and one invisible hem.

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I liked the dress so much, I have made two more like it. Here is another one, in jersey I bought at Liberty. Yes, it’s a liberty print!!

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Wearing it the next day.

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Three dresses in three days: sew-insanity

Several Fridays ago, i took my sewing machine to my partner’s flat. His flatmate was on holiday for two weeks, and in this narrow timeframe I am allowed to commandeer half of the dining room table for the machine and its little collection of gadgets.

I am insanely grateful for this because i have been wanting to make dresses for months, but my flat gets too hot for it. Temperatures reach 29C in my room (normal temperature in the summer in there is 27C, 3 to 7 degrees warmer than outside), the side effect of which is that the second i walk in, instead of digging for fabric, i remove hot clothes, lie on the bed, and launch netflix while trying to move as little as possible…. “Unbearable” is a word that comes to mind. I avoid staying at home these days. And am planning to move out, ahead of contract end, in march next year. I do hope that goes all right. That place is not liveable from June to September, and does not deserve the nearly £1000 of rent (all bills excluded) i pay for one of two rooms. Ok. So flat-hate rant over (it is impairing my productivity!!!!) let’s go back to dresses.

So what’s been going on?

Saturday, I made a dress.
Sunday, I made a dress.
Monday, I made a dress.
Tuesday, I wore Monday’s dress to work and then to meet friends for dinner.

On Wednesday, I was going to dinner with colleagues, ostensibly to talk about work and taking over the world. So no sewing. And no new dress.

The fun thing is that for two of the three dresses, i made a pattern from scratch. The Sunday dress, i used an old faithful i love. And i didn’t finish it, i am still missing the zipper and hem…

For the Saturday dress, a bamboo jersey maxi dress with a button placket (that was the dumbest idea…), i measured myself and plotted the basic half-torso pattern pieces. One for the front, one for the back. (The back one is 10cm narrower in the bodice part, and 4cm longer in the skirt part)

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There are no photos of the finished dress…. It aggravated me too much.

Turns out bamboo jersey is like liquid mercury! A slithering little devil that tries to break your machine! I don’t think I have a single straight stitch on the entire dress! It was very difficult to work with, kept snagging, breaking threads, warping, wiggling, moving at different speeds under the foot….
I got super angry. But then two days later i wore the dress around the house….

So I will try again with two changes to my strategy:
One: teflon sewing foot so things glide nicely.
Two: masking tape! Apparently one way to make sure slithering fabric stays straight is to put tape next to where your seam will be! I’ll be trying that.
I already have jersey needles. What i might do is buy some thinner thread. Maybe my plain cotton one wasn’t right for the uber-lightweight stretchy fabric.

About sewing feet. DO NOT BUY THEM ON AMAZON IF YOU OWN A BERNINA 330. I bought 4 sewing feet compatible with my type of machine. Except one nearly broke my machine when the needle hit the foot, and on all the others, the needle also hits the foot, it doesn’t go through the hole. That would be a good £35 i have thrown away. And i still cannot apply bias tape or put in an invisible zipper. More money needs to be spent. Don’t make that mistake!!

Sunday dress was a pleasure to work with. I had bought the fabric in the winter, a lovely half cotton half viscose blend, with a brushed side that felt soooooo soft! (The other was a bit shiny) I bought it in two colours, and worked with the pink one this time. Stitches were perfect. Thread was perfect, everything just worked. One of the perks of working from a pattern and with fabric that resembles muslin (imagine lightweigt bedsheet fabric).

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And here is the dress I wore to work and then to dinner. It was fairly quick to make. Just one evening.

Overambitious…

Many many months ago, I bought a most excellent book about draping. I almost immediately started plotting a pattern on my dressmaker’s doll… Where it stayed until last night. It must have been a solid 6 months on that doll. So long, in fact, that some of the green Sharpie marks I had made on the baking paper (who needs specialised pattern paper?) have begun to wash out from light exposure. The thing to learn, clearly, is that green sharpies are not lightfast.

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I took the marked pieces off the doll, laid them out on top of 2-way stretch jersey, and cut. With my new fiskars tool! Think pizza cutter, but with a razor-sharp disc, which cuts through layerS (the capitalisation is intentional) of fabric.

I have assembled nothing yet. I only cut the fabric last night! Curious to see what will come of it.

Meanwhile, I did use the rolling cutter to make my traditional shift dress, in turquoise this time. It was SO much easier to follow the curves than it is wi scissors!! I wish I had known about these cutters earlier, they are a godsend.

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I have no photos to post of the finished dress. Messed up there. And it’s in the laundry by now.

How about some changing room selfies that i will be using for inspiration in my (very near) future projects?

First up, a Roland Mouret dress.

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A bit of Dior (the dress) and Chanel (the bag), which i may also attempt to make variations of. I’m a big fan, with a small budget than i would like, and an appetite for craft!

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Practice makes perfect… dresses for little girls

The lovely man i have been with for two years now got me a present this winter. He sponsored the acquisition of an amazing Bernina 330.

Here are some unboxing photos of that legend of swiss engineering.

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Thing is… I do not know how to use these fancy things. I’ve always used old machines. By old i mean late 19th or early 20th century. So. What to do?

Well, this calls for a new project, of course. With infallible (and humble, clearly) logic, i concluded that making a dress for myself might use most of the stitches, but would take forever. So. What to do?

Fortunately, i have an almost-niece. The lovely man’s brother has a daughter. I’ve never met her in person, but i’ve seen her on skype dozens of times. She’s going to be 18 months old very soon, and is adorable.

So a plan, and project, hatched: make a dress for my man’s niece. If I muck it up, i will have destroyed a lot less fabric than if i tried to make a dress for myself. If i succeed, she ends up with a lovely new summer dress of my own devising.

Here is a photo story of how this project is going.

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white wool crepe dress – part 2

Progressing!

I spent a day at a friend’s house this week and used a new sewing machine she had just gotten. LOVED the machine! So simple, it does everything I need it to do, has a seam cutter, easy reverse stitch to start and end your seams, and a very delicate pedal to control speed. Excellent machine! It is now on my amazon wishlist!

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Here are some photos of the work progressing. The trickiest bit was hand-stitching, with microscopic invisible stitches, the cuffs, so the lining would not show when they’re flipped over.

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This is the dress as it stands (or lies.. heh) now. A work in progress, but looking good! I’m missing the zip, the hem, buttons on the cuffs and some invisible stitches to finish a few things, like the collar, the cuffs, and any other details I notice.

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This will have been the dress that it took me the longest to do. It is also the most complex project I have undertaken. I did make a wedding dress, but that didn’t have sleeves. Or a waistband piece. Nor was it fully lined. Nor did it have cuffs! Honestly, if I pull this off, I’ll know I am able to tackle much more ambitious projects.

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white wool crepe dress – part 1

My latest project’s pattern comes from burda. I saw the magazine on a trip to Bavaria, and bought it. Amusingly, it is all in German, which makes making the dress a lot harder as I cannot follow the instructions!!

I loved the shape, so I decided to turn it into my holiday project. We’re in January now, and it’s still not finished, but I still think of it as my holiday project given I started it over the Christmas holidays. Maybe I’ll wear it to dinner for Valentine’s with The Man. We’ll see.

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I bought a lightweight wool crepe from a shop on Goldsworth road in London, near Shepherd’s bush. Specifically, it was from Unique fabric’s, a really small place with some very good natural fabrics. While I was there I could not resist and I picked up a viscose-cotton blend that was obscenely soft and inexpensive! Curious to see what I’ll make of it. Most likely a summer dress of some kind.

Step one was, as usual, copying the pattern off the burda sheets onto new sheets. I did it with a small Sharpie I have, which writes in blue. I loved the effect on the paper and was surprised it did not bleed through onto the burda pages.

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I then cut the fabric, both outer wool crepe and inner satin cotton lining (the light pink you’re seeing in the photo) together in one shot (across 4 layers), using pinking shears.

Assembly started off easily and quickly. First the required darts, then putting together the bodice, then the skirt, and then attaching them together. Getting the princess point in the waistline was a challenge. I think I managed. But attaching the bodice to the skirt was another challenge, which I decided to take in two steps. First, I attached the wool outer bodice to the wool outer skirt. And ideally I would then have sewn the lining sides together. But. I did not feel that the wool was strong enough to hold the entire weight of the skirt up on its own, so given I’d made the skirt with the lining thickening up the wool, I decided to hand-stitch the waist seam across all layers, in a neat little seam that would hold the weight. It took a while, but it wasn’t too hard to do.

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The tricky bit was the sleeves. At this point I was on holiday at my parents’ where there are no working sewing machines as far as I am told. So I stitched everything by hand, much like I had to for the teal silk dress over the summer. Given I was just putting together sleeves, and it was going to be delicate pleating work anyway, I was happy to do that by hand. Now that I’ve come home though I’ll be taking the sleeve apart on the long seam, and restitching the lining and outer long seams separately along the stitching line I put in by hand. The shape is fine, and cuff works, I just need it to be fully straight and with a clean inside seam.

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My next challenge, and which will be part of the next post, is to make cuffs to put on the sleeves. I have never made cuffs before. I am terrified. But it’ll be worth it I think. That dress looks really nice!!

The teal silk dress

A long overdue post, because I finished the dress and wore it in July.

This dress posed three huge challenges.

1 – I’d never worked with sandwashed silk before, and it’s a very delicate fabric

2 – I lost my trusty shift dress pattern, and had to create a pattern using my own body measurements from scratch

3 – My mother’s sewing machine was eating my fabric and tearing holes in it last time I used it. She confirmed it was “broken”, and so I was left with needing to hand-stitch every single part of this dress.

How did it go? Well let’s just say I’ve never worked harder in my life on a dress. And I made a friend’s wedding dress last year! This was harder. Less stressful, because I did have a backup plan for what to wear… But harder, for the three reasons listed above.

How did it go? Scroll past the photos to read a short version of the highlights.

I was lucky enough to have found, a few days before leaving, this amazing book on pattern making. It’s very simple, has practically no instructions, but for someone who can solve complex mathematical equations and likes building IKEA things without instructions (or, ok, confirming her guesses before ending up with a table instead of a bookcase…), it was enough.

One of the photos above shows me being creative and trying to use baking paper as my pattern paper. An excellent idea. Except I pulled the paper out of the roll, and had about 30cm in my hand. It was empty. And as I started this on a Sunday when shops are closed all over Greece… well… I was lucky to find some IKEA craft paper nearby.

The first version of the dress had no straps on the shoulders. Seeing how it sat, however, I had to do something, and decided to add straps. I made them by hand, each stitch done by hand, and flipped once I was done. I used an interesting trick and stitched thread inside the tube. I’d attached it at one end, kept it inside the tube I was stitching (while inside out), and when it was ready to flip, I used that thread to pull it inside-out! Worked like a charm 🙂 Of course I had to be careful and not tug at the thread until I broke it. It was more about using it to help ease the fabric through. It made a huge difference though!

The fitting was a bit difficult, as I had limited assistance from my mom. She likes things very loose, I like them well-fitted. In retrospect, having had dinner in the dress and danced for more than 5 hours wearing it, I should have made it a little bit looser. My stitches held beautifully (I was more surprised than you are), and the dress looked amazing.

Another trick I used to help the cowl drape properly. I noticed the dress was falling backwards. Normal, given how I’d cut it. So I decided to weigh it down on the front. I made tiny pouches from the same fabric as the dress, put three loonies ($1 coins from Canada) in each, and stitched them closed, and to the base of the straps on the front of the dress. I had to secure them on the sides, too, as they had a tendency to dangle and get in the way. They held really well through the night, and even through the subsequent handwashing of the dress. I didn’t have to tug at my neckline, it stayed where it was supposed to be, which was great!

What I learnt:
– You CAN make a dress entirely by hand. But you really don’t want to. It takes forever.
– If you’re going to dance in a dress and feed in a dress, leave yourself a couple of inches of room for it.
– Making a pattern from body measurements involves some guesswork and 3-dimensional magic (which I’m not sure I possess)
– You can make a gorgeous silk shift dress with barely 1m of material (at £15/m, this is a bargain dress!) and it looks stunning. I did spend a good 20 hours making it though, so your call.

Final sketches and draft handmade pattern for a new dress

I want to make a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding this weekend. Yes. This weekend. In 5 days. I’m not sure I’ll manage, but my sketchbook looks more optimistic.

I have the fabric, the zip, the matching thread and the dress idea.

Alas, mother says the (terrible anyway) sewing machine we have here is broken. And, more critically, i do not have a pattern to make the dress with. So here i am exploring designs, taking measurements, and trying to make my first ever pattern from scratch. Well. First ever non-jersey pattern.

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(Also posted on exintaris.com)