A Maxi and a Meetup

I’m a garment spotter. The first thing I notice when I see a stranger is what they’re wearing, and if I like what they’re wearing I spend the time they’re in my sight trying to figure out how to make it. I do this everywhere. In restaurants, in line at the grocery store (lots of time to stare there), just walking down the street. It’s a great game. What patterns do I own/know of that I could frankenpattern into that garment?

This particular dress was inspired by one I spotted on a girl walking on the path near the beach as I rode my bike in the opposite direction, so I only glimpsed it for a second. But I immediately knew how I would make it. And further, unlike most of the things I play this game with, I really, really wanted to make it.

And when I realized I could attend the LA Sewist Meetup, I had an occasion to make it for. As a bicycle commuter working in a profession that largely involves moving large awkward pieces of furniture all over a stage all day, maxi dresses are not really an option for work wear. But what better than a halter maxi dress to wear to a luncheon with a gaggle of sure-to-be-well-dressed ladies in warm and sunny early summer Los Angeles?

Vogue 8380 maxi

I am kind of in love with the gathered-sack halter dress style. (Why doesn’t this neckline style have its own name? It’s not a true halter, really, but I guess that’s what you call it. Gillian was recently musing the same thing.) Vogue 8380 was the very first dress pattern I ever made, and last year I hacked it to copy a dress I spotted on a TV show. This hack is based on that hack. I used the front bodice piece from that hack (which is extended from the original pattern to go to the true waist rather than the empire waist), and I extended the original back pattern piece in the same way. The neckband I cut from the neck tie pattern, but only made it 25ish inches long because I didn’t want a tie. The waistband is again just rectangles 3 inches high and waist-sized. The skirt I bogarted from New Look 6122 (which I bought because it has several bodice variations I like, none of which I have tried yet) with the skirt cut down at the top to the waistline from the empire line. (Could I have drafted a maxi skirt with center gathers? Almost certainly. Did I feel the need to when somebody had already done the work for me? Nope.)

I just stuck it all together and hoped it would work out. Luckily gathers are your friend when frankenpatterning, so I just gathered the bodice and skirt to fit the waistband.

Because maxi dresses are generally pretty heavy, I used clear elastic when hemming the armholes (zigzag to wrong side, fold along edge of elastic, twin needle over, same as my usual crossover neckline technique) as well as inside the neckband (sewn into the seam) to provide as much support as possible to those little shoulders holding up all that dress.

Vogue 8380 maxi back

Let me talk about this fabric for a second. I. love. this. fabric. This was a Girl Charlee success story. I’ve gotten burned ordering from there in the past by thinner-than-I-thought knits, purchased before I understood what weight of fabric I really wanted. My tip: unless you want a sheer or burnout look fabric, don’t get anything that says it’s less than 10 oz weight. Especially if you want to use it for a skirt/dress. Also, buy everything they have labeled as “designer overstock score” or anything like that, it’s always fabulous. This fabric is a bamboo jersey with lycra that was described as a 10 oz “famous designer score”, and it is amazing. It’s so soft, and springy, and a pretty color, and striped, and just generally awesome. Also, it’s wide enough to make a halter maxi with just two yards. I bought this green one and a gray one too, and I liked it so much when it came that I went right back online and ordered it in two more colors. Yep. Go get some now before it’s gone! (Obviously I’m just telling you about it now after I got all I wanted.)

And after a long spring of buying fabric online without being able to touch it first, I was really excited to go gorge on fabric I could wrap myself in. Because the meetup was only scheduled to shop at The Fabric Store (with Mood still inexplicably closed due to earthquake damage), I made arrangements to hit the downtown fashion district the day before. Nhi, Sandra, Julianne and I made a huge dent in the Michael Levine Loft striped jersey supply, I can tell you that. We also hit the FIDM store and a few of the strange these-zippers-have-been-here-for-decades type shops typical of the fashion district. And let me tell you, the only thing that makes digging through giant piles of fabric of dubious origin more awesome is doing it with other sewists!

LA Sewists!

And hooo boy, other sewists there were aplenty at the meetup on Saturday! It was so cool to discover how many of us there are in Southern California (for a while I was pretty sure there were more sewing bloggers in New Zealand than in California… I still think it’s pretty close.) We occupied a very long table plus some at the cafe, and then we swarmed The Fabric Store, where their huge table in the front of the store was barely long enough for the piles of patterns and fabric people brought to swap. All the fabric I brought found new homes (I’ll be excited to see if any of it pops up as a garment anywhere!) and I picked up a couple patterns and one nice piece of oatmeal slub jersey. Then in the giveaway I won my choice of any Deer and Doe pattern! I chose the Centaurée, which I’ve been eyeing since it was released. It’s winging its way to me from France as I type, and I’m going to see if I can make it up in a knit, obviously. Thank you so much to Erin, JillLaurie and Kathy for all your work organizing this meetup! And thank you to all the generous pattern designers who donated patterns to the (extensive) giveaway! I can’t wait to get my Centaurée (and put my college French to the test with the French version of the instructions…) I had a great time at The Fabric Store meeting folks and talking fabric. It’s a beautiful store, and actually a great place to hang out and chat – here’s Nhi and Juliane hanging at one of the tables. It’s like an awesome fabric bar – they just need some fancy cocktails…

at the fabric bar

I only bought two pieces myself, surprisingly restrained (and I’m pretty sure they happened to be the two least expensive fabrics in the store, my bill was only $16!). So, what did my whole trip net me?

LA haul June 14

Across the bottom are my two Fabric Store purchases – a stretch denim and a mushroom colored viscose jersey. Above that on the right are the two pieces from FIDM – a gray stripe jersey and a lovely drapey pink jersey that feels like upscale yoga top fabric (the Pneuma Tank is calling its name…) On top is my swap snag, the oatmeal jersey. And all the rest is my haul from the Loft – so many stripes! My favorites are the neon pink and gray stripe doubleknit, several awesome variegated stripe jerseys, and on the top left, a weird quilted-y fabric of mysterious origin, which reminded me of Tasia’s recent quilted skirt. I also scored an assortment of fold-over elastic in various colors and prints and a long purple zipper for the project I spent hours coverstitching at Nhi’s.

Yes, the amazing Nhi was kind enough to let me stay overnight (as she is located closer to LA than me), and doubly kind to let me occupy her coverstitch machine for most of the night. I hemmed the maxi dress to start, then coverstitched the heck out of a knit hoodie/jacket I’m making (more on that soon). And, obviously, I want a coverstitch machine now.

I got to enjoy Nhi’s awesome sewing room in her new house, and of course I also had to use her backyard vineyard (seriously – the previous owners were so obsessed with wine that they planted a vineyard) for a dress photo op.

vineyard maxi op

Hmmm, are these grapes ready yet?


Inexplicably I kept posing like I was smelling the grapes, but that makes very little sense, of course. I am the. worst. at photo posing. Sandra, on the other hand, is a natural with bizarre props (never mind that the wheelbarrow is almost entirely obscuring the object of the shoot, the fabulous red jeans):

wheelbarrows are fun

I had an amazing time all in all last weekend – it was so fantastic to hang out with awesome people I can talk to about not only sewing, but also life, and work, and food, and pets, and anything and everything. I’m so grateful that this weird little hobby of mine and the weird giant internet has connected me with great friends I would never have encountered otherwise. Let’s do it again soon!

  1. lisa g said:

    great dress! i love that you barely caught a glimpse of the look and went right out and recreated it. that fabric is seriously tempting… i’ve had it in my imaginary cart many times but never bought… i’ve managed to acquire a bit of fabric lately otherwise i’d be over there in a heartbeat to buy some!

  2. I always enjoy your blog, but this one was exceptionally fun; meeting up with other sewist is so great; I bet you could almost see the energy floating above the group at the cafe; loved the maxi; I’m inspired to give it a go; need to browse Girl Charlie today!

  3. WOW, I love this dress! Great color and fit. Is this the kiwi colorway or a green that is already sold out?

    • aleah said:

      It is the kiwi. I guess I would’ve described it as more of an apple green…

  4. Kristen said:

    I love what you’ve done to the top! I really like the whole maxi dress thing but most of them are strapless. Not for me!! Lol. What a talent you have. I’m very new at this. Just started to sew this year. Your a great inspiration to me. Thank you!!! I love your blog!!!

  5. I garment spotted all over Italy and Paris earlier this month, and my guy started doing it as well! There were enough neat garments we spotted that I kind of wish I had been a freak and asked all of those strangers if I could photograph them. I don’t have balls that big, unfortunately.

    Your meetup looks like it was awesome, and what a great fabric haul! I wish there were enough people near me to do a meetup. Le sigh.

  6. sewing meetups are the best!!! sounds fun and a great haul. I love Girl Charlee as well. great stuff.

  7. Leah said:

    Aleah, I’ve made a dress from the Jay McCarroll knit fabric you brought to the exchange. Putting up a blog post about it latter today.

  8. misscrayolacreepy said:

    I’m so glad you had fun and I LOVED your dress! Thank you for joining us!!!! xo

  9. Really love this dress! I’ve been thinking about trying to make a maxi this summer.. I’ve never made or even worn one before! And I do the exact same thing when it comes to cloths.. Whenever I see someone wearing something I think is cute, I try to come up with a way to make it myself!

  10. Laurie said:

    That dress is awesome! And the pictures are beautiful… 😀 It WAS a great meetup wasn’t it? Looks like you got some fabulous fabric!

  11. At 55, my ‘may I take a picture of the sleeve detail of your dress?’ balls are pretty big. I have the oldest living Blackberry phone with the crummiest lens, so I’m obviously not posting to the internet (right away anyway). People are pretty flattered to have their clothes remarked on in a positive manner, so it’s not real hard.

  12. Fun times all weekend long! My favorite part was going downtown with you ladies, in our fun small group. How did that purple zipper work out for you? I just found a hand needle in one of my striped knits from the Loft. Eeks!

  13. fiore said:

    I love both the dress and the colour! Well done. And it looks so great on you. 😉

  14. Jill said:

    The dress looks so comfy! And especially good for smelling grapes, haha! So glad you could make it and I could finally meet you! And isn’t Nhi’s personal grapevine the best?

  15. Great dress, that green stripe and shape look fab. The vineyard is a grape place for some photos 😉 Meet-ups are always good fun – I know I’m part of the NZ network 🙂

  16. bmweed said:

    I love this dress! I’ve not had the courage to buy fabric online yet – I just know I’d end up buying stuff useless for my projects. I’m glad that this one was a win though – it really suits you and the colour is great with your skin-tone!

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