Seasonally Appropriate Kirsten-hacking

I realized recently that I don’t sew for the actual weather where I live. This could be because I’m simply in denial (“hey, I live in Southern California, summer should be hot!”) or I’ve fallen into the Seasonless Region Trap (“well, it’s technically summer on the calendar, even if it’s 60 degrees and not sunny”), but I am sewing for seasons we just don’t have here. I have in my closet a number of long sleeve dresses and tops, and a number of sleeveless dresses and tops, but I have relatively few dresses and tops with, for instance, some shoulder coverage – i.e., that are actually functional in the weather we have here most of the time. While all you other North Americans are having summer right now, we on the coast have Gloom. It’s not cold, but it’s not hot. The sun isn’t out when I get up, but is hidden above a thick layer of… something or other that is not rain clouds, not regular clouds, not fog, but is a depressing shade of gray that makes me sad, until it finally breaks anywhere between 11am and 5pm. In other words, not sundress weather. We get that in October. Or January. Coastal climates are weird.

So this year I’m trying to be more realistic. Luckily, I discovered the magic that is the Kirsten Kimono Tee. Not sleeveless, but not sleeved either. Warmer than a tank but still with a casual summery vibe. Let the hacking continue!

kirsten dress

This dress is based off a dress I spotted at Boden, of course. I’m realizing that waistbands are my friends in the figure flattery department, so I’m gravitating more toward waistbanded styles rather than the bags-tied-with-sashes or gathered-skirts-joined-directly-to-bodices that I’ve favored in the past. I knew this would be an easy hack. Waistband just a rectangle (in this case, about 3 inches tall). Skirt again borrowed from New Look 6122. But then I had to figure out how to make a gathered bodice…

I started with the Kirsten tee pattern, shortened to waist length (by the simple expedient of trying one of my existing tees on and measuring from the center neckline to my waist). Then I stared at it for a while. I wasn’t quite sure how to actually add gathers along the front waistline. In the end, I did what amounted to a Full Bust Adjustment. I never thought I’d say that on this blog! I knew what to do because I generally have to do the opposite. I slashed and spread, trying to concentrate my spreading at the bottom of the bodice rather than at the bust. Here is a terrible iPhone picture of what I did. I evened out the bottom hem by sort of splitting the difference.

kirsten gathered bodice

And, well, it basically worked… in the sense that if I had a full bust, there would be room for it now. If I stand up straight it looks okay, but if I slouch there’s a pretty big fabric puddle above the waistband. Any ideas out there about how to add gathers to the bottom of a bodice without making room for two or three additional busts? I’m fairly sure it’s not possible, since that is the point of gathers, but perhaps some of you are magical.

I didn’t adjust the back at all, and I still had to gather it a little to fit it to the waistband.

kirsten dress back

But all in all, I still like it. Kind of a lot. It’s basically just what I wanted. A casual but not too casual summery-feeling dress that isn’t so skimpy that I need a cardigan on a Gloomy morning.

The fabric is from Girl Charlee (ordered using my 9oz-or-more/designer-overstock rule). It’s a more vibrant turquoise and gray check than is evident in these pictures, taken as they were indoors on a typical Gloom-struck morning. I bought it because the bold graphic appealed to me, though I didn’t quite know what to make with it. I pulled it out when I thought of making this dress hack, and I think the simplicity of the dress helps tame the bold fabric. I will say that this is the second GC printed fabric I’ve bought that the color rubs off on everything. My hands were green by the time I finished this dress, and my white bike seat was smeared green when I arrived at work the first day I wore it. It doesn’t bleed, exactly, just rubs off like the dye on new denim. It doesn’t affect the look of the fabric, and in my experience stops after a few washes. The fabric is nicely stretchy and was super easy to work with (other than the green hands), and there’s a ton of it left in stock (and on sale!)

kirsten dress 2

So as we near the end of June, my eternal hope that the Gloom will lift springs, and my mind is drifting from practical weather-appropriate garments to shorts and tanks again. I managed to make one other shoulder-covered dress, but I’m afraid my resolve is crumbling and real sundresses are calling me… So I’m sure this odd little dress will get a lot of wear. Because I’ve lived here long enough to know that Gloom lasts until September, no matter how many sundresses I make.

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19 comments
  1. lauradublin09 said:

    Lovely dress – looks great on you!

  2. lisa g said:

    dresses like these are my favorite kind! while we do get summer here, it’s usually a short summer. two months max where it’s comfortable to pull out the shorts and sundresses first thing in the morning. for the gathers, you might try using the scoop top tee, which is already flared at the sides. or on this one, slash right under the bustline then make a few vertical cuts to spread the bottom part only. it looks fine from here though!

  3. This is an adorable dress on you! It’s really flattering and perfectly suited to your figure.

  4. Heather said:

    Love the dress design and fabric choice. Looks great on you!

  5. misscrayolacreepy said:

    I hear you on the weather! I don’t sew coats or anything that is suited for cooler weather, at least in summer (it’s pretty warm in SLO!) because it will never get worn. I just think it’s so hard to spend so much time sewing something and not be able to wear it for months! But I guess I am a hypocrite because I am knitting a sweater right now, so don’t listen to me haha.

    You have convinced me that I need this pattern. It’s such a perfect look for us coastal gals. Even when it’s cold you can just throw on a cardigan and be good to go!

  6. TinaLou said:

    Thanks so much for your recent advice about how to judge relative weights of knits in online stores; so often I get something and it’s just not weighty enough for the intended project. I love your dress, especially the back! If I wanted to get a gathered waist at the lower edge without having any impact on the bust area, I would simply pivot the side seam line outward as much as I’d like to be gathered. Use the underarm seamline as the pivot point, and then extend the existing side seam outward, maintaining its existing length. Then just draw a gentle curve as your new lower bodice seam, and gather that in.

    • aleah said:

      Ah ha! That totally makes sense. Well, maybe I’ll have to try it again now…

  7. creative pixie said:

    I love wearing dresses especially in the summer, this is such a good example making up your own pattern to suit your fig. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Becky said:

    Great pattern hack! You are right, the waistband is your friend. This dress is very flattering.

  9. Rachel said:

    Oh my gosh! Gorgeous! I’m a long time reader but first time commenter — I think this is my fav thing you’ve ever made!! Gorgeous on you!

  10. Marie said:

    Great hack – the dress looks fantastic on you

  11. This is a beautiful pattern hack. Clever you!!
    It really suits you and you ere right about the waistband – it defines your lovely figure.

  12. bmweed said:

    I love this, and the green hands are worth it for the style factor!

  13. LinB said:

    To get gathers in one spot without affecting the fit in other spots, you should slash and spread in only one spot — you did not need the extra length that an FBA gives you, simply to add fullness at the waist!

    Next time, slash up to the bust point level at the point along the bodice bottom where you want to add the gathers, and pivot the sides of this new dart apart to the width you want to add. The rest of your pattern should rotate itself gently up and out — I’m assuming you only want to add an inch or two of gathers to each side — and you can then fill in the open part of the pattern and/or re-draw to include the new width. Add a bit of depth to the bottom of the new dart (1/2 the added width is a good start) to be sure that the bottom of the bodice ends up straight across — you can adjust for this when you baste the bodice to the waist, to check for fit. Which I assume you will be doing, at least pin basting, before you sew and finish seam edges and face and interface. Be sure to note where you want the gathers to start and stop, for reference when you sew the bodice to the waistband or skirt waist.

    You might find that you get a tiny hilling up of the rest of the pattern when you spread the dart — it is perfectly acceptable to squash this flat and proceed as if it were not there. Fabric is a fairly fluid medium in this respect.

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