Monthly Archives: August 2014

In the recent spirit of my “Plan Less Sew More” pledge, I basically on a whim decided to make a dress that’s been floating around in my head for a year or more. In the spirit of The Quirky Peach’s summer stashbusting pledge, I finally cut into some lovely fabric from Michael Levine (the real store, not the Loft, gasp! from back when I thought I had to pay more than $2.50 a pound for fabric) that has been languishing in my stash for more than two years because I was afraid I would make it into something unworthy. And in the spirit of using whatever pattern has caught my fancy in the last few weeks (read: has not been put away yet), I decided to use as my base the indomitable Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono tee (previously hacked here, here, and here).

But this would be my greatest hack yet! I would make it into a cowl neck dress. Inspired perhaps by all the Myrtles showing up everywhere, I suddenly wanted a cowl dress with an elastic waist. I was reminded of this (no longer available) dress from Boden that has been in my inspiration file for a while, which has a contrast color wide elastic waist (and yes, basically an unaltered Kirsten for the bodice, but dammit I wanted a cowl neck), and I dug out the lovely striped fabric I’d been hoarding. I found the perfect contrast color in a beautiful merino knit I got at The Fabric Store in January, which I’ve been saving for cooler weather to make into a long sleeved cowl top (I decided I wouldn’t miss a few inches off one end of the piece). And chanting my “plan less” mantra for courage, I hacked away. And it worked!

kirsten cowl dress

First, the cowl. I knew it must be possible to convert a normal neck into a cowl neck, and indeed a casual googling turned up this diagram, originally from, but now available on every sewing alteration pinterest board ever:

cowl neck alteration

Okay, seems straightforward enough. I traced the top of the Kirsten and made the cuts for the double drape cowl. It wasn’t at all clear to me if I was supposed to make a cut at the bust as in the diagram, but it turned out that I had to make a cut there (and a big one) to get everything to lay flat.

tee-to-cowl alteration

I then traced my slashed piece and added a facing to the top (it’s a straight line on the pattern piece, but when I cut out the fabric I curved it out about an inch more at center to give the facing more incentive to stay flipped to the inside). Sure looks like a cowl pattern to me:

kirsten cowl pattern piece

Just to make sure, I (gasp!) made a quickie muslin from some random knit and, yep, it was a cowl! The one thing that is not addressed in the diagram that I realized with the muslin is that using this method your shoulder seam ends up an inch shorter than on the original pattern, which means the front shoulder doesn’t match up with the back shoulder anymore. I wasn’t sure how to address this, so I just kinda futzed it in the cutting, adding a little to the sleeve of the front and shaving a little off the back sleeve. Knits aren’t fussy. But I don’t know what you should do in a woven fabric, or if you happen to have any desire for precision at all (I don’t, in case you couldn’t tell). At any rate, the resulting cowl is the perfect depth for me. Many of my commercial cowl patterns are of a slightly scandalous depth, but this one is modest without being choking.

kirsten cowl dress 2

For the skirt I wanted something with a little flare, not just a straight gathered skirt like from Vogue 1224 (which I’ve pirated before). I ransacked the pattern stash and came up with Simplicity 1810, a wardrobe pattern that I’m pretty sure I bought during my it’s-got-a-yellow-sample-picture-and-it’s-only-a-dollar pattern buying phase. The shape and fullness of the skirt looked just right. Of course, the pattern piece is an all-in-one bodice/skirt affair, so I traced the bottom half, freehanded a slightly curved line at the marked waist, and added a seam allowance to the top.

For the waistband, I measured the bottom of the bodice (19 inches) and the top of the skirt (23 inches) and split the difference, cutting two waistbands (front and back) that measured 21 inches long. I was using inch and a half elastic, so I made the waistband 2 1/2 inches tall (1/2 inch seam allowances). I didn’t want to use more merino than necessary, and I wanted to make the waistband a bit sturdier, so I cut waistband lining pieces from the main striped knit.

Construction-wise, because of the elastic waistband channel, I couldn’t leave the side seams ’til last like usual. I constructed the bodice (finishing the back neckline with a strip of merino turned to the inside and topstitched, because I like the pop of color at the back neck on the inside for just me to enjoy), sewed up the sides of the skirt, then attached bodice and skirt to the waistbands. I first sewed the side seams of both the waistband and the waistband lining (using a basting stitch for one of the lining seams, which I pulled out later to insert the elastic then sewed shut by hand), then placed the lining circle into the outer circle and stitched both as one first to the bodice and then to the skirt. The inserted elastic gathered the whole shebang up just the right amount.

kirsten cowl dress back

Now, as usual there are some sloppy hacking errors. The back bodice blouses out more that I might have liked, and the front is a bit too crumply too – I would probably have benefited from shortening the front and back bodices some, or figuring out how to make the cowl alteration work without adding that huge wedge at the bust. The skirt seems slightly higher in the back than the front, because I used the same pattern piece for both and my rear is quite a bit larger than my front, plus the waistband sits higher in back than in front. But overall I’m gonna call it a success. I feel strangely accomplished for kinda-sorta venturing into pattern making. I never cease to be amazed at the ways you can move ease around a plain ol’ bodice to make something that looks so different. I’m gonna want to cowl-ify all my bodices now.

This sort of dress is my bread-and-butter: appropriate for a variety of activities from work to evening out to vacation. The fabric is a heavy, very drapey knit with a super smooth hand and great recovery; I’m gonna guess viscose? (Ha, even though I bought it in a real fabric store I still have no idea what it is.) Whatever its provenance, it feels great to wear and I’m gonna wear the heck out of it. Thanks, random capricious whim, for making me make this dress so now it’s in my closet instead of my head!

I tend to be a planner. Some of this stems from the fact that I basically plan things for a living, and some from the fact that I have more time to daydream about sewing than I have time to actually sew. So I generally plan out pretty precisely what I’m going to make next. However, I’ve realized that the things I like best and tend to wear more are the things I made on the spur of the moment, right when the inspiration struck. So.

Last month I was planning on entering the PR Mini Wardrobe contest. I like this contest. I had a lot of fun with it when I entered it a couple years ago. I even had an awesome plan for an old school throwback wardrobe based around jean shorts and a bomber jacket, and I went so far as to make the shorts right at the beginning of the month to wear on the 4th of July. But then I didn’t make anything else. For weeks. I dinked around, read like 5 books, went to work, did not sew. I knew what I was going to make but I couldn’t get excited about any of it. And then, with the end of the month in sight and no realistic way I was going to squeeze in four garments including a bomber jacket, I thought, screw it. And I made the dress I actually wanted to make, instead of the things I thought I wanted to make.

knit lonsdale

This is a jersey knit Sewaholic Lonsdale. I’ve been wanting to try the Lonsdale in a knit for a while (knitify all the things!) and wanted to make it in this specific lovely striped bamboo jersey ever since the green colorway arrived on my front porch (upon which I went back to Girl Charlee and ordered it in yellow). The only thing keeping me from making it as soon as the fabric arrived and was washed was my grand plan to make other things. I can be very foolish.

I feel like the Lonsdale is calling out to be made in a knit. It’s got a casual summer vibe that I don’t think plays as easily with a nice woven fabric like a voile; i.e., I think this knit Lonsdale will be appropriate for more occasions than the lawn version I made a few years ago. Case in point: I wore this dress to a friend’s bridal shower and it felt totally appropriate for that event, but so would the woven version. Then after the bridal shower we went out to a pizza joint, and later in the day I wore it to a movie, both places the knit dress felt right for where the woven dress would have felt too fancy. Knit dresses for the win!

I basically didn’t modify the pattern at all for the jersey fabric. I omitted the zipper, obviously, but I kept the back seams in the bodice and skirt for shaping. Rather than the waistband that goes all the way around, though, I cut two waistbands, front and back, constructed the whole front and then back of the dress and sewed the side seams last for fitting, like I usually do for knit dresses. I made the waistband a bit taller than the pattern, but that’s just a personal preference. I also omitted the pockets, sadly, because that style of pocket is hard to make work in a knit. Oh, and I chopped 4 inches off the length (really! why is it so long?).

knit lonsdale back

I self-lined the bodice, and while I didn’t feel that stay tape or elastic was necessary in the front bodice, I did sew clear elastic to the seam allowance along the top of the back bodice for a little extra support. I maintained the loop-and-tie strap design of the pattern, although in the jersey the bow is a bit heavy and floppy. It would probably have been neater to just sew the straps into the back bodice and dispense with the tying, but I like the adjustability that provides to the front.

Size-wise, I suspect you’d want to go down a size from what you would make in a woven. I can’t be sure, though, because the woven version I made sadly doesn’t fit me anymore. I ended up cutting about a size larger than I made last time (just in the waist and hips, though, not the bust), because I thought I might have to go up almost two sizes to get it to fit in a woven again. I also shortened the bodice almost an inch because I remembered thinking the bodice was too long for me in the other version, and it turns out I could have shortened even a little more on the sides. I think this is less to do with the length of my torso (which is very average as far as I can tell) and more to do with the fact that Sewaholic’s patterns are drafted for higher armpits than mine. Putting the top bodice line where I want it under my arms puts the waistband too low, which makes the bodice blouse and wrinkle on the sides. This will likely not be a problem for you if the Renfrew top as drafted doesn’t cut off circulation to your arms the way it does to me.

knit lonsdale 2

Overall I like this dress. Some minor regrets: I wish I had played with the stripes a little, because I feel like this dress could use some chevron action. However, that would have required a lot more fabric and been more wasteful because of the shape of the bodice pieces with those looooong straps. Also, the skirt is an A-line rather than a full 1/2 circle, but I kind of wish I’d gone with a 1/2 circle, which I feel is more flattering on me. But if I’d taken the time to think about and make those changes, it wouldn’t have been the instant gratification project I wanted.

sew more

Which leads me to my new goal (for summer, at least): Plan Less, Sew More. I’ve been letting myself get bogged down in obsessive thinking and planning, at the cost of my mojo. At this point, I’d rather make whatever tickles my fancy than what is required for this or that contest or sewalong. That said, I don’t object when, by happy coincidence, I can have my cake and eat it too. I have almost unknowingly created a dress for Heather B’s Summer Sundress Sewalong. If this isn’t a sundress, I don’t know what is. Which is probably why it makes me so happy, and why it called me to make. it. now. (Even though our version of summer here is overcast with temps in the high 60s… sigh. I know, I know, but I’d trade any of you with regular ol’ 100 degree summer weather right now.)

And then, to further solidify my pledge to not plan anything, at 10pm the night before the bridal shower I decided this dress required a new purse. Something casual but not informal, sort of like the dress. Into my quilting cotton stash I went, pulling out an ancient Echino camera print fat quarter which I decided needed to be a foldover-style clutch/purse. It took me a bit of thinking to make a fold over style work with a directional print, but once I realized I could just turn it on its side the thing came together in about an hour. I used a blue zipper, because why not?

foldover clutch purse

And I lined it in orange, because again, why not?

foldover purse open

And I love it.

It’s basically a big zipper pouch, which there are a bajillion tutorials for online if you’ve never made one. My pieces were about 14 inches tall by 9.5 inches wide (that’s what worked with the fat quarter in the orientation I needed). I added little tabs with D-rings to each side at about 9 inches from the bottom to hold the strap and encourage folding over at that line. For the strap I doubled up a piece of ribbon I had and edgestitched it, attaching a small dog clip at one end so I can convert it from a shoulder strap to a wrist strap. Instant gratification again!

So here’s to sewing what you want, when you want. Now I’m off to stare at my stash and see what else is begging to be made!