The Salty Kirsten; or, party dress in a hurry

This seems like the time of year when you might be finding yourself in need of a cute party dress right quick, so I thought I’d share the dress I speed-made when I found myself in that predicament a few weeks ago. I had a wedding to go to (the wedding of a very stylish friend) and I wasn’t really feeling anything in my stash (pattern or fabric). I was working in LA the week before the wedding, so my cunning plan was to find a fabulous fabric downtown and make a simple dress with it on my only day off before the wedding. And, actually, incredibly, that happened.

salty kirsten

I had a sort of vague idea that I wanted a blousy, gathered elastic waist, kimono sleeve dress, after I saw a friend wearing a dress of that sort a while ago. I had a vaguer notion that I could probably hack the Kirsten Kimono tee (because I haven’t done that enough already), but I wasn’t sure about the rest. This of course was all dependent on me finding a nice drapey statement fabric somewhere. Luckily I scored at the Loft – a cool geometric print in a lightweight poly of the sort that I generally abhor working with, but the print was so. cool. that I had to get it. Plus because fabric at the Loft is sold by the pound (yes!) and this fabric weighs practically nothing, what did I have to lose? I also picked up some black ITY for lining or a slip or whatever, because a lady at a fabric store once demonstrated to me that sheer fabrics with white in the print pop a lot better on a black lining than a white one – who knew?

I then got it into my head that the Sewaholic Saltspring dress would make a good base for my Kirsten hack. It had the blousyness I desired and a built-in lining that controls the amount of blousing, which I remember thinking was a brilliant idea when I read about it back when the pattern was released. One problem – I did not own the Saltspring pattern. With no time to order a copy from Canada, and after coming up empty at a physical shop in LA that stocked literally every other Sewaholic pattern, Ms. McCall mentioned that she had just that day gotten an email announcing the addition of the Saltspring to the pdf pattern selection (I get the Sewaholic emails too, but that one never arrived for some reason), so I pushed aside my hatred of assembling pdf patterns and I downloaded it. (I do wish that there was a map of the pdf tiles as part of the file, so I could have avoided printing the 10 or so pages that were the bottom half of the maxi skirt, but sadly there was not so I had to lay the whole thing out, ugh.)

salty kirsten back

I used the Saltspring skirt and bodice lining as-is, used the skirt pattern to cut a skirt lining too (which is strangely not called for in the instructions), and used the bodice pattern pieces laid on top of the Kirsten top pieces to determine the length, width, and shape of my hacked bodice. I liked the idea of the sleeved bodice being lined by the tank-top shaped original lining, so the sleeves and shoulders would remain sheer (though my fabric is busy enough that you can’t really tell). I finished the tank top lining with foldover elastic (the only black FOE I had around was black with white polka dots on one side, so I applied it with the dots facing in for a detail only I can enjoy). I’ve used FOE like this a few times now with yet-unblogged tank tops and I like the technique – the FOE finishes the raw edges and extends out to form the straps. (The best free description of this I can think of right now is in the So, Zo free cami pattern.) I also omitted the zipper, of course, cutting front and back on the fold. I can’t imagine a scenario where I would need a zipper to get into this dress – the elastic waist and blousy bodice make it easy to slip into. Of course, as a straight-up-and-down I-shape, I can almost always omit zippers.

The hardest part of this dress was finishing all the edges nicely in this terrible floaty poly. I used a self bias strip turned to the inside and topstitched at the neckline, and did a narrow hem on sleeves and skirt by serging the edge and using the serging as a guide to fold over the hem twice and topstitch. The skirt hem is a little wavy, but the fullness of the skirt mostly distracts from the wonky hem. I also cut like four inches off the skirt. The longer skirt with the blousyness of the bodice felt frumpy, so I went for the short-is-dressy-right? idea and chopped off the length. I left the ITY lining unhemmed because lazy.

salty kirsten 2When the Saltspring pattern came out, I dismissed it as not flattering for me, but I’ve recently been rethinking that assumption and I’ll likely make it with the intended bodice in future. (I actually made a knock-off version of the Saltspring for my vacation, before I bought the pattern, and I like that dress too. Could I have hacked that hack into this hack? Certainly, but sometimes when I’m in a hurry I just want a real someone-else-did-all-the-work pattern.) I do think that in this case the flatteringness is improved with the addition of a belt, though I have not always found this to be true. As someone with a pretty slight decrease in circumference at the waist, sometimes I think a belt adds bulk there. With this dress, though, the belt helps define the waist in the midst of all that poufy.

I did end up really liking this dress, and therefore have worn it to not just the wedding but also two additional parties. I feel like I successfully mild-winterized the Saltspring pattern, and even though the Kirsten bodice in the woven is a smidge tight across the back, it still worked out pretty well. So if you’re tackling any holiday party dress hacks, I wish you the best and assure you as always that a tight deadline can actually be your friend!

  1. Judi said:

    It is a very cute dress!!!

  2. It should be law that all pdf patterns come with a map! It’s just polite. That said, I love this hack with the kimono tee – the slightly off-the-shoulder sleeves are very flattering on you, and you also do the blousey waist justice too 🙂 It’s a gorgeous frock!

  3. Tereza said:

    That looks so cute and comfy! I love your fabric choice here. I keep looking at a Burda magazine dress with that gathered waist and raglan sleeves. I might just have to hack it! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Oh this is floaty and stylish and sharp! I love it.

  5. lisa g said:

    I just love this kind of dress! Practical, cute, comfortable… what more could you want?! That fabric is so great, what a find!

  6. MsMcCall said:

    Hey it turned out so great – and on a super short schedule too! I’m still wary of the blousy-ness on myself what with the short waist and the stuff above the short waist, but it’s a great style on you, and the style is perfect to showcase the print. After you sew for a while you can forget to just let the fabric shine now and again. I do think you’re going to have to give the straight-up salt spring a go soon!

  7. Nhi said:

    The dress is so cute on you. Love the print. And I have the paper Salt Spring pattern. Why didn’t you mention it? Or did you but I was so drunk of fabric, tacos and beer to notice?

    • aleah said:

      Ha, perhaps we all were!

  8. Very cute. Love it. It’s so different to your normal style and this really suits. Perfect for a wedding! Great work in one day too!

  9. What a cool print! Your pattern hacking yielded such an effortless look. Great work!

  10. Katherine said:

    This dress is so cute! I love it!!! You look amazing.

  11. springystitches said:

    Great dress and gorgeous fabric too! I think I may have to add this pattern to my ‘To Do’ list…

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