A dress for Katrina

'In the bleak midwinter' there is no better place to be than beside the sewing machine. And over Christmas while at home in Scotland I spent a bit of quality time with my Mum's machine, with a chocolate coin or two and a cup of tea never far from reach.

And in the spirit of the season I decided to partake in some un-selfish sewing for a change; a dress for my wee sister, Katrina.

And here is Katrina herself wearing the finished item - ta da!


I've wanted to make something for someone else for a while and I knew the first person I wanted to test out my skills on was my sister: you can be honest with your family members and they can be honest with you so I think they make for suitable guinea pigs! Also, I know she thinks you can never have too many party dresses so I thought it would be a nice present for a special sister.

But, unfortunately she lives in Glasgow and I live in Brussels. That made it tricky to take her measurements to draft her basic blocks. Luckily my number one blog reader (hi Mum!) stepped up to the challenge and took the measurements and emailed me them.

From these I drafted a basic bodice block using the book 'Pattern Making (Portfolio Skills)' by Dennic Chuman Lo. I made a dress for myself using his block method a while ago and I was pleased with the results and the fit so I thought I'd give it a go. Incidentally, I think it is good to try different ways of drafting blocks and compare the methods as you go. I think you can also mix methods. For example, I used a different way of calculating the dart suppression than the one used in the book – I used the method I learnt on the pattern drafting night class I took at Cardonald College in 2007 (wow, seven years ago...). I still have the workbooks we got from the class and use them from time to time.
Another trick I used that wasn't part of Lo's instructions was asking my Mum to take my sister's measurement from her shoulder to the fullest part of her bust. I learnt this from Hanne's blog and I think it really is the secret to a good fit at the bust as it helps position the bust point correctly.

From the block I drafted the bodice pattern. I wanted it to be a fairly simple style - side darts at the bust and front and back waist darts. My plan was to sew it up in the main fabric in Belgium and then check the fit when I got home for Christmas. If need be I could then make the necessary adjustments to the pattern and sew it up again (I have about four metres of the fabric I bought for the dress which came from the Parvis Saint Gilles Saturday market).

But luckily – much to my amazement and relief – it fitted really well at the bust, the back wasn't perfect but we decided that we could live with it by adding two darts at the neckline. I think there was a bit of excess fabric at the waist too.


But all in all I was so so pleased that my 'experiment' had worked and particularly about how well the pattern fit my sister exactly at the bust. (Sorry, Katrina, for making you stand with your arms out with fabric pinned to you while I excitedly danced around you saying things like 'yay, what a great fit!' and 'it's a Christmas miracle'!)


Then in the spirit of keeping things simple I drafted a simple half circle skirt to join to the bodice. I used the method I outlined in this previous post. I lined the bodice with some really nice greyish soft cotton that I got for five euros a metre in Maison des Tissus on Chaussée d'Ixelles. I also added some yellow piping at the waist seam to jazz things up a bit.


The (self-imposed) challenge was to get the dress finished by Christmas Day so I could wrap it up and give it to Katrina but I didn't quite meet my own deadline. I got it finished before the end of my trip home though....bar some hand-sewing to neaten the lining hem and a few zigzag stitches to tidy the insides of the seams – thanks Mum for finishing those tasks off for me! :)

So all in all it was a real team effort! Thanks, Katrina, for being a lovely guinea pig and for enduring the cold temperatures throughout this grueling photoshoot. I hope you like the dress!


Here's to more sewing, pattern drafting, experiments, and learning in 2015!


  1. What a lovely dress! And how selfless of you to sew for others - it's something I really struggle with :p

    1. Thanks! Well, most of the time I make things for myself so I'm not that selfless really! :)

  2. This is gorgeous! The dress is lovely on your sister, and bonus points to her for the outside photos without a coat!

    1. Thank you, Lynne! Yeah it was pretty chilly that day!

  3. Katrina Macintosh16 January 2015 at 19:06

    It really is a lovely dress! I'll be expecting a whole new wardrobe now! X

  4. YAY!
    You now that things will go off the hook in terms of requests now?
    So happy my tutorial helped you out! I think that bodice looks really good for a pattern drafted from a distance!

    1. Thanks! :) I'm pretty pleased with it - now I need to try and make something for someone else!
      Seriously, your tutorial is a lifesaver!

  5. Awesome dress! Lucky sister! I've never sewn for anyone else, but I will one day. I had grand ideas of making pyjamas for all the family for Christmas, but only got as far as buying some kitchen utensil patterned fabric for my step dad before forgetting about the whole venture.

    1. Thanks, Laura!

      I'm exactly the same with the handmade gifts - you put all this pressure on yourself to make handmade gifts and then run out of time and feel bad about it! Which is silly! Apart form my sister's dress I didn't make any other presents this year.

      Matching pyjamas sound really cool though!