60s style shift dress attempt


I bought the book Pattern Cutting Portfolio Skills by by Dennic Chunman Lo and set to work straight away on drafting new basic blocks following the method in the book. I think it is good to try different methods of making blocks, or even if you use the same method, it is good to retake your measurements every so often. I know I wanted to make some sort of shift dress so I drafted a basic bodice block and then used the method on page 85 that tells you how to draft a basic dress block using an existing bodice block and constructing the skirt from actual body measurements.

I removed the back shoulder dart and turned it into a yoke. At the front I pivoted the shoulder dart to the underarm dart position. I then made up a toile and decided to unpick the front waist darts for a looser more comfortable fit.

The amazing fabric came from a huge 1970s-style dress salvaged from Les Petits Riens for 2.50 euros. I'm pretty happy with the outcome and now I think I'll tweak the pattern to make it flare out more at the hemline and maybe make it slightly longer. The only bad part was that I stupidly cut through part of the fabric meaning I didn't have enough to cut out one of the back pieces so I had to make a slight modification using some different fabric to make up the difference.

You say grave mistake, I say style feature.

DSCF7194 - Copy


Lady in red sundress


I traced off the bodice part from an old Topshop sun dress I've had for years as I like the way it fits. I then drafted a simple circle skirt pattern and joined it to the bodice. I made sure that the waist measurement I used for the skirt matched what would be the final waist measurement for the bodice. I added an invisible zip at the centre back seam and made some bias binding from the left over fabric for the straps. All the seams are French seams. I'm pretty happy with this as it was quite a simple make and it is really lovely to wear. The fabric was recycled from a huge shapeless old skirt I got at the flea market for a euro. 




Fabric Lessons

Choosing the right fabric to work with is at times a minefield. All amateur dressmakers will be familiar with the trauma of using fabric completely unsuited to the task in hand. And not only is fabric hunting tricky, as I live in Brussels, on top of being a fabric dunce, when it comes to heading to one of the many fabric vendors in my adopted city there is the added element of having to ask all my silly questions in French. There is often a lot of specialist vocabulary associated with sewing and pattern cutting that must be learned, and if we have to learn these terms and words in our native tongue then we'll certainly have to learn them in a second language!

So I've broken down the fabric fundamentals of woven fabrics as I understand them: woven fabrics are made from a variety of different fibres from either plant, animal or chemical sources (synthetics). The most common fibres are silk (FR : soi), rayon (rayonne), polyester (polyester), cotton (coton), wool (laine), nylon (nylon), and linen (lin). So this information tells us what a fabric is made from, in other words its fibre content. Then we have to think about how it is made: what type of weave has been used? A plain weave, a twill weave (sergé) weave or a satin weave?

Here are some examples of fabrics I've worked with or plan to work with and
their corresponding French translation in italics, as well as the fibre they are typically made from in brackets (of course, in the fabric shop you'll encounter many different fabric compositions known as blends (mélanges) made from two or more different fibres, for example 70% cotton and 30% polyester).

Twill weaves:
Denim (cotton) du denim
Tweed (wool) du tweed  

Plain weaves:
Lawn (cotton) du
Batiste (cotton)
de la batiste
Voile (cotton) de la voile
Shirting (cotton) du
Poplin (cotton) de la popeline
Something I found hard to get my head around in the beginning was how two pieces of fabric that were both described as 'light cottons' for example could feel and act so differently. This is of course down to different weights and textures and drapes. It is worth putting some time in exploring how different fabrics feel and behave. Like most things with dressmaking the best way to learn is to try things out and see what works!

Here are some fabrics I bought today at Le Chien Vert and their composition information. It was fun to go to the fabric shop after having done a bit of research as I felt more confident that I knew what I was looking for and what kinds of things to avoid.


Starting from the back of the chair:

A pink lightweight cotton-silk blend that I plan to use as a lining.
A tan lightweight cotton that I also plan to use as a lining.
A yellow lightweight cotton that is also destined to be a lining.
A salmon pink cotton poplin, with a raised textured ridge effect.
A mustard yellow cotton poplin.


But perhaps I shouldn't get too obsessed with the fact I'm not an expert in fabric theory. That said, this book will remain on my Christmas list.

P.S. In a future post I'll put together some English-French translations of other useful terms and phrases that commonly appear in patterns. Then I'll work on my Dutch* sewing vocabulary! So far all I know is that the verb to sew is naaien and that fabric shop translates as stoffenwinkel.

*For those not in the know, in a nutshell Belgium is made up of three administrative regions, in the south there is Wallonia, which is made up of a predominantly French speaking community and a smaller German speaking one, and in the north there is Dutch speaking Flanders. The third region is the Brussels Capital Region which geographically speaking is a bilingual (French-Dutch) enclave situated in Flanders. There is a lot of debate surrounding the 'language question' and as such it is one of the main sources of fodder for the Belgian media. Yes, it is confusing!


Pleased with myself in polka dots


I've decided that this is by far my most successful project to date! The satisfaction I felt when I finished this dress and it looked like I wanted it to look was great.

The fabric came from a craft fair that was held in the Heysel exhibition hall a few months ago. The stand I bought it from was run by a fabric shop in a small village in Flanders called Duffel. It was pretty cheap so cycling there to check out their stock is high on my to do list!

I drafted the pattern myself from scratch. I decided to make a new set of basic blocks and I used Winifred Aldrich's method in the third edition of her book 'Metric Pattern Cutting'. I first made the close fitting bodice block (page 18-19) and then followed her method on page 34 for making a close fitting  two piece dress block. This was toile number 1. Next I adapted the skirt block to an A-line style. In the back skirt I removed one dart using the pivot method and moved the other to be in line with the back bodice dart and made it slightly bigger (3cm wide and 14cm deep). In the front bodice piece I moved the shoulder dart to the waist. This was toile number 2 which I wasn't enamored with.

In the end I decided to draft a simple circle skirt style for the skirt part of the dress, using the finished waist measurement of the bodice instead of my natural waist measurement. I made some further fitting changes to the bodice before I was completely happy with finished toile number 3.

The sewing came together fine and this was my first attempt at making my own continuous bias binding to finish the neckline and armholes. I used the famous Colette continuous bias tape method. I HIGHLY recommend this!

And some other Colette blog posts that I can't express my love for enough are the invisible zipper photo tutorial and the invisible zipper video. The zip in this dress went in quite well, and while I've definitely got a way to go before I can do it with my eyes closed, I can feel that I'm getting better when I look back at the shoddy zip insertions on previous projects.

I've worn the dress loads so far and it is really comfortable. It gapes slightly at the armholes but I'm just so happy with this dress that I don't really mind! I never ever thought I'd be able to make something like this and I don't mind saying that I'm pretty chuffed that I drafted the pattern myself. Next time I make it up I'll consider lining it too and maybe adding short raglan sleeves.


Me wearing the dress and eating some lovely cake!