Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Pattern Hacking Like a Boss

Christmas was over. I'd made it public that I would not be beginning any new commissions until the new year. The commissions I did have were finished. The play was over and the costumes were packed up. I had no pressing deadlines for anything. The week between Christmas and New Years was the time to make something for myself. Something I'd been wanting to make all year but hadn't had the time for. Now, what would that be?

My list of "projects I want to make", is always longer than what I have time for. Thus, deciding what one project I would focus on for the week could have been rather overwhelming and challenging. I had multiple ideas spinning through my head. Finally, I decided, in order to really focus and get something done, I might need some outside motivation and a deadline. Enter, Designin' December.

Designin' December is a Challenge run every December by Linda of  "Nice Dress. Thanks, I Made It." The Challenge is to pick a designer garment, and recreate it for yourself. I participated last year by making my Gucci - inspired dress coat. This year I decided I'd make a dress. A dress I've had saved to my pinterest since last Designin' December. A dress I've gone back and admired multiple times this year. A dress I'd already gathered the patterns and materials for. A dress I knew would be a fun challenge, different than anything else I'd made before, while still being classic in design. This asymmetric, geometric beauty from the Hugo Boss 2015 Resort Collection.

Source: Vogue.com

As I mentioned, I've been wanting to make this dress all year. At some point this fall I decided to go ahead and find a pattern for it. Joann's had Burda patterns on sale when I made this decision, so I went to Joann's and flipped through the Burda book looking for a pattern with one specific design feature: Dior Darts.

The Dior dart is a dart that comes out of a princess seam. Most fitted bodice are shaped with either darts, or princess seams. The Dior dart, which was popular in the 60's, is a combination of both.

The dress I was copying featured Dior darts, so my dress too would feature Dior darts - and that was the one design feature I was not confident I'd be able to successfully draft myself. Thus, my base pattern had to already have them.

After going through the Burda book twice, I decided on  Burdastyle 6830 - a mandarin inspired dress pattern featuring Dior darts and a crossover neckline. As the dress I was recreating also had a crossover neckline, this was perfect! I knew I'd be able to manipulate this pattern to be just what I needed!

So, I had the pattern sitting my stash, just waiting for me to get started on this dress. The day after Christmas, the time had finally come. The pattern was pulled out, along with the fabric I'd mentally earmarked for this project - a periwinkle material I picked up in Malaysia last year, comprised of both blue and purple threads, very soft and pretty! I was ready to get started.

That is, after I figured out what I would use for lining. The fabric itself was a no-brainer, I just knew the periwinkle fabric from Malaysia had to become this dress, but the lining? That was harder. I considered all sorts of options. Cotton Sateen? No. The cotton/poly blend fabric I used to line my red dress with? No. Polyester lining fabric? Rayon? No and no. For some reason, none of the options in my stash seemed quite right. Then I happened upon a silk sheet I'd impulsive dyed purple earlier this year, and for some reason that felt perfect. My dress would be lined in purple silk. How luxurious does that sound? (And fitting, as last year's Designin' December entry was lined with a silk skeet I'd dyed blue. Maybe I should make lining my Designin' December entries with thrifted and dyed silk sheets a tradition.)

Here you can slightly glimpse the purple silk skirt lining.
Once the lining question was settled, I was ready to get started for real. I pulled a thrifted cotton sheet out of my stash and made a mock-up of the bodice so I could check the fit and get to pattern hacking.

I cut my mock-up to be about thigh-length, because I didn't know exactly how low the dropped waist of the finished dress was going to be.

When cutting out the mock-up, I went ahead and widened the neckline a bit to match my original inspiration dress.

I sewed together the mock-up and tried it on. The overall fit was pretty good, so I noted the small changes I wanted to make, then set about figuring out how to make the asymmetric, geometric, waistline seaming of the original dress.

Referencing my inspiration picture, I drew the seam lines on the mock-up, then tried the mock-up on to see what I thought of the placement and angles. When I wasn't satisfied with my first idea of seam placement, I drew another set of lines, and then another.

The third time was the charm! Once I was happy with my seam placement, I traced what would become the lower left section of the bodice onto a scrap of cotton sheet and added seam allowance.

Then I cut the main waistline seam.

Finally, I had my bodice pattern figured out!

I disassembled my mock-up, and traced each individual pattern piece onto paper. 

While I was at it, I made a couple slight changes to improve the fit of the bodice, such as lowering the bust darts about an inch.

Here's the bodice front mock-up piece laid over the final bodice front. You can see how I lowered the bust darts here.
Once the pattern was ready, I cut the bodice out of my periwinkle fabric. Since the design was asymmetric, each piece had to be cut on a single layer of fabric, rather than on the fold or mirrored. Once I'd cut all the bodice pieces out, I backed periwinkle piece with the corresponding cotton piece I'd used for the mock-up. The bodice would be flat-lined for structure, and the mock-up pieces would work fabulously for the flat lining.

Once the bodice was cut from the periwinkle fabric, I cut it out from the purple silk lining.

With the bodice all figured out and cut out, I turned my attention to the skirt. I'd decided the original dress must have a circle skirt - or something pretty darned close to it! So I used the circle skirt pattern from the Winter Wear Designs Crop Dress and cut one full circle skirt from my periwinkle fabric. A full circle skirt with no seams. Then I cut the same from the purple lining, and stuck both circles on my dress form so the circles could stretch out before I hemmed them.

Once the circles were on the dress form, I turned my attention back to the bodice.

Seeing the bodice front with all the distinctive seaming come together the way I'd imagined was pretty awesome!

When the bodice was completely assembled, I put it on the dress form with the circle skirt. It was time to figure out the skirt seams!

First I marked where the side and center back seams would be. I needed the center back seam for the zipper, and the side seams so I could put in pockets.

 I pulled and tugged and smoothed the waistline of the skirt until it matched up nicely with the bodice.

Due to the significantly dropped waist and pointy waistline, the front was harder to line up than the back. I needed the front skirt to sit down lower on the hips than the "waistline" of the skirt would allow.

So I made a deep clip near the center front and pulled and tugged the skirt down until it sat at the right place and could be pinned smoothly to the bottom of the bodice.

In the process, I also marked a fourth skirt seam, this one coming off of the bodice point. On close inspection of the my inspiration photo it appeared the original dress had a seam here, so I decided mine needed one too. Once I had this seam pinned in place the skirt really did lay nicer, so I could see why the original dress had this front seam. 

Once I had everything pinned in place, I marked on the skirt where the waistline seam would be.

Then I pulled the whole thing off my dress form and cut apart the skirt so it could be seamed together.

I cut an inch and a quarter above my waistline markings to allow for a 5/8" seam.

Once my panels were all cut, I traced each one onto wrapping paper to save as a pattern, just in case I want to make this design again. Why did I use wrapping paper for my pattern? Because that's the only large paper I happened to have on hand - and we have a lot of wrapping paper right now! (Don't worry, I used the thinnest, cheapest feeling, slightly smooshed, stuff I could find in the basement and saved the nice wrapping paper for wrapping gifts next Christmas!)

Once my panels were traced so the pattern could be saved, I assembled the skirt and then attached it to the bodice. Look how nice the skirt and bodice join at that front point looks! The front skirt seam really helps everything lay nicely!

Finally, all the patterning and main construction was done! I put in a center back lapped zipper and it was on to the final step - hemming. This began with my least favorite thing, leveling the hem.

The bias portions of the circle skirt did what the bias does - stretch! So I used this handy-dandy apparatus on my dress form and made the hem level all the way around. I started at the center back where the skirt was shortest, having not stretched at all, and worked my way around the skirt, marking it to all be the same length as the shortest portion. 

 Then I trimmed off the excess material. I repeated the step with the lining, which was trimmed to be 2" shorter than the outer layer of the skirt. No linings peaking out here!

The lining got a 1/2" wide machine sewn hem - because it didn't have to look pretty.

The skirt hem on the other hand, did need to look pretty, so I faced it with bias tape.

The bias tape is catch-stitched into place so there are no visible stitches on the outside hem of the garment.

The bodice lining was slip-stitched in place along the zipper and the waistline for the same reason.

Once the last hand-sewn stitch was made and the thread tied off, the dress was done! 

All done!

It's not quite perfect, there are some fit issues with the bodice under the bust and the neckline stretched out a bit during construction (I should have stabilized it), but I am still immensely pleased with the finished dress!

I wasn't sure how all the seam lines would turn out, but they were a fun challenge!

The lines of this dress are different than anything I've ever made before and I enjoyed every step if figuring them out.

Getting the full circle skirt to work with the asymmetrical, drop-waisted, bodice was probably the most challenging part of the whole project - but it was worth it!

I feel like I grew in my skills as a dressmaker with this project - and that's something I often don't feel with modern garments.

Yes, it's not perfect, but I learned from it and I will wear the end result plenty!

Isn't that the important thing?

So, here's what I made in my week to "sew something for myself."

Thank you Linda for the challenge, and the deadline! I needed it for this project!

And, just in case you were wondering, here's how my dress compares to the original. The proportions are a bit different, because, well, I'm a bit shorter than the model, but the seam lines are all there! 

And now that this is done, it's back to my regularly scheduled sewing - I have a couple new commissions to get started on, some belated Christmas gifts to finish, and a pattern test to take part in. Onward!

Happy New Year Everyone!!


  1. The lines in this dress are like a jig saw puzzle and you solved it! I can just imagine what kind of nightmare the bias fabric was. You did fabulously!

    1. Thank you! It was a fun puzzle to solve! The bias portions of the circle skirt actually helped me when I was lining up the skirt with the bodice - but goodness they do not make hemming easy! Now to start brainstorming for next december. . . I'm thinking something vintage!

  2. Color me impressed.
    What persistence and attention to detail.
    It looks absolutely beautiful.

  3. Love everything about this! Enjoyed the step by step and beautiful photos!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. Bravo!!! Impressive seaming girl! For being so far from your normal league, you've succeeded very well. You have encouraged me to keep plunging forward myself;) This post was well written also, I love your precise detailing.

    1. Thank you! I would definitely get bored with sewing if I didn't challenge myself every once in a while! I'm glad you enjoyed the post!