Replicating a favourite shirred sundress for a client

I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.

Of course, said I.

It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.

Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.

As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.

I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]

Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.

Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.

These were the important lines for the fitted section of the bodice.
Make sure your piece of calico is perfectly on grain and quite a bit bigger than the section you’re working on. Start by pinning the grainline of the fabric to the CF line and then gradually smooth the fabric over the mannequin. push any creases and wrinkles away to the edges. Push pins through in various places to keep it like this, when you’re happy with it then you can draw the style lines (which should be visible through the fabric) onto the calico. Cut away some but not all of the excess fabric, you need this to be able to draw on seam allowances. I left this piece in position and started on the gathered under-bust piece. I smoothed the fabric across from the CF in a similar way but this time I added quite a bit of fullness under the bust before smoothing the rest of the fabric to the side seam. Again I drew on the lines and cut away some of the excess fabric. Draw on balance marks and notches as required before you remove the pieces from the mannequin-make certain you have the CF marked-from these pieces of fabric you will create paper patterns.
After I had made paper templates from the ‘modelled’ fabric I was able to sew this bodice together in fresh calico. The under-bust strip was the original which was OK.

I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!

The finished dress modelled by Indoor Doris, she’s not quite as voluptuous as Outdoor Doris!
The original dress featured beaded embellishment over the bust which there wasn’t time for me to replicate but my client might add this herself in the future.

I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!

This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?

My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

the day some Sew Over 50 gals did a bit of modelling!

Finally I can talk about the day last November when a group of us travelled to Love Sewing magazine headquarters in Stockport to take part in a photoshoot for a Sew Over 50 article.

Sew Over 50 had begun in August and was gaining a huge following so when editor Amy asked if we could suggest possible models for an article Judith and I approached quite a large diverse group of women initially to see who might be willing or able to travel to Stockport. Not everyone could but eventually we had a group of 10 people.

It was amazing how far some were willing to travel, Corrie and Sara both came from Wales, Judith is usually in Edinburgh and myself, Ruth and Sue were all travelling from Hertfordshire. So the 3 of us decided it would be a good idea to drive to Milton Keynes first and then get the train the rest of the way. Simple? far from it! I checked before booking the train that there was a car park, not pre-bookable unfortunately, but it was a large car park so what could possibly go wrong….Well it turned out that the car park was completely full [and no sign or barrier telling you that before going in and driving all the way to the top floor and down again thus wasting 10 precious minutes] we spent another 15 fruitless minutes driving around and around trying to find ANY alternative until the only possible option was for me to drop Ruth off at the station with her train ticket (and Sue’s too because she wasn’t with us, we didn’t know where she was at that point, probably still driving around too!) Anyway, in the end I drove all the way to Stockport because I was bloody determined that after all the planning I wasn’t going to miss the event! Rant over.

ladies who lunch…without me, but at least Ruth and Sue made it in time.
pre-chat…
Corrie in the make up chair

By the time I got there everyone was chatting away happily, having make up applied, there was a rail full of everyone’s beautiful makes which they had carefully selected to bring. Amy was in the process of grouping the clothes into colour stories and you can see from the eventual photos that it was almost like we had planned it that way. A few of us have met before in real life but for others it was new experience-they had all had a bite of lunch together before I got there-but naturally chatting didn’t prove too difficult anyway. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Love Sewing photoshoot before so I knew what to expect, this time it was so lovely to have company. Amy hasn’t had this number of ‘models’ to deal with before and I think it was a bit like herding cats at times haha.

Getting any of us to stand still or stop talking long enough to take photos was an achievement in itself, there were probably a few blurred ones, but we settled into it and I think Amy was happy with the results eventually. Incidentally, I’m wearing my Trend Patterns Asymmetric Dress which I reviewed here.

Oh do behave Sue!

This is what Amy was dealing with…what am I doing with my arms? 


ooh, it’s a glamorous business

this shot makes me smile

Eventually after we’d all done our group story shots we had a final altogether group when we all piled into the slightly wobbly set with Amy. It’s astonishing that there are any pictures with all of us looking in the right direction with eyes open and mouths shut!

hmmm…

So after all our fun and games the time came for us to head home again. Sadly for me this meant a really long drive but this was made much more bearable by the fact that Ruth came in the car with me so her company made 4 hours pass a lot quicker than the lonely journey up. We have a WhatsApp group with all of us in it and we’ve had many conversations since and we’ve been looking forward to the release of the magazine so that we can share it with everyone.

You’ll know by now too that it coincides with our first SewOver50 challenge so the article will give lots more exposure to that. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, where have you been? To briefly recap, the aim is to make a garment using a pattern which features a model on the envelope who appears to be at least 45-50 years old. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds so check my previous two posts here and here which has links to a wide selection that we’ve managed to find. There’s a very disappointing number of patterns from the major pattern companies and whilst the article names McCalls and Simplicity, in truth we could only find about 4 patterns from Simplicity and none from McCalls] Between us on the day we wore a very diverse selection of patterns, from mainstream and independent designers, made in all sorts of fabrics, colours and designs which illustrates the point that whilst we may be getting older we aren’t going to let age get in the way of our sartorial choices or be dictated to by what ’society’ expects us to wear. This is in spite of how pattern companies continue to portray us, their clientele, and until they address how diverse everyone actually is we still have to continue to look beyond the envelope.

27_11_18_Mixture_readers1209.jpg
The final results weren’t bad! On the left Sara is wearing a Joni dress from Tilly and the Buttons ‘Stretch’ book in jersey from Trixie Lixie, Sue’s red Ponte dress is Butterick 5559 which is currently unavailable whilst Ruth has made the Nina Lee Southbank sweater dress in jersey from The Textile Centre.

Amy’s team looked after us so well and speaking personally I had so much fun being together with my fellow dressmakers Judith, Corrie, Sara, Sue, Sarah, Di, Ruth, Jeanette and Kate (even though it was shorter than I would have wanted!) Many of the informal photos you see here are my own but some belong to one or more of my fellow models so I am indebted to them for their use here.

Kate on the left is wearing the Factory dress from Merchant & Mills in fabric from Sea Salt, Corrie is wearing the Camber Set top which she’s added a gathered skirt to and she’s used barkcloth fabric from Outback Wife. Judith is wearing a Mercury top from Marilla Walker (in Atelier Brunette Moondust) with True Bias Lander pants.
Sarah is wearing the Fiona sundress by Closet Case Patterns in orange cord from Ditto fabrics in Brighton. She’s wearing the Hampton jean jacket by Alina Design Company over the top in mustard denim from Goldhawk Road. Di is wearing Katherine Tilton for Butterick 5891 (not currently available) made using shirting from a factory sale and a self-drafted denim skirt. Jeanette is wearing the Reeta dress by Named Patterns in a vintage rayon.
So eventually the group shot turned out well!

The magazine arrives on subscribers doormats on February 16th and in the shops from February 21st. In the meantime, have you started your #so50Visible make yet…?

Zoom in

Incidentally, we received no payment for the article and the comments made in it were in response to questions we were asked. All views expressed in this post however are entirely my own.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue