A Simple Sew Cocoon dress hack

I had made two Simple Sew Cocoon dresses without alteration when the pattern was first released a couple of years back, and you probably know that I love a bit of a pattern hack so I decided that the style would be good for an adaptation. I’d drawn a few sketches of ideas and had a rummage in the stash for some suitable fabric when a funny thing happened…

I found I had already cut out a hacked Cocoon in the past!! I realised I must have done it easily two summers ago but then abandoned it because I decided it would be too short. I remember it was a limited amount of fabric, probably 2 metres, but I put it to one side and forgot about it. 

Fast forward to now, I wanted to make it up but I needed to lengthen it in a way I was happy with. I had truncated the bodice at Empire line just below the bust and then the skirt was two widths of the fabric, a simple dirndl. I’d cut the facings too but there was literally nothing else left except small scraps.

There’s a centre front seam in the bodice, I cut the dress horizontally under the bust at about Empire line

I went through various options including adding extra frill layers but to do that you gradually increase the amount of fullness needed for each layer, in other words, layer 1 would be 1.5x the waist measurement, layer 2 could be 2x the length of layer 1, and layer 3 could be 3x the length of layer 2. In simple terms this means longer and longer strips of fabric are needed to form each frill to be sewn to the previous one, and the longer the length of the dress the more layers you might need. Basically I couldn’t make the skirt any longer with what I had because it was already cut, and because of the lockdown I couldn’t go out to look for a suitable plain cotton. I returned to the stash and eventually found 50cms of cotton poplin which I know I bought at the same time as the original, I must have intended it as a contrast but never used it.

By cutting the 50cms piece across the width into two 25cms pieces I could join them at the side seams to form a loop and then fold them in half to create a 12.5cms deep band which I would sew to the hem of the dress! Simple! 

Once I’d worked all this out I sewed up the bodice, rather than hemming the cap sleeves I used some binding from my stash so that I could maximise their length. I planned to twin needle some top stitching in various places and I used two different coordinating threads for this. 

Bias binding sewn onto the sleeve then understitched
bias binding turned back
The completed sleeve with twin needle topstitching

I did the same around the V neck once the facing was sewn on, in order to get a pristine join at the point I carefully unpicked a couple of stitches and secured them on the reverse.  

I wanted side seam pockets (of course) so I had to cut them out of some plain cotton scraps, each piece was added to the side seam and then the side seams sewn up. 

The new band was initially slightly wider than the lower edge of the skirt so I restitched it until the two were the same width and matched exactly at both side seams. I used the overlocker with four threads to join and neaten the band in one step, I pressed the seam upwards and then twin-needle topstitched it to decorate. 

the band folded and pinned to the lower edge of the skirt

The final step was to run two rows of gathering stitches at the top of the skirt then sew it onto the bottom of the bodice, matching at the side seams. I pressed this upwards too and topstitched it as well.

For a dress which had languished with not much hope for two years I’m really happy with it!! I loved the fabric (which was from John Lewis originally I think about 4-5 years ago!) and I was so cross I’d cut something which I couldn’t imagine I’d wear if I sewed it up. By adding the deep band the skirt now has weight as well as length. It’s been so comfortable in the hot weather, why did I wait so long?!

we were heading out for our exercise hence the unsexy shoes!
we have a Henry Moore sculpture on loan for the duration of the centenary year of our town, maybe we can keep it for an extra year now that all the summer celebrations are cancelled?
Coronation Fountain
yes I have got water coming out of the top of my head!

Lockdown is easing in the UK since I originally finished this dress but I hope, as always, this hack has given you an idea of how simple it can be to take a section of a pattern you already have and give it a twist to become a different garment. I had very limited fabric with a print which still needed to match everywhere, by adding the hem band I’ve given it the look I was after…it just took a couple of years to think of it!

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

My latest Minerva blog

My latest Minerva blog is live now and it’s all about their beautiful printed velour. I was attracted to the gorgeous mixture of teal colours with a splash of pink thrown in for good measure. Initially I was going to make a pleated skirt with it but eventually I decided that wouldn’t be flattering on me so I settled on the River dress by Megan Nielsen with my own adaptations instead.

I lengthened the short sleeves and added elastic to make cuffs, I increased the length of the dress overall too and left a side split and finally I put wide elastic under the bust to create an Empire line.

This is a very simple pattern to sew and has the novelty of two necklines-a scoop and a V-and because of its raglan sleeves you can have either in the front, I generally wear it with the V in the front.

As always, you can find the full details of the fabric and my sewing tips on adapting the pattern with a lot more photos on the Minerva Crafts website, thank you to them for providing me with the fabric, in return for an honest review.

My Minerva make this month isn’t for me!

My latest Minerva blog post is on their website from today and it’s a bit different from the others. This time I used a soft and fluid jersey to make a dress for my younger daughter Katie, not me. 

In the post I explain how I wanted to use a single pattern [Simplicity 8602] which, ultimately, I’ll adapt for 3 of us in my family-24 year old Katie, my 84 year old Mum, and me. The first two are done, the version for me probably won’t happen for a while yet though.

Katie’s dress started out as this blouse pattern.

Katie made life a bit difficult for me by wanting the blouse lengthened into a dress, plus altering the sleeves AND the neckline. I’ve written up all the details in the post if you’re interested in finding out how I did it. 

Katie in her finished dress, she wasn’t keen model!

I hope you find the post helpful and you can read it here. 

Until next time,

Sue 

making the Utility dress by Simple Sew Patterns.

My latest Simple Sew blog make is the fairly recently released Utility Dress, an easy-fitting style with elasticated back waist, drawstring front waist and kimono-shape sleeves. I would say that it’s suitable for softer woven fabrics like chambray, cotton lawn, washed linen or fluid viscose-types, or soft woollens for winter. Having said all of that I chose to make mine in a medium-weight jersey in a tan/black dogtooth check design from Doughty’s Online fabric store. It still works well but you just need to take care not to accidentally stretch some areas such as the neckline in particular and the shoulders. Because of the busy design on this fabric I left out the CF seam and cut the front on a fold instead, thus avoiding any difficult pattern matching down the seam. 

reinforcing the neckline with iron-on interfacing.

I reinforced the neckline using narrow strips of iron-on interfacing I cut myself but you could use the readymade type, I did the same on the front shoulder seams too. You could even use up short lengths of ribbon here for a pretty effect inside. 

As always I deviated from the method of construction a couple of times. After joining the front and back at the shoulders, instead of using ready made bias binding to neaten the neck edge I cut two narrow strips of the jersey which were slightly shorter than the neck edge [the amount will vary depending on how stretchy your fabric is. It’s usually about 85% of the neckline measurement]

Fold them in half lengthwise to form two narrow strips and then place one over the other at a right angle with the folded edges on the ‘inside’ of the V. 

Two narrow strips of fabric, overlapped at a right angle and stitched to hold them in position.

Then reinforce the V on the dress with a row of stitches just within the seam allowance, turning at the V, then carefully snip into the V up to the stitching line.

carefully snip into the V

With right sides together pin the binding to the V section only initially [see the photo to clarify this] and stitch this V section in place by about 5cms either side of the V. Pivot and open the snip as you sew to allow the binding to sit neatly and flat on top of the neck edge. If you’re in any doubt then tack this section first to prevent it moving. 

Attach the V section first, when this is right move on to the rest of the neckband. The pivot point is marked with a purple dot, This is where you rotate the fabric underneath thus opening up the snip you made and enabling the binding edge to match the neck edge.

I pinned on the rest of the neck binding double-checking the length was short enough before sewing the join at the CB. Now you can stitch on the remainder of the band knowing that the V is already sewn accurately. [Thank you Melissa Fehr for this new technique, she uses it in her activewear patterns and I’ve found it gives a nice neat result] Trim and neaten the seam on the inside if required and then you can topstitch it down to prevent the binding rolling.

neckband in position and then topstitched close to the join..

Next I ignored the method for putting the sleeves on. Instead of sewing the side seams up leave them open so that you can open the garment out flat and pin and sew the sleeve strips on more easily.

sleeve band stitched on before sewing up the underarm seam. You can just see that I had pressed the fold line on the sleeve band before I sewed the seam here. This makes it easier to fold once it’s in position. Press the seam towards the sleeve.

Now sew up the side seams including the sleeve bands. Fold the bands up towards the sleeves and either neaten/overlock the raw edge before stitching it down though the stitching line or turn the raw edge under and slip stitch in position. 

neaten the underarm seam before you turn up the sleeve band.

Moving on to the skirt and putting in the hip pockets. I used scraps of matching fabric for the pocket lining as I was concerned that the pattern might show through skirt front. This can reduce bulk too if you’re using a heavier-weight fabric.

pocket bag made with lining scraps

After the pocket bags are complete comes the waistband. I followed the instructions although I think there might be an easier way, I just haven’t worked it out on this version. Although it says there’s a chart to tell you what length to cut the elastic for the back waistband I couldn’t find it anywhere! In the end I decided to cut it half my waist measurement minus about another 6cms, to allow for the stretching and gathering up. I used a length of grosgrain ribbon to go in the front casing. 

I used a zip foot when sewing the waistband to the top of the skirt because I felt it made it less likely that I’d sew accidentally through the ribbon and elastic. 

Joining the waistband containing the ribbon and elastic to the skirt. I’ve used the zipper foot so that I could keep close whilst still making sure I didn’t accidentally sew through the ribbon or elastic. I then neatened this seam on the overlocker.

After joining the top and skirt together all that remains is to hem the skirt. I used a twin needle to do this but you could just turn it up twice and stitch. If you do use jersey fabric for this dress it’s best to sew it with a ballpoint/stretch/jersey needle so that you don’t ladder the fabric as you sew. 

This is a nice comfortable style which I’ll enjoy wearing. Disappointingly there are silly errors again in the instructions which is always so annoying, I hope this won’t be enough to put you off trying this Simple Sew style though which is a bit of a departure from their more usual vintage-style dresses. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue






Simple Sew Kaftan top & dress

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Summer is (allegedly) on it’s way at last and so my sewing thoughts turn to summery frocks. On that optimistic basis I decided on the Kaftan top and dress as my next Simple Sew blogger review and this time we have Doughty’s Online as one of our generous fabric sponsors too. I have to confess I wasn’t familiar with them but when I checked out their website I was very impressed with their wide selection of fabrics available. I chose this beautiful digitally-printed cotton lawn by Lady McElroy fabrics in a design called ‘Scottish Emblem’ and it’s lovely quality, similar to Liberty Tana lawn I’d say.

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Before I cut into the lawn I decided to make the top version in some georgette that was languishing in my stash. I’d bought it ages ago in the Birmingham Rag Market without a project in mind, I wrote post about that visit which you can read here.

I’ve made my last few Simple Sew makes in size 14 based on my measurements and this one was no different. Georgette is quite wiggly so my advice is to take your time laying it up, tear the cut ends to get a really straight edge and use the edges of the table to give you a visual ‘marker’ to lay the fabric up as straight as possible. You can even layer it between spot-and-cross paper but that’s longwinded and uses up your paper. Georgette is also sheer and frays quite badly so I used French seams throughout. The pattern calls for bias binding on the neckline and sleeves but that would be too heavy on georgette so I simply pin-hemmed them instead.

This revealed a bit of an issue with the depth of the V!

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Crumbs! I’ll need a vest under this!

It all went a bit pair-shaped at this point because I got in a right two-and-eight with the buttonholes and the casing for the waist. I wasn’t happy with the position I sewed the buttonholes (according to the pattern) although in the end after a lot of messing about I left them where they were and made the casing wider around them but narrower for the rest. I found the instructions a bit confusing so I urge you to take each stage carefully and take into consideration how wide your ribbon/cord/elastic is when making the buttonhole openings and make the channel only as wide or narrow as you need it to be, not necessarily the width marked on the pattern.

Once I was happy with this first version I went ahead and cut out the full-length one in my lovely cotton lawn. It has a large repeat which is a one way design although not with an obvious up or down-in other words, everything must be cut going the same way but it didn’t matter which way that is. Just before I cut it I noticed when I placed the CB bodice on the fold that the neck edge isn’t quite ’true’ which would result in a slight point in the centre of the neck. It isn’t difficult to correct this.

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If you don’t have a Patternmaster use something with a right-angle corner like this envelope to straighten up the line.

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the new line is where you need to cut.

One other change I made before I cut was to raise up the V so it wouldn’t be as revealing as the georgette one!

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Stick an extra piece of paper behind matching the CF line with a new line on the paper behind. Stick it down with tape.

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Decide how much you want to raise the V and draw in a new line so that it blends smoothly with the original.

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There’s a seam in the centre front so mark the seam allowance with a notch

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The back goes on the fold and the front can go against the selvedge, the same way up in this case.

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Because the fabric is a one-way design I needed to cut each skirt piece one above the other instead of interlocking them. Instead of simply folding the fabric in half and wasting two strips down each edge I folded it like this and then there’s useable piece left for something else!

It was just a case of putting everything together like before, the difference this time is that I added self-fabric bias binding to the neck, I also stay-stitched the neck edges to prevent them stretching before I sewed the bias on. First join the shoulder seams then…

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I cut a strip of bias binding which I folded and pressed in half lengthways first. For this method place the it with cut edges matching on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric, sew on with a 5mm seam allowance.

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Trim the seam down to 2-3mm

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Press the seam towards the bias, the second row of stitching you can see is the stay-stitching.

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Turn the bias to the RIGHT SIDE and stitch carefully and neatly close to the edge like this. Now you can join the CF seam together. I learned that this technique is called French binding which I never knew before-every day is a day in school!

Before I joined the under arm seams I added some lovely pom-poms which I’d bought in Liberty especially.IMG_5381

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I sewed it on using a zigzag stitch because it’s difficult to get close as the pom-poms get in the way. You could probably use a straight stitch and a zip foot here too.

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I cut the pom-poms carefully so that there wouldn’t be one caught in the seam.

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The reverse of the pom-poms

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I added a fancy leaf design stitch on my Pfaff to edge it with.

I tried the bodice on and decided that the neck needed the pom-pom trim too, I wasn’t originally going to put it here but the neckline looked a bit plain against my pasty white skin!

 

I pinned it on in two different ways and eventually settled on just around the V

Because I’d bought a very narrow cord to put around the waist I made very small horizontal round-ended buttonholes instead of the larger vertical ones indicated on the pattern. Attach the skirt and make the casing for the cord according to the instructions and you’re almost there.

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I pulled the cord through using a useful old-fashioned tool called a bodkin. Clamp the cord (or elastic) between the ‘teeth’ at the end and slide the small metal loop up towards the teeth until it’s tight and the cord can’t come loose. Then you just push the cord through the channel.

I opted to leave a knee-high split in one of the side seams. The sun came out so Doris posed outside!

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The jazzy orange cord came from McCullough & Wallis in London.

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I eventually finished the georgette version too, I used a shoelace from an old pair of my husband’s shoes in the casing because it was a perfect colour-match! I cut off the ends and embellished them with a few colourful buttons.

 

 

 

I hemmed this one by using the rolled hem setting on my overlocker. It definitely needs a vest under it though!IMG_5569

The kaftan will be a lovely cover-up on holiday in the summer and as I chose the cotton lawn it will be decent enough to go out in public and not just by the pool on hot days too! It would work well in a drapey viscose or look glamorous in a slinky crepe de chine, or a lightweight jersey like interlock. The short version would look nice in a Broderie Anglaise or Swiss Dot too. Instead of the pom-poms you could embellish it using Indian or Chinese-type braid, ribbon or even beading, you could put elastic through the casing too instead of cord or ribbon.

Thank you especially to our new fabric partners Doughty’s Online for supplying my choice of cotton lawn, it’s been lovely to work with and I’m looking forward to being able to wear it…soon, I hope!

Happy Sewing,

Sue