Thursday, August 4, 2016

Navy Polka-Dot Sundress

It may not seem like I've gotten much of my planned summer sewing done yet, but that's because I've been to busy sewing (and visiting friends and family) to keep up with the blog.  Also, this particular post has been languishing in the drafts folder for a few days, because there's SO MUCH to write about!  I took a lot of in-progress photos, because I'm trying to be better about that.  However, it may have been overkill, and if you do not feel like reading all of the details you have my permission to scroll down to the end for the finished-product shots!  I never know how much people are actually interested in reading about how I make things, as sometimes I bore even myself.  :p

Anyway, I had planned to make a cute and breezy sundress from this lovely sheer polka-dotted cotton:

The catch is I only had a yard of the full width, plus another yard of half the with of the fabric.  I don't remember where I got this fabric, but it was clearly the remnant of someone else's project.  Now what could I make with a yard and a half?  I wanted the skirt to be as full and flowy as possible, but I was willing to skimp on the bodice.  I envisioned something with spaghetti straps, but of course I had no patterns that fit this bill.  I instead decided to combine these two patterns from my mom's stash:

She has quite a few of this brand, which is European and has instructions in six languages.  English is not the first one.  :p  The pattern pieces do not include seam allowances, so you have to add in your own.  As if cutting out a multi-size pattern in European sizing wasn't complicated enough...

I used the pattern on the left for the skirt, and was able to get all of the pieces cut out properly on the grain!  Just barely.  Now for the bodice I wanted to use the bottom shape of the pattern on the left (to match up properly with the skirt waist seam) and the top shape of the pattern on the right, to make it taper into spaghetti straps and therefore use less fabric.  Here are the two pieces side-by-side:

And here is the piece I traced (adding in my seam allowances) on top of the first pattern piece:

I also traced a new back piece from the first pattern, drawing it straight across from the underarm seam to the center back at the top:  

These new pattern pieces fit beautifully in my remaining fabric scraps.  Now as my fabric was rather sheer:

I obviously needed to line it with something.  I had a nice navy blue cotton broadcloth set aside for this very purpose, and I cut out one duplicate of each skirt panel, and two of each of the bodice pieces.  I actually used one set of bodice pieces to test the fit before I cut out my sheer fabric.  Then I flat-lined the sheer bodice pieces with the other set:

This way I wouldn't have seam allowances showing through the top layer of the bodice.  I used an excellent tip for sewing darts that now I cannot find the link for...  I thought it was on Historical Sewing but now I don't see it on her site.  Anyway, whoever it was showed that by stitching down the center of the dart through both layers (with a long stitch length), you can prevent them from slipping when sewing the darts:

I left these thread ends long when sewing the darts:

And pulled the stitches out when I was done:

This probably wasn't necessary, but I didn't want to risk any bits of thread poking out the top of my darts.  Now I had two bodice layers, and I pressed the darts toward the center on the lining and away from the center on the outer bodice:

And I must say I did an excellent job (without really trying :p) of matching up the polka dots at the center front seam!

I set the two bodices aside to concentrate on the skirt.  I had cut the center back pieces on the selvedge, since I had already washed the fabric and knew that it wouldn't stretch or pucker as selvedges sometimes do.  So I sewed that seam (below where the zipper would end) with a normal 5/8" seam allowance, but treated all of the others with French seams.  This means sewing each seam twice - first with the wrong sides together and a narrow 1/4" seam allowance:

Then (after pressing the seam first closed, then open) folding the right sides together and enclosing the raw edges within the new seam allowance, stitching at 3/8" in:

This creates a beautifully finished seam with no raw edges:

Inside view:

Next I hemmed the sheer skirt by turning up and pressing a 1/4" all the way around.  I had previously pressed each French seam to one side, turning them away from the center front and center back, but at the hem I pressed them the opposite way:

Then just above the raw hem edge, I clipped in to each seam:

Then turned the rest of the seam back the way it had been, leaving just the part folded up into the hem folded the opposite way:

Now I folded up another 1/4", encasing the raw edge of the clipped seam in the new fold:

This way, when I sewed the hem, there was only one layer of seam allowance at the hem on one side, instead of three.  This greatly reduces bulk, and makes sewing the hem so much easier.

There is a bit of bulk in the hem at the other side of the seam allowance, but it's pretty minimal:

And it just looks so much nicer!

Now it was time to attach the bodice.  I sewed the skirt lining together with normal seams, overlocking the raw edges to prevent fraying.  After testing how the two layers looked on top of each other, I decided to sew the skirt lining inside out, with the seam allowances sandwiched in between the lining and outer layers.  The overlocked edges did not show through the sheer fabric in any noticeable way, and I figured this would be more comfortable to wear.  I stitched the two skirts together along the top edge, then pinned them to the outer bodice:

I sewed this seam with a 5/8" seam allowance, then pinned the bodice lining to the other side, sandwiching the skirt layers between the two bodice layers.  At the juncture of each dart, I made sure that the two darts were pressed in the opposite direction from each other:

This was, again, to reduce bulk.  I stitched right along the 5/8" seam line once again, then flipped the two bodices up, encasing all of the raw edges inside.  Now it was time to attach the zipper.  I had pressed in the center back seam allowances of the sheer skirt layer before I attached it to the skirt lining:

This was because I did not want to enclose the outer skirt into the zipper.  I wanted it to float freely from the waist seam.  So I carefully attached the invisible zipper:

So that it closed all of the bodice layers, but only the lining of the skirt:

Then I sewed the remainder of the lining center back seam with the seam allowances to the inside.  They were also cut on the selvedge, so no need to finish them.

Now to add straps and finish the top of the bodice.  I had only added a 1/4" seam allowance at the top of the bodice pieces when I was tracing them, because I had intended to bind them together instead of turning them in.  This is why I was able to construct the waist seam as I had.  Originally I had planned to use some plain navy blue bias tape for the binding and straps, but after cutting the sheer fabric pieces I decided I had enough scraps to make my own bias tape:

I used my mom's rotary cutting tools to make 1" wide strips:  

And I actually ended up with more than I needed for the straps and binding:  

Mom taught me a simple way to make spaghetti straps.  First sew a tube with the right sides together:

Then snip into the tube just to the stitching about 1/2" from the end, and insert a bobby pin like so:

Push the bobby pin into the tube, pulling the clipped end through:

And once on the other side:

You'll have a perfectly smooth spaghetti strap with a 1/2" inside-out raw edge at one end.  Simply clip this off, and your strap is finished.

Now the bodice front pieces needed to be eased in slightly so that they wouldn't gap when I wore the dress.  I had noted this tendency when I tried on the lining mock-up, but luckily it was easily fixed.  I basted the raw edges of the top of the bodice together, then pulled up one thread to gather in the excess edges both down the center front and armholes:

This gave the bodice points some curl, which meant they would fit more snugly to my body:

Then I stitched my bias strips to the raw edges with a scant 1/4" seam allowance:

I added the straps in the back to the inside of the bodice before binding the back edge:

But I added the front straps to the points after the binding, as it was just easier that way.  I then turned in the raw edge of the binding and pinned it down along the inside of the bodice:

And stitched the whole length of it down by hand.

I made sure to catch the back straps in this hand-stitching, then flipped them up and carefully stitched them to the top of the binding, as well.

After adding a hook and eye at the top of the zipper, my dress was done!  I left the straps loose at front and back, so they can be tied together either straight up and down or criss-crossed in the back.  I like the way the criss-crossed version looks.

Here I am wearing the dress:

My sister Gretchen was kind enough to take these photos for me, as I was visiting her at the time.

I didn't make this hat, but isn't it delightful?  I bought it at a wine festival last year.

I love Queen Anne's lace.

The parasol is a more recent purchase, from a thrift store Gretchen and I went to.  I just thought it was the perfect accessory for the photo shoot.

The polka dots are really subtle from far away, aren't they?  It's also not super-obvious that the top layer is sheer.  Maybe I should have lined it in white.  :p  Oh well.  I'm happy with it, and it's comfortable and fun to wear.  That's all that matters, right?


  1. I always enjoy a good 'how I make things' post, and the tip on handling seam allowances in hems was especially interesting - thank you!

    Love the dress, and great photos.

    1. Awww, thanks! I'm glad my random tips every now and then are helpful to someone. :) I enjoy "how I make things" posts, too - which I suppose is why I keep writing them!