Thursday, August 27, 2009

Building a Pattern Wardrobe, Part 4 -- Dresses & Helpful Hints

Now for the final post in the Pattern Wardrobe series!

1. Simple dress, style depends on your figure
2. Empire waist dress (this style is almost universally flattering)

~ Simple Dress: Butterick 4443

I cannot recommend this pattern highly enough! Of course, no pattern is going to fit everyone, but I think this pattern is worth a try! Princess seams are supposed to be very flattering, but I've found that full-length princess seams do odd things to my figure! However, this pattern works for me because of the separate bodice and flared skirt. Besides that, it takes a ridiculously small amount of fabric, and is a breeze to put together (no darts, and you just can't beat a twirly skirt!).

Here are my versions of the dress:

The first one has a periwinkle underlay and an organza overlay. Plus a shrug made from the pattern I mentioned in Part 3. Both times I've made this dress I've lengthened the skirt several inches, which is very simple to do with this pattern. The second dress is a striped seersucker with a scallop hem. I bound all the raw edges with red bias tape -- easy and fun! And yet another shrug, from the same material the belt and bias tape are made from.

~ Empire Waist Dress

An Empire waist dress pattern is very helpful to have! There are a number of patterns on the market that would work in this category, so I'm not going to suggest a particular pattern (although I can recommend the Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern!).

As for other basic dress patterns? Well, I won't be much help there, because most dresses don't suit my figure. I stick mainly with separates, which works well for me. I do have a 1920's Vintage Vogue that I just love, but it's not really an "alterable" pattern! I'm hoping to branch out more with dresses, especially exploring some vintage styles.

~ Helpful Hints

Before I wrap up this series, I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned along the way.

1. Don't be afraid to try something! If you're not sure that a pattern will look right on you, make it up in cheap fabric first -- it's great if you can find inexpensive fabric that you actually like, because then you have a wearable garment if it works out!

2. Look out for inspiration everywhere. I occasionally scour websites like Laura Ashley, Victorian Trading Co., Coldwater Creek, North Style, Liz Claiborne, Anthropolgie etc., to get ideas for clothes. I save the images into an "inspiration" folder on my computer, and look through that folder when I'm ready to sew something. Most of the things I like are too expensive or too immodest, but if I make it myself I can control the price tage and the neckline! *wink*

3. Think outside the box. If you can, don't even use the pattern instructions after the first time or two. Try to get comfortable with some basic pattern drafting, using your existing pattern pieces. You don't have to do something drastic to get a different look! Things like ruffles and tucks are very simple ways to change up a pattern.

4. Don't be afraid to try a new pattern. Of course, most seamstresses don't have trouble convincing themselves to get new patterns! But always keep your eye open for new patterns -- even if it's just for a new sleeve, a fun collar, etc.

5. Have fun! Enough said. *smile*

I'd love to hear about your favorite patterns, or any "altering" suggestions! After all, I'm always on the lookout for a new "treasure!"


  1. How did you learn to alter patterns that you like? I'm interested in learning to sew but I'm normally a "by-the-pattern/instruction" altering a pattern is kind of scary for me!

  2. You have inspired me to purchase some of those lovely patterns next time they're on sale at JoAnn's! :-)

  3. I absolutely love these posts you have been doing on outfits! You truly can make so many different pieces from one pattern! :) Have a great day!

  4. I am loving this series! But I do have a question--I think I mentioned my issue on a different question as well. I'm full-busted, and so I've always stayed away from things that aren't knit. Do you think it would be fairly easy to figure out how to alter something like that princess-seamed dress to make it larger at the bust but not at the waist?


  5. This has been fun! I have always liked that dress pattern, but never gone for it... I think I will next time B patterns go on sale!

  6. Thanks Shannon, you've inspired me to experiment into new sewing ventures. I'am a bit intimidated since I am not experienced.
    I've purched butterick B5315 (dress pattern) It's adorable.
    Got it for $1.00 at Joann's sale.
    Check it out, I think you'll like it too. wink wink.
    Thanks for your tips and advice.
    I can tell you that I'll be going back to those posts for future reference.
    Kudos for all the beautiful work you do!
    Love Irene
    ps always looking forward to seing your sewing projects.

  7. Melinda, I first started altering with my Simplicity 4499 blouse in 2005. Little by little, I grew more confident and tried new ideas. The Internet is also a great resource for learning about things like circular ruffles, etc.! I started with simple things like rounding a pointed collar, using a different sleeve pattern, or adding tucks. For me, it was a lot of experimentation -- which includes some failures! :-)

    Hannah L, I think Butterick 4443 should work! I would use your bust measurement for the bodice size, and your waist measurement for the skirt size. You can then try taking in the bodice seams below the bust (you could just grade the actual pattern pieces down from your bust size to your waist size in the midriff area, but I think you might get a bitter fit if you adjust it while trying it on). I hope that makes sense, and I hope it works out for you!

    Irene, how on earth did I miss that dress pattern?! It's adorable! Thanks so much for the suggestion, I will *definitely* pick that up during the next Butterick sale! :-)

    Melanie, Emily, and Tilly -- thanks so much, and I'm so glad that you've found this helpful!

    Love in Christ,

  8. Hannah, what you want to do is called a full bust adjustment (FBA) there are several great tutorials on line, whether you're fitting a garment with darts, or princess seams. I't very simply, and just requires a bit of extra time...but once you've fixed a pattern it's done! Just test the fit on a "lesser" fabric to be sure you like the results!


  9. Tilly, thank you! :-)

    Yours in Christ,


I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!