Sew Liberated’s Clara shirtdress

The Clara shirtdress, pattern No. 118 from Sew Liberated, is complete, with a bonus belt!

Here’s the dress on Gene:

Sew Liberated's Clara shirtdress on Gene.

Gene looks good in everything. (The little white patch near the shoulder is the sun coming through the shrubbery.)

Sew Liberated's Clara shirtdress from the back.

From the back, it looks like the dress is cut on the bias. It’s not; that’s just the way the print is. By the way, using a busy print meant not worrying about pattern placement on the fabric. Lovely.

As a reminder of where it all started, here’s the mood board.

Mood board for Sew Liberated Clara dress.

I ended up using only the navy thread, and I abandoned these buttons in favor of vintage ones from my stash. I also decided at the last minute to make a matching belt.

The Clara is a shirtdress with an elasticized waist. It has a collar, front plackets and short sleeves with an interesting keyhole detail. (My 10-year-old son did not appreciate this detail at all. As he was being a good sport and “admiring” my newly finished dress, he pointed to the keyhole and asked, “What is this hideous thing?”) Oh well. I like it.

Alterations I made

To fit and flatter my figure, I made the following alterations to the pattern:

  • Adjusted for a full bust
  • Lowered the bust point
  • Added 8 inches to the length
  • Increased the overall bodice length (too much, as it turns out)

I find bodice length impossible to determine until the skirt is attached. On a hunch, I added 1 inch to the bodice length instead of the 1/2 inch I usually add to the Big Four patterns. When I tried on the completed bodice, I was absolutely sure it was still too short, but when I tried it on with the skirt attached, it was a 1/2 inch too long! This is not the first time this has happened to me. I cannot explain why the bodice seems longer when the skirt is attached.

Changes I made

Since putting my own stamp on a pattern is part of the fun of sewing, I made the following changes:

  • I added a white braid trim to accentuate the collar and plackets.
  • I sewed the bias trim fold to the wrong side by hand.
  • I sewed the double fold hem by hand.
  • I changed the elastic technique at the waist.
  • Bonus: I added a matching belt.

Because of the blouson bodice and waist elastic, Clara reminded me a bit of shirtdress patterns from the 1980s (minus the ubiquitous shoulder pads I was always altering out of patterns). Yes, I was sewing back then. Here’s the proof:

This was taken during Christmas break 1985, my freshman year of college. I'm on the right, in a shirtdress I made. Not bad plaid matching, I must say. On the left is my friend Melissa.

This was taken during Christmas break 1985, my freshman year of college. I’m on the right, in a shirtdress I made. Not bad plaid matching, I must say. On the left is my friend Melissa. This must have been during the brief misguided period when I wore contact lenses.

Because of the waist’s similarity to shirtdress patterns from my youth, I decided to use the waist elastic technique I remember from back in the day. The Clara pattern instructions called for sandwiching elastic between the waist seam allowances and sewing it in place with a zig-zag stitch while stretching it, but I didn’t like the idea of that seam allowance flopping around inside. Instead, I opted to trim the waist seam and sew single-fold bias tape over it. I opened one fold of the bias, and sewed it over the seam on the bodice side. Then I pressed the tape down over the trimmed seam allowance (which was then hidden underneath the bias tape) and sewed the other fold down onto the skirt. I inserted 3/8-inch elastic into the channel created by the bias tape.

As I was inserting that elastic, I remember what a bother that technique is. It’s pretty difficult to get that elastic all the way around, even with a bodkin. (Click here to see the kind of bodkin I used.) But once it was done, it looked nice and tidy inside.

Here you can see the casing I made for the elastic out of single-fold bias tape.

Here you can see the casing I made for the elastic out of single-fold bias tape.

As for the belt, I had no intention of making one. I have a navy leather belt that I was originally planning to wear with the dress, but I HATED the way it looked.

So, I decided to make one using a vintage buckle in my stash that was a pretty good match for the buttons.

Alas, I had no belt backing in my stash, and my Jo-Ann’s doesn’t seem to stock it. Instead, I used ribbed nonroll waistband elastic. It was no picnic to pull elastic through the tight tube of fabric I made to cover it. There are still a few spots where the fabric is gathered a little on the elastic.

The vintage buttons and buckle are a pretty decent match. Can you see a little gathering on the right part of the belt?

The vintage buttons and buckle are a pretty decent match.

It was the best I could come up with on short notice, and it did the trick; but I’m planning to order some belt backing and buckles to cover for my stash.

And here’s the dress on me:

Caption here. Photo by Robert the Husband.

This is the length I prefer on dresses and skirts, about 30 inches long from the waist. Photo by Robert the Husband.

This is a really comfortable and pretty dress. Nothing is too tight anywhere. It only really sits on the shoulders and at the elasticized waist. As a bonus, the keyhole detail makes the sleeves adjustable in width. Adding the extra length really worked for me. (My girlfriend and I were lamenting on Facebook this week the lack of calf-length dresses. Everything is at the knee, mid-thigh, maxi, or hi-lo. Not flattering for us suburban moms in our 40s!)

Gathers at the waist — even slight ones — are not my best look, but boy the comfort sure offsets that. All in all, I’d call this dress a winner. I’ll wear it later this month when I have dinner with another girlfriend.

Although I am WAY past the completion date for the Sew News sew-along, they let me add photos of my completed dress to their Flickr group. You can see them here.

Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans!

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4 thoughts on “Sew Liberated’s Clara shirtdress

  1. atatphares July 17, 2014 at 7:33 am Reply

    Oh my! Your Clara is gorgeous!…and for the record there are some of us in our 20’s (though not a lot 😉 ) that would prefer calf length skirts. After three kiddos my legs are full of scary looking veins and lets just say I don’t have the time to tone with exercise anymore :p Needless to say that when I make up a Clara I will be aiming for calf length.


    • Jeanne Marie July 17, 2014 at 7:49 am Reply

      Thank you! That’s the beauty of sewing, isn’t it? We don’t have to be stuck with unflattering styles from the mall. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. […] I posted my finished Clara Dress, Danica from the Sew Liberated pattern company offered me a free pattern in return for a link to my […]


  3. […] Sew Liberated was kind enough to offer me a free pattern after I made their Clara Dress, which I love. I chose the Schoolhouse Tunic, and all the opinions here are […]


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