Tag Archives: shirtdress

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!

Buttoning up Clara

The bodice of Sew Liberated’s Clara dress is nearly done. I spent FOUR HOURS making the sleeves. That doesn’t even count attaching them, which will be next.

It took four hours because after pressing the self-fabric bias tape, then machine stitching it to the right side of the sleeve, I opted to hand sew the bias fold to the wrong side. The instructions call for sewing this down by machine, but I never get that just right. I always end up with stitching wandering off the bias trim in spots. The instructions also called for just tying the raw ends of the ties, but I preferred a neater finish.

So, I ended up hand sewing the bias trim along the wrong side of each keyhole and each sleeve hem, including the ends of the ties. Obviously, it took a long time (an entire Giants game, including preshow and postshow), but to me it was worth it.

I prefer the tidy look hand sewing bias trim creates.

I prefer the tidy look hand sewing creates when applying bias trim. No visible stitching!

I also verified my guess that the bodice could slip over my head without unbuttoning the placket. That means, I’m not bothering to make buttonholes! I’m just going to sew the buttons right through both plackets.

Also, after trying out the buttons I found by going through an entire clearance basket at Jo-Ann’s, I was underwhelmed by my choice. The translucent plastic was not enough of a presence with the pretty braid and the busy print, so I went through my button stash and found other possibilities. (Click on the photos for a closer look.)

This button doesn't have enough contrast now that I see it with all the other elements.

This button doesn’t make enough of a statement considering all the other elements.

I love these buttons from Britex, but I don't think they're quite right for this project.

I love these buttons from Britex, but I don’t think they’re quite right for this project. Too preppy for the paisley.

I don't like these dark blue buttons with the white trim.

I don’t like these dark blue buttons with the white trim, although the button themselves are great.

These vintage buttons are the winner!

These vintage buttons are the winner!

I should have looked through my button stash first. I forgot what great treasures are in there.

Every time I change my button choice mid-project, I think that I shouldn’t even look for buttons until I’m ready to put them on; but I know having to wait to finish until after a shopping trip would drive me nuts! I feel more prepared if I have them on hand when I start a project, even though I sometimes change my mind.

With any luck, I’ll be finishing this project this weekend.

More shirtdress patterns!

I had to go to Jo-Ann’s for some notions, and they were having a big sale on Vogue and McCall’s patterns. I couldn’t resist a peek at the dress sections and found these two great shirtdresses:

I can't resist a nice shirtdress pattern.

I can’t resist a nice shirtdress pattern.

For Vogue 8970, I’d like to make the collared version on the right but lengthen the skirt. I have a couple of linen pieces that would be great for it. Unfortunately, the one I really want to use may not be long enough. For McCall’s 6891, I’d like to make the short sleeve, but with the longest skirt. I’m thinking about a dark blue chambray in my stash for that one, and there’s plenty of that. I already have red buttons and thread to go with it, so that may be the next project.

Teal and navy lawn: It’s done, and I LOVE it!

The teal and navy lawn version of Butterick 5846 is complete! It was a long road to get here — partial muslin, pattern adjustments, full wearable muslin, more pattern adjustments — but it was well worth the effort. I now have the best-fitting dress I have had since, well, I had two children.

Here’s the “before,” you might say:

The mood board for this project.

The mood board for this project.

And here’s the “after”:

This was my first time working with cotton lawn. It's wonderful to sew.

It’s a basic shirtdress, so I can do approximately 1 zillion variations.

And the back.

I think it’s on “Gene” the dressform a little off-center.

Gene’s wearing a belt, but the dress doesn’t actually need one because the fit at the waist is so nice. (I did place the buttons with a belt in mind.) The second set of pattern adjustments I made, after the wearable muslin, were right on the money. These adjustments will be very handy for other projects going forward. After making the wearable muslin and discovering that it only comes to my knee, I opted for the longer length, trimmed only to make the hemline even.

On the inside, I decided to go all “Laura Mae” with rayon seam binding tape. I had practiced on the wearable muslin and LOVED how tidy it made the inside. Check it out:

Every exposed seam is finished with navy Hug Snug rayon seam binding.

Every exposed seam is finished with navy Hug Snug rayon seam binding. (Is it just me, or does the inside view look like a Gunne Sax dress from the 1980s?)

 Here’s a closeup of the waist seam and side seam intersection:
How pretty is the inside?

How pretty is the inside?

The ONLY thing I don’t love about this project is the little pattern-matching problem. Did you notice? Close up, this fabric looks like it has a random all-over pattern. Once I pinned the first piece to my dress form, however, I noticed that the pattern actually has strong horizontal lines. This is not so great to discover AFTER all the pieces have been cut out. Note to self: Look at the fabric from near AND far before cutting.

And here it is on me!

With pearls and bangles. Photo by Maddie, the teenage daughter who thinks this outfit "looks funny."

With pearls and bangles for a vintage vibe. Photo by Maddie, the teenage daughter who thinks this outfit “looks funny.”

I plan to wear THE HECK out of this dress. If you see me in it way too many times, please be a Dear. Don’t say anything.


Next up, some casual summer skirts and tops with the cottons and linens I’ve been stashing for the past few months.

We’re sitting in the mid-90s in Northern California this week. Which makes it very difficult to look at the woolens JoAnn’s just put in the stores. Please! Not yet!

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