12 July 2009

A Maxi Dress for Mini Me

The Maxi Dress is all the rage this summer. Every store has one in some form: woven or knit. When perusing store or pattern catalogues/websites, I would always pass them up because I thought they were too voluminous and would overwhelm me because I am short. That thought was quickly dismissed when I first saw Adrienne's first and second versions of Simplcity 3803 on Pattern Review.

Although I think Adrienne is taller than me, I just loved the way the dress looked. Since reading her review and those written by others, I decided to give the dress a try. Unfortunately, Simplicity 3803 is out of print. Since I couldn't find another dress that I liked as much, I checked Simplicity's It's Sew Easy line of patterns. I was so excited to find the exact same design in Simiplcity 2638.

If I ever wanted to sew the backless view (not shown in S2638), altering the pattern should be simple. It looks as if I can end the back piece at the top of the zipper and extend the shoulder piece so that it can be tied around the neck.

Fitting the dress:

  • Pattern Sizing:
    The pattern ranges in size from 6 to 16 with finished bust measurements of 33.5 to 41 inches. The total amount of design ease is 3 inches. To avoid the need for a huge full bust adjustment, I cut a size 16 all around - against the recommendation by many fit folks and books. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with the 14 or 12 in the neck, shoulders, armhole, and back.

  • Adjusting the Pattern (for a full bust):

  • I made a 2-inch full bust adjustment by the slash-and-spread method (a la FFRP). I drew line 1 parallel to the grain line (just to the left of the right-most notch) and followed it up to the armhole stitching line. Line 2 was drawn from the side seam stitching line toward the apex, meeting line 1. Line 3 was drawn from the center front toward line 1, perpendicular to the grainline. I rotated the newly formed horizontal bust dart to the empire waist seam as more gathers. Here is a picture of the final pattern piece:

    To accommodate the extra width added at the empire waist seam, I added the same amount to the front midriff section. When I made the muslin, I very quickly saw that this extra width on the midriff section was NOT needed. Even after gathering so that all of the notches matched, I still had an extra 2 inches of width. So I removed the width and returned the midriff piece back to its original shape.

  • Other Adjustments:

  • The muslin revealed a few things. The armhole and neckline were both too low and showed my bra. The back is finished with a zipper and an approximate 3-inch split from the top of the zipper to the neck. The split seemed to hunch up and gape. To remedy these issues, I added about 1/2 inch to the bottom of the armhole, tapering to nothing. I did the same to the neckline, tapering to nothing as I approached the shoulder seam. I did a small high-round back alteration by slashing and spreading the back by about 3/8 to 1/2 inch.

    I'll speak more on why some of these adjustments were probably unnecessary later. I keep forgetting to make one crucial adjustment at the start of the fitting process.


Whenever you make several adjustments to a pattern, it is important that you keep detailed records! Sure, that's easier to say than do! When cutting out the fashion fabric, I forgot to lengthen the back piece so that its side seam matched the front. I realized this only when I started to put the pieces together. Fortunately, the extra length was so small that I could just ease the front to fit the back. I sewed a single basting stitch and gathered the front ever so slightly. The gathers pretty much pressed out when I steamed them.

The instructions seemed arcane when it came to attaching the midriff to the bodice. You are supposed to attach the bodice to the interfaced front/back midriff combo, then attach the lining piece to that. I have no idea why the construction is done this way, but surely there's got to be another way. I had to read that section a couple of times before it made any sense.

The instructions also have you treat the bodice lining and front pieces as one when you gather the lower edge. At first, I thought this would be too much fabric to gather and that the gathers would be bulky and uneven. I was surprised to find that indeed it wasn't and the gathers went in well. I suspect that the difference in fabric weight contributed to the ease in success. If both fabrics were of the linen weight, gathering probably would have been more difficult.

With the exception of the small difficulty I had with the instructions, for the most part they are pretty good.

Near the end of the construction process, I made a serious gaffe while finishing the edges on my serger. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn't. While finishing the edge of one seam, I wasn't careful enough in preventing fabric from maneuvering itself under my serger knife and cut a huge gash in one of the skirt pieces. To fix it, I just took some scrap fabric and fused it to the opening. Because the print is so busy, you can hardly notice the fix.

Trying on the Dress:

As this picture shows, from a distance everything looks good.

But up close, it's a different story. The bodice gaped horribly. Anyone a couple of inches taller than me (which is pretty much...everyone) could, with no effort, see all down my dress. I had to fix this.

So, I picked everything apart. I took a bigger seam allowance at the center front, re-fit, and sewed everything back together again. At my second fitting, the gape was still there, but not as bad. At least this time, you had to exert some effort to see down my dress. My friend Melody pinned out darts on both fronts so that the bodice would lie flat against my chest. (If you look closely at the "finished" garment pictures, you can actually see the pins. =) I don't have pictures of me wearing the dress after I sewed the darts.)

With the pins now in place, I was faced with the daunting task of having to pick the dress apart...again. Knowing me and how my patience with some things can go from all to none in a nanosecond, I took Melody's advice and just picked apart the area surrounding the darts. (Duh! Why didn't I think of that?!) I carefully marked the darts with chalk, picked the area around them, sewed them with my sewing machine, and slip-stitched the opening back together. Below is a picture of the left side of the newly altered front. Can you spot the dart? You may have to click on the image to get a closer view. The matching was done totally by accident. Believe me, I was not trying that hard. =)

Things I learned about fitting from sewing this dress:

  • Earlier I mentioned that there is an adjustment I need to make on every bodice pattern. My neglect in not doing this first causes me problems every damn time. I only remember it AFTER the fact. What is it? I need to do a petite adjustment between the shoulder and bust area. Because I am proportionally short, mostly all bodices are too long in this area. Had I done this adjustment first, I would not have needed to raise the armhole or neckline. They both would have been in (or very close to) the correct position from the jump. I also probably would not have had the gaping issue either.
  • The 2-inch FBA was too large on this size 16 pattern. I should have started with a size 12 or 14 and did a bigger FBA. Though I don't have pictures, trust me when I say that the back of the dress is...um...roomy.
  • The skirt on this dress is ginormous! I recognize that part of this is due to the design. But, again, I should have started with a smaller size skirt. The center back seam is more than 1.5 inches!

  • I'm getting better at understanding how changing one part of a pattern can affect the fit of another. Fitting the bodice for this dress has actually motivated me to return to the McCall's empire waist blouse. I took a break from that pattern because of the sleeve issues I was having.
Conclusion: This was my first dress and I am content with the results. I have learned so much about fitting and have a new perspective with which to forge on. I am eager to continue on the path to good fitting bodices. As for the dress, it is very comfortable and cool to wear.


  1. Your first dress? Oh my gosh, it really looks great! I am impressed with all the changes and adjustments you did to make it fit so well.

  2. Your dress came out very elegant.

  3. The fit looks great! You did a wonderful job.

  4. The dress looks great on you and fabulous print. I too worried about wearing a maxi-dress, since I am only 5'3", but with heels it worked out.

    Thanks for the lovely compliment on my dress.

  5. You did a great job.!! I love your maxi dress. Keep on the good work.


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