Adventures in Dressmaking

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sewing Circle question: Drafting a crossback open back dress

It's been a while, but I got a great Sewing Circle question that I wanted to share with you, and get your tips for! Danielle wrote to me about another kind of backless dress (see this Sewing Circle about how to modify patterns for backless dress varieties and this tutorial on how to make an open back shape) - I had to think about this one for a while! But I think I've got it down and here are some tips on how to make this kind of summery dress yourself. (See also tips for sewing on knits!)

Q: Your blog has inspired me to better my sewing skills and start making more of my own clothing. One thing I've been dying to make is a crossback/open back dress. I loved your tutorial on how to alter any dress pattern to have a cutout back, but the style dress I'm going for is more like this Forever 21 dress:

Or this AE dress:

Where the cutout is right above the waistband. Do you know of any pattern that I could use to recreate this? Or any tips on how to alter a pattern for this? 

My biggest problem is how to finish the waistband in the back. I've only ever made dresses where the skirt attaches to the bodice all the way around so the raw edge of the skirt is all inside (attached to the bodice obviously). I just don't understand how to attach the front part of the bodice to the skirt and then finish off the rest of the raw edge of the skirt in back so it looks nice. Do I just fold over the raw edge on the backside and stitch it down? What if I'm adding elastic to the back like this dress?

A: Cute dresses! Unfortunately I haven't seen the perfect pattern, and I think mainly because those are made of unlined lightweight cotton knit, and most sewing patterns are for lined, structured dresses. But, you can definitely make one with a basic knit dress pattern (like The Out and About Dress) and some pattern-drafting. Picture this simple bodice (any sleeve length you like, or leave off the sleeves), plus a circle skirt or simple flared skirt, and the crisscross back drafted how you want it.

The most similar pattern I found for the open back and skirt treatment was actually for kids (this one), although it may shed some light on the construction. I think the key for your dress, where the crisscross starts at the side seams, is finishing the back of the skirt like an actual separate skirt - so yes, fold it back on itself and add the elastic, or add elastic in a casing. Zoom in on the AE dress in the solid red color to really see how it's made!

As for the crisscross straps, I think you'll have to play around with those and cut two of the back piece (rather than cutting on the fold, as your pattern would probably have you do), and you can finish the edges with either self-fabric bias binding (like the Forever 21 dress) or by turning under twice, maybe with some elastic to keep the fabric from stretching (like the AE one).

You can probably play around with your fabric and look at a few simple patterns that you like to see how you could modify them! And, if you're not confident in drafting or want a more structured dress, luckily there are lots of semi-backless dress patterns out there nowadays. Like this one.

Readers, have you seen a pattern for this kind of dress before? How would you modify a basic dress pattern to make this kind of comfy knit? I'm sure Danielle would love to hear your ideas, too!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A pillow after my own heart

Obviously I love home decor. I have pages and pages of posts about home decor projects I've done, plus a home tour I'm very proud of, full of DIY projects and things I love.

Big reason for this? Not only do I love creating things and surrounding myself with pretty things that allow me to express myself, but also - I love being at home!

I always have, although I spent plenty of time away from my tiny college and post-grad school apartments and rentals. But now, we have a home we love and a great space we've made our own, and I love being here! I'm not ashamed.

I'm so content with this personality trait of mine, in fact, that I decided to make a big banner advertising it to myself and whoever else sees my living room. I've been having so much fun with my Silhouette machine already and have done several heat transfer material projects (can't wait to show you a tutorial for an amazing one next week!!), so simple white text in heat transfer material was perfect for this pillow. (Also, is offering my readers 30% off heat transfer material until July 24! Use code DRESS at checkout!)

So, wanna see what I made my pillow say?

Yep, that's me! A happy homebody!

Urban Dictionary says that means, "A person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasures of being at home." Sounds good to me.

Further proof that I love home decor and being at home? I played around with the pillow in different places, but it's always surrounded by other things I've made. Like this black vintage wingback chair slipcover....

Or some homemade stripey pillows and my big zigzag ikat-ey painting.

It is so great to have the freedom to make my own text transfers! Want to make your own? It can say anything you want! What defines you at home?!

DIY Lettering Pillow

You will need:

  • Pillow form
  • Yardage for pillow cover (I recommend a heavier/home dec weight cotton)
  • Zipper
  • Silhouette machine
  • Heat transfer material (Silhouette is offering my readers 30% off on it through July 24! Use code DRESS at
  • Or, buy the pre-cut letters in the appliqué section of the craft store


(Very similar process to the one I used last week in my DIY text tote bag! Check it out for photos!)

1. Design text! I used a basic font in the Silhouette Design Studio and played around with size and spacing.
2. Flip design so it will print backwards and transfer correctly. Load the heat transfer material and hit "Cut"!
3. Peel the negative space out of the design.
4. Center the text on the pillow front fabric.
5. With a press cloth, Iron the letters down through the plastic backing for several minutes. Let the plastic cool a tiny bit and slowly peel off the backing.
6. Install zipper to front and back pieces.
7. Sew pillow front and back together.

That's it!

So fun!!

Check out the heat transfer material here and use your 30% discount on it at until July 24! Use code DRESS at checkout!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Little denim dress, where have you been all my life?

Is the "Little Denim Dress" a thing? I think maybe it should be.

I bought extra of this denim when I made this dress, because I loved it so much and it was 50% off the clearance price, and boy, am I glad I did! I realized I've been needing a strappy dress that's playful and not at all dressy, to wear on hot days when I want something super easy to throw on but don't want to look dressed up in a dress.

I used my old standby strapless dress pattern, McCalls M5849, which is out of print, but is a very basic princess seam pattern. I use it a lot. I added medium-width straps, and I thought a pleated skirt sounded good. Something a little different. I also added some pleats down the center front, since I liked them so much on my first denim dress!

One big difference between this and my other dresses with my fave strapless pattern is I did this one unlined. The denim is lightweight, but still sturdy enough to keep most of its shape in the bodice.

To keep the raw edges from fraying, I pinked the edges. I used a bias binding at the top edge rather than a facing or lining to keep it in place. It worked out great! Here's an inside view.

It's like playclothes! I know we'll have much more hot weather, so many more chances to wear this new dress! The Little Denim Dress - I highly recommend it!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

DIY text tote bag gym bag

This is one of those projects that I think of, purchase supplies for, and make in a 48-hour period. I was really excited about this one, guys.

I recently got a Silhouette machine to try out. It's pretty fabulous. (Thanks to Melissa for the connection!) Since taking the plunge of opening the box and plugging it in, I've been on a roll! and am really into simple text heat transfers! Concurrently, I've been wishing for a new gym bag, since I use the same old one all the time and while it's fine, I figure I should really love it if I'm carrying it and looking at it 4 times/week! But what is a cute gym bag, really? I like canvas bags but hadn't made the connection until I saw this tote, which seemed motivational and gym-ey.

I'm sure you've seen the tons of cute tote bags out there with simple text phrases or silhouette images. Why not make one a gym bag?!

DIY Lettering Gym Tote Bag

You will need:

  • Cotton tote bag 
  • Silhouette machine
  • Heat transfer material (Silhouette is offering my readers 30% off on it through July 24! Use code DRESS at
  • Or, buy the pre-cut letters in the appliqué section of the craft store

I had an easier time than I expected finding the tote bag; they had a bunch at JoAnn in medium or large, in white, canvas, navy, black, denim, or pink. I paid about $2 for this one after coupons.


1. Pre-wash tote bag. Cotton shrinks, and I don't know what would happen if the fabric shrunk under the heat transfer letters, but I don't want to find out.

2. Design text! I used a basic font in the Silhouette Design Studio and played around with phrases and fonts, spacing, etc.

I thought "go me" and "I rock!" were motivational, but they're kind of hard to read with so few letters. I wanted them to symbolize "Yay, gym! I get to go to the gym! Yay!" so I went with "yay gym."

3. Flip design so it will print backwards and transfer correctly. Load the heat transfer material and hit "Cut"!

I decided to scrunch my lines of text up to save some of the heat transfer sheet for another project; I added the spacing between the lines manually, which actually worked out really well to let me space them evenly on the bag.

4. Peel the negative space out of the design. I cut between the lines of text so I had two separate words to line up on the bag.

5. Find the center of the bag and mark with pins. Line up the center of each word with the center. Use a straight edge to make sure the letters are straight horizontally. The plastic side of the heat transfer material is light a heavy sticker, so it will stay in place once you line it up.

6. At the ironing board, with a press cloth, iron the letters down hard and for a long time (hot work! Do it in the morning if your sewing room is on the second floor like mine is!).

7. Let the plastic cool a tiny bit and slowly peel off the backing.


Wear/carry proudly!

Maybe I should make a set, eh? "Yay books" and "yay food" and such for other reasons to carry a tote! ;)

Check out the heat transfer material here and use your 30% discount on it at until July 24! Use code DRESS at checkout!

Try it yourself!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Long time coming white lace and knit dress

A very long time ago, I pinned this photo. Loved this lace dress, not quite maxi, not a typical midi length, sort of hippie but also fresh and clean cut. I aspired to make it!


I even got the perfect lace a while ago. This border print "hexangular" lace from WholePort totally captured the feel of the original dress, but also had a cool border print! No hemming, plus extra interest. (Although, I was limited to the width of the fabric for the length of the dress, but it turned out just the right length.)

But I didn't make the dress until this weekend, because I didn't have a pattern or lining. I knew I wanted a lightweight cotton knit lining, but even basic lightweight knits can be expensive! I've definitely made dresses where the lining was twice as much as the fabric - like this one - but I hadn't even found the perfect thing at the fabric store. So when I found a 100% cotton jersey fitted twin sized sheet at Goodwill for $1.99, I snatched it up and cut it apart for linings just like this one! It was perfect!

Still no perfect pattern, but I used Simplicity 2584, a simple sheath dress with bust darts at the side seams, and cut down the neckline into a deeper scoop and cut the shoulders wider instead of giving it cap sleeves. Any basic sheath dress pattern would also work , but I wanted one with bust darts instead of long vertical waist darts, to keep the angles simpler for the lace.

Both lace and sewing on knits can be tricky to work with (among top Sewing Circle questions, see my tips on sewing on lace here and sewing on knits here), but they also can both be a little forgiving.

The result!

I think we can all agree it will DEFINITELY be cuter with a thin wrap belt or some accessories! But I love how the border print hem looks, and the shorter knit lining layer.

I love basics like white dresses! Great to have one with a more hippie feel!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Weekend Inspiration, and some goals for a balanced holiday

I love some good Weekend Inspiration!

And this round of Weekend Inspiration comes a day early, because, well, I don't know about you, but I'm super excited for this upcoming summery 3-day weekend!

I have a lot of things to look forward to this weekend (starting early with casual Thursday at work; husband's birthday on the 4th and hanging with the family and going to the university gym when it's closed; then having two whole days with nothing planned - first 4th of July weekend that's been the case ever since I was a kid, since we usually do a big camping trip but are not this year!; maybe throw in some berry picking)... BUT, I have some goals and ideas to share, too!

My goals this weekend are simple. May they inspire you if you're looking for something to celebrate with this weekend! Hoping to:

1. Wear the perfect festive outfit that's not too American flag-ey, but still get some great white and blue action.

Some ideas.

2. Eat delicious, fresh, summery, 4th of July food (but not sacrifice how I feel by eating processed or overly sweetened junk!)

(I'm not alone - here's a roundup of 50 awesome real food 4th of July recipes. Wow! Also love this list of 30 great real food potluck recipes, by category!)

Anything grilled is festive, right?

Chunky Pineapple Guacamole with Grilled Sweet Potato Chips - Source

3. Maybe - and only if I really feel like it - get crafty around the house and do something new.

Maybe even a trip to Home Depot or Lowe's! If we get brave.

Husband casually mentioned the other day that he thought it would be cool to incoroprate some cinderblock furniture into our house.


I was appalled until I saw some ideas on Apartment Therapy that actually looked okay!

(Don't think I'm brave enough for that one yet, although I have been wishing for new night stands! ;))

Also totally impressed by this versatile sit/stand office.

Whew! Now I'm feeling tired!

What do you do with a 3-day weekend with not too much planned?

Happy holiday, if you have it off!
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