a whole lot of dresses

IMG_2175 and one tank.  i know it’s a tall order, but after a little thought and a lot of sewing, i’ve decided to blog about all my jersey dresses in one giant post rather than split them into several shorties.  i already have a few new garments finished and even photographed, and i don’t want the old blog to get backed up as i flit feverishly from one project to the next as i’m prone to do. as usual, i’m telling myself there isn’t a whole lot to say about these dresses, but i know i always manage to find plenty to say about everything.  so, if you get bored, you can just look at the pictures (with a higher than average amount of photo bombing).


so, in chronological order.  shortly after i met my date night dress and simple slip deadline (a deadline for lovely april and for our trip to san diego where i planned to wear the dress), i decided i wanted another handmade dress to wear on the trip, something comfortable and low maintenance, something for the plane, the beach, and whatever else might strike my fancy.  i realized about two cotton garments in to my self-sewing ventures that, in order to get maximum use out of what i make, i’d need to delve heavily into jersey knits, which i virtually live in.  with that in mind, i kicked off my month break with a massive order from girl charlee, *the* place for knits of all kinds.

i’m not-so-secretly loving the popularity of tribal motifs these days.  all the bold geometric shapes and colors really appeal to me and have since i was a kid, as evidenced by the hideous tribal couch i personally selected for my grandparents circa 1995.  my mother was mortified.  fortunately, this print is easier on the eyes and far more comfortable…it’s soft as can be, light as air and drapes like a dream.  given it’s jersey, it doesn’t wrinkle, scrunches up into a tiny little ball for packing, and feels great and easy to wear.  i did wear it on the plane, at the beach, and basically every other second of that weekend (and it’s in heavy rotation to this day).  success!

photoas for construction, i was off to a rough start with my jersey ventures.  i bought this pattern for $1 at joann’s months ago, and when i sat down at 10pm the night before our dawn flight, i was horrified to learn that big name patterns come in different size variations, and i had bought m-l-xl.  not to be deterred, i decided i would size the pattern down and learn to use my serger in the same night, because you can make questionable choices like that when you’re on vacation.

what followed was not particularly smooth sailing.  i didn’t have suitable muslin fabric, so i cut my experimental pattern right from the precious tribal fabric.  the bodice was huge.  i also realized that i had been matching the pattern based on the big black stripe, not realizing that the motif above and below that stripe were different.  i had to scrap the first bodice entirely and start over, and with the difficult pattern matching, now i had zero wiggle room on the fabric.  that there is a large motif centered on the bodice and then repeated down the skirt is mostly a happy coincidence, and the side seams should be ignored.  eventually, i got it to be wearable with semi-serged seams and no finishing on the neckline, armholes, or hem (which i cut into a shape i don’t know the name of).  it’s gotten a good deal of wear and tear and gone through the wash several times now, and i have no plans to change a thing about it.  i love it.  and i used the garbage bodice to make a little matching tank for bean.  yeah!


when we returned home from san diego, i decided rather than continuing to fiddle with the mccalls pattern, i’d do a rub-off from one of my existing knit dresses.  i bought it from target a few years ago and get a ton of use out of it.  seeing as i have no real idea of how to rub off patterns from existing garments and this one turned out to be slightly more complicated than i anticipated, i’d say the outcome is so-so.  again, i adore the fabric (stripes, of course), but it’s lighter than that of the original garment.  the skirt on the original is a pretty odd shape, but the weight of the fabric makes it work.  i didn’t consider that enough while drafting the pattern, and so the skirt pulls toward my back making it a bit unflattering on the tummy and leaving extra fabric gathering at the side seam on the hemline.  i didn’t really notice any of this until i saw photos of it and have worn it a lot, as a standalone dress and a bathing suit coverup (it’s a bit short for toddler chasing).  the stripes got a little off when i ran into trouble making the elastic casing under the bust, but i did ok on the shoulders!


after the first two, i was eager to use a reliable pattern again.  i had impulse purchased this cute tea rose chevron with my big girl charlee order, and thought it would be a fitting second attempt at a wiksten tank.  after my first attempt in voile turned into a mumu, i thought a drapey knit might look more flattering on my short and curvy figure (and i cut it a size down since it’s loose fitting and stretchy).  i believe it does, and again, the fabric is a dream to wear.  however, my goodness, can someone please direct me to a good tutorial on matching chevron at seams?!  it’s like astrophysics trying to figure out how to get those zigs to zag together.  i never quite pulled it off, on this version or bean’s mini.  it made my brain hurt.

as i was making the wiksten tank, i realized it would have been wise to use this existing loose fitting tank pattern to draft the numerous dresses i’d hoped to make with the mccalls pattern i bought in error.  that was a total game changer.  i hacked the shoulder to natural waist from wiksten, drafted a longish a line skirt piece, and just by altering the neckline and hemline here and there, i ended up with a whole new wardrobe of delightful, wearable, comfortable, versatile dresses.


there’s the grey chevron, for which i bound the neck and armholes.  the rolling under wasn’t cutting it (my chevron wiksten has a horribly wavy hem that no amount of steam will correct)  it’s a stiffer fabric and it holds the shape nicely.  i assure you this photo makes the chevron at the side seam look far better matched than it is in person.  bean has a mini version of this as well, but i haven’t decently photographed it yet.


and finally, the bird dress.  this fabric was on sale for about $3/yd at girl charlee and it’s really wide, so you get a ton of bang for your buck.  i probably have enough leftover to make a duplicate of this dress.  it’s definitely not something i’d typically order–blue and covered in yellow birds, but i fell into the sale trap and went for it.  it arrived a bit stiff, and i was concerned over what i’d do with 3 yds of double wide bird fabric.  but one trip through the wash transformed it into a delightful, light, soft and almost sheer drapey fabric.  with a v neck and hi-low hem, this one can be dressed up or down (i wore it to the pool and then right out to a nice dinner in las vegas).  i hands down get more compliments on this bird dress than any of the other’s i’ve made.

and that is the parade of dresses!  i love them, and even with the kids home, they’re long enough that i can wear them every day.  perfect for summer.  some of the vnecks get a bit too low carrying kids around, but other than that, they really hold up well to toddler play and are very comfortable.  i actually still have quite a bit of jersey fabric i didn’t get around to using yet, and while i don’t have any additional dresses immediately on my queue, i could probably work up a little wiksten–>empire dress tutorial if anyone is interested.


14 thoughts on “a whole lot of dresses

  1. Awesome! I’ve been looking for a great knit source, thank you kindly. I ran into the same problems with this very McCall’s pattern. I bought mine xs-s-m, but a couple of my measurments came out large, so I added some to the bodice and skirt. Turned out HUGE. Not to mention, I made it out of a non-knit cotton that had some slight stretch. And I lined it. Man. What a nightmare. Yours turned out much better. I love the rest of these dresses. I want to do this for the fall. Can you please put up your patterns for fall sewing? Surely you will be doing…..oh wait…you live where there is no fall? Oi. And yes, tutorial.

    • oh, girl charlee all the way. when i first went to the site, i assumed the prices were for half yards. it’s all like $5-6/yd with such cute prints and huge variety, great customer service. and it’s a small business which i like to support. i’ve been really really happy with them. ha! we should do a pattern swap! although it seems to be very generous in size…i can usually wear a medium very comfortably and even when i trimmed an inch all around the M, it was gigantic. ha! have not thought about fall sewing! indeed, we don’t have the september fall like most of the country…it will cool off here closer to thanksgiving. but all these summer dresses would look cute with tights, boots, and a cardigan. btw, how was your date??

      • Pattern swap!!! YOU ARE BRILLIANT. Let’s arrange this. I’ll send you my deets. I can’t believe those prices either, I fell in love with this:


        And probably need to buy it, now that I see it isn’t per half yard. My date was awesome. Awesome. I’m actually working on a post about said date. Though, somehow I don’t have a photo of me in my dress. How…?

      • ha, we have a similar issue with photos. at least now that i photograph my clothing, there is some evidence of various experiences. the photos of my ikat dress and this bird dress are the only ones from las vegas. there is no photo proof that david was there with me. i don’t know, once you have kids, that’s all you take pictures of anymore. they’re so dang cute!

  2. Cuuuuute stuff. Love all the prints you chose. Girl Charlee is a gold mine in terms of prints, but it’s hard to predict how the fabric will actually feel. I’ve gotten a variety of different weights from the “cotton jersey” section alone — from scandalously sheer to stiff printed stripes that drape oddly.

    I admire your tenacity to keep going with the knit dress thing. For me, knit dresses are the easiest and fastest thing to make, but they’re also the ones that are more likely to end up in the UFO or holy-hell-what-have-I-done pile. Usually the difficulty comes when I’m thinking it will be a no-brainer and therefore don’t measure anything…? Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying your new serger! Soon you’ll be clamoring for a coverstitch machine. If you need enabling, I’m a great enabler.

    • ok, good, so i’m not the only one who is unable to decipher the different percentages of cotton/lycra/spandex in a knit and ascertain from reading only the numbers what it will feel like in person. i’ve sadly too had a few casualties–i got 3 yds in this massive order of another stripe that i loved, and when it came it was so synthetic and non cotton feeling, i knew it would give me b.o. instantaneously. i gave it away without making a single cut into it 😦

      i read your post about the feather racerback dress…i thought it was cute, for what it’s worth. i have the same issue with knits. i feel like they’re so forgiving, i don’t need to do any planning to make stuff. that’s not true, but i bet i’ll keep doing it.

      i also read your extremely detailed account of your coverstitch machine from beginning to end, and i still am totally clueless as to what that machine is for. my serger continues to be a total mystery to me as i’ve not cracked the manual or even truly threaded it yet. with time and necessity…

  3. I think the bird dress is my fave fave fave. I love the print – though often think, for myself, prints work better in theory than in actuality. This one looks so lovely on you, you vixen. Now, I’m a little confused – was the bird dress made as a variation on the wiksten tank? was there some other pattern involved as well? xo

    • shoot, i just checked the site and it looks like the bird fabric is no more. yes, the bird dress and grey chevron are both hacked from wiksten. i suppose you could just make the wiksten dress from a knit and add an elastic casing as i did with my voile version, but i just used the shoulders/neck/chest from the pattern and drafted a simple skirt to have a bit more control over fit. i will get a tutorial up here at some point–super easy, and then you can just change the shape of the hem and neck to change the look of the dress. smooches.

    • can’t beat the convenience for knits, that’s for sure. however, i don’t love it for woven garments for myself. i actually love old fashioned seam finishes…i’m just an old fashioned kinda gal. i think i’ll use it a lot on wovens for the kids since they grow out of stuff so fast, but for me, i’m all about french/narrow/rolled/felled, etc etc.

  4. Holy cow, Ashley! You are so productive – and that’s coming from me who’s used to seeing my mother produce enough garments to clothe a stadium full of people in one sitting! I love all your dresses. Tribal and chevron and birds are all awesome.

    • i’ve been called productive before…i think this is one of the reasons i find your mom so endearing. i relate on a personal level 🙂 i know, i went crazy with the prints, eh? a far cry from my solid color wardrobe, but they’re fun (and so comfortable). i’m currently working up to a vacation wardrobe (because my vacations apparently never stop)…more to come…

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