Sewing Project: Shirt Dress (Pt. 1)

I think that most sewists and dressmakers have one item of clothing or one design that they’ve always wanted to make. One thing that prompted them to start sewing or to take their sewing more seriously. For me it was the inability to find a shirt/blouse that would fit. I have a larger bust, a narrow back and a narrow waist and as I got older I got embarrassed and frustrated that I just couldn’t get a shirt to fit me. Either I had to buy a shirt three sizes too big or risk an embarrassing button based incident. It was a problem at school and still is a problem at work if I’m honest. I had always thought shirts were outside of the realm of sewing possibility for me until I started sewing more often and realised that, whilst there were more techniques at play than in other patterns, a shirt is still made from a sewing pattern.

As I had never been able to get a shirt to fit there is one garment I have always wanted but never had the confidence to buy and that is a shirtdress. That is I didn’t have the confidence until I received my Christmas present from my boyfriend, a wonderful book called ‘Sew Many Dresses, So Little Time by Tanya Whelan’ which contains a series of bodices, skirts and sleeves and enables the sewist to make over 200 different dresses from those combinations. This book also has a fantastic section at the back on pattern adjustments and it was with the aid of this chapter I began to slowly and very carefully adjust the bodice pattern to my own measurements. I really made myself take my time, working slowly and methodically and stopping every time I remotely lost concentration. I then paired my button-down bodice with a three-quarter length sleeve and a full skirt, also with a button-down front. Every single piece of the pattern was altered or drafted by me. I wasn’t sure if the pattern would work in practice as there were so many skills I’d never tried so, as every good dressmaker should, I made a toile of the bodice complete with collar, button tabs, bust darts and a cap sleeve.

Once I made my toile and realised that my pattern might actually work I went fabric hunting and I finally found the perfect fabric. Its a medium weight cotton with painted fish on a black background and I love it. Its got enough structure to make an excellent shirt and it hangs really well in a full skirt.

Fast forward to yesterday when the fabric arrived in the morning and 6 hours of feverish sewing later and I have the outline of my dress! This dress is the first time I’ve ever inserted sleeves, my first self-drafted bodice and I am actually really proud of myself. I used to be really scared of sleeves but they really aren’t that bad, I don’t know what I was worried about! I understand there are more difficult sleeve patterns out there but its reassuring to know that I can insert basic sleeves.

The next stage is to add the collar and then create the buttonholes, add buttons and then hem the skirt and sleeves. It sounds like a lot and I am definitely going to take my time on those elements to make sure the garment comes out perfectly. For now here I am in the shell!

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