Monday, September 24, 2018

Pattern making: copying a complicated dress

In the interest of completeness I decided to do a blog post on this dress, which doesn't photograph very well at all but is interesting nonetheless. One of our most popular classes at Hello Stitch is the Garment Copy class and I think this might be one of my favorite sewing things, both to do and to teach. So while on that topic - the upcoming How to Copy a Garment class is next weekend, Sunday Sept. 30, 10am-4pm, and that will be the last one scheduled until the new year. So if you are interested jump on that.

Last summer Janice brought me this dress to copy, and I confess I was a bit flummoxed at first. For a simple summer dress it has a lot of details. However I think things that have a lot of pattern pieces are actually easier, since you can just go step by step, copying each one (carefully labeling!) and soon enough it's done. Garments that have large swaths of fabric or are long I find are more difficult to copy, and just to manage on the sewing table. This dress has a lot of narrow princess seam panels, a front and back yoke, pleating, godets, and pleated pockets with a welt opening.  I almost hesitate to show you the original dress because it hardly shows off the details but perhaps they are visible.

grey cotton dress original for J

The front neckline has a crossover yoke, and then the center front has both one large box pleat and small tucks on either side of that. The pocket is sewn on a panel so the edges get enclosed in the seaming, and then has a welt opening. If you look closely at the pocket seam on the left, you can maybe make out that there is a godet in that seam as well. In fact in each long princess panel seam there is a godet, all of different sizes.

Here are some of the pattern pieces that I made. For this dress I traced each piece, and by measurement added the pleating etc. If you look closely you can see that I add a lot of directions, markings, notes to myself, and particularly dots and notches where things join.

Pattern pieces copy godet dress

Here is my test version of the pattern. I had some rather scratchy not quite linen fabric that I bought at some sale or other, in an ugly bubble gum pink. The good thing about this fabric is that you can see the details better than on the original or on the final version I sewed (which is the blue batik print gauze you can see peeking in the photo above).

pink copy version front and back on form

For the test dress I didn't have enough to make the godet inserts but they weren't really necessary, the important things to test here are the front pleats, the yoke and the pocket.

But before we continue I have to show a funny goof that I did.

pink dress sample mistake on seaming

Starting this pink version I had some thoughts that it might be a wearable muslin but then realized not enough fabric (and hideous color. Anyway, I had done the binding on the neck just to make sure it was right, interestingly in order to get the binding on and then that little overlap in the front you have to sew the upper pieces, front and back, at the shoulder so that the binding is continuous and also so you can attach it to the center front panel. And so I was very proud of myself to realize that and proceeded along, until I realized I had twisted the back yoke portion....just had to take a picture so you can see that I do have some serious flubs along the way. We all do! I had to undo a bit of the seaming in order to untwist and continue. The thing that bugs me most about mistakes like this is the time lost both doing it, undoing and then re-doing. Oh well...

Back to the pockets, here is a look at the finished pocket, although the side seams are missing the godets but you can imagine them there.

pink sample dress pocket view

Here is the pocket pattern piece. I've found that the key to making pleated pattern pieces is to fold the pleat into the paper, and then pattern from there, if that makes sense.
pocket pattern piece

Janice found this cotton gauze print at Joann's and while I love the print and colors and the weight is perfect for this dress the details just disappear 😞.

Cutting out gauze version of godet dress

Pictured are two of the godet pieces, one was particularly narrow and also curved a bit. It's really interesting to copy a garment and find details that are unexpected, I learn something every time I do a garment copy.  I will mention that since the original was striped that was really helpful to visualize the grain and shape of the pattern pieces which was an unusual bonus.

Godet dress blue on form front view

Final version - pretty summer dress and perfect to take on her upcoming holiday in Spain (or at least it was back in July when I took this photo).

Blue gauze godet dress on J

This is a better representation of the colors, and a closer look at the front neckline.

Godet dress front close up on form

A couple of looks at the inside since there you can possibly see the seaming that is not so apparent on the outside.

Godet dress blue up close pocket inside

Blue godet dress inside out for seaming

So that's the latest on this garment copy project, and I just might make this pattern again for myself - very much outside of my style comfort zone but if I find just the right fabric.....

Here are a few other things I've sewn for Janice - she has a deep stash of gorgeous fabrics so it's always a treat to see what she brings me next.

composite J
Left to right:  
Brown metallic plaid boucle coat
Silk bow tie blouse and wool skirt with flounce
Ponte knit seamed detail dress

Interestingly most all those items are Simplicity patterns - although the blouse is New Look. Click on the links for the blog posts with all the pattern and sewing details. I LOVE that tie front blouse and have intentions to make it for myself one of these days.

What's next on my sewing table? I just finished a button front long-sleeved shirt for myself and while it is in a silk cotton Liberty fabric I think I will keep on wearing my summer dresses as long as possible. Supposed to be in the mid 90's ℉ all this week here and I am fine with that! 🌞

Lots of muslin sewing as I just did a couple of test items for Heather, a blouse, a wrap dress and a blazer. So plenty to do this fall!

A Pattern Fitting class is coming up on Sunday Oct. 14 - probably the only one until after the holidays as the schedule at Hello Stitch is pretty full. So if you want to fit a pattern for your holiday or winter sewing I hope you can make it. All the Garment Sewing classes at the studio can be found here.   This week on Thursday 6-9pm  is my "How to read a pattern" Class, which is great for new sewers and anyone getting back into it or just wondering about all the details and info provided (or not provided) on sewing patterns, any and all brands. Plus we talk a lot about measuring yourself and how to choose a pattern size. Important stuff before you cut anything out, right?

OK, time for me to get outside for some exercise and to enjoy this lovely California sunshine. The calendar might say it's fall but I will say summer forever.

Happy Sewing, Beth

today's garden photo. I don't have all that much luck with sunflowers, although I just randomly scatter some seeds and if they pop up in the garden then there they are. But I do love seeing them around.



  1. I have successfully copied a very simple RTW garment. I thought briefly about trying to copy a little swing jacket but it seemed like! :)

    The original and the finished dress are nice and the fabric she chose for the copy is SUPER cute and fun for summer.

    On Saturday, my son who has been living in Arizona, begged me to turn on the heat. It was 45 degrees in Minneapolis that morning!

  2. Love that color of sunflower! A friend planted lots on her farm just down the road and they are so beautiful in the late afternoon sun!

    What an interesting garment to copy. I’ve tried to copy a RTW favorite, but it didn’t turn out very well. Love the copy more than the original, as the fabric is lovely.

  3. That pattern is really wasted on this fabric--what's the point of all the detail if you can't see it?

  4. What a neat dress! I love deceptively simple patterns like that. Jealous of your summer/fall. We should finally be getting our summer on the coast but nope, still the gray foggy winter we’ve had since July. Going a little batty!

  5. They make (and sell!) that bubblegum pink fabric for me. Love my pinks, purples, and blues.

  6. its very help full
    chack out my blog

  7. oooh, that is such an interesting dress, with intriguing style lines. You did an amazing job! I wish there was a commercial pattern for it; I would get it immediately because I think it's just my cup of tea... And I think the pink one looks pretty fabulous too!


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