Saturday, September 17, 2011

Compare and Contrast, Vogue 1159 Donna Karan and V1191 Michael Kors Dress Patterns

When I completed my last project I had mentioned doing a post comparing that dress to one I made previously this year.  They are both Vogue Designer Patterns, knits only, featuring a front twist detail and both have a large, unusually shaped and slightly confusing pattern pieces that makes up most of the dress.  I really like both dresses, however only one is in my closet as I made the first one for a friend.   The posts received lots of comments and a few questions, so here is a comparison.

First up,  Vogue 1159,  Donna Karan pattern.   I think they should have shown the dress on the envelope in a solid color as it is quite difficult to see the design.  The front is one large pattern piece which is pleated below the waist, twisted to create a grecian style drape across the upper front and attach to the upper back piece, with a diagonal seam on the back skirt.

Purple drape dress frontVogue 1159 ptrn photoV 1159 tech drawing
On the right is my finished version of the dress. If you would like to see the original post with more info and pictures here it is.  I think this is a case where I like the outcome but it doesn't really look like the pattern envelope version.  It turned out a lot more "grecian toga" than it looks in their photo.  On the body the fit is very nice, hugs the curves and enhances the waistline.
Compare now to Vogue 1191, Michael Kors pattern.  Another knits only twist front dress that features one large front pattern piece which extends to the whole skirt, also pleated at the waist and draped across the front bodice.  Looking at the technical drawings in proximity it is really interesting how similar they are.  
Coral dress on form2V1191 ptrnV1191 tech drawing

Having just made this dress last month at the end of August I wanted a more summer look so I modified it to be sleeveless, which worked out very well and makes the pattern more useful. I also think that would be nice with cap sleeves.  For more photos and info on making this dress, here is that post.

Now let's get a little nit-picky with these patterns.

Vogue 1159 Donna Karan dress - pros and cons.
  • center front is basically open, drape crosses in front to cover, sort of. I think most would need some kind of hidden fastening or hollywood tape to prevent a wardobe malfunction, but not insurmountable.  Strategic safety pin would suffice.  
  • pattern as shown appears to have a cap sleeve, but as worn it does not really create that cap sleeve effect on the shoulder, more like a regular sleeveless dress.
  • inside of dress is finished very well, the design includes a skirt lining which calls for a knit, by using a more stable knit, it creates a Spanx-type effect in the skirt portion of the dress which I thought was genius. Really holds you in,however I sewed it into the dress inside out so my seams are showing inside, but not the worst mistake in the world.  I blame that on the instructions which are somewhat inscrutable.
  • pattern markings,which some had trouble with did not bother me. The most important section being the center front where there are many pleats came together well and lay nice and flat when finished off.  I am a fanatical pattern marker with thread tailors' tacks so with this one you just grit your teeth and mark, mark, mark.
  • no size adjustment possible, there is a bit of ease so I suggest choosing your typical bodice size.
  • the underarm area is weird, attaching the front twist closes up the side area, but it creates a very deep V at the underarm, which looks odd.  I sewed a triangular insert to raise the V and create a regular underarm side panel.  Everyone who reviewed this dress had the same issue.
Here is a look at the inside of the dress and close up of the center gather point.  The drape is pulled back and pinned so you can see the finished section.  Without the pin the drape falls nicely.
Purple knit Vogue inside outPurple knit Vogue inside CF

Next up Vogue 1191 Michael Kors Dress - pros and cons

  • center front is quite low, particular if you are shorter than the pattern is designed for.  Fortunately it is easy to raise it by extending that seam,  I added 2 inches.  This does pull the bust area tighter but as it is a knit it works.
  • with this dress it is possible to adjust the size a bit, as it has regular side seams in the bodice area so you could add a bit around the bust. I actually added a bit in the center back skirt seam to fit that area, and just eased the extra into the waist seam, worked fine.
  • the lining is only in upper portion of the dress, waist is finished with a facing.  I found that the back lining didn't want to fit to the waist, perhaps because the dress fabric was way more stretchy, so I left it unattached.  Not the most beautiful finishing but as usual, no one will be seeing the lining.  If I make it again I will add a skirt lining as in the DK dress.
  • center front gather area is kind of wonky, it doesn't really disappear under the bodice twist so I had to hand stitch it a bit to stay in place.  
  • with a very stretchy knit and no sleeves the zipper seemed unnecessary, but I think with a more stable knit it would be needed.  
Photo on the left is a look inside, you can see that I left the bodice lining unattached, it should be sewn into the same seam as the facing.  Somehow it just didn't seem to reach the seam.  Now that I am looking at it again, it might have worked fine and pulled the skirt up under the twist better.
Funny how stepping back from a project and then returning and rethinking gives a new perspective.  I am almost positive I will make this in the long sleeve version in wool jersey and then I will attach the bodice lining to see how that works.  On the right, the center front twist. There was a opening left after I followed all the instructions, so I hand sewed this closed, with a few stitches that don't show.  Where all the pleats come together it is a bit of a clump, somewhat less elegant than the pleats on the V1159.
Coral dress inside frontV1191 center front twist
I highly recommend both these patterns despite my criticisms, which are as I said kind of nit-picky.  As for difficulty level, they are both easy to sew and yet difficult at the same time.
Knits are forgiving, there is built in ease in the fabric, sizing and design so I think getting a well fitting and flattering dress is almost guaranteed.  They both have TONS of crucial markings which must be done, and both have very confusing huge "front and back" mysterious origami-like patterns pieces which cause a lot of head scratching and referring back to the occasionally enigmatic instructions. If pressed I would say that the Michael Kors dress has fewer problems, allows for some fit adjustment and could be more versatile, day or evening depending on fabric choice, and sleeveless or long sleeve.  The Donna Karan dress is much more dramatic, I think a more dressy look, and has the clever attached skirt lining but has a design issues that require a bit of improvisation in the sewing.

So now that I have made 3 knit dresses this year - yesterday was doing some web shopping for more knits.  What next, actual knitting?  No chance of that :)

I am still catching up from my unexpected break from sewing, so yesterday I cut out this blouse in the Liberty cotton fabric.  

pink dahlia 0811
Today's SunnyGal garden photo, one of my favorite flowers, which always says summer to me.  I usually buy the bag of assorted dahlia tubers, so it is fun to see what color comes up.

Happy early fall sewing to all, Beth 


  1. Wow. Thank you for your generous review.
    Both patterns are in my line up for next spring, but I have been known to wrestle and lose, with the wrap, ruch, drape, gather, knit look.

  2. Very interesting post - I love how you have weighed up the differences between these two patterns. Your versions of both of them are beautiful. Another similar pattern is Vogue 1221 - a DKNY tucked and draped dress - which I have made. I found, exactly as you say, that it needed careful marking and a little bit of puzzling over but ultimately it came together very well. Your dahlia looks gorgeous!

  3. Excellent analysis and I totally agree with everything you said. I still can't pick my favourite though!

  4. Thank for the detailed and thoughtful comparisons... these patterns do appear quite similar at first glance. Both your dresses are lovely, and I especially love that deep rich purple colour. I think it was this dress that first drew me to your blog...
    I have another eerily similar Donna Karan pattern Vogue 1087 which I have made up once. It has the same draped crossover front and a little shelf-bra type of bodice which works well. Looking at your lovely dresses has made me want to make it up again!

  5. Thank you for your review of the patterns. How fun that you are getting into knits!

  6. Thank you so much for a thorough compare and contrast! I am planning to make the MK in a pink wool jersey this winter, so the information is quite useful.

  7. Such an intesting read, and both these dresses look beautiful! I had shied away from both these patterns because I assumed all that draping would create too much volume around the middle, but with the V1159 Donna Karan pattern in particular it sounds like the inside lining would make the dress pretty flattering.