Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Mama's favorite maxi dress" tutorial


Here's the tutorial for the dress I designed to be useful for maternity, postpartum, and nursing -- but it's easily customizable! If, for example, you want a nursing dress but not maternity, just lessen the width of the skirt pieces for less ease. If you want a maternity dress but don't plan to nurse in it, you can make the top however you want. The shirring under the bust helps give your waist some shape if you are postpartum, but easily stretches to accommodate a baby bump, too. And, I really think this dress works year-round -- just throw on leggings and a cardigan in cold weather! I could not ask for a more versatile piece of clothing in my wardrobe for this season of mothering. I hope it's a blessing to some other moms out there.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to assume that you are familiar with the basics of sewing knits and the extra sewing techniques I outline in this tutorial. I wish I had the time and space to explain everything in detail, but if you have questions about anything, please don't be afraid to ask for clarification or help! Just leave a comment or send me an e-mail (address is in my Blogger profile). Also, although I proofread this tutorial thoroughly, if you come across any mistakes, I would be deeply grateful if you would let me know!

Supplies Needed:
  • sewing machine
  • 3 yards of light- to medium-weight knit fabric (For your reference, I am 5'10" and normally a US size 8 or Medium, and I made this dress out of 3 yards of 66" wide (though badly off-grain) fabric with barely any leftover. If you are much smaller or larger, you'll need to adjust yardage accordingly.)
  • 1/2 to 1 yard of lightweight knit for underlining the bodice front, if your fashion fabric is lightweight
  • matching thread
  • pins
  • sewing scissors
  • chalk or other marking tool
  • tissue paper or pattern-making paper
  • clear elastic (optional)
  • 1/8" wide elastic
  • elastic thread
  • jersey needle
  • twin needle(s) (I used both 2,0 and 4,0 sizes)
  • dress form or someone to help you with fitting
Also, all seam allowances are 1/2", unless otherwise noted.

OK, let's get started!

First, you need to take five measurements. Measure yourself around your underbust (A), measure from underbust to desired hem length (B), measure from the middle of your shoulder seam, passing over the apex of the bust, to the underbust (C), measure from the base of your neck, across your shoulder seam, to approximately where you'd like your cap sleeve to end (D), and measure across your bust front, from apex to apex (E).

Cutting out the skirt

(When I have made this dress, I drafted half the skirt straight onto the fabric using chalk and pins, cut out half, folded the fabric over at the midline, then cut out the other half of the skirt. I then used this first skirt piece as a pattern to cut out the second. If you prefer to make a paper pattern, you can draft onto paper first.)


Take measurement A and divide by 2. Now, multiply that figure by 1.5. Add 1" for seam allowance. We'll call this measurement F. This is how wide your front and back skirt pieces will be at the top (dashed line between the dots).

Lay your fabric out flat. Mark measurement F out on your fabric with pins or chalk, and also mark the center (star). Next, take your measurement B and add around 2" seam allowance (more if you are unsure about how long you want it -- better safe than sorry, and we'll be marking the hem later). From the left side of the top of the skirt, measure down the length of B + 2" in a gentle A-line shape (wider if you want more fullness at the hem, narrower if you want less). Go back to your top F measurement and gently curve from side to center, dropping below the line maybe an inch and a half or so (there's a more scientific way to do this, but I eyeball it and it turns out fine). ;-) From the center, measure down the length of B + 2" in a straight line. Connect the edge and center of the bottom of the skirt with a gentle curve. Cut the half skirt out (solid lines), then fold the fabric over along the center midline (dotted line), and cut the remaining half using the first half as a guide, being sure to match the print if your fabric has one. Using this skirt piece that you just cut as a pattern, cut out one more identical skirt piece. These are your front and back skirt pieces.

Cutting out the bodice


There are four pieces to the bodice: the left and right side of the bodice front, the faux camisole, and the bodice back. To draft the bodice front piece (I do this on tissue paper, since the pattern pieces are smaller), draw a straight line the length of D + 1" seam allowance. At a right angle to the first line, draw another line the length of C + 3" or so (you'll be trimming this later, just make sure it's plenty long to cover your bust and meet in the middle). Along the bottom, draw a line the length of F divided by 2 + 1/2" seam allowance. Then connect the third line back to the first line to form a trapezoid shape.


For the back bodice, draw a rectangle. The long sides will be the length of F. The short sides will be the length of C + 3" (or whatever you added). At the top of the bodice back, mark the center (star) and cut out a slight curve for the back neckline, around four inches across (it will be turned under 1/2" for a total of a 5" wide neck opening -- measure a knit top you already own if you want to double check how wide to make it for you personally).

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

For the faux camisole, simply copy the neckline curve of a tank top you already own and like. Add a bit of length to the straps and draw straight lines down to the bottom edge (make it about as long as C + 5" -- we'll be trimming and fitting all this later). The width of the faux camisole should be slightly wider (maybe 1" to 1-1/2") than the apexes of the bust (measurement E). This is to minimize the visibility of any lines -- if they ran straight over the fullest part of your bust, where the bodice fabric is pulled tighter, the edges of the faux camisole might be more obvious.

NOTE: The second version of my dress was made of a more lightweight knit and so I decided to underline the bodice front pieces and the faux camisole for modesty's sake. My fear was that the edges of the faux camisole would show through the bodice pieces, and I don't want it to be obvious to everyone that I'm wearing a nursing dress! If your fabric is also on the lightweight side, I would recommend underlining as well.

Sewing the bodice

Bind the neckline of the faux camisole. To finish the long edges of the faux camisole, I used my serger but didn't turn under and stitch or anything -- you want this part to be as unobtrusive as possible. Drape the faux camisole on yourself (or your dressform) where you want it to be positioned (fig. 1), and then carefully place the bodice front pieces over it (fig. 2), lining up the top of the bodice front with approximately where your shoulder seam will go (don't forget to allow for seam allowance) and aligning the bottom edges at the middle of your underbust, forming a deep V with the neckline. Pin the straps of the faux camisole in place, then baste in place and trim excess fabric off the straps as needed.

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial
[Sooooo sorry about the horrible iPhone photos! Hopefully you get the idea!]

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial
[Straps of the faux camisole pinned in place after fitting on myself; ready to baste in place.]

Lay out the bodice back piece right side up. On top of this, lay the bodice front (from now on including the faux camisole which has been basted to the right and left pieces) right side down, matching up the shoulders at the neckline. Trim the bodice back as shown below, to line up with the bodice front (it's trimmed on the right side, not yet trimmed on the left). With right sides together, stitch shoulder seams (I would recommend reinforcing these seams with clear elastic or self-fabric strips). Try this on and make sure everything is laying OK, then pinching under your arm, decide how much of an opening to leave for your armhole (my armholes were a total of 16", or 8" down from the shoulder seam).

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

Next you need to hem the sleeves, and lucky for you I messed up this part so no photos! Just my hastily drawn diagrams, which are probably clearer anyway. :) Laying the bodice flat with the shoulder seam at the top, measure down the desired length of your armhole opening + 1/2". From there, baste (1/2" away from edge of fabric) the side seams together to the bottom of the bodice. Go back to the top of the basting and make a 1/2" snip to the basting stitches (fig. 3).

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

Then turn the sleeve holes under 1/2" and stitch with your double needle (I used the 2,0 size for arms and neck; 4,0 for skirt hem). Go back to the bottom of your armhole and stitch from the edge of the hemmed sleeve to the bottom of the bodice, curving in about 1-1/2" under the arm and then angling back out to meet edge at the bottom of the bodice (represented by the red stitching line in fig. 4). Trim excess fabric.

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

Almost done with the bodice, which is definitely the most complex and time-consuming part of the dress! Just turn under the neckline 1/2" and stitch with a twin needle. (It will be a little tricky to turn under the curved back neckline, but just stretch the fabric as needed when you pin in place. I do recommend reinforcing the back neckline with a self-fabric strip or clear elastic as you're stitching it in place.)

Try on the bodice and align the front bodice pieces to meet in the center of the faux camisole under your bust where you want the underbust seam to be. Pin in place, remove bodice, and then baste front bodice pieces to the faux camisole at the underbust line.

Try on the bodice again and wrap a measuring tape or ribbon under your bust, distributing the fullness of the fabric evenly and making sure the side seams run down straight under your arms. Have a helper pin or mark the underbust line for you. Remove bodice, straighten up the markings, add 1/2" seam allowance, and trim excess fabric, making sure your trimming is symmetrical (do this by laying the bodice out flat and matching the side seams, then cutting through both layers of fabric starting from the middle of the bodice front and ending at the middle of the bodice back).

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" tutorial
[Back to my awesome iPhone photos! You can see here how I matched the side seams, folding the bodice at the center front and center back, and trimmed about 1/2" below the yellow chalk line.]

Attaching bodice to skirt

With right sides together, pin bodice to skirt top, matching side seams and center front and center back. (If the openings don't quite match perfectly, just stretch the knit slightly until they do -- no big deal.) Baste.

Take a length of 1/8" elastic and run it around your underbust, pulling enough to give some stretch but not uncomfortably so. Cut the elastic with no overlap. Mark the middle of the elastic, then mark the middle of each half. Starting at one of the side seams, pin the elastic over the basting stitches that join the bodice and skirt. Stitch over the elastic and basting stitches as you stretch the elastic so that the three marks align with the center front, opposite side seam, and center back of the bodice (see below). Finish up by stretching the end of the elastic back to the side seam where you started.

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

Finishing details

Soooo close to being done! Next, with your elastic thread in the bobbin, stitch about 2" of shirring below the underbust seam (you can do more or less depending on whether you are high- or low-waisted). I did eight rows of shirring, each 1/4" apart (see below).

"Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" Tutorial

Try on your dress and have your helper mark the hem for you. Trim as needed, then turn up the hem 1" and stitch with a double needle. ALL DONE!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mama's favorite maxi dress #2 -- stripes!

Striped maxi dress

This is not only my second version of my "Mama's Favorite Maxi Dress" design, it's also a pregnancy update! I was 13 weeks when I posted the first version, and now I'm 26 weeks. How the time has flown and how I've grown! But this gives you a chance to see how the design works for both maternity and non-maternity, since I barely had a bump the first time.

I wanted to choose a very different fabric from the first dress, so I made this second version out of a blue striped knit from Girl Charlee. When the fabric arrived, I hemmed and hawed about whether to use it for this dress because it ended up being much more lightweight than I thought it would be. I waited on the project for a couple of weeks, then decided to go ahead and try to use it. When I laid the fabric out however, I found that it was really badly off-grain. I've worked with a fair amount of knits over the past several years and I've never seen one so warped. I did some online searching to see if there was anything to be done to fix it, but what I found said that 1) off-grain knits really can't be corrected and 2) it's just a sign of poor-quality fabric. I did write to Girl Charlee to politely tell them of my "fabric issues," but never heard anything back. So I probably won't take a chance with ordering from them again -- bummer! Has anyone else had this problem or have you been happy with your purchases and the customer service from their website?

So needless to say, this version was a little more challenging because of the lightweight fabric and the skewed grain, but I once I found the time to work on it, I did manage to produce another dress! I decided to underline the front bodice pieces so that the lines of the faux camisole wouldn't show through, and I'm glad I did. I used some ivory modal knit I had in my stash -- another online shopping bust, in which the fabric turned out to be much too lightweight for the project I had in mind. Oh well, it actually works really well as a knit lining!

Striped maxi dress

I also left the length a bit longer on this version, although I have a feeling I'm going to have to re-hem it... I like the elegance of a nearly-floor-length dress, but not so practical for going up and down stairs while carrying a little one (and usually carrying something else in the other hand!). I'm a little too apt to step on the hem and go flying!

As far as my pregnancy goes, everything is going well and I've been feeling fine this second trimester. I nursed Edmund until he was two years old, but Lavinia ended up self-weaning when she was around 16 months (when I was 17 weeks pregnant), so I'm no longer nursing, although the nursing access on my dress will become extremely handy once again when the baby is born. I'm almost into the third trimester (home stretch!) and am starting to get those physical quirks that make carrying a larger baby uncomfortable. Oh well, I'm grateful even for the discomfort because by the time the end comes, I'm really ready to get that baby out, even if it means going through the challenge of labor and delivery. ;-)

We don't know this baby's sex and we don't plan to find out. And we don't have a name picked out yet -- or should I say, Douglas and I haven't been able to come to a satisfactory agreement yet. Actually, if it's a girl, Douglas gets to name her his choice, but if it's a boy I'm a little more opinionated. We had a bunch of boy names picked out when we were first married, but Douglas has lost his enthusiasm for our secondborn son name over the years. So we're still mulling over choices!

It has been really fun to carry a baby now that Edmund is old enough to understand what's going on. When we first told him we were having another baby, he was so happy and surprised! It's a precious memory. He is excited and even felt the baby kick the other day, when I was sitting on the couch reading to the kids. I'm not sure Lavinia understands the reality of "baby inside mommy" but she is so interested in babies, I know she'll be thrilled when the baby is born. It won't be long now!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Simone's Banbury Cross Cardigan

I was thrilled recently to receive the first photos of a cardigan created (by someone other than me, haha) with my Banbury Cross Cardigan pattern! Simone was one of the winners of the Deep Roots at Home giveaway and lost no time in creating an adorable and thrifty cardigan of her own. She's put her own creative stamp on it by using contrasting colors, which I love. She also took advantage of the existing button placket on the adult-sized cardigan to save herself a bit of work. Hop on over to her new blog, Sew Simi, and see for yourself!

If you have made a cardigan from the pattern, I would love to see pictures! Send me an e-mail (my contact info is in my Blogger profile) or leave a comment with a link to your blog, if you've posted about it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kids' clothes on a budget

My kids looked so cute in their "new" fall clothes I couldn't help but snap some pictures!

Fall kids

Fall kids

Fall kids
[Curls at the nape of the neck. The. Cutest.]

Fall kids

Fall kids

Fall kids

Fall kids

Fall kids
[Who's that coming down the sidewalk? It's Grandpa!!]

shirt: Old Navy via garage sale
corduroy pants: BabyGap via Goodwill
shoes: (last year, purchased with my mom's Kohl's Cash)

sweater: Circo via Once Upon a Child (resale shop)
cupcake T-shirt (under sweater): Sonoma via Salvation Army
jeans: Old Navy via garage sale
shoes: Wal-Mart

Here are my tips for shopping for kids' clothes on a budget. If you have any more, please share them in the comments!
  • Try garage sales, thrift stores, and resale shops. Garage sales often have the best prices. I always scope out the newspaper ads beforehand and only hit up the sales that advertise clothing in my kids' sizes. This sounds horrible but I make an effort to show up right when the sale starts if the garage sale is in a "rich" part of town -- sometimes means nicer brands and newer clothes! Visit a variety of thrift stores every so often to browse their offerings. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to visit a resale shop in a larger city recently and find that their prices were nearly as good as (and in some cases, better than) a thrift store. The fact that everything was organized by size and color was also a huge bonus (less time wasted browsing). I will go back when I can!
  • Know what you like. I stay away from silly slogans and pop characters on T-shirts. Just not my thing. Neither is sportswear (for wearing when not actually playing sports), so I don't waste my time sorting through a pile of track pants when there are corduroys and jeans nearby.
  • Only buy clothes you like and that are in good condition. I don't just buy whatever is in my kids' sizes. I only buy it if I actually like it and will enjoy seeing them wear it. I examine each item carefully for wear, fading, stains, holes, etc. Only buy an item that needs mending if you know you can and will mend it (like a missing button). I don't gamble on stains coming out.
  • Buy a few sizes ahead. If you see something you like that is a size or two larger than what your child is wearing, snap it up! A lot of Edmund's 4T fall clothes this year were purchased last year when I was looking for 3T sizes at the thrift stores. I usually only buy ahead two sizes, just because I don't want to store things for too long and lose track of what I have.
  • Know what you can spend on. I have had a hit-and-miss experience finding second-hand shoes for my kids. If I can't find what they need secondhand, I just buy them new shoes. I have a hard time finding jeans for Edmund, so several times I've bought him a new pair (looking for a good deal at the same time).
  • Hit clearance racks and end-of-season sales. I can often find new clothing in stores that's on clearance for thrift store prices at the end of the season. Buy a size up for next year and your kids will grow into it.
  • Modify your expectations. I'm not a fan of the Pepto-Bismol shade of pink that is all over just about every item of girls' clothing. But, since I'm buying a lot secondhand I just can't be that choosy about completely excluding it from Lavinia's wardrobe. I do try to buy items in a variety of colors for her, but I don't sweat it if her coat is pink. At least it's BabyGap and in good condition!
  • Have fun. You know what, if you see some item of clothing in a store that you absolutely love and think your child would look adorable in it, BUY IT! It's OK to splurge once in a while. I've looked forward to having children for a long time and it's fun to dress them. I enjoy seeing them in cute clothes. God has been good to me and I want to celebrate that! So I'm not going to spend $30 on a dress for Lavinia every time, but once a year? I can make it work.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Autumn colors

Autumn colors

Our house is coming together slowly but surely, by which I mean we are getting things unpacked, organized, and cleaned. It doesn't look very decorated at the moment and I know that will take time, but there are a few spots here and there that look cozy. Here's one in the dining room, where my husband hung our antique 1807 map of the British Isles (our first anniversary "paper" gift to ourselves -- Douglas likes maps and I like Great Britain, so there you go). The vintage table below it was left in the house -- I'm not sure how old it is, but with one leaf dropped, it makes a pretty sideboard. It was tucked out of the way and incredibly filthy. I gave it a cursory wipe-down but I still need to go back over with a bucket of soapy water and then some wood polish. It's pretty dinged up but I like the old patina.

Autumn colors
[The ceramic leaves are a good place to store the treasures the kids pick up on our walks, although the polka-dotted chicken feather was not found in our neighborhood!]

Douglas likes a bit of color around the house, so we painted the dining room Benjamin Moore's "Palladian Blue" before our move (it was previously taupe and brown -- very dark). I had no idea until afterwards that "Palladian Blue" is a popular color but I can see why. It's a lovely duck egg blue that will look nice throughout all four seasons.

My goal is to get the dining room in shape before Thanksgiving (November 28), as we're hosting this year! One room at a time, one day at a time.