When I saw the thick, bold charcoal and oatmeal colored stripes on this textured linen blend, I immediately thought of playing with contrasting stripes and creating a strong, structured silhouette for a high-fashion fall look. In this blog post, I’ll walk you through how to update an existing pattern and share some helpful design and patternmaking tips along the way.
Sewing and Patternmaking Supplies
Coordinating polyester thread
22” invisible zipper
Wax tracing paper
Wax-free tracing paper
18” Clear gridded ruler
6-1/2”x 24” Clear gridded quilting ruler
Flat straight pins
80/12 Size universal sewing machine needle
Iron and ironing board
Step #1: Choose your “design canvas.” Start with a simple pattern that does not have a lot of design details such as darts, pleats, or gathers (e.g., A-line skirt, shift dress, tunic top).
In this example, I used the bodice from my Sunny Disposition Sheath Dress, which has front and back waist darts, to pair with an inverted box pleat skirt for a fit and flare dress. Since my new bodice design would contain asymmetrical style lines, I traced the front bodice onto a new sheet of paper as one full pattern piece as opposed to having it cut on the fold. Make sure to transfer the grainline, along with any other pattern markings, using wax tracing paper and a tracing wheel. I would also recommend removing the seam allowance from your original pattern before you start altering. (Note: Since I chose to omit the sleeves from the original design, I first made some minor fit adjustments at the bodice armhole.)
Step #2: Sketch out some design options. Since I was playing with stripes, it was definitely helpful for me to do a few sketches using croquis fashion templates before committing to a final design. For the dress, I knew I wanted the stripes on the inverted box pleat skirt to run horizontally. I also cut the back bodice as-is on the straight grain (with the stripes running horizontally). Since the fabric is on the thicker side, I was mindful not to create too many seam lines on the bodice, which would result in unflattering seam bulk. I also wanted to avoid any changes that would disrupt the existing waist darts. In addition to my sketches, it was also visually more helpful to lay out these test designs with the actual striped fabric in relation to the skirt to see how all the lines would interact.
Earlier this year, I taught a Pop-up Britex Workshop on color blocking, which explored similar pattern variation concepts. Here are two examples of design variations I created previously with color blocking. For the dress on the left, I added a simple yoke to a basic tunic dress pattern, drawing my style line to blend nicely at the armhole and just above the side bust darts. For the dress on the right, I transformed a princess seam bodice into one with a sweetheart neckline design so I could color block with contrasting polka dots.
[Photo credit: Liz Clayman]
Step #3: Add your new style lines. After reviewing my sketches and arranging a few test placements with the contrasting stripes, I decided to separate my front bodice into two pieces with a diagonal line originating at one side seam and crossing over center front to the opposite armhole. I used the 60-degree angle line on my clear gridded quilting ruler, with the center front straight grainline as my guideline. Placement was key here as I wanted one continuous line and had to work around not wanting to interfere with the neckline, not crossing over the bust area at an awkward angle, and not hitting too closely near the waist darts. The goal here was to create a balanced, harmonious design. A 45-degree angle would have created a weird bisecting effect, and I was inclined to think along the line of the rule of thirds.
Step #4: Add notches and grainlines, and separate your pattern pieces. Make sure to transfer your grainlines before separating the two front bodice pieces. Since I was playing with the direction of the stripes, I drew a diagonal bias grainline onto each pattern piece. A true bias grainline intersects the length and cross grains at a 45-degree angle.
Next, notch your pattern pieces along the style lines to help you match up the fabrics when sewing. Notches are ¼”-long marks on the perimeter of a pattern with a ⅛” bar across the top. I chose to make three notch marks here.
Now, separate your pattern pieces by cutting along the style line with paper scissors. Don’t forget that seam allowance must be added to the edges, in this case ½”. You can either trace each front bodice pattern piece onto a new sheet of paper and add the seam allowance that way, or tape additional paper onto each separated pattern piece with invisible tape and add it here. (Note: If you previously removed seam allowance from the original pattern, now is the time to add it back.)
Step #5: Draft your combined armhole and neckline facing pieces. In my previous guest blog post on sewing with silks, I showed you how to create and sew single-fold bias tape. For this dress design, I am going to create and sew a combined armhole and neckline facing instead.
Generally, facings for garments with style lines should be drafted before the bodice pattern is separated. However, you can also place the style seam lines together as if sewn and trace. In this instance, I am going to use my original front and back bodice patterns (the version with the armhole slightly adjusted).
Pin the front bodice pattern piece onto a new sheet of paper. Trace along the neckline, shoulder, and armhole. At center front and the side seam, trace down 2” from the neckline and armhole respectively. Using your French curve, draw a smooth S-shaped curve between these two marks, repositioning the curve as necessary. Indicate center front on your pattern piece. Repeat for the back bodice pattern piece and remember to include ½” seam allowance at center back and transfer your grainline.
Tip: It is helpful to square off (draw a perpendicular line) ½” at center front and the side seam where you will then place the French curve when drafting the S-shaped curve.
Step #6: Cut and sew. Now you are ready to construct your garment. I decided to sew my skirt first so I could use it as a fixed reference when planning out the striped bodice design. Cut out your bodice pieces according to grainline (in this example, the two front bodice pieces are now on the bias). I transferred my darts and notches onto my fabric with wax-free tracing paper and a tracing wheel. Do be aware that this kind of tracing paper has a tendency to smudge (kind of like eye shadow). Marks can be removed with a damp cloth later on, but make sure that you can still see your pattern markings during garment construction. Another option would be to use tailor’s tacks.
In terms of order of construction, I sewed all of my waist darts first. Then, I sewed the two front bodice pieces together, matching up the notch marks along the style line. I then serged my raw edges to prevent any fraying. At this point, I proceeded to sew the rest of the dress as I would any other dress that had an attached neckline and armhole facing, making sure to pin and press along the way. (My book, Sewing Vintage Modern, covers these techniques in further detail.)
Another helpful tip I can share is to make a few notch mark clippings on both sides of the zipper and fabric when lining up the invisible zipper at center back together with the stripes.
Overall, I found this blended fabric extremely fun and easy to work with given that it had such a nice body to it. Another perk was that the ⅝” width of the stripes made it fairly easy to match up the lines at the side seams and along center back. Visit my blog to view more photos of my new fall frock.