Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DIY paternless maxi dress

Garment Sewing Challenge: May 2012

Recently I presented myself and my internet friends with a challenge.  I challenged us to sew a garment that we would be proud to wear in public.  I wanted this to be a challenge for all sewing levels so I made the stipulation that the participants needed to "try something new".  

Well, I met the challenge when I created my circle top.  But I didn't really push myself to try something new or learn a new skill.  Sewing a garment from virtually no pattern and working with a strong print were new things, but not super challenging.  So, I made another garment!  I made a maxi dress, or you might call it a long sun dress.  What do you think?
The 3 new things I tried with this dress were:
1.  Making a dress with no pattern at all!
2.  Shirring!
3.  Using "Fray Check"!

I started with a couple yards of a gauzy, crinkly, cotton floral that faded from turquoise to brown.  I don't have a dress form, so I just wrapped the fabric around myself to find an acceptable width.  I wrapped it loosely enough so I knew I had plenty of ease on my hips and around my ankles for walking.  I gave myself an extra 4 inches of overlap--just to be on the safe side--and cut into my fabric.  

I folded over the top edge twice and hemmed it.  Then I began shirring.  I shirred about 5 rows along the top edge.  I wrapped the dress around me (the dress form!) and tested the fit.  Surprisingly, it stretched all the way around me and didn't look too bad.  While I had the "dress" wrapped around me, I pinned a safety pin right under my bra line.  (One thing I hate about buying maxi dresses off the rack is that my chest is always too big for them.)  Then I made around 5 more rows or shirring under that mark.  Here's a nifty diagram I made to illustrate my point:
After all the hemming and shirring, my dress was looking a little short.  I decided to add a 4 inch border along the bottom hem.  I started with a 9 inch wide strip of brown cotton that was ling enough to go all the way around the bottom of the dress.  I ironed and sewed it to the dress sort of like this:

The brown band added some weight to the bottom of the dress, both visually and functionally.  I liked it!  Using my own body as a dress form and a quilter's supply of safety pins, I pinned the dress closed and sewed up the side.  I left the bottom of this seam open about 14 inches.  I folded the edge over twice and stitched up the raw edges, creating a slit.  Now, I can cross my legs or climb up the bleachers at the ballpark without needing to hike my dress very much.  The sides of the slit are a little wonky and wavy, but I'm not sweating it.  For future reference, I'll have to remember to reinforce those edges so they'll lay nice and flat.

At this point I knew I needed straps.  Hello, this girl needs to wear a bra and those strapless ones are no good for me.  But I put this idea aside because I had a fit problem.  With the shirring placed where it was, the front looked great.  However, the back area between the shirring was loose and baggy having nothing to fill it.  So I tightened it up with several more rows of shirring just in the back.  Awwww, shirring is good!!!

So with that problem fixed, I moved on to the straps.  I made the straps pretty much like I made the brown band, only smaller.  I gathered a 1.5 inch strip of fabric and stitched it into the straps.  If you'll forgive the inaccuracy of my diagram, the straps and ruffles are made from the same floral fabric, you'll see what I mean here:

I constructed the straps, donned the dress once more, safety pinned the straps to the dress, and then stitched them together.  Easy, right?  No I forgot to mention the easiest part:  I didn't finish the edges of my ruffles on the straps.  Instead, I used a product called Fray Check.  I just dabbed a small amount of the liquid on the raw edges, allowed it to dry, and no more fraying!  The edges are stiff, almost as if I used a clear nail polish on them, but the finish is matte and fabric is still flexible.  I've washed it once, and it's still intact.  Neat stuff!

The last step was to make a sash out of the brown to tie around the empire waistline of the dress.  It was an addition suggested by my 5 year old daughter.  A good call, I'd say.  I tried tying it in the front as well, but prefer it tied in the back sans the bow.

So there you have it!  If I can do it, so can you!

Here are the shirring tutorials I used:



I have a Singer HD4423 with a drop in bobbin.  I wound the elastic thread by hand.  I set my tension to 3.  I had no problem whatsoever.  Easy-peasy, I swear!

Happy crafting and big hugs from Montana,

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  1. Looks awesome, Rikka!!! Very impressive making your maxi-dress without a pattern. LOVE the fabric and brown is the perfect contrast. You'll be hooked on shirring now!!! How did you create those neat little diagrams?

    1. Thanks Pam! I used Picmonkey for the first graphic about shirring placement. I drew the folded fabric graphics with my photo editing program (printshop pro photo, I think) and finished them with Picmonkey.

    2. Thanks, Rikka. I'll have to check them both out...

  2. SOOOO cute!! Shirring scares the crap out of me!! But I love the look of it. I agree the brown is perfect with it. Great Job!:)

  3. Gorgeous Rikka!! I've bought some elastic to try shirring - but haven't taken it out the packet yet!! You make it sound nice and easy though! :)

  4. Your dress looks great, can't believe you did it without a pattern! Well done! Shirring is way too advanced for me, although your instructions make it seem a bit less scary

    1. Too advanced?!! So says the quilting queen! Lol, I feel the same way about paper piecing--too advanced! I'll stick with my log cabin, thank you very much. :-)

  5. Way cute! I love how the brown breaks it up and the ruffle straps are adorable. I am intrigued by your tattoo :)

  6. Thanks for all the great comments! Shirring was something I've been meaning to try for a long time. I'm honestly surprised how easy it was. I've read that drop in bobbins don't work so great, but it all went smooth like butter!

  7. Your maxi dress is adorable. To think that you did this without a pattern...bravo!! I love the way it turned out, especially the ruffles on the straps and the brown accent trim on the hem and the belt. It fits you just perfectly. Will you make another one? You made it sound do able, I might try one similar. Thank you for sharing. Hugs

  8. Hi Rikka, I've featured your Maxi dress today...

  9. Looks babes, you are awesome no doubt. But more in you, your thought which show your personalty................Cool thought!!!
    Chiffon Dresses


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