Yesterday, I made this dress, which I am wearing today.
I have to say, I’ve been feeling a little bit sorry for myself lately, since my favourite summer sewing project is a vintage style cotton dress. They’re easy to make, and cotton comes in beautiful prints of all kinds and is easy to find. But a waist is necessary for those styles, and for maternity wear that stiffer cotton doesn’t work too well. You need something with more drape. And yet the options for drapey fabric are much slimmer, especially if you rule out polyester (which I hate). So as I wheeled my cart around the fabric store one day, I found myself picking out fabrics just because they were the right texture, realising that in fact I didn’t actually like them. Wrong colours, wrong type of print.
Then I spied this stuff. Fabric like this comes on a long bolt, and is pre-shirred, meaning the whole strip of fabric has elasticated gathers already sewn along one end. It’s meant for making sundresses, but I have scorned it all my sewing days thus far. Why would you make a dress if you’re going to start with something with half the work done already?
But this week I was desperate. For one thing, I wanted a pretty summer dress, and in fact I really liked this fabric print – more than I could say for most of the other candidates at the store. For another thing, I’d spent a week meditating on how I was going to alter my maxi dress pattern for maternity, only to realise that all my sewing patterns are still in a shipping container somewhere, and I’d either have to buy a pattern or make something I could make without a pattern. And over the weekend I grew out of yet another piece of clothing that seemed so capacious before, and realised it probably wouldn’t be the last to join the post-baby clothing pile before the summer’s out. So I bought that fabric.
I think what you are supposed to do with this fabric is just sew it into a tube for a strapless dress. Like this.
I’ll admit there’s a certain Classical charm to the simplicity of this construction. It makes me want to bind a few ropey cords around my middle to hold it all up and finish off with an antique pin and a curly bun. However, in my observation, dresses of this shape have a tendency to sag and blob if not carefully managed, because the dress is the same all the way around, while your body isn’t.
Despite the Classical appeal, I just prefer my clothes to be more robust and stay where I put them. So of course what could have been an easy project became complicated.
I cut a front and back piece, and scooped out a lower armhole area, because that’s one reason dresses like this sag – your arms push them down, while you’re hiking them up in the front. Really you just want an arm opening. I also added some shaping in the bust area, using a dart on each side, which hopefully isn’t too obvious but helps control some of that potential side blousing.
Of course I also added straps. Finally, in the back, there’s an inverted box pleat which falls open (the cause of that tall fold you can see down the centre back) and adds some width to the skirt. Useful for walking, but it also reminded me of Regency styles, which are of course one obvious ancestor of the modern maxi dress.
I have become a lot more slapdash in my sewing, mostly because I’m sewing for an immediate need rather than my previous approach of planning strategic pieces for a long-term wardrobe. I didn’t do a lot of beautiful finishing techniques or anything on this dress, and it was designed on the fly, pinning it onto myself at each stage and therefore not always being very exact. But I will say that my more recent projects, while I feel they are less technically skilled, have been more creative, and that has been fun.