This dress is a recent project which I planned for a while but saved for after I handed in my thesis. I wanted it to be something I took my time with, rather than filling the role of stressed-out sewing as some garments do. In the final result I love this dress, and so far it is probably the handmade garment of which I am most proud.
I had been contemplating maxi dresses for a while, because since they came into fashion a few years ago I thought they were a really practical, lovely style – comfortable, easy to move in, elegant, and useful for those summer days (common here at least) when you never know when it might get a tad chilly. However, I honestly never saw a maxi dress in any store that really called out to me in any special way. Admittedly I have a lot of requirements of my clothes. So I never bought one.
One reason I am so pleased with this dress is that I drafted the pattern myself, and instead of rushing I purposefully took a lot of time getting it just right, making a few mock-ups of the bodice out of old charity shop sheets, and tweaking it through several iterations. Because I purposefully postponed working on this dress, I had time to think through a few design features before starting the drafting, which I should probably do more often.
The fabric is a cotton poplin print from Ray Stitch in North London, and not really like any maxi dress print I have seen in stores. To me, the basic maxi dress shape most clearly evokes either early nineteenth century styles (think Jane Austen) or early twentieth century straight ankle-length skirts, and hence to me the fabrics it calls for are filmy pale cottons or small garden prints.
The shape and style of this dress are not revolutionary, but I worked out a lot of small details that I feel really made it work the way I wanted.
I included the little back neckline darts to which my mom introduced me, which help garments to sit more evenly on my (rather bony) shoulders. I often find that I am tugging dresses forwards or backwards because somehow they don’t sit with the right balance on me – these darts eliminate that problem.
I also raised the waistline about 1/2″ above my natural waist, which helps the comfort a great deal by giving some freedom at the waist, but still gives a waistline seam close enough to the waist to wear a belt.
Finally, the back waistband has elasticated panels which cinch the back to fit while still allowing some give. You will often see shirring performing this function in purchased clothing – parallel lines of thin elastic along the inside of a garment. I opted instead for an inset panel with nine (NINE!) separate horizontal casings, each with elastic inserted. It was the most fiddly part of the sewing, but makes for a nice, clean finish.
I added pockets, aligned the repeats on the print of the fabric so everything is symmetrical and matches up at the seams, and put the zipper in by hand.
Overall I am so pleased with this project. I’d be making another in no time if it didn’t require so much fabric! I guess maxi dresses will have to remain a splurge.