sew lovely: flowy summer dress

This blog post has taken longer to put together than I thought it would.  After the busyness of getting a new camera and then right away shooting an art tour and a wedding, I finally have time to share this lovely dress with y'all.  Enjoy!

For my spring break project this year I decided to make a dress out of a soft knit bed sheet I bought at the thrift store.  The material ended up being very frustrating but I stuck with it.  This is the first sewing project in a long time where I am completely happy with how it turned out.  I feel like I learned a lot and I am so proud of this dress!

Here is my lovely dress form Penelope modeling it for me.

I hunted around for a knit dress tutorial to give me an idea of how the material would behave.  I had never sewn with knit material before so this was new territory for me and part of why it turned into a frustrating project.  I ended up using this dress for inspiration and returned to my favorite circle skirt tutorial for this project as well because I really love full swishy skirts.  I really wanted to add these sleeves to my dress but it didn't look quite right.  I'll save them for a future dress project.

For the bodice I traced a tank top, like the dress tutorial said to, but I didn't flare out for the skirt since I was going to make my skirt out of a separate piece of fabric.  I cut the bodice just a little bit longer than where my waist would be so that I would have a seam allowance for sewing on the skirt.  I did a double layer of fabric for the front and back of the bodice so the color of my bra wouldn't show through the thin fabric.  I oopsed and cut the bodice pieces a little too skinny, so then I cut little panels and sewed them to the edges so the bodice wouldn't be too tight on me.

And this is where my frustrations started.  Perhaps I didn't cut the fabric on the appropriate grain or maybe I should have been more careful when handling my freshly cut pieces of fabric.  Whatever the reason, it seemed like I would cut my pieces to the exact size they needed to be but then they would stretch.  It was a headache.  The little panels I added to the sides of the bodice, I ended up having to make them smaller later on because they stretched.

The waist of the skirt also stretched.  After I sewed together the skirt and the bodice and then tried it on the waist was very loose on my body.  I looked up different ways to add elastic to the waist and ended up making a casing for the elastic like the first tutorial in this blog post.  Rather than measuring my waist and subtracting a certain length I just put the dress on with the elastic threaded through the casing and pulled it to a comfortable tightness.  Then I sewed it together at that point and cut off the extra on the ends.  This very easily solved my loose waist problem.

Originally I wanted to finish the neckline the same way as the tutorial dress, but it didn't turn out the same way.  Perhaps I didn't sew on the fabric strip correctly.  I ended up binding the edge of the neckline (and the arm holes) but for some reason the neckline stretched A LOT while I was doing this.  I couldn't believe how much it gaped open!  I have since learned there are all sorts of techniques to keep knit fabric from stretching (walking foots for your sewing machine, using double needles, etc.).  Sadly, I didn't know any of this and had only bits and pieces of fabric left, so I couldn't cut out a new bodice and didn't really want to take the dress apart for a new one even if I did have enough fabric to cut out a new bodice.

I tried on the dress to see where the extra fabric fell on its own.  I took a break from the dress for the rest of the day to figure out how to solve the problem and because I was really frustrated.  Instead of taking it in and cutting off extra material, I decided to fold up the extra fabric at the back of the neckline and then sewed it together.  Here is my attempt at illustrating what I did.  (Excuse the coffee stain.)

Folding up the back of the dress ended up puckering the back of the sleeves so I folded over the fabric where it was puckering and then hand stitched an invisible stitch along the folds on the outside and inside to have it lay flat.  I sewed it by hand because I didn't want to have an obvious line of stitching interrupting the interesting folds that appeared from folding up the extra fabric.  Luckily I hadn't finished the arm holes yet so I was able to begin and end the binding at the new "seam" on the back which gave it a nice finished look.

A great advantage of knit fabric is that it doesn't fray if you don't hem the edges.  I wanted the neckline and armholes to have a finished look but I left the bottom of the skirt un-hemmed so it would remain light and flowy.

I've been considering dyeing the dress dark purple, but I think I'll leave it the way it is.  The light purple is really soft and feminine, perfect for spring and summer.  I already have plenty of dark colored dress clothes for fall and winter.  This will be my girly dress for the warmer months.  :)

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