I always thought that learning to sew dresses was a very difficult thing to do. Until I found Tanya Whelan‘s book “Sew Many Dresses, Sew Little Time”. I wrote about it a few weeks ago when I shared with you how I made my own wedding dress.
I ended my blog post promising that I would write about my 8+1 dresses during the coming weeks. So, today I invite you to join me on my dressmaking journey starting with how I made dress no 1 and dress no 2. One turned out really great, sewing the other one was a nightmare!
How I found ‘Sew Many Dresses
It all started with me borrowing Tanya Whelan’s book from the Qatar National Library. While browsing some shelves for something on patchwork, I found it by chance. I was immediately intrigued by its approach. I put my patchwork book back on the shelf to be able to borrow it instead. As usually struggle to limit me to four books at a time! 🙂
In the taxi back home I started flipping through the pages and I knew that I would need to buy this book. It would not be enough to just borrow it from time to time. I wanted to have it at home on my shelf. I wanted to be able to work through it. It was perfect for learning to sew dresses! And I wanted to sew these many dresses in little time!
Starting out with Dress-Making
Tanya Whelan explains in her book how to make dresses in a very intuitive way by combining different forms of tops with different forms of skirts. She advises starting with combining both of the basic forms: the so-called basic bodice (the top) and a straight skirt. Thus you can get your measurements right and adjust the basic straight dress pattern before making any other variations.
She actually advises that you make a muslin before even sewing the dress. A muslin is something like a test dress made from a cheap fabric with a similar weight. Traditionally cotton called muslin was used for doing this which explains the name ‘muslin’.
But I do not like to ‘waste’ any fabrics on making test dresses!
I need my cotton for patchwork projects! 🙂
Being Pleased with my very First Trial
So I jumped right in! I had this nice light mint floral print that I had bought in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates ages ago. Fabric shopping in Sharjah is great. I found so much nice fabric there in the past! And I can’t wait to be able to go there again to browse through the little fabric shops.
Following the instructions, I made my paper pattern and then cut my fabric. I remember that when I first started making clothes I was always super nervous when I started cutting the actual fabric. It is an exciting moment. There is no way back from there! You finish the piece or you don’t! There are limitations to pivot your sewing plans starting from this point onwards. You cannot make a pair of trousers from pieces that were supposed to be a shirt after all.
It surprised me how easy it was. After sewing the darts on the front and the back piece of the bodice you just have to sew both pieces together. I finished the openings on the neckline and the arms with facings instead of lining the whole bodice. This was definitely an easier and faster option! And it was the right choice for the type of fabric.
I attached the skirt quickly as well. The only real difficulty was the zipper! Until today I have a kind of love-hate relationship with sewing zippers. I always have the feeling that I need as much time sewing the zipper in as sewing the rest of the dress.
Being Bitten by the Sewing Bug
Anyhow, I was very happy with the outcome! I loved how the dress fitted. How the fabric felt on the skin. I made it in one single day and was hooked. I wanted to make another one right away and combine another bodice with another skirt. So I embarked on a journey for learning to sew dresses!
It is really addictive! You start sewing and just want to try all the different top-skirt combinations. But where to start?
First, I went out to the fabric market in Doha to get more fabric. Not that I did not have any at home, but I did not have the right kind. The mint floral print was super easy to sew and I wanted to get something similar.
I wanted to find out the name of this fabric. For asking around for it I took a piece of fabric with me when I went shopping. Until today, I have no idea. No one in the market could answer this question properly. If you know its name, please let me know in the comments below. I would be very grateful for that!
Eventually, I found this bright orange fabric that seemed to be similar. I decided to get some to make dress no 2. Little did I know that this fabric would fray horribly when sewing it. It turned out to be a nightmare!
Making Dress No 2
I decided to mix it up a bit and combine a princess bodice and a six-panel skirt. In retrospect, I think I should have changed one thing at a time instead of both the bodice and the skirt. The dress did not come out as I wanted. It looks fine when I wear it, but there is something that I don’t like about it. I cannot even say what it is. It just does not fit as well as dress no 1, I guess.
It was my first princess-cut bodice trial. With this slightly heavier fabric, I had some issues sewing the seams properly. Also, the six-panel skirt is not really my style. It might be a bit too loose on the hips which makes it a bit bulky there. I am not sure if this is the issue as I made only one six-panel skirt so far.
But what annoyed me most were the shoulders. Both sides do not have the same width because of the fraying issue. You might not see it first, but I know it. And it really bothers me! So I only wear this dress – if at all – with a cardigan to hide this little issue.
What did I learn from sewing these dresses?
After I had considered dress no 1 a success, I could not say the same for dress no 2. But hey, this is how you learn. Only when you make mistakes do you know what to make better or what to avoid? It would take a few more dresses for learning to sew my wedding dress.
I should have started the sewing diary that I mentioned last week in my post on my big sewing plans then. It would have helped to avoid repeating some of these mistakes! 🙂
Half a Dress
As I had some leftover orange fabric, I started to make another princess bodice to practice. To mix it up I added some short sleeves this time. Not such a great idea either!
I have a finished top now, but it is pretty tight around the sleeves as there was not enough fabric left because it was fraying too much. It also has no skirt yet as there was not enough orange fabric left. When I wanted to get more in the shop it was sold out already. So, I consider this dress 2.5 as it is not complete yet.
But maybe it will someday. Maybe even soon! I recently got some black fabric which is exactly the same as the bright orange one. I am thinking of using this to add a skirt to it. I am not quite sure what this would look like, but I can imagine a skirt with two big box pleats at the front and at the back. I simply love box pleats! Or shall I try another six-panel skirt?
Tell me, what do you think would be a good skirt option to add to this bodice? Let me know in the comments below!