The Fussy/Simple Non-Congressional Dress, Part 1

The idea of an indigo linen, sleeveless, casual, wear-everywhere dress has been knocking around in my brain for quite awhile now.  I had had the fabric (from fabrics-store.com) for some time, but I had fallen in and out of love with several patterns, and finally decided to just keep it simple and throw together New Look 6229 in the solid color version–a pattern that had been lying around in my stash since the last time I had this idea, circa 2015.

But if there was one thing I had learned from all the sleeveless tops I made last summer, it was that they aren’t necessarily as easy as one would think. The depth and shape of the armhole are up to the designer, so the same size in the same pattern line can either be uncomfortably snug or as deep as those on a man’s muscle tank. Bras and bra straps are hidden or revealed almost at random. So I decided that at least one muslin was in order.

First I made one in the size 14; it fit well across the front, but nowhere else. The armhole curved to the front so far that way too much of my bra showed–and trust me, the bras that are comfortable for 66-year-old women aren’t the sort of thing that anybody wants to look at. The basketball-playing kids in my neighborhood could have shot hoops down the gap at the back neck. With a size 12, the front was a bit snug, but the armhole and back were only slightly improved.

At about this point in my deliberations, I learned that a female reporter had been denied access to the House of Representatives because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. (She must be a creative and intrepid soul after our own hearts, since she tried to make sleeves out of the pages of her notebook!) Apparently our prissy, po-faced, Republican CongressMEN had decided to start re-enforcing an old rule, not enforced in the Senate and not publicized or posted anywhere, regarding “appropriate” dress for women–and they did not reward the remarkable creativity of the notebook-paper sleeves. This ruling of course led to a protest for the right to bare arms, by Congresswomen and a few male sympathizers; the latter were, more’s the pity, wearing short-sleeved shirts, not muscle tanks or wife-beaters.

Gentle Readers, I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to live in such a beautifully-run, just, equitable, prosperous, educated, well-cared for utopia that, in this year of grace 2017, our elected representatives have nothing better to do with their time than micromanage women’s wardrobes.

Oh, wait.

But I digress.

Anyway, since the muslins weren’t working so far, I decided to experiment and turn this into a learning experience.

I did, however, have not one, not two, but three purchased linen crop tops that fit me so perfectly through the shoulders and armholes that I would have had four if the turquoise hadn’t been sold out in my size. Here is one:

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AND, in my vast collection of Craftsy classes that I have bought but never watched, I had one by Steffani Lincecum about how to make patterns from ready-to-wear without actually taking the garment apart to use as a pattern.

So I watched it. Now when it comes to pattern design, I couldn’t draft my way out of a paper bag, and would not know where to start. I make other people’s patterns, and other than being able to do a few simple alterations, I pretty much get what I get.

What a breakthrough! It’s simple! It’s brilliant! It’s inspiring! As a sample, she uses an astonishingly elaborate vintage blouse. It has darts, released pleats, a double Peter Pan collar with piping,  a funky little pocket built into an unusual yoke, long sleeves with a pleated placket, and on and on–if you can copy that, you can copy anything.  My top was so simple–it doesn’t even have darts, and the armhole was the same on the front and back– that I was off and running after just watching the overview.

She also has this book, which I instantly ordered; it goes into more detail about how to change the style of the source garment to create new designs. I am really looking forward to trying more of Steffani’s techniques.

You need a surface that you can pin into, so I used the rubbery tiles that I use for blocking knitwear. Following her instructions, I drew a line for the center front, carefully folded my top in half, and pinned it in place very close to the edge and all around the garment:

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Connect the pinhole dots, add a seam allowance, and voila–a pattern!

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I could have simply used this to cut the top of the bodice and gone from there, but I was really curious to see how this differed from the dress pattern, so I traced it on to the pattern tissue.

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The reason my purchased linen top doesn’t gap in the back is that it about 1.25″ narrower at each shoulder. Its shoulders are squarer, with less of a slope, and the curve of the armhole isn’t nearly as deep.

And as luck would have it, my little “sloper” lined up perfectly with the pattern center front and side seams of the size 14 that I wanted to make. So I cut it out, and I was off to the races.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, in which I figure out something else that conservative Congressmen probably wouldn’t like.

2 comments on “The Fussy/Simple Non-Congressional Dress, Part 1

  1. Good luck making tops from your new copied pattern.
    I was snoop shopping today and saw a sleeveless dress that had a short section which was elasticated under the arm. That’s a feature I will be trying!

    Liked by 1 person

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