gearing up to sew a dress

i’m trying to pysch myself up to sew a dress. i have made myself (& other people) quite a few skirts in the last year, but i haven’t tried a dress yet because it seemed too hard. which is maybe kind of a dumb perspective? i mean, sewing is really no more difficult than, say, making muffins, which is something i do on the regular. (i made a platter of pumpkin muffins just yesterday.) just as you follow a recipe, you follow a pattern. just as you start to make alterations to the recipe according to your tastes, you can make alterations to a pattern according to your tastes. (i usually shorten my standard skirt pattern a little because i don’t like skirts that come to the knee or below.) just as you start to figure out professional tricks to make your recipe come out better (like spooning flour into the measuring cup instead of using the measuring cup as a scoop–this way the flour isn’t packed as densely & your baked good will come out lighter & fluffier), you start to learn professional tips & tricks to make your sewing come out better (like reinforcing bias seams, which is something i’ve read about but not yet tried).

there are a few practical reasons i’ve been putting off trying to sew a dress. i’m still pumping for ramona & it’s easier to disrobe for that task if i’m wearing a shirt, rather than having to take a dress halfway off. but i’m only pumping once a day now, in the evening before bed, when i’m usually wearing pajamas anyway. so i could make some dresses & wear them during the day. but there’s also the fact that ramona is a baby, so i hang out on the floor a lot. it seems impractical to wear a dress while i’m sitting on the floor. but i wear skirts, so…?

perhaps a weirder reason i haven’t tried making a dress is that i have never felt that dresses suit my body type. i have kind of a weird build, where my hip measurement is smaller than by bust measurement. it’s kind of an inverted triangle situation. i have been making my skirts in pretty crazy colors, prints, & embellishments because i feel fine drawing attention to that area of my body. but i prefer to wear plain black on top to try to minimize things a little. obviously a dress can be colorblocked so the skirt is more bold in print/color/design than the bodice, but i am not a huge fan of colorblocking as a design concept. it’s a bit too mod/60s for me. just not really my style.

i haven’t had the best luck with off-the-rack dresses because dresses that fit well in the bust tend to be too big & drapey in the waist & hips. & because i’m short-waisted, they also tend to be longer than i like. a dress that fits well through the hips & has a good length usually pulls a lot in the bust & shoulders. & shirtdresses? i love the style. but they always, always gap across the bust. i have never found a shirtdress or button-down shirt that fits properly. i guess it’s a good thing i don’t work in a biz cas environment.

so i kind of absorbed as fact that dresses are just not for me. i have a few. i rarely wear them. they all have fit issues that make me a little self-conscious. & it eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where i feel unusually dressed up when i’m wearing a dress. after all, i spend most of my time hanging around the house with a baby. i don’t really have anyone to impress. it’s like how i didn’t wear lipstick for years because every time i tried it, someone would remark upon how “dressed up” i was, even if i was just wearing old patched jeans & a ripped up ABC no rio t-shirt.

but if i make my own dresses, maybe i could address some of these fit issues & make a dress that really speaks to me. & i could try new skills & learn something more about sewing in the process!

so i have been reading a lot about garment-making lately. & one thing i’ve noticed is that (some) people are surprisingly critical about the idea of sewing garments from quilting cotton. all my skirts except one have been made from quilting cotton. why? because i like the prints. you can find prints in actual garment fabrics like voile. but the selection is MUCH more limited. the prints are mostly things like florals or geometric designs. i don’t like those types of prints for quilts or home decor. i definitely don’t like them for clothing. i like what i guess people consider “novelty prints”–prints of real things, like animals or typewriters. i don’t want to wear, say, just a plain black skirt. or even a black skirt with some kind of design interest, like a ruffle or a slit. i want to wear something exciting &/or wacky. i get bored sewing with solids or more traditional prints. if i’m going to put all the effort into making myself a dress, i don’t want just a plain solid dress when i’m done. i want something unusual!

obviously some patterns don’t lend themselves to quilting cotton. but plenty of patterns that appeal to me do, so that’s where i’m going to start, i guess. i wish there was some kind of online archive of photos of dresses people have made using quilting cotton.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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