my first dress: the muslining

i spent a good part of wednesday perusing the internet for dress patterns, trying to make a good selection for my first dress-sewing project. eventually i decided i was over-thinking & decided to try the colette crepe dress. i chose it because a) it is marked for beginners, & i am definitely a beginner when it comes to making a dress, b) it has little sleeves–i am not a big fan of sleeveless looks, & c) it has a full skirt. i don’t really care that it doesn’t have a zipper or anything. zippers don’t phase me. but i figured a wrap dress like the crepe might be a good place to start for someone who is a complete novice at fitting a bodice. i’ve also heard that colette patterns are designed with the busty lady in mind, which is a major selling point in my book.

but then ramona & i took a little field trip to the big box corporate sewing store out on iowa street, which sells all the big box corporate patterns (mccall’s, butterick, vogue, etc). they were having a $1.99 sale (compare to like $16.95 for a full price pattern) so i flipped through the look book & picked up several patterns for dresses that appealed to me. i decided to start with one of these patterns since i already have them in my possession. (i had to special order the colette pattern. the indie sewing shop downtown stocks them, but they didn’t have the specific pattern i wanted.)

i chose butterick 4790, the walkaway dress, as my introduction to dressmaking. mainly because the envelope illustration appealed to me & it is marked “very easy”. & it probably would be very easy if i was actually following the pattern exactly. it’s only three pattern pieces, which are sewn together in a sort of row. when the dress is finished, you slip it over your head, fasten it in the back, wrap it around to the front & fasten at the waist, & you’re done. it eats a lot of fabric, but it’s not a complicated construction. there are eight darts, but i could sew a dart in my sleep at this point.

of course, my dress won’t look like the envelope illustration. i don’t have a 21″ waist, for starters. nor do i intend to wear waist-cinching foundation garments or a crinoline under this dress. neither of those things is really realistic for my baby-wrangling lifestyle, & i don’t want to feel like i’m wearing a costume.

i’m not just following the pattern instructions though. the internet informed me that the pattern for this thing is pretty oddly-fitted & that significant alterations are recommended. so i got to work yesterday once i got ramona down for her nap.

for starters, i chose to fit the dress according to my high bust measurement rather than my actual bust measurement. meaning i measured around my upper chest, right under my arms, instead of around the fullest part of my bust. that brought me down several dress sizes. i cut that pattern piece out for the back of the dress & did a tissue fitting, lining the back up with my spine & measuring the gap between the end of the wrap & the middle of my front torso. i added that extra width to the pattern pieced where the side seam would be & graded along the wrap piece to make it come up a little higher on the torso. i did a similar measurement with the front bodice, lining it up in the front & adding extra width to the would-be side seam (it doesn’t actually have side seams, so i had to slash & spread the pattern piece apart to add the extra width) so it would match up in the back.

i cut a muslin & tried it on &…it was a complete disaster. the back fit really well, maybe a tiny bit too short, but the front was incomprehensible. it took me a while to figure out what i’d done wrong. i’d had to add a lot of width to the front–eight inches total. did all that extra width somehow distort the neckline or something? i looked at my altered pattern again & it seemed fine. finally i figured out that i’d placed the wrong side of the pattern on the fold when i cut out the muslin. that’s not even a rookie mistake. it’s like a sub-rookie mistake.

so i cut it out again, properly this time, & tried it on. it was…okay. i thought the neckline was a smidge too high in the front & way too low in the back (just a subjective preference), & the waist wrap was somehow not quite what i wanted. the major issues were big gaps under the arms & a major excess of billowing fabric across the upper chest.

so i redrafted the pattern to have a higher neck in the back, as well as a little extra length, & a lower neck in the front, with the waist wrap coming around in more of a V shape than a U shape. i graded in some extra fabric under the arms for a smaller armhole & made the underarm dart a little wider. i pinned it together this morning & tried it on &…it’s kind of perfect? if i was really a master seamster (yeah, i’m trying to make that happen), there are probably a few more tweaks i could make, but i’m pretty happy with the way it looks.

i decided to make it a contrast dress, so the sheath part (the front bodice & underskirt) will be pink broadcloth & the back bodice & circle skirt will be this insane cat portraits fabric. not only is the concept pretty wacky, but each cat portrait is pretty large. but i’m thinking that because the circle skirt involves so much fabric (nearly four yards), a really large print could work really well there. & it’s not like i am shy about wearing crazy prints.

i definitely intend to interface the neckline & wrap pieces. i don’t want them stretching out of shape & gapping. i’m also thinking about lining the front skirt & maybe adding a pocket…or two? i’ll have the fiddle around & see what i can do there. in the meantime, ramona demands board books.

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.

4 thoughts on “my first dress: the muslining

    1. so far so good, but it is requiring kind of a lot of fitting. i made three muslins, & could probably tweak just a little bit more if i wanted to. the pattern also doesn’t include any instructions for interfacing or lining, which is fine, but without some interfacing, the neckline will eventually stretch out of shape. & i haven’t gotten to the fastening yet…the dress fastens with snaps, & it remains to be seen how that’s going to pan out. the silhouette of the dress requires a snug fit around the waist, but are the snaps at the waist just going to pop open the first time i sit down? time will tell. (if so, i’ll probably replace the snaps with some sort of tie instead.)

        1. the pattern actually calls for a button on the back, attached with a loop. but i decided to just use a snap since i have a snap setter & that’s so much easier. i think i might add a second snap though, for extra security.

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