cat dress: achievement unlocked

i finished making my first dress the other day.


sorry it’s a little blurry. as always, jared took the photo & sometimes he’s not the best.


the rear view.

it came together pretty quickly once i had the fabric (which i had to order online because the local fabric shop is a bit capricious about what they stock; when i asked if they were planning to get any of this fabric, they were like, “giant cats wearing little outfits? …probably not”). maybe 30 hours elapsed between the fabric showing up on the doorstep & me finishing the dress. & i also had to wrangle ramona & sleep & stuff during that time.

i did alter the pattern & do things my own way a little. the biggest change i made was adding pockets. the original pattern calls for two half-circles to be cut for the skirt, which are then seamed together in the back. i cut one half-circle & two quarter-circles. i sewed a quarter-circle to each side of the half-circle so the seams would be along the sides. i used a pocket pattern from the colette patterns crepe dress (which is probably going to be my next dress project) & followed those directions to sew in the pockets. i think it turned out great!


i also followed the instructions from the edelweiss walkaway dress sewalong & re-fit the bodice & turn the bias tape to the inside to create a facing, rather than using it as an embellishment. i kind of went my own way on that as well though. the edelweiss instruction had me cutting down the seam to a quarter-inch & pressing open the seam & then folding the entire edge under, pressing again, & stitching…i admit it. i was lazy & just didn’t want to bother. so i turned the entire edge to the inside (no trimming, no pressing) & stitched. that means that i kind of sort of have raw bias edges on the inside, but i’m not sure i care too much. maybe if i make this dress again sometime, i’ll trim down the seams.


the pattern instructions also called for the back to fasten with a button & loop, & the front to fasten with sew-on snaps. i used metal snaps & my snap setter tool. my theory was that this would be faster than hand-sewing, but i spaced out & attached half the snap pieces on the wrong side of the fabric. i then had to figure out how to take them off without damaging the fabric. thank god i started with the back fastening, which is under the skirt & doesn’t show, because i really fucked it up. i gave in & watched a how-to video on youtube that instructed me to insert a small, sharp tool under the back off the snap & pry up each prong. i used a little bike tool that jared has & it worked like a charm. i got all the snaps off the front with no problem.


i zigzag stitched the hem, but i’m not loving it. one of these days when i have like ten hours to kill, i think i’m going to turn the whole thing up, fold it under, & stitch. i also think the hem is just a little longer in the front than in the back, so i’m going to have to adjust that. not sure how i’ll manage, given that i don’t have a dress form & i can’t mark the hem while i’m wearing it. i don’t trust jared to mark it for me because–just look at the photos he takes. no. i’ll figure it out somehow. i also need to patch the little hole i made taking out the snap on the back & maybe add another snap back there. i don’t feel totally secure having just one fastener in the back.

but by & large, i’m fairly pleased with how it came out! it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad at all for a first attempt at dressmaking. i wore it out yesterday & a woman walking on the other side of the street called, “i love your dress!” at the playground, a little girl kept pointing at me & saying, “kitty! kitty! meow meow meow!” the swing-y, flowing nature of the circle skirt is a bit concerning. the wind really blows it around. but when i re-hem it, maybe i’ll add some hem weights. in the meantime, i cut the legs off an old pair of leggings i used to use as pajamas & wore those underneath, so no one would get a peep show.

a few other thoughts: i wrote in a previous entry about how some people making this dress have blogged about how crucial it is to wear proper vintage-style undergarments with it–meaning a girdle or corset, mainly. & how i am not going to do that because it’s not at all realistic for my lifestyle. nor is it something i am interested in doing. if you google images for this dress, a lot of photos come up of women in full vintage drag, with the make-up & the hair & the nipped-in waists. they were conscientious about making their dresses in period-accurate fabrics & prints.

obviously i don’t give a damn about any of this. maybe there were women in the 50s that would have liked to wear enormous novelty cat portrait prints if such a thing was available, but mostly i think we can all agree that i did not choose a period-accurate print. & the whole thing is just cotton. not taffeta or silk or anything else very fancy. i am not interested in dressing vintage. i just wanted to make a cute, wacky dress, & honestly, part of my thinking in choosing the giant cat print was that it would be fun for kids. now that i have a kid, i think a lot about dressing in a way that is entertaining & funny for kids. kind of like mrs. frizzle. so that little girl at the playground taking such pleasure in pointing out the cats on my dress was a big win for me. that’s exactly the kind of reaction i was hoping for!

i’ve also noticed that a lot of seamsters who post photos of themselves in their dresses & other fashions on the internet are basically staging photo shoots, complete with full hair, make-up, & impractical footwear. obviously my feet aren’t visible in these pictures, but i can tell you i was wearing my slippers (one of which has a cat on the toe, the other of which features a ball of yarn–so i was keeping it thematic). i guess i can’t begrudge someone for wanting to go all out in looking nice for a photo they’re posting on the internet, for the whole world to see. & perhaps it’s true that the average woman in the developed world puts some effort into her hair & make-up even when she’s not going to be posing for a photograph. but i really do not. i did get a professional haircut the other day, to even out my previous haircut that i gave myself after a spider got into my hair. that haircut involved putting my hair into a ponytail & cutting the ponytail off. it was pretty bad. but i kept it for almost a year out of sheer laziness & not giving a fuck-ness. my professional haircut evened things out & i let the hairdresser talk me into some subtle layers to add volume. & DID IT EVER. i now look like gilda radner.

i also just don’t wear make-up. i wear lipstick sometimes. but i never wear any foundation or concealer or eye make-up or anything else. i have iffy skin & learning how to use that stuff could mask some of my flaws, i’m sure. but i guess i just don’t care about my flaws. i went to the dermatologist recently to have an annoying mole removed & he asked, “do you want me to give you some cream for your skin?” & i said, “eh, it doesn’t really bother me.” my skin is approximately ten million times better now than it was when i was a teenager, so i generally feel like i look awesome.

i kind of feel the same way about this dress. this is a dress that was really designed to highlight a slender waist. i do not have a slender waist. but i don’t really care. i still think this dress is really fun, & since i made it myself, according to my actual measurements, i think it fits just about as well as a first attempt at a dress could fit.

so, things i learned while making this dress:
* what all those random notches & circles & stuff on patterns mean.
* a little bit about how to alter a bodice to fit a body that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the measurements on the pattern envelope.
* to always double-check the placement of my snaps before hammering them on.
* how double-sided darts work.
* stay-stitching.
* a new method for finishing darts.
* how to make in-seam pockets.
* practice in showcasing a certain print while cutting my fabric (i intentionally cut the back bodice so those two cat cameos would be on my shoulders, with no darts or anything running through them).
* that my sewing machine has an overlock stitch–good to know!

things i would do differently next time:
* i considered interfacing the neckline & the waist where the snaps are attached & then i didn’t (mostly out of laziness). i regret that. the neckline is already stretching a little, despite my stay-stitching, & i only hope the snaps on the waist don’t fall down on the job.
* i thought about cutting the back of the skirt a little longer than the front, to account for the fact that butts are a thing, but i didn’t. & i should have.
* i wish i had made the bust darts a tiny bit wider for a closer fit.
* i thought about trying to match up the fabric on the skirt seams, but then i decided it was too confusing & i didn’t bother. looking at it now that it’s done, it actually would have been pretty easy to do. i should have been more patient & just tried it.
* i should have made the underskirt just a little bit longer.
* i thought about adding a waist stay or even a faux-waist stay with bias tape. & then…i didn’t. mainly because i wasn’t 100% sure how to do it with a waist that isn’t enclosed. but maybe i should have tried anyway. i could have always taken it out if it wasn’t working.
* barring the waist stay, i also considered doing a french seam on the waist &…you see where this is going? i didn’t. next time!
* cutting down & pressing the edges while making the facing. (i am glad i went out of my way to find bias tape to match the underdress though, since it shows when the skirt blows around.)

so clearly i made this dress in thirty hours because i had all these ideas on how to add to the construction & then i just didn’t do them.

next up: the colette crepe dress using this pink firefly print & yellow contrast fabric!


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 “cat dress: achievement unlocked

  1. The dress looks good!

    Have you thought about making a duct tape dress form? I’ve never tried it, but the internet seems to think they’re pretty awesome.

    1. i’d have to get someone to help me & i don’t have any sewing friends in lawrence. & it seems like an effort to go to for a half-assed result. you’ve seen the photos jared takes of me. i’m not sure what kind of job he’d do covering me in duct tape. i’ll probably just save up for a decent dress form that i can use for a long time.

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