achievement unlocked: mix tape dress

another dress is completed.


in keeping with my “terrible photos of myself” series. my hair is still wet from the shower, & you can see the black hole that is the top of the fridge. who cares!

so, the stats on this one: it’s based on the licorice dress in “the colette sewing handbook,” which i purchased in january when i decided to start dipping a toe into the world of sewing my own dresses. here’s the photo from the book:


on first viewing, it definitely did not leap out at me as being something i was dying to sew. i like the polka dot version is a little better, but just because it’s more fitted around the bust & i suspect that’s more a function of the model being skinnier than it is a function of design. i say that as someone who is probably considerably larger than the model in the blue dress. but i was inspired by some other seamsters on the internet who made alterations to their patterns, switching up sleeves & hemlines with abandon. i am not terribly attracted to this dress as designed–that collar! i really don’t think that would work on my figure at all. fine for other people, but definitely not my style. so i decided to experiment with changing it up.

i wound up eliminating the collar altogether. i made a facing out of bias tape to turn it to the inside. i shortened the sleeves by half to make them more of a puff sleeve & less of 1980s secretary sleeve. i made it shorter, & i added more flare to the skirt to turn it into more of an A-line shape. i also added pockets, just because i really like having pockets. & of course, the pattern suggests making this dress in a slinky, silky material, but i used quilting cotton & synthetic organza.

as with my last colette dress, i think the bodice on this thing is a little too big. i said last time that i’d cut a size down with my next colette pattern, & i did with a muslin, but it seemed TINY so i gave up & cut the usual size. & it’s big. it definitely gaps away from my body at the neckline. i should have finished the smaller muslin & tried it on with my nicer bra before making a final decision on the size. next time, i guess.

i also suspect that it gaps because quilting cotton is so much stiffer than the slinky fabrics suggested by the designer. this dress is meant to “skim over curves” & be a little loose. in something silkier, the extra fabric would just lay against the body, but because it’s cotton, it sticks up more. which is fine. i’m not going to be winning any prizes for the fit of this bodice, but it’s okay. it is, after all, only my third dress ever.

new skills i learned:
* fabric layering to create a new textile effect. i basted a layer of organza over a layer of cotton to make the band on the skirt & the sleeves.
* making my own bias tape. i’ve had a bias tape maker for almost a year & never used it. it makes single-fold bias tape. i checked & re-checked the instructions for this dress & it didn’t say anything about whether i should use single-fold or double-fold bias tape (for the hems on the sleeves). so i took a chance on making my own single-fold tape. & it was a disaster. maybe it was my fault? maybe it could have worked if i was more precise in my stitching? but i just could not get it to wrap all the way over the edge of the sleeve & still have room for the elastic. so i picked it all out & replaced it with store-bought pink double-fold tape. live & learn. i’ve learned that single-fold bias tape is essentially useless.
* how to set in sleeves! i was so anxious about this, but it wound up being way easier than i expected. when i am instructed to “sew three parallel rows of basting stitches” & “pull the thread tails to ease in fullness”, etc etc, of course i was scared. this is the kind of thing that makes people think they can’t sew. but i jumped on in there & it was a breeze, honestly. helped by the fact that the sleeves are supposed to be puffy, so i didn’t have to worry about creating a perfectly smooth sleeve cap.
* & of course, various pattern alterations. if i had it to do over again, i would have been more precise in my skirt measurements. the bodice all the way down to where the organza starts on the bottom of the skirt is one piece, & i just kind of winged it in doing the organza piece & them hem piece. it turned out fine–not 100% perfect (the organza is not perfectly lined up at one side seam), but it’s close enough. i could have done a better job had i taken the time to measure carefully & maybe even draw up pattern pieces.
* hemming a sleeve with elastic. this was very easy! (once i swapped out the bias tape.) i could see myself doing this with all kinds of stuff for ramona once she starts walking & doesn’t look so weird in skirts & dresses. (right now, they just pull up over her diaper butt because she crawls everywhere.)

if i had this to do over, i’d fit the bodice more carefully, & i’d make the sleeve elastics more snug so i could actually push the sleeves up. (update: i picked out an inch or two of stitching on the sleeve hems & did end up losing about three inches off the elastic, so now i can push the sleeves up & give them more of a puff sleeve silhouette. yay! it was a super-easy fix.) i would also just cut the sleeves shorter. i halved them from the original pattern piece, but they are still just a little too long for my taste.


the back. the dress closes with an invisible zip in the back & a hook & eye. you can see in this photo that the neckline doesn’t line up exactly perfectly, & that i should learn how to do a swayback adjustment, but all in all–not too bad.

oh, also! i lined the dress with white rayon bemberg. this was my first time using a silky lining, & my first time lining a dress. i cut the pattern pieces from the bemberg first & basted it to the mix tape fabric & then used it all as one piece to construct the dress, rather than cutting out the fashion fabric, making the dress, then cutting out the lining & making a second dress & then stitching them together. maybe one of these days i will install the lining like the directions instruct. i really like the lining! it’s so cool & smooth against my skin.

at the risk of sounding like an asshole, i also want to mention something else. it seems like every time i sew something new, someone pipes up to ask me to make them something. maybe half the time, the person offers to pay me. the rest of the time, they just say, “could you make me one?” leaving me to broach the awkward topic of payment if i was amenable to taking the time to sew them some bespoke item of clothing or something in the first place. even when people offer to pay me, they don’t always seem to understand exactly what is involved in the cost of having someone make you a handmade item of clothing (or quilt, or set of curtains, or whatever). i’m not going to pretend i’m some super-talented couture seamster. i think you can see from my photos that i am not. so i’m not sitting here thinking that i’m so talented i ought to be paid $100 an hour or something. BUT. as soon as i finished this dress, someone asked me, “will you make me one?” let’s break it down.

i ultimately used about four yards of mix tape fabric for this dress, & let’s say two & a half yards of rayon bemberg, & maybe two yards of organza. plus thread, a sewing needle, a hand-sewing needle, a 22″ invisible zipper, maybe two yards of 3/8″ elastic, a hook & eye, a package of double-sided bias tape. plus, the cost of the pattern.
mix tape fabric: $40
rayon bemberg: $15
organza: $12
notions: $15
pattern: $5

we’re already up to $87 just for materials. poke around on modcloth or eshakti or even the anthropologie website & see what you can get for $87. having someone sew you a bespoke dress is not likely to be cheaper than buying off the rack.

now let’s get into time. i spent maybe two hours last week cutting & sewing a couple of muslins. & as you can see, the fit on the bodice is not spectacular. so let’s say i’m doubling the time taken making a muslin to really get a perfect fit on someone who is not me. that’s four hours. i spent maybe an hour prepping the fabric (washing, pressing, etc). i started tracing the pattern & cutting on saturday morning at around 9am. i worked straight through until 4pm, with a little break for putting ramona down for her nap & eating. call it six hours. then i worked again from 6pm until 10:30pm, with a break for dinner & baby bedtime. three & a half hours. on sunday, i started working at 8am & finished the dress at about 2:30pm, with another break for baby nap & lunch. so, five & a half hours. so that’s twenty hours altogether. even if i am only paid $10 an hour for my time & work, that’s $200. & really, $10 an hour is a bargain considering that all the time i spend sewing is time i am NOT spending with my daughter, or my partner, or keeping up with housework, or reading books, or any of the other things i would probably prefer to do rather than making a dress for someone other than myself. round up & this is a $300 dress. i suppose if someone really wanted to pay me $300 to make them a dress, it would be hard to say no. that’s a lot of money. but pretty much no one who sees me sporting a new dress i’ve made & asks me to make them one is thinking, “yeah, i would drop multiple hundies on that.” they’re thinking they might be really generous & offer $50. & allow me to add: this dress is made out of quilting cotton. if someone wanted me to make them a dress out of actual garment fabric, that would be even more expensive. if they wanted silk organza instead of synthetic (which cannot be ironed)? add some more money. i could go on. plus, after busting my hump all weekend making this dress, my body is wrecked. my wrists, knees, hips, back, & neck are a mess. this isn’t just something i can whip together in an hour during ramona’s nap or whatever. it’s time-consuming & physically taxing. as i get more experience sewing, i’ll probably get faster. i remember the first skirt i ever made took me like thirty hours (mostly because i kept installing the zipper wrong), & now i can put the same design together in maybe three. but still!

in closing, one last photo of the dress (& ramona!):


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.

9 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: mix tape dress

  1. I get the same thing with knitting. I will never knit for money because the cost is obscene. I think most people who see what I knit would be floored at the cost of materials alone. I figure if I’m going to spend hours and hours on a pair of socks, I want to use yarn that feels nice in my hands. So yeah, there’s probably 25 dollars worth of yarn in a pair of socks! I justify it because on a per hour of enjoyment basis, knitting is way cheaper than going to a movie or eating in a restaurant. I don’t really do it because of the garment at the end. (I KNOW that nothing I knit is going to look very nice. I can get sweaters in a store that are a fraction of the cost, fit better and look better. I almost exclusively knit socks and baby clothes because socks don’t have to look good and “flattering” doesn’t apply to baby clothes.)

    As for the issue of my time, I don’t want to price my knitting time. I also want to be free to make mistakes and do things just as I want. And then I can make a gift out of it if I want to, or decide that I’m sick of the project and rip it out.

    1. i have been thinking about trying knitting. i’ve actually been thinking about it for years & i’ve never done it. jared knows how to knit & has offered to teach me & i’ve never taken him up on it. maybe it’s just never going to happen. i daydream a little about making myself a scarf or a nice pair of socks or maybe even a sweater if i got really good…but i already feel so overwhelmed with all the sewing projects i want to do, stuff i want to read, taking care of ramona, keeping the house from being condemned, etc etc etc…i don’t know how i’d fit knitting in there too. especially a project as big as a sweater. i think all the time that maybe i’m just not managing my time responsibly enough, but i’m not sure what i could be doing differently…posting fewer photos of ramona on facebook, maybe?

      1. You’re not mismanaging your time! You should start knitting if the bloom fades on sewing. Otherwise, meh. Knitting is the sort of thing you should only do if you like the process because pretty much everything you knit can be purchased more cheaply. I’m not a sewer, but I think the two advantages knitting has over sewing are: (1) is really portable and (2) it’s so easy to fix mistakes! I know with sewing you can fix certain mistakes, but once you’ve cut your fabric, it’s cut. Knitting doesn’t have that, and so you can experiment a lot. As for skills, the skills involved in knitting a sweater and pretty much the same as for knitting socks — I personally like to chose projects that I can finish in less than 20 hours which is why I do socks and baby garments. That said, I’m a very slow knitter.

        1. one thing that has always stopped me from trying knitting is the arthritis in my hands. doing small fine motions with my hands, like buttoning buttons, for example, is hard for me, & holding small things in my hands (holding ramona’s hands still when i’m trimming her nails is AGONY) is difficult & painful. i have some issues here with hand-sewing, & using scissors, but mostly i am okay with just running things through a sewing machine. but all knitting is handwork, right? so i wonder if i would even be able to do it. then i remember about 80-year-old grandmas with arthritic claw-hands who knit. so…?

          i like the idea of portability. i’ve seen other moms knitting at the playground or whatever, which is appealing to me. obviously i can’t exactly lug my sewing machine along to toddler gym. but at the same time, i don’t exactly need to do MORE multi-tasking while i look after ramona.

  2. This is meant to be a reply to the knitting comment above. I could definitely see arthritis being an issue for knitting. I have some pain in my wrists left over from when I broke them, and knitting sometimes causes this to flare up. You could definitely give it a shot since the other great benefit of knitting is that the initial costs are pretty low. You basically need a ball of yarn and a pair of needles & you can probably borrow the needles from someone while you try to figure out if you like doing it.

    1. maybe i’ll check it out. kind of crazy, because it’s not exactly like i have free time to spare. i already don’t have enough time for everything i want to do. but you know.

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