Where I look at cool clothes that don't come in my size and show you how I go about making it for myself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Simple Chemise

I've had this picture in my file for a while. I liked the soft gathers over the bust and some of the lace detail. It looks like the kind of top you could throw on with your leggings for a day of lounging on a comfy couch watching tv, or sitting on the large cushioned porch chair with a good book and a nice cup of tea. It evokes a certain attitude that comes with a nice spring day and no particular place to go.

To reflect these ideas in a garment I actually want to wear, I'm first going to seriously think about which details I want to bring to my finished project. Right away, I know that I would rather have a dress than a top. The waistband has got to go as well as the vertical lace, and I might want to consider using pleats instead of gathers for a slightly more "finished" look.

This pattern looks like it will lend itself well to what I hope to accomplish. It's already got a bit of sleeve, so I won't have to worry about always wearing it with a sweater or shrug to hide my upper arms. It's got a nice pleat detail in the center front that will draw attention toward my bust rather than my belly. The pleats release just a little on the high side, which will also give a more flattering fit.

It looks like nice German girls make this in a heavy rayon or linen for street wear. I'm going to go more lingerie with mine. I'm not only thinking of this as potential loungewear, it would also be quite nice beneath that corset I'm going to make one day.

I found a buttery-soft cotton jacquard from Robert Kaufman:

A quick word about some useful tools.

That odd looking ruler is a combined hip curve, ruler and French curve. You can find one at your local fabric store with the "Project Runway" notions. It's very useful for truing up your lines and curves after you adjust your pattern.

Also pictured is a rotary cutter with a pinking blade. I'm going to pink my edges instead of serging to avoid lines of demarcation when I press the garment. The appliqué scissors will make trimming the hem easier.

Nancy Zieman has written the book on flat pattern alterations. Her system is based on starting with the size that corresponds to your upper bust measurement, and adjusting as necessary for a larger bust, waist, hips etc. This eliminates the problem inherent in many plus sized patterns, where things fit in the bust but are too big in the neckline. Non plus sized women have the same problem, when fitting patterns based on the full bust measurement. I can't recommend this book enough.

Here you see my altered pattern. Don't be tempted to just add the width without doing the pivot and slide to move the shoulder and the underarm seam. You can clearly see in my picture that the underarm seam has moved up as well as out. Not doing this adjustment will limit how far you can raise your arm when wearing the finished dress. Ask me how I know this ;)

Since we're working with a Burda pattern, I'm not going to go into a lot of depth about how to construct this garment. In general, Burda's instructions are very clear and easy to follow.

I did do a few things differently however. Instead of using a zigzag stitch to finish the neckline edge, I decided to try a technique I read about in the current issue of Threads. I folded under the hem allowance and stitched 1/8" from the fold, then stitched 1/8" in from the first line, and 1/8" from the second. I trimmed the excess away with my appliqué scissors. The result was a very flexible and smooth hem.

The pattern called for a long back zipper. If I had decided to make this dress with a heavier fabric, I would have considered it. Since we're making an extremely casual garment, I decided to stitch the center back seam to within 5" of the top neckline edge and use the same triple stitch finish I used on the neckline edge.

I decided to use a button and loop closure, you could also use a hook and eye.

Here is a closer look at the neckline pleating. That simple, non-bulky edge finish really helps keep the top of the pleats neat. The topstitched trim keeps the pressed-down pleats in place.

If you look very closely you can see that I added a seam to the center front. Sometimes your yardage just isn't wide enough to "cut one on fold". When that happens I fold the fabric width-wise and add a 3/8" seam allowance at center front.

I liked the triple-stitched edge so much that I used it to finish the sleeve and bottom hems too. We'll see how much of a problem we have with loose threads after laundering. I am feeling optimistic.

And here's the finished dress

Here it is with a shrug. I think that pulling in the waist this way is much more flattering to my figure than the waistband in the inspiration picture

Relaxing in my comfy chair at last.


  1. You really do nice work.
    My idea of loungewear is sweats. You really are much more formal than I.

  2. I'm just not that comfortable in pants, even sweatpants. I hate the idea of people staring at my backside. When I wear a dress or skirt, they can only guess at the true size of my derrière ;)

  3. I am glad you mentioned Nancy Zieman's fitting book. I have had it for years, forgot about it because I haven't sewed for years, but now need it to alter patterns. Good tip about the high bust!