Queen of Hearts {that linen one with the big sleeves}

Well. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? And it’s not like I haven’t been sewing. I’m always sewing. Then I diligently photograph, post to insta and then the blogging part has sort of dropped off. Partly for time reasons, partly because I feel like I make a lot that is same-same and I don’t really have the words to say the same thing yet again but in a different way. Partly because blogging is a bit of a dinosaur now but I still like it anyway, ok?

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I’ve been drafting a bit myself lately and that sounds way more fancy and complex than it is. When I say ‘drafting’, I mean ‘making up my own patterns by cobbling pieces together in a way that doesn’t look too shit’. I’ve never had formal lessons, just a bit of good old Nanny YouTube and a lot of trial and error.

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My last post was back in July and I was into tiered skirts then and I’m still into tiered skirts now. And so it seems, are a lot of you. So I thought I’d share my process of making these dresses. It’s not hard. A bit tedious, but not hard. (PS this is wonderful embroidered linen from Pitt Trading. I love it and so does everyone else because it sold out very quickly. Twice. And as a PSA, buying from places like Pitt Trading and The Remnant Warehouse is nice because they sell mostly designer remnants. So you get cool stuff, at a decent price and it saves it from going to landfill. More designers should sell off their end of bolt stuff. It’s cool. Some companies do it through their own websites – check out Lazy Bones and Doops Designs).

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I start with the bodice. I use this boxy, cropped, dartless one ALL THE TIME. I started by tracing off the bodice of an old 80s smock dress pattern. I changed the front and back necklines, the shoulder slope, raised the armholes and waistline and then drafted the facings to suit. Which is really easy, you just follow your new front and back necklines. Or you can finish with bias tape. Whatever floats your boat. I used to hate facings but now I think they look more polished, I just stitch them down in the shoulder seams (ditches) so they don’t flip to the wrong side. Oh and clip and understitch. Annoying little extra steps, but don’t skip them, it makes a huge difference. Anyway. Find your bodice. Change it until you’re happy. MAKE SURE YOU CAN GET IT OVER YOUR HEAD. If you don’t have a pattern you can steal one from, you could try the free Peppermint Magazine/In The Folds one. It doesn’t have sleeves though.

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So. Sleeves. I change them up too. I have the original version from the 80s pattern. It was puffy (it was the 80s!), so I flattened the sleeve head to reduce the ease. Sometimes I cut out a rectangle of fabric double the length of the sleeve opening, gather it to fit and presto! Cute frilly sleeve. Look, same bodice! One with a peplum, one with that same peplum lengthened to a skirt. Oh the possibilities!

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But for the white linen dress, I re-traced that sleeve, lengthened it and slashed it from the bottom, leaving the sleeve head in place so it would still fit into the armscye of the bodice. Like this.

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You can leave then sew the sleeves up as normal and add them just like that or you can add elastic into the hem, which is what I did for this dress. Yay! Big silly sleeves! So even though the bodice remains the same, just changing the sleeve can make it feel like a completely different dress (or top). Sewing magic.

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Now for the skirt. This is the easiest part, I swear. It’s just gathered rectangles. Sometimes I’ll do three tiers, sometimes two. It doesn’t really matter as long as each tier is 1.5x the width of the first (which is 1.5x the width of the bodice). So, for the linen dress my tiers were:

  1. 16″ (wide) x 15″ (high) cut on the fold (x2 – one for the front and one for the back). Gather those suckers until they are the width of your bodice. Put the pockets in this one if you so desire.
  2. 24″ x 15″ cut on the fold (x2). Same again. I like to hem it before I attach it to the tier above, but you can do that at the end if you want. Gather it to fit the tier above.

Gathering. Everyone always asks me for tricks or shortcuts. I have none – sorry. In fact, if you try to shortcut, it probably won’t look as good. I mark the centres of each rectangle of fabric with a little notch. I run two rows of gathering stitches across the top. I gather those rectangles to fit where they need to go and then I find those little centre notches and match them with the centre of the piece above, pin them in place. That way everything is even and I spread the gathers out so they look nice and are running straight up and down (so no little bits get twisted and caught up when they are sewn on).

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Now you have a cute new dress. Excellent work! If you want, you can make a waist tie by sewing two long rectangles together. Just make sure you leave a gap for turning (I like to leave it in the middle) and then sew it up from the right side. Or don’t have a waist tie and just swan around in your big old sack dress like the queen you are.

(I hope that all makes sense. Sorry I talk so much).