Time to kick the sewing portion of this OAL! Wheee!!
Today, we will be going over fabric options and choosing your size. Just a head’s up – I know a lot of y’all already have your material picked out, and may have even started sewing. That’s great! You are welcome to forge ahead if you so choose – my posts will be aimed at beginners, so don’t feel like you have to stick with the slow pace if it ain’t your thang. Those of you who have not chosen your fabric and/or plan to make a muslin, just be aware that you have a couple weeks until we actually start sewing. These posts will, of course, stay up long after the sewalong is over, so they will always be available for reference if ya need it :)
Ok, that’s out of the way – let’s talk fabric! A few of you mentioned that you’d like a little guidance on fabric, and I aim to please, so I’ve pulled a few pieces out of my stash to show you. Just a side note – the majority of these pieces are from Mood Fabrics. Not because they are sponsoring this OAL or anything – I just have a LOT of fabric from Mood. That’s all! I’ve linked to everything that you can get from the website, so you can buy it yourself if you so please. No sneaky affiliate links are hidden in this post, so feel free to click away :)
When it comes to choosing fabric, the first thing you want to decide is what you want your overall dress silhouette to be. The fabric you choose will ultimately determine if your dress is drapey, or has a skirt that likes to stand out on it’s own. Here’s an example – this is the same pattern I will be making for the sewalong (Simplicity 1803), sewn up in two completely different types of fabric:
Version 1 was sewn up in a thick cotton eyelet that had a lot of body. There is a nice structure to the bodice, and look at the skirt – see how the pleats stand on their own? The thickness of the fabric help give the skirt some structure.
Version 2 was sewn in a drapey rayon fabric, which means the resulting dress is much softer. See how the pleats in the skirt look more like soft, draped folds? This fabric does not have a lot of body, so it hangs in soft drapes (I just think that’s so pretty!). The bodice does not have a lot of structure – the notch in the neckline has folded over itself over time (not really shown in this picture, but if you look at more recent photos of me wearing this dress you will see what I mean).
Still confused about how body and drape can affect how a pattern looks? Check out these two versions of my Tania culottes – version 1 is sewn in a lightweight drapey cotton, and version 2 is made in a nice linen/silk suiting with a lot of body. Both of those are made the in EXACT same size from the EXACT same pattern, but they are very different!
Hopefully those visuals will give you a good idea of how drape can affect the finished dress! How you want your dress to look is totally a matter of personal preference – however, I will point out that if you are concerned about adding bulk to your waist, you will probably want to stick with a drapey fabric. Anything with body will stand out at the gathers or pleats (however you decide to do the skirt), and it will make your waist look bigger. Just an fyi! I personally love the drapier stuff, but again, it’s totally up to you. If you’re having trouble envisioning how a particular fabric will drape and whether or not it has body, just hang some folds over your arm (or a chair, or whatever) and that should give you a good idea of how it’ll hang off your body. In the following pictures, I’ve hung my fabrics off my dressform so you can see what I’m talking about.
Once you’ve decided if you want a structured or drapey dress, now comes the time to pick fabric! The pattern gives you lots of options for various fabrics – and this is a pretty flexible style, so *most* anything will work as long as it’s not a knit.
If you’re a n00b to dressmaking and want something easy to work with, a lightweight cotton is my #1 suggestion! This is the fabric I will be using to make my dress for the OAL; it’s a lightweight cotton that I picked up at Mood while I was in NYC earlier this year. Cottons are great because they are easy to cut, press, and sew, and they feel wonderful to wear in the summer. Plus, they usually come in cool prints and colors! Other types of cottons to look for: cotton lawn, cotton bastiste, cotton voile, cotton shirting.
Here is a gorgeous cotton/silk blend that I just LOVE. Isn’t it beautiful? The addition of silk makes this a very lightweight, very drapey fabric – it’s practically tissue-weight. This fabric is also on the edge of being sheer, so an underlining is recommended.
Another good choice for this dress (assuming you want drapey) is rayon! This gorgeous rayon challis was sent to me from Grey’s Fabric!
A word on rayon: Rayon is amazingggg to wear, one of my favorite fibers. It’s also a big giant pain to sew, because it’s very shifty. I would not recommend this fabric if you are brand-new to sewing, but do give it a thought if you’re up for a challenge! It is absolutely worth the extra effort, I promise.
Here’s another drapey challis that looks and hangs similar to the rayon, except it’s polyester. Poly is a nice cheap alternative to rayon, although be warned that it is a little more difficult to press due to the nature of the fibers. This fabric is from Metro Textiles in NYC.
Another lovely choice is a lightweight chambray! This one is from my man Sam at Chic Fabrics in NY.
Here’s a lightweight cotton dotted swiss that has a little bit of body – see how it stands away from the form? This is another fabric that would benefit from an underlining as it’s a bit sheer. Also, I’m just now remembering how pretty this fabric is (from Mood in NYC) and why the FUCK haven’t I sewn anything out of it yet??
Ooh oooh I LOVE this fabric!! This is a mediumweight silk crepe, also from Mood NYC. Silk crepe is great because the “grabby” texture makes it easier to sew than most silks, and it has a lovely drape and very saturated colors.
The last of my drapey options – cotton gauze. This stuff very lightweight – it’s semi-sheer and almost floaty – but it does have a little bit of body (compare it to the cotton/silk near the top). This fabric is *also* from Mood NYC. Haha that place is awesome.
Moving onto the more bodylicious of the fabric options…
Linen is, of course, always a good choice! This is a medium weight linen. There’s a fair amount of body in the fabric – which will show in the gathers – but it has a nice drape that results in soft folds.
You could always go with my ol’ TNT, eyelet :) I think eyelet (or any lace in general) is a beautiful option for this pattern. Just keep in mind that you will need to underline the dress so it’s not see-through. This fabric is from Muna’s, but I’ve seen similar ones at different retailers.
The pattern suggests silk Shantung as a fabric option, so here’s what that looks like! Notice how the fabric practically stands up on it’s own – silk Shantung (and dupioni, for that matter) has a very crisp drape before it’s washed.
If you’ve ever been curious to know what silk Shantung looks like after it’s been washed, here ya go! This striped Shantung originally looked more like the silk above – very stiff with a definite sheen – but after a go in the washer and dryer, it’s softened up quite a bit and has a much more subtle luster. It definitely still has a good amount of body, but the drape is much softer now.
Hahaha how’s this for body? :P This is a polyester brocade, with lurex for sparkles. It’s probably not for the meek, sure, but I think it would look awesomeeee in this pattern!
Finally, here’s a stretch cotton sateen. I don’t want to say I don’t recommend this fabric- because, honestly, it would be fine for this pattern – but it wouldn’t be my first choice. I personally don’t care for the way stretch wovens hang- I think they always look a little stiff and awkward. If you have your heart set on a stretch woven, go on with your bad self, but I do suggest that you consider sizing down since the stretch factor will give you a bit more room. Fabric is from Mood NYC, btw!
Speaking of sizing, let’s talk about that now!
The back of the pattern has sections for body measurements and suggested sizes. Just ignore that. If you go by what the pattern tells you to do, you are gonna end up with some sad sack of a dress headed straight for frumpsville.
I always (always always always- regardless of indie designer or Big 4) base my pattern size off the finished measurements. Too often, patterns come with a lot of extra ease built in (ease= the difference between your actual measurements and the measurements of the garment in question), which usually ends up being too big for how I like to wear my clothes. I figured out a looong time ago that the finished measurements generally give you a better idea of fit, so that’s what I go by now.
For the sake of keeping things simple, I’m just showing the Simplicity pattern, but this works for pretty much any pattern. Every company has a different place they like to print the finished measurements- some do it on the pattern pieces, some do it on the envelope, some include it in the instructions, oh, and some don’t include it at all! – so you may have to hunt it down. For those companies who don’t include their finished measurements (also: Really??? No seriously, how hard is it to add a least add that information??), I’m afraid you’ll have to measure your pattern pieces and subtract the seam allowances. Sorry! Simplicity prints their finished measurements at key fitting points – the bust, waist, and hips.
Take a look at your front bodice piece and you should see the measurements. This tells you what measurement the bust will be, assuming you made no modifications and kept the same seam allowance. Your ease preferences are completely up to you, but I personally like about 1/2″ of ease or less as I wear my clothes very fitted. If you don’t know how much ease you like, measure a dress you have that fits the way you like and that should give you an idea. A good rule of thumb is that you want to aim for 1/2″-2″ in the bodice, depending on how fitted you want the final dress to be. Anything more than 2″ runs the risk of looking too big.
Here are the finished bust measurements. Fun fact: according to Simplicity’s measurements on the envelope, I should be sewing a size 10 as I exactly fit those body measurements. Looking at the finished measurements, I’m going to sew a 4, as 33.5″ is the perfect amount of ease for my 32.5″ bust. If I went by the envelope, my size 10 would have a finished measurement of 36.5″ – a whopping 4″ above my actual measurements. That’s pretty loose-fitting – too much for me! So I’m going with the 4. You may find that the size you cut is smaller than the size indicated on the envelope – or you may like the amount of ease, and want to stick with that. Either one is fine! The only thing that matters here is that you end up with a dress that fits the way YOU like.
After you’ve decided what size to cut the bodice based on the finished measurements, find the waist measurements and proceed the same way. Again, I’m going with the 4 because I like very little ease at my waist- and that 10 would be much too big for me.
You may or may not be the same size throughout the pattern – perhaps you’re one size at the bust, and a different one at the waist. That’s fine! You can grade between sizes to get a custom fit – just mark the size you want at each point, and use a ruler to connect the lines at an angle. That’s it! If you find that you are between sizes, then I suggest going with the bigger size, as it is easier to take something in than let it out. Keep in mind that this pattern includes a 5/8″ seam allowance, so that does give you a little bit of room to play with.
A few more things to consider (sorry, I know this is long, but I swear I’m wrapping up!)
- Make sure to prewash your fabric! You absolutely don’t want it to shrink after you’ve made it into a dress (talk about a huge bummer!), so get that taken care of now. Prewashing means you just treat the fabric the same way you will launder the finished garment. I throw mine in the wash on cold (cottons, rayons, silks, polys – everything except wool gets a prewash) and hang it to dry if it’s sunny out (not because I’m opposed to the dryer – but because I’m opposed to ironing. All my handmades get hung to dry because I hate dealing with wrinkles!). It can be helpful to serge or zigzag the raw edges before washing, just so the fabric doesn’t fray.
- Does the fabric need an underlining? Does it feel nice against your body and is it opaque enough that you feel comfortable wearing it? I will not be covering underlining in this OAL, but you can reference my post on underlining here if you’d like more guidance (The dress I was making in that post is the same black eyelet one posted near the top, fyi :) ).
- If your fabric is on the thicker side, consider using a lightweight fabric for the facings to reduce bulk. I usually go with cotton broadcloth for this purpose – it’s cheap, it’s stable, it’s lightweight, it does the job – but you can use anything you want.
- Planning on matching stripes or plaids? Make sure you buy enough fabric! An addition 1/2-1 yard should be fine (err on the side of more if you have any suspicion that you might need to recut – better to have too much than not enough!)
- You will also need interfacing and a zipper to complete the pattern. For interfacing, I recommend this lightweight fusible from Fashion Sewing Supply – it’s the best! Really! You can use whatever interfacing you want, just make sure it is the right weight for your fabric. *Most* fabrics are ok with lighweight fusible, though. As far as zippers – I like standard lapped zippers for this pattern, but you can use an invisible if that’s what you prefer (unless your fabric is very thick; in that case, I recommend using a lapped zipper as an invisible won’t be strong enough). Either one works as long as it’s 16″!
- If you have not made this pattern before and you are still unsure of what size to choose, make a muslin! This can be as simple as just cutting the bodice pieces (don’t worry about the facings) out of old fabric and inserting a zipper so you can get an idea of the fit. In addition to helping you determine that the finished dress *will* fit you, it will also give you a little practice with sewing the bodice before you cut into your nice fabric. I will not be covering muslins in this sewalong, due to time, but I am happy to help you assess fit if you need some assistance. Just holler at me – leave a comment on this post, tag me on Instagram (please make sure your account is public, otherwise, I won’t be able to see your post!), or link me in the OAL Ravelry Thread – and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can :) You can try Twitter, but I’m only getting about 1/3 of my notifications when they happen so that’s probably not the best way to reach me, fyi.
Ok, that’s all for today! Sorry this post was so long! Next week, we will cover cutting your fabric and marking your pattern pieces.