The May dress… the tribal maxi dress or the Mrs. Roper dress? You decide…

Morning dragonflies! It’s a late, late post today. I spent the weekend obsessing about quilt strips, obsessively cleaning the house and engaging in various other obsessions that don’t immediately come to mind, but avoiding winged insects such as yourselves was up there on the list.

But it’s Monday and here I am, back at my computer. I FINALLY finished my May dress, wore it to a graduation party, brunch and afternoon lounging and I can report that covering oneself with swaths of cotton and silk voile is actually BETTER than it sounds. And I know it sounds awesome, right? Right. So here’s a picture.

The uber serious expression is due to my using my mind rays to ensure the skirt would flutter properly to just GET THE &*()#&) PICTURE ALREADY!! While I like the dress just fine when it’s sitting calmly and not showing off all the underskirts, it’s really best in motion. And you ALL know how hard it is to get something to flutter appropriately using the self timer, right? This was compounded by my having about 5 feet of floor space in which to move around. So while I include a few photos where I appear to be striding about confidently, feel free to amuse your dragonfly fancies by knowing that a majority of the leg shots were obtained by my awkwardly kicking out my leg, hoping for the perfect amount of arty motion-blur, flashes of pink and yellow, minimized cankles and relatively upright posture. And don’t even ask. The outtakes have already been deleted.

But let’s get down to business, there’s a lot of details to get through here. For the background, this is my May dress, with the bodice loosely based on Burda 7697 (an envelope pattern) and the skirts sort of just cobbled together. Here’s the two previous posts: Inspiration and the bodice muslin & Finishing the bodice and draping the skirt.

More pictures? Ok. First, here’s a few from the front, showing the skirts in different stages of flutter.

And from the back – I made a clever little belt (well, I thought it was clever) out of some completely-not-matching-but-works-ok green and pink iridescent dupioni silk. More on that below.

The skirts. They move.

When I started plotting out my maxi dress I ran into a bit of a conundrum drafting the skirts.

1) I wanted them to be flowy

2) I wanted to avoid a lot of bulk (like with a dirndl skirt*) at the waist and the hips

3) I wanted to be able to move my legs (check out this post from stitchywitch of Green Apples to see the inherent problem with maxi dresses with dirndl skirts!)

3) I wanted to make my own pattern (well, I couldn’t find a pattern that I liked) and am too lazy to draft an actual, long flared skirt piece.

4) Even if #4 didn’t apply, I wanted to use the fabric as efficiently as possible and flared/gored skirts use more fabric with more waste.

5) If if #s 3 AND 4 didn’t apply, I wanted to use the selvages as the hems, so I wanted a straighter skirt to retain the straight hemline

6) Since I was working with sheer, light (um, easily unraveled) fabric, I wanted as few seams as possible with good finishing since they might be visible through the layers.

7) I was working with sheer fabric and wanted to wear the dress without a slip

8) I had started with the main print, which is silk and cotton and lovely. I found the yellow butterfly print that coordinated PEFECTLY, but my legs were angry that the eyeballs would get to look at the pretty silk fabric while while the dress was on my body, but the legs wouldn’t be able to feel it.

9) I was using an elastic casing, so I needed the top of the skirt wide enough to stretch over my bust so I could get the dress on, but with as little gathering as possible, for a more sleek look.

*For those of you that don’t know, a dirndl skirt is a basic rectangle that has been gathered in at the waist. Very, very easy, but not the most sleek or flattering of looks for many of us flying insects.

OK, that’s about it. I was trying to balance the need for movement against the desire for a very simple skirt style for ease of sewing and hemming. Plus mix my funky fabrics AND still get to have silk against my skin! To tackle the fabric mixing and desire for silk (#s 6 and 7), I got some nice hot pink silk/cotton voile to use as a lining. I played with the fabrics and here was my final game plan:

Skirt #1 (the lining) Standard dirndl with a slit for movement, ONE seam, the ‘offset center seam’, slightly offset from the center.

Skirt #2 (the yellow contrast) This skirt was attached to the bodice with an overlap, which took some of the width/gathers out of the waist, but provided for very free movement.

Skirt #3 (main skirt) I used a drapey trick to provide LOTS of movement at the offset center front slit/seam area. Also, I attached at the front by gathering the BODICE into the skirt, so the skirt front was very smooth. There’s still lots of gathers in the back, though. The entire front is left free, only attached at the top to the bodice, so again, lots of freedom for movement!

The mix of skirts worked well! I LOVED wearing the skirt. It has a gypsy vibe, doesn’t it? Mr. Bug called it the egyptian princess dress. No offense to Cleopatra, of course. I think he may have been responding more to the nail-studded flips I wore yesterday, though! Here’s a buncha pictures of the skirt on the move…

007

Drafting the skirt lining

A bit more detail on the skirts. You can click on any of the illustrations to (hopefully) see them more up close. First, for the pink lining skirt. I started out with a big rectangle of fabric that was about 60” long (from cut edge to cut edge). This fabric was 60” wide, so I cut down to 46” – the length for my skirt. I finished both cut ends with a narrow double folded hem and left the long edge unfinished.

pink1lining

I sewed the finished ends together from the waist to about knee length. I secured with a zigzag set with a length of 0 – I was nervous about this part ripping and it’s mostly hidden under the other skirts.

I pressed the seam allowances to the side. The seam allowances looked like a french seam, since they’d been hemmed prior to sewing together.

pink2lining

As a final step, I stitched the seam allowances to the skirt with a decorative stitch – sort of like doing a flat felled seam. Then I held up to figure out where I wanted to slit to hang on my body – it’s about 5” from my center front. I stretched between two fingers to find the ‘sides’ and cut notches at the two side spots, then ran gather stitches between the notches and sewed to the inside of the bodice so that the inside of the dress was smooth with no seam allowance showing at the waist. Here’s what the top of the slit looks like – see my excessive zigzag anchor stitch there??

Next up, the underskirt

I’d chosen the easiest method for the lining– a simple gathered rectangle. For the underskirt I wanted something with a bit more movement so the lining would show while I was moving. Also, I wanted to ease off on all those gathers at the top of the skirt and I was a bit concerned about the slits tearing. For the underskirt I decided to do an overlap at the top with some pleats to take out a bit more width as well as add to the drapey effect. I also hoped that by bringing in the waist so much I’d cause the hem of the skirt to flare a bit.

I hemmed the cut ends and cut the fabric down to 46” as I did with the lining. I used the selvage as the hem on this skirt as well. I’ve marked below where I placed the pleats (on the right) – I folded out about 6” total with the pleats. I’ve also marked the overlap sections on the skirt piece.underskirt1

Here’s how the finished skirt looked!

underskirt2

Below is a shot of the actual skirt close to the top edge. I embellished the hemmed ends with the same decorative stitch as I used on the lining for some continuity. I’ll tell you what, this poly chiffon was a BEAR to sew – especially compared to the cotton/silk voile! And don’t get me started on ironing it. I ended up using steam a seam to keep the edges under control while I was hemming.

I found the center in the same way as I had with the lining, marked the side seams and ran gathering stitches along the back. I didn’t need much gathering in the front as I’d removed so much width with the pleats and the overlap. I sewed the underskirt to the RIGHT side of the bodice, so at this point there were NO seam allowances showing on the inside OR outside of the dress – they were sandwiched between. It would have worked better had I sewn the underskirt to the inside of the dress so the lining and underskirt seam allowances were both pointing towards the right side, but luckily I’d cut these skirts slightly too long, so my quick fix (more on that in the next section) when attaching the main skirt helped by shortening the skirts about an inch, although it wasn’t the cleanest finish…

The main skirt – all dangly ends!

The main skirt was definitely the most fussy. The method I used to construct it was new for me AND since it was all going to show, I wanted it to be nice!

First I trimmed the fabric down – I trimmed this a bit shorter – around 44”, because I wanted the other two layers to show AND because the other two skirts had been a bit long. Also, since a lot of the dangly bits in the front would be from the TOP edge of the fabric, I decided to attach the selvage edge to the bodice, so the nicely finished selvage would be shown off. I hemmed the hem and sides with a narrow double fold hem.

I’m not sure if this is clear, but basically, the stars in the illustration below show the points ‘offset center front’ – all of the fabric between the stars was attached to the bodice, the rest was left to hang free. Once I attached the skirt, I cut away the shaded areas and hemmed the raw edges. The points that I cut away were long and dragging on the ground.main1

Here’s a sketch of how the skirt hangs. See the stars at the top of the skirt. The black hexagons show (roughly) where those cut away corners would be. The shaded area shows the drapey part of the fabric, much of it the wrong side of the skirt.

main2

When I attached this skirt I didn’t want ANy gathers on the front, so I pinned the starred points in place on the bodice, then smoothed the skirt to the bodice as far as the side seams on the bodice. I clipped at that point to mark, then ran gathering stitches between the two clips for gathering on the back.

When I started to sew the main skirt on, I realized that I should have sewed the underskirt to the inside rather than the right side of the bodice in order to cleanly sandwich the bodice between the skirts. Since the fabric was so thin and I could do with a bit less length I just neatly folded the underskirt to the inside of the bodice, effectively encasing the seam allowances of the underskirt AND the lining skirt. Then I sewed the main skirt to the outside. This meant I was sewing through a LOT of layers – all the seam allowances PLUS an extra layer of underskirt and main skirt. It was easy to sew through, but hard to get a nice, straight seam. Since I was planning on covering/embellishing I was OK with that. For this project.

Here’s the skirt with the ‘drapes’ pulled out to the sides.

And here, with everything hanging willy nilly. I really like the effect – it moves when I walk to show off that crazy butterfly polyester!

Ah yes! The belt.

I had been planning on a self-braided embellishment, but when I experimented I didn’t really like it. I’d been thinking of the braid along the neckline with a  long, long belt piece that could wrap around me a couple of times. I didn’t like it along my neckline because I’d rather wear jewelry than have an embellished neckline and I thought the braid would look funny on its own around my middle! I dug through my stash and found about quarter yard of some lovely dark green and pink dupioni silk. I made a quick belt.

I wanted something wider that would keep its shape, so I decided to use some boning. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps I used making the belt.

  1. Sew long edges together, turn and press
  2. Fold short ends together to find center. Quick press to mark.
  3. Center needle on pressed center mark, stitch first edge of center boning channel.
  4. My belt piece was 4.5” wide and I wanted a gathered effect, so I cut boning 2.5” wide and slid inside the belt.
  5. Switched to zipper foot, stitched other side of center boning channel.
  6. Gathered belt to same width as boning piece – I just used my fingers, although I could have run gathering stitches as well. Stitch again across gathers on both sides to secure.
  7. Checked for side positions be holding belt up to me and centering the center boning on my midriff.
  8. Repeated above steps to sew in side channels.
  9. Folded one end in, pressed and topstitched.
  10. Attached the buttons that ‘show’ to the topstitched short end.
  11. Topstitched the other short ends – I left unfinished because I like how the selvage looks!
  12. Checked length and then put in snaps so that the belt fits snug.

I like the belt and may do something similar for other full skirted dresses where I want the sash-like look – the Crepe comes to mind!

In closing… thoughtful and introspective, or  inattentive navel gazer?

28 Comments

  1. […] on a maxi dress kick, aren’t I, you adorable spotted meat-eaters, you… first the Tribal Maxi and now this! And guess what… there’s more in the hopper. These are SUPER comfy and fun to […]

  2. [...] att tyget jag valt passar lika bra. Så det inte blir som den här klänningen, som är sydd i samma mönster men visserligen förstorad. Annars får jag leta reda på något [...]

  3. Nettie says:

    I FLOVE this dress!!!!!! I cannot use enough exclamation to get my point across!!! :P

  4. Heather says:

    Wow! Fantastic dress! I love love love the layers of fabric! Patty, you come up with the best dresses, I'm telling you. :)

  5. Petra says:

    Wonderful – you look so stunning. And I love your hair.

  6. Tanit-Isis says:

    What a crazy awesome dress! Love the layering and the slit and all the work you put into that skirt. But especially, especially I like that boned/gathered belt. I may have to steal that idea…

  7. Lisa says:

    Wow, amazing how you used three skirts and it still doesn't look bulky at all! Just light and swirly, perfect for summer days at the beach. Very inspiring!

  8. montanachic says:

    It really is beautiful and looks so fun to wear. I love it with the necklace too :)

  9. Sarah says:

    Wow! That dress is amazing! Gorgeous.

  10. elise says:

    Oh golly you look amazing in those colors!
    I have a skirt that I purchased in this style last summer. I can't find the directions on how to do the many styles that are to choose from outside of the obivous wrap around. It's so nice to see how I could have styled it to make it look so fabulous as it does on you!
    It is a work of art, lovely.

  11. Psycho Sue- Sew Misunderstood says:

    THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!!!

  12. Alessa says:

    Wow! I wouldn't ever have thought of a dress like that, it looks stunning! I love the butterfly fabric in the action shots and the belt with boning is a really cool idea. :)

  13. Debi says:

    Wowza! Amazing post…and the Dress is BEAUTIFUL…I absolutely love the flowy-ness and you look absolutely stunning in it!!

  14. Kimi says:

    This dress is stunning! I just want to reach through my screen and touch it. (Sorry, is that creepy?)

  15. Francie says:

    The dress is completely amazing. Wow, wow, wow! It is making me re-think my no dress policy.

  16. Annec says:

    Magnificent! Just magnificent!
    The colours, style, details…all collide perfectly.
    Really appreciate the contruction details too….

  17. Mary-Ann Hall says:

    The dress looks nothing like a Mrs. Roper dress; it´s very flattering and the fabric is amazing. I love the belt too.

  18. MJ/Sweetwater Cloth says:

    I absolutely love everything about this dress. Everything. Love It!

  19. Jacqueline deRuyter says:

    Gorgeous. Completely gorgeous. The only thing missing is a fruity cocktail with an umbrella:)

  20. Crystal says:

    This is the most painstakingly-planned maxi ever to exist I'm sure! It looks so beautiful and I love the side slit and overlapping layers you came up with.

  21. Sigrid says:

    That is amazing, the fabrics, design, colors–overall effect. Umm. . did you know you glow in that dress ! I have to admit i didn't follow all the construction details, but I get the idea– you are a goddess.

  22. LAP says:

    Luscious.

  23. Eugenia says:

    Oh wow! this dress is amazing – it's a work of art and something fabulous to wear all rolled into one!

  24. Jilly Be says:

    I LOVE this look on you!!! Really….LOVE it! Especially envisioning it moving & flowing. Fabulous job. More – make more!

  25. liza jane says:

    Gorgeous! I love the mix of prints. I have a lot of trouble with dirndl skirts. They really aren't that flattering are they? I like the idea of the off center slit and the overlap on the polyester layer. This is a great lot of information. Thanks for all the details!

  26. Darci says:

    That dress is crazybeautiful! I had the overdress fabric in my hands the other day and put it back, but I may have to reconsider. (In July when the fabric ban is over, anyway.)

    That's just gorgeous! Not Mrs. Roper AT ALL.

  27. Donna says:

    There is not a word fabulous enough to describe the fabulousness of this dress! And that is an amazing job of explaining the process; thank you for giving us all the notes!

  28. Corrine says:

    I've got to say the colors and style of this dress is great. Your "action shots" are so cool, maybe a fan would make the twirling easier? Te He! You have a Sex in the City goes to Abu Dabi look going on here and its great. Your tutorial for the layered skirt explains it well and the belt, great. I think the belt would go well with many things, including tunic tops. Thanks so much for sharing.

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