Patterns or drafting? Or somewhere in between?

I love dressmaking patterns. I have only been sewing for a couple of years but my stash of pattern envelopes and magazines is getting to the point where I can’t easily lift the box it lives in. Despite all this, when I have something very definite in mind that I want to sew I often can’t find a pattern in the box that’s exactly what I want.

The current case in point is my skull-print dress, which is inspired by the lady with the pink hair in the centre of the back row in this cartoon by John Allison. (If you like the art, check out his webcomics Bad Machinery and Scary-go-round.)

It’s an empire-line maxi-dress with a surplice-style bodice. There isn’t any bust shaping visible but clearly any real-life version of this dress that’s going to fit is going to need darts or gathers at the bottom of the bodice.

I briefly considered trying to draft something but I’m fundamentally lazy and drafting is complicated. I decided to go for the very unscientific method of taking two patterns I have that already fit and munging them together. Simplicity 3775 is a modern knit dress with a surplice bodice (sadly now out of print). I’m showing you my version rather than the envelope art, because the envelope manages to make the dress look utterly frumpy, and it’s really not.


Simplicity 5349 is a vintage halter-neck maxi dress that I made last year for a bit of a giggle, and have worn and worn and worn.



But these two have their problems. The maxi-dress has off-grain centre front and back seams in the skirt, which will look very odd with the regular print on my fabric, and the knit dress is, well, designed for knits. My skull-print fabric is a woven.

Skull print fabric

After much dithering I decided to cut the skirt pieces on the fold, even though it’s going to mess up the grainlines, because the alternative is just going to look strange.

I changed the gathers on the bodice to a couple of darts, then laid the midriff pieces from the first pattern over the top of the skirt pieces for the second and traced round them. I also added some tiny darts to the bodice back to give it a bit of shaping as the knit version has none.

And amazingly, my muslin of it seems to have come out looking like a dress. This is the muslin on my dressform. The back has a wrinkle on the left side, but that’s mainly to do with the sloppy way I sewed the zip into the side seam.


The funny thing is that I feel much happier tweaking something like this than a Real Pattern. If the pattern is a horrible mashup to start with then the sewing police are not going to come and get me for what I do with it. This may explain why it’s worked somewhat better than some of my attempts at fitting Real Patterns.

And it’s too late now anyway because I’ve cut out my real fabric, all four metres of it. I really hope this works out!