Skull print dress – but no pink hair

I finished the skull print dress this weekend, despite a catalogue of hitches. Do you like to read about other people’s sewing disasters? I actually rather like hearing about when it all goes wrong because it reassures me that I’m not the only one it happens to. But if you don’t, you might want to skip this one.

It’s a copy of the dress on the girl with the pink hair in this cartoon. Apart from the fact that my completely artificial hair colour is different to hers, it’s come out fairly faithful to the original.

It did not sew up smoothly. The sewing police should probably look away now. I made a pretty successful muslin so I thought it would be a doddle to sew the real thing. Hah.

I wanted to underline the skirt because the skull print fabric is a thin cotton that wrinkles as soon as you look at it and doesn’t drape; I figured the extra weight of an underlining would make the long skirt hang much better than the cotton on its own would. However the skirt takes up so much fabric that I didn’t have anything in my stash that was large enough. The biggest bit of even vaguely suitable fabric was 2m of loosely woven dark brown cottony stuff. I tried to find the grain by tearing it across, and it promptly started to tear down the straight grain which ruined one end of it.

I thought I’d managed to fit the skirt pieces onto what was left by cutting the back on the crossgrain (I know, I know), but it turned out that one corner of the skirt was missing from where I’d had the accident with the tearing. I decided to ignore this and carry on. I knew I’d be facing the hem anyway because the fashion fabric wasn’t big enough to provide any hem allowance, and luckily an extra-wide facing was enough to cover up the mess.

I then constructed the whole thing up to the point where I was about to put the zip in. I quickly tried it on to check the fit, and only at that point noticed a complete pattern matching disaster on the front. The print on the fabric is little odd; the skulls that look like they line up vertically in fact do not, and this was really obvious where the bodice met the skirt. (For the benefit of any other sad geeks out there, the problem is that it looks like it has the wallpaper group cm but it’s actually p1 when you check carefully. The slightly slanted print also produces an optical illusion so it looks like the skirt has been cut off grain when it’s actually perfectly straight. Grr.)

So I took the dress to pieces, cut a midriff inset piece, this time being careful with the pattern placement, and sewed it over the top of the skirt front piece. Strangely, the seam doesn’t show at all. If you look at the picture you can see the pattern changes just below the bodice but you have to look very hard to see there is a separate bit of fabric there.

The pattern on the back looked fine so I didn’t bother making an inset piece for that.

Then I went to put the zip in, and realised I’d self-lined the bodice and then sewed the skirt to both layers, leaving me with no way to finish off the top of the zip neatly. I had to unpick it and leave the inner layer of the bodice free around the zip to act as a facing.

Anyway I finished it and it’s wearable. But I’m not dying my hair pink.

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!