Thursday, 15 August 2013

Empire Style with Sure-Fit Designs

So I've made my Sure-Fit Designs "body blueprint", what next? For someone who has always used commercial patterns (even though they require many alterations to fit me), designing and drawing up my own dress pattern felt quite daunting. I had a gala function looming and literally had nothing to wear. With the help of a few style books, I was thinking an empire line dress would be the best for my frame.

Fortunately, Glenda from SFD anticipated this dilemma and wrote a companion book to her Dress Kit called Beyond Bodice Basics which comes with a How-to DVD. Perfect!
The DVD shows how to draft a cross-over top, but with my ample bust line, I have always suffered from gaposis, and with a tight time frame, decided to go for a simpler, round neck line. The book explains how to cut the midriff from the upper torso in just the right place for your own body, and then how to move the darts around.

I had an added complication in that I am more comfortable in knit fabrics, so I knew some adjustment would be needed. For my toile, I used a brown jersey knit remnant - a blend I think, but it feels lovely. I drafted this top at my proper "dot" measurement and kept the midriff section separate. I thought I might use a contrast fabric for that section on my dress. However, with careful sewing, I still didn't keep the width totally even, and so it looks a little wonky. For the lower torso section, I slashed and flared it out. It is cute, but not the most flattering look for me, so I decided not to do that on the next one.  I also mucked around with the sleeve. That was a mistake. The top turned out a little too big. I ended up running it in along the sleeves and down the side seams, and adding elastic to the midriff seam. The sleeves were a bit long, so I ruched them up with some elastic.

What did I learn from toile 1?
1: The bust dart size is right as is the midriff line and the gathering points.
2: I am too short waisted for a separate midriff section - need to join it to the skirt as one piece.
3:Don't mess with sleeves when you don't understand what you're doing.
4. The neckline is where I want it.
5: Go in 2 "dots" for the next one.
6: Keep the darts in the back bodice.

For my second toile, I drafted the dress, in 2 dots for the bodice and sleeves, but kept the skirt at my original measurements and I wanted it to flow nicely over my tummy and hips. I used a viscose/spandex "Fantasia" printed jersey from Knitwit. This has been in my stash for a while. It's a little wilder than I usually wear, and, since I recently had a colour analysis, is not in my most flattering colours. Still, I think it's fun and funky and will do very nicely for the rest of this winter going into spring.
For the skirt, I wanted a bit more flare than the blueprint, so I cut through the darts and pivoted them shut. Then I realised that the front and back darts were different, so the flare was different. The front dart created the larger flare, so I measured the distance and made the back skirt piece match. Redrawing the hemline was a bit tricky with this method, so next time I'll flare out the same total distance, but slash and spread 3 or 4 times over the pattern piece, which makes joining the hemline a bit easier.

I was a bit perplexed when the side seams didn't match when I walked the pattern pieces together. It was very late at night and took me a while to realise that it was because of the way I had altered the midriff sections. I was out 14mm. Not a huge amount, but I wanted it to be "right", so I ended up swinging the midriff section on the shorter side up 14mm and reshaping the join.

I was so excited when I tried this dress on!!! It fits beautifully, the sleeves are perfect and the fabric feels wonderful. Result!

For my gala dress, I wanted simple lines, with some interest. My fabric is a gorgeous greeny-grey viscose jersey remnant from GJs (which happens to be right on the money colour wise). I had also purchased some stretch satin for the (now no longer needed) midriff section, which I thought would work very nicely for the neck binding and the sleeves.

Hmmm, the sleeves - what to do????

Beyond Bodice Basics to the rescue again - there are instructions for a "petal" sleeve bolero jacket. I thought this would jazz up my otherwise plain dress very nicely, and followed the very clear directions. I made it a slightly longer sleeve to balance out my bust line. This fabric is very drapey. If I make a garment with fabric like this again, I think it would be better with a bit more overlap, but is still sweet and comfortable as is.

I also used elastic 1:1 around the underbust, not to cinch it in, but to keep it from stretching out. This happens with the print dress above, but I'm happy with the "tunic" look there. I wanted a more fitted style for the gala.

I work best to a deadline, and close deadlines make me work even better. I was hemming this dress only 5 hours before the event! In my rush, I had a bit of a brain explosion and (after Steam-a-Seaming) just sewed the hem up with a straight stitch. It was fine for that evening, but I have since unpicked it and redone it with a blind hem. I'm much happier now.

This is the best fitting dress EVER!




  1. Looks very nice! Congrats on conquering the "dress fit." Now you can make ANYTHING!

  2. Wow - you have done some lovely work and your gala dress is gorgeous. I am also very envious of the fantasia dress. I fell in love with the fabric but avoided buying it (a bit pricey) and by the time I had talked myself into buying it - SOLD OUT!!! You have achieved some lovely dresses there - great work. Look forward to seeing your Mini Wardrobe.

  3. A great fit and a lovely dress!

  4. Super gorgeous. I'm sure it was a hit at the party. Congratulations on following SFD so closely, you achieved a great fit.

  5. I keep looking at the SFD system. You have definitely conquered using this system. Dress looks great!

  6. Looks fantastic! Congrats on taking the ball and running with it. You've done a great job with taking your basic bodice and coming up with a wonderful dress. Can't wait to see your garments coming up.

  7. Your dresses are gorgeous. I know what you mean about the drafting being daunting. I'm currently stuck at that point. I've got my SFD blueprints for pants and the dress, but I am having trouble knowing what to do next. I think I will have to look around at RTW sites for some inspiration and just get on with it.

  8. I am so inspired by all your blog photos, I have not been sewing much for myself lately (want to wait until I lose 20 lbs) but your projects which fit so well are so flattering. I am going to sew now, who cares if I am not at my perfect weight. Its good practice to fit myself now, and will only improve skills for when I do eventually lose it.