THE BEETLEJUICE DRESS – a pattern hack tutorial

I don’t want to say this too loudly…but it looks like I might actually be getting the hang of this blogging thing!

Giorgia – Feb 2020 circa

Please insert very loud laugh here.

This was the very first sentence of a blog post that sat in my drafts for the past two months, and which talks of a dress I made last year. I know that right now everyone is in the “be kind to yourself” sort of mindset, and I agree wholeheartedly… but there is something to be said about consistency and discipline, and in my case self-kindness and indolence often look too much alike.

At any rate, enough with the self criticism and let’s dive straight into this one as I will have a fair bit to say about it.

Giorgia sits on a sofa, looking away from the camera and towards the light. The picture shows a boat neckline dress, with 3/4 sleeves and a soft skirt that drapes gently on the sofa, showing a bit of ankle.

THE FABRIC

This jersey was purchased at a sale of a fashion factory which doubles as an online fabric store in north london, called Fashion Capital. Once a year they hold a fabric sale to sell out what I believe is their remnants (usually cuts of 3 to 5mt of fabric) from production.

I attended their sale twice, the first time ending up with something ridiculous like 25mt of fabric for £26, carrying home two loaded bags of jersey, scuba, viscose crepe and some polyester tricot. I was giddy with my little haul -bless my little consumeristic heart of the time- of which, fast forward almost 4 years, precious little has been sewn up. So even though this fully qualifies as deadstock fabric, I can’t really say it’s doing much good in my fabric closet.

I am getting better at learning from experience though, as the second time I trekked all the way there I only purchased for others. Still, north Londoners might find it an excellent place to buy toiling fabric and snatch the occasional bargain. The linen I bought there has brought me huge amount if joy and hopefully will finally be blogged about this year! (Don’t hold your breath)

THE PATTERN

I kinda want to take guesses for which pattern I used to make the dress!

It’s such a famous pattern and has been seen and hacked by I think every single sewist alive. But the truth is I don’t think it matters at all. Any snug fitting jersey top with sleeves will work for this, so by all means feel free to use this tutorial with any T&T of your choice.

My starting pattern is the uber-famous Moneta dress from Seamwork. It’s a pattern I had already used twice and I knew that the bodice would fit the way I wanted and that the waist would sit at the rigth place. That’s pretty much all you need to get started with the pattern changes.

If we consider the Moneta dress the starting point, then the alterations you will want to do first, as you have to do them on paper are the dolman sleeves and a slash neckline.

I also I have lenghtened the skirt to a ballerina lenght (because ankles are sexy even in 2020, right?) and added side slits for extra sass. I’m a big fan of sneaking body-revealing details in otherwise demure clothes. There is something in what can only be glanced that I feel is particularly appealing to the appraising onlooker and (much more significantly) extremely playful for the wearer.

Here’s a full lenght view of the finished article!

This is a full lenght picture, taken sideways and while Giorgia is moving, so to revel thigh high side splits and a little bit of leg under the dress. The fabric is striped and you can glimpse pattern matched along the side seams.

GET HACKING!

Now that you’ve had a look at what the end result is, here’s how to get there. Remember, you will want a snug fitting knit bodice to start with and achieve the look, as the long skirt will be heavy and will pull down considerably.

For the Bodice:

1. Take your bodice pattern piece (front and back were identical in my case) and trace around the fold and side seam onto fresh paper.

2. Now grab your sleeve, fold it in half lenght-wise putting the side seams togehter and place it on top of the bodice so that the sleeve cap and the underarm seam touch the respective points on the bodice.

My pattern drafting book (Pattern drafting for fashion design by H Armstrong) says to raise the sleeve cap 1cm, but it’s meant for a woven bodice. Considering I was workign with a very forgiving jersey, I only raised it a few millimiters and it was enough.

From the raised sleeve cap connect with the sleeve and trace around the waist hem bit.

3. For the slash neck, use the softest curve of your pattern master and simply extend the shoulder seam towards the centre front in a gentle crescent shape, ensuring the corner between the centre front and the neckline is squared.

4. For the under arm, still using the curved edge of the pattern master (or whatever curvy ruler you have at hand, or your steadiest hand if you don’t have a ruler!), connect the area about 2.5cm under the armscye on both side seams and sleeve seam.

5. Check your original pattern to see if seam allowances are already included, and if not add them now. Make sure to give the neckline seam (so from the centre front to the wrist) a generous seam allowance, as this “pattern” doesn’t have binding or facing, but uses the seam allowance to finish the neckline. Also, really important, NOTCH the shoulder point! (this is where on your original pattern the bodice and sleeve met at the shoulder cap)

A close up of the bodice of the dress, showing the neckline and the batwing design of the sleeves.

For the skirt:

This part of the alteration is really straightforward, and I did it directly on the fabric.

In the picture the rectangular shape is my fabric, laid out folded togheter. Here the left hand side is the centre fold.

The broken line represents the original pattern piece. As my fabric wasn’t wide enough to just lenghten the skirt extending the original seam line, I have copied the original hemline to reach my desired length and connected the waist and hem creating a new side seam. Do take into account seam and hem allowances to make sure the skirt will actually be of the desired length!

Another side full lenght picture, this time from the other side.

MAKING IT UP

In all fairness I can’t give anybody lessons of tidy finishing on jersey, as I rarely sew with knits and I haven’t yet figured out a pretty way to neaten seams that isn’t cutting very carefully and leaving them raw. Knit fabric will roll a little, but it won’t fray so so far, so good. I’m sure all of you overlocker friends will have plenty of alternatives to achieve a professional finish and please do share!

Unfortunatelyl for me, my machine really didn’t like the fabric. It kept breaking thread, skipping stitches and generally throwing her toys out of the pram. With lots of soothing and smoothing I managed to sew it, but I can’t say this is my neatest project to date. Sometime you can only do your best with what you got! In hindsight this was probably a needle problem, but hindsight is 20/20 and there’s no point trying to give advice to my past self.

Construction tips

As far as construction goes, I most definitely winged this together without a proper plan. But here’s what I did and it mostly worked for me, so I’d say you can use it too.

1. Stitch together front and back from the shoulder point to the wrist, taking care of NOT overlocking the two sides of the seams together. You will need to be able to open them flat.

2. Stitch wrist to waist on the side seam.

3. Try it on! This is to decide how to stitch the neckline and is roughly the construction method of the Gable Top by Jennifer Lauren Handmade. Pin it rolling the seam allowance up or down, either exposing or covering more neck. Then stitch it down from the shoulder point, do the same for front and back. It’s really a matter of finding what shape flatters you the most or you feel more comfortable.

4. Hem the wrists according to your hem allowance specifications.

5. I used clear elastic to gather the skirt waist, following the same instructions as you find in the Moneta Dress pattern. Quite simply I cut two pieces of elastic a few cm longer than the finished waist measurement (I used the bodice waist lenght to work it out). I then stitched the elastic on the waist seam, within the seam allowance, stretching it as I sewed. Take care not to gather or put elastic within the seam allowance or you’ll have some bulk there – which I find uncomfortable. You can of course trim this down, but I prefer to avoid the problem alltogehter.

6. Put skirt front and back together by sewing up the side seams, right sides together. If you want to give the side slits a go, stitch up to the slit and secure with some extra reversing. I used a straight stitch here to help keep the fabric from stretching over time and the skirt getting longer and longer.

7. To neaten the edge of the slits, fold it inwards and stitch along at about 1cm seam allowance. I tested a few hem finishes on my fabric and decided to leave it raw for extra swishiness. (Bonus tip: you can’t beat a rotary cutter on knit fabric to get a sharp, crisp cut line)

8. Finally, attach the skirt to the bodice. This can be a bit fiddly as the skirt will be gathered and bouncing around… but feel free to use the gathers to your advantage, hiding any additional easing you might have to do.

Another close up, with dramatic light enphasising the black and white striped fabric.

ALL IS WELL, THAT ENDS WELL

I am so glad I gave myself time to mull over what to do with this fabric.

Two whole years might have seemed a very long time to my conscience, still heavy for all the unused fabric slowly aging in my unvoluntary stash. But the truth is, I could have quickly whipped up a random piece out of this super cheap striped jersey, but I wouldn’t have loved it half as much as I love this finished dress.

I have already christened it on a exhilarating dancing night, worn with steel-capped army boots and a leather jacket. For dinner, with a little cropped cardi and dainty pumps. And in the office (once upon a time) with dark tights and boots.

I have also added concealed hooks and eyes on the side seams of the skirt, to close the daring slits when necessary!

4 thoughts on “THE BEETLEJUICE DRESS – a pattern hack tutorial

Add yours

  1. Well that did make me laugh (i recognise the ancient drafts!).

    The dress is lovely! Sometimes you can’t beat jersey for softness, comfort and that alluring drape though I find such a variety in the fabric; sometimes it can be really heavy/dense and sometimes it’s flimsy and disappears into the needle plate, or it bobbles quickly.

    I do hope you get to wear this somewhere fun soon. And I hope to see you – I have knitting progress reports for you!!

    Like

    1. Marij!! You’re right, you never really know what to expect with jersey… but sometimes has a drape and softness that nothing else has!

      Can’t wait to have your knitting update!! Big hug!

      Like

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