Sewing a Dress without Instructions

One of the biggest hurdles to sewing and drafting your own patterns is the lack of instructions, cutting layouts, fabric yardages (meterages), and notions lists one relies on when working with commercial patterns.  Many sewists I know have their own sewing “styles” and don’t bother much with pattern instructions.

I like to start with stabilizing- necklines, shoulders, arm curves, etc.  This time I used a wide, sturdy fusible knit.  It is light enough to allow the fabric to drape, but will provide a stable support for the shoulder buttons and buttonholes.

Darts next.  14 of them.

I inserted a narrow kick pleat in the CB seam.  When cutting, I laid the CB edge of the pattern piece about 1″ from the folded edge and marked the line.

To keep the line of stitching straight, I aligned the folded edge of the pleat with a mark on my throat plate and stitched rather than relying on my shaky chalk line.  Once I reached the “pleat” area, I broke the thread and basted the pleat closed.

I laid the pleat wrong side up on my ironing board.

I pressed it flat, carefully manipulating the fabric with my fingers so it would press evenly.  This fabric presses beautifully.

Then I stitched the inside folded edge of the pleat on each side to keep the pleat sharp while wearing.  I top-stitched the back seam above the pleat to keep the fabric where I pressed it.  Check out my post on perfectionism for a similar approach to a back pleat on a jacket.

I sewed the sideseams of the skirt, skirt lining, and dress and finished them.  The facing is cut in two continuous pieces of densely woven cotton and went on easily.  No sweat.

Trim the corners and notch the curves.  I always use pinking shears on curves- faster and neater.

Turn and press, no more time to sew today!

Do you usually put garments together in a certain way, regardless of the pattern instructions?  Do you carefully read each pattern thrice before starting a project?  Somewhere in between?

Many, many thanks to Amy for helping me revive my blogspot blog and set up a re-direct.  I do apologize for any trouble that caused!  If you’re looking for a particular post, the search is located in the top right corner.  I haven’t gotten rid of anything.

Tomorrow, I’ll announce the winners of the giveaway!


    • Me too, though less so as I sew more… A lot of my sewing paralysis earlier this winter was from having all kinds of “instructionless” projects.

  1. I must have missed the post where you chose this fabric (and I’ll go back to find it in a second), but I have to say that I love the fabric choice. It’s interesting, with that beautiful texture, and should show off the lines of the dress nicely (or so this amateur things :D). The buttons are really pretty too! I love unique buttons.

    I’m totally ganking your method of ‘clipping’ the curves. So much neater and easier than just using scissors. Mine always looks like a mess. :)

  2. The pinking shears for clipping the curves is a great idea! Thanks for that one! I tend to read and follow the directions. When I don’t, it is almost always because I got confused. This may change as my experience grows.

  3. I like to read instructions, if any, to see what the intentions of the designers, if any, are. They sometimes explain odd flaps and notches, but they can also be too fussy or too crude for my intentions, so I feel free to ignore them too. Depends on the project . They are helpful to learn new techniques, as I am a self-taught sewist with no access to an expert teacher. Kristina in Ohio

    • That sounds completely reasonable. I like to sew from old 30’s patterns for that reason… There’s often some very interesting sewing techniques involved… (Nice to “see” you, Kris!)

  4. Great post.

    I don’t read instructions, and follow a similar method to what you use: sew darts first, prep facings, install zipper, baste side seams, check for fit and hem.

  5. Pingback: Little White Dress- Understitching and Keyhole Buttonholes « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  6. I am currently “drafting” a vintage Lutterloh pattern and there are no facing included, nor are there any instructions. There is no yardage or fabrics suggested. I sort of like this doing this, as it requires me to really think through each step. I have just finished walking the seams on my pattern and am excited to start my mock up.

    I usually don’t follow the instructions on most sewing patterns, except unconventional ones, like Vogue’s Issey Miyake patterns. Those patterns are like origami.

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