How to Make a Dress - Part One: Your Sewing Pattern Envelope

I have finished the Pretty Little Dresses sample dress. Having taken many photos all the way through, and having also used more techniques than were necessary, I am going to do a series of posts on how to sew a dress. Most of the essential sewing techniques are in it, as they are in all dressmaking projects, so while you may be making another dress for your first attempt I hope these posts will be helpful to you.

First we'll look at the back of a pattern envelope. This is not the envelope for pattern 32101 - it's the envelope of the first dress pattern I used, Simplicity 2927 (now discontinued after about ... FOUR YEARS - when did that happen?!). In case you're curious as to what it looks like, I put a photo to the left.

Anyway, the back of the envelope. I'll only show about half of it because the other side is in French.

Garment Description
At the top it says what it is: Misses' Dress or Tunic with Sleeve Variations. "Misses" refers to the figure type. It means grown-up but not what you would call Plus-size. Sometimes the design's size can range from size 4 to size 20. That doesn't mean the pattern in the envelope is in those sizes. It usually ends somewhere in the middle. This one is in sizes 4 - 12.

Below the "title" is a box that names fabric suggestions. These are fabrics that they have tried the pattern in and they know that they work. Of course, you aren't restricted to the fabrics listed. You can choose a fabric with similar characteristics, i.e. if the fabrics they suggest are generally the kind with a good drape, then you can choose a fabric with a good drape; if they suggest firm fabrics like denim, you can use such fabrics. I suppose you could use any fabric you like, but the fabric you use will affect how the garment will hang, how comfortable it is, and it may require different sewing techniques than are in the instructions, e.g. if the fabrics suggested are thin and drapey, and you use a stiff, thick fabric such as cotton drill or denim, then you will have to use darts instead of the shirring that may be part of the design of your chosen pattern.

If there are different types of garments in your pattern, e.g. a blouse and a skirt, there will be fabrics listed for, say, view A and view B because the blouse can be made up in a flimsy fabric, but the skirt ought not to be, and the skirt could be made in, say, denim, but who would want a denim blouse?

Some patterns are sized only for stretch fabrics, specifically knits (jerseys). They probably don't have openings such as zips or buttons, and may be made rather smaller than patterns made for woven fabrics. Knits also drape better than some woven fabrics. Imagine wearing a t-shirt made of denim - the sleeves would stick out and the hang would be terrible! Plus, it would feel too small and restricting because it wouldn't stretch as jersey does.

Patterns made for knitted fabrics have a bar across the top of the envelope on the back called the Pick-a-Knit Rule. A portion of the bar will be black, the rest white. If you have a piece of knit fabric the length of the black part, it must stretch to the end of the white part in order to fit properly. This stretch, by the way, is on the crosswise grain of the fabric - the stretchier way that goes horizontally around your body when you wear it.

Underneath the fabric suggestions is a list of the required notions. These are things like buttons, interfacing, zips, hooks and eyes, trimmings etc. that you need to make up the garment properly. They are also called haberdashery. It will say the size of the buttons that best fit the pattern (it does matter). You can have them a little bigger or smaller, say, an eighth of an inch (3mm) but it's probably not wise to go beyond that if you want to keep the original look. Plus, patterns are designed for a particular size of button. If you chose another size, you will affect either the design or the fit of the garment, unless you alter the pattern's front piece(s).

Here you can find out which size you are. Pattern sizes are not the same as shop sizes. For one thing, they are consistent among pattern companies (except Burda, who use European sizes). Don't worry if you are not just one size. Patterns nowadays are almost always multisized so if your waist is a size 10 and your hips are a size 12, you just draw a line from the waist at size 10 to the hips at size 12 (the levels are marked on the pattern). And anyway, you can always take it in a bit when you try the garment on. It's easy - really.

By the way, if you wonder what the difference is between the pattern companies, it's that they shape things like crutch lines differently. Some may be a gentler curve, whereas others, like Burda, are almost L-shaped.

Another bit of useful information: a crotch is the between-the-legs part on a person; a crutch is that part on a garment.

Now you have your size, you can find out how much fabric you need. This pattern is a Simplicity Inspired by Project Runway pattern so many of the "design elements" (collars, sleeves, pockets, etc.) are given their own yardage/metreage. E.g. for the dress length in size 10, you would need 1 1/4 yds of 60" wide fabric and 3/8 yd for the neckline and so on. Then you would have to add it all up if you were using just one fabric. If you work in metric that is on the French side which you can figure out by counting the rows (design elements/view) and columns (sizes).

If you are using a pattern that is not a Project Runway one, the designs will be labelled as view A, B, C, etc. depending on which garment you want to make and the whole garment will be given a yardage/metreage instead of it's various parts having their own. You can still separate them when you get the pattern if you wish, you will just have to work out how much fabric you need yourself.

The pattern does not only tell you how much fabric you need, it also tells you how much interfacing and lining fabric you need.

Finished Measurements
Your measurements are not the measurements of the finished garment. If they were you wouldn't be able to move. The amount of extra fabric needed for you to move comfortably is called wearing ease. Garments sometimes have more ease than that for the sake of design. This is called design ease. There is also walking ease in skirts and dresses etc. so that you can walk rather than shuffle.

Designs made for stretch fabrics may have negative ease, i.e. they are smaller than you.  Can you imagine a leotard that was the same measurement as the wearer - or larger? It wouldn't look like a proper leotard at all! More like a babygrow. : )

In the bottom box are the measurements of the finished garment. First is the bust measurement; then the length of each view, either from the nape or from the waist depending on the type of garment; and then, in this case, the dress width. The dress width is the circumference of the hemline. You can get an idea of this by having your tape measure in a circle to this measurement and holding it (probably with your legs wide open) at the finished length.

Back view
The drawings to the left are the back views of the garment. With these (if your eyesight is good) you can see where the zip is (if there is one), and you can see where the darts and seams are. You can also see the back view of the collars etc. If the design is a circle skirt, it will show that too by having one side of the skirt held up level with the waistline.

Well, I think that's enough for one post. If you have any questions or comments, please add them below.

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, Hornsea, UK

P.S. I will be posting on Mondays in future. My brother has just started going to college so I get a peaceful morning (in between customers) for writing. Yesterday I started writing this post and he put (of all things) N-Dubz on the television! How can I concentrate with that on? Still, I love Joe really (couldn't ask for a better brother). : )

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