Finding the Perfect Pattern for Your Dream Dress

on July 7 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 33 Comments

Gretchen “Gertie” Hirsch is the author of Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing. We stop in regularly for a dose of inspiration from her amazing style and her beautiful sewing. She recently quit her full-time job to pursue a more creative, freelance life and she loves it. Gretchen loves vintage fashion and is always scheming about how to recreate her favorite old-school looks. Her first sewing book will be published in Fall 2012 by STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books, and we can’t wait!

We asked Gretchen to give us a few tips about how to take dress dreams from seeing a look you love, to finding the right pattern and actually sewing it up! Enjoy her post today, and be sure to check in regularly with Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing. Tell us in the comments if you’ve found an incredible dress you want to create. Do you have favorite, vintage-inspired looks? Have you already adapted a pattern for your own dream dress?

One of my favorite things to do is play pattern matchmaker. Is there anything better than finding that one pattern that will help you realize the dress of your dreams? Maybe you saw the dress in a museum, a vintage boutique, or Bergdorf’s. Whatever the case, perhaps owning it is out of reach. But with a little ingenuity, you can always DIY! Last week, I asked my blog readers for input on which dresses they most coveted pattern ideas for, and I’ll share some of them— as well as my pattern ideas— here. But first, here are my top tips for playing pattern matchmaker.

1. Look at patterns with an open mind. It’s easy to be put off by a pattern envelope— If the design is made in a print you dislike or the garment doesn’t fit the model properly, you might look past it. I try to make a point to check out the technical drawings of a pattern as much as possible (that’s the little line drawing that shows the basic lines of a garment). That way you won’t be distracted by the “variables” like fabric, model, or styling on the envelope.

2. Be ready to do a bit of light drafting. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn the basics of pattern modifications. Designers don’t start from scratch on each new pattern; they make their designs by changing the lines of basic patterns (or slopers), so why shouldn’t you? Check out the book Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis for a great laywoman’s explanation of the process.

3. The Frankenpattern is your friend. Have an arsenal of basic skirt patterns ready to go at any time—a pencil skirt, dirndl, full circle, and basic a-line will cover most of your needs. Mix these up with pattern bodices to get the dress of your dreams.

4. Give it your own spin. While it can be tempting to recreate a look exactly, why not put your own take on the design? Choice of color, fabric, and trims can make your garment more than just a copy.

Now, let’s look at some dresses!

This first submission is a style I’ve been seeing a lot in current fashion: a simple sheath dress with a dramatic collar. I love the beautiful jewel tone and the flattering collar of this Oscar de la Renta design.

A great pattern match for this dress would be Vogue 8630.

At first glance, it may seem too angular. But check out the technical drawing:

See how simple the lines are? It would be very easy to redraw the curve of the collar, like so.

To get the double collar effect, just add a second collar underneath that is a smidge bigger than the first.

On to our next submission! This striped dress from ModCloth is adorable, isn’t it?

The basic lines of this dress— v-neck, shaped midriff, and flared skirt— can be achieved with a pattern like Vogue 8727.

But we’d need to make some changes to get the extended shoulder and collar band. Let’s look at the technical drawing. If you draw new style lines out from the underarm and extend the shoulder, you’ll get that retro kimono sleeve look.

Next, draw in a band at the v-neck. Make this its own pattern piece (don’t forget to add seam allowances!).

The stripe effects can be achieved by using the fabric on different grainlines for the band, bodice, and midriff.

And last but not least: I couldn’t resist this Marilyn Monroe dress that a reader suggested.

The real standout in this dress (well, besides Marilyn herself) is that neckline. Image my delight when Sewaholic announced the release of her new Lonsdale dress!

That bodice is perfect for a Marilyn-worthy dress. I’m already planning on switching up the skirt to a pencil skirt for more bombshell appeal. (Do it in a Hawaiian print for Alfred Shaheen glamor!) You can also mimic the ruching on the skirt by slashing and spreading around the hips, extending the pattern to double the length in that area, and gathering vertically on each side seam. Or if that sounds too daunting, why not switch up the skirt with something like Vogue 8603?

A pattern match made in heaven. (Note: the Lonsdale dress pattern will be available for preorder soon; join Sewaholic’s mailing list to stay up-to-date.)

I hope this has inspired you to get creative with your patterns. Go crazy and make the dress of your dreams!

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33 Responses to Finding the Perfect Pattern for Your Dream Dress

  1. cna online says:

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  2. Well, I don’t know if that is going to work for me, however definitely worked for you! 🙂 Excellent post!

  3. yea nice Work

  4. You’ve a lot of intriguing ideas! Maybe I ought to consider doing this by my self.

  5. Great Post. I add this Blog to my bookmarks.

  6. i like your blog and then the data regarding Harry Potter. It is my opinion Harry Potter may be the finest video collection along with the book series ever previously designed. Look the amount these people marketed, it can be loco. I am anticipating the next venture.

  7. JenGren says:

    These are great tips! I Frankenpattern clothes for my little girls all the time; I don’t know why I didn’t think of it for myself. I think I was scared to, like it would be “wrong” or something. ha

  8. Beth T says:

    This is fascinating to me. As a quilter, I’m so interested and yet intimidated by those who can sew anything other than a straight line with a 1/4 inch seam.

  9. Kristin L says:

    I’m a big fan of Franken-patterns. Last October, I combined a dress and a blouse to make a Fleur Delacour (from Harry Potter) Halloween costume. Even more recently, I made a dress for a friend that is very much like the lovely Lonsdale dress shown — and in a Hawaiian print as Gertie mused. 🙂 I didn’t alter the style of the pattern (McCalls 5100), but I did have to alter the size from the 12 in the pattern package to the 4 that my friend actually is:

  10. angie.a says:

    Corina (and all!) I found a great vintage pattern booklet on ebay last year and uploaded some scans to my flickr. Here’s the cover, and you can just click through to see the scans:

    It really helped me visualize some new ideas for what might be flattering on my NOT skinny body. 🙂

  11. Janet says:

    This was a great tutorial. I loved seeing how another person creates her designs. Thank you for posting this information.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I’ve been following Gertie’s blog for over a year, and she’s been such a great resource for dressmaking and couture techniques. I have been using the Frankenpattern approach for some time, too. Basic patterns can be manipulated in so many ways!

  13. Eleonora says:

    interesting article!…the tips for playing pattern matchmaker and the examples are very very useful!…I like Gertie’s blog

  14. I am so struggling with this! I tried to use a book to draft a very, very, very simple dress pattern today and got stuck on darts. Wish I could learn from a real person!

  15. nik kamisah says:

    I love the skirt pattern very is simple but sweet and unique.For variety,the middle part, we can use other pattern for examle stripes. other matching colour or polkadot(depends on the age of the owner)

  16. Cynthia I says:

    Love these suggestions! I am terrified of sewing clothes. Quilts yes, clothes no. They have to fit!! Thanks for the tips. I have a pattern I want to try and now maybe I’ll have the courage.

  17. Marie says:

    I usually just lurk here.. but have to say this is a wonderful article and I love Gertie’s blog (lurk there too.)

    I also want to echo Corina about flattering vintage-inspired plus size patterns. I love that Butterick, Vogue etc are reissuing some old patterns graded up to plus size but resizing and flattering are 2 different things. also I am crazy over vintage but I’m not the rockabilly bombshell type and so many of the retro RTW outfits out there are a bit revealing for me.
    (one that carries real plus sizes is btw)

    I’ll give one idea that I did find Corina – The Harp Lounge has posted a 1940s British pattern catelogue with some flattering dignified ideas, Leach-way Outsize Patterns. I’ve had no luck finding any of their actual old plus sized patterns but we can take Gertie’s advice and play pattern matchmaker. I sure intend to.
    hope that this helps a bit…

  18. Sharonnz says:

    Love Gertie’s style and advice. Can hardly wait for her book!

  19. Nyki says:

    I LOVE the striped dress. Such good ideas for altering patterns!

  20. Samina says:

    Glad to see you feature Gretchen – I’m an avid follower of her blog. I really enjoy her style & her writing.

  21. Dana says:

    I am with Corina…hard to find plus-sized patterns that are a bit (or a lot!) “retro”. I am a 50’s housedress gal, stuck in capri pants and shirts from Old Navy! If you know of any lines of patterns, please let us know.
    Love your blog!

  22. Maeve says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m thinking of sewing a dress for the first time in decades, and this will surely be good inspiration for me!

  23. Vanesa says:

    This was a great article, I loved your pairings of commercial patterns to copy designer dresses.

  24. Amber P says:

    The Simplicity 3697 Khaliah Ali tunic is a great match for the modcloth striped dress. You would just need to lengthen it or add a separate skirt but the neckline and sleeves are almost exact.

  25. RobinDenning says:

    great post!
    I love the concept of having multiple skirt patterns to mix and match with different bodices.

  26. Knitteresq says:

    Great article! Thanks Gertie and SMS!

  27. chelsiaberry says:

    When you look at the technical drawing of a garment, changes are more approachable. I like the red outline, this is a great guide for the pattern.
    For Corina, I suggest drawing your shape on regular paper and with tracing paper draw the dress you like over it making adjustments to fit the drawn you. Focus on what you like about your shape. Can you move or add style lines, gathers, pleats or tucks to create the look you want? I design clothing and work with customers to highlight their assets. Sewing is great, because we can make the dress work for us.


  28. Alethea says:

    This is great! I think I need to start following Gertie’s blog. I love sewing vintage clothing!

  29. Cassandra says:

    Gertie you always make things sound so easy. 😉

  30. jen says:

    Great tips – thanks! I often don’t sew things for myself becasue I’m put off by the pattern sleeve… I’ll start looking at the basics now though and think of how I can do a few simple changes to get the outfit to look how I want.

  31. Robin E. says:

    Now THIS is how I sew. I’ve amassed a great collection of well drafted basic patterns over the years, and when I have a project in mind I simply rummage through them until I find something kind of close and then make the little changes to get just the look I want. I don’t recall the last time I actually purchased a sewing pattern; it must be something like 4 or more years ago.

    Regarding the line drawings. Experience has told me that when asking kids if they would like me to sew this or that pattern, it is ESSENTIAL to show them the line drawings and nothing else. Kids see the fabrics of the photo of the garment and nothing else.

  32. Corina says:

    Awesome article. I also ALWAYS look at the line drawings to see the ‘bones’ of the pattern. The dresses are wonderful but I have issues finding patterns that flatter a plus – size who is not hourglass. I love the retro patterns – do you have any suggestions?

  33. Hannah says:

    I just discovered Gertie’s blog the other day, and I couldn’t believe what a wealth of information it contained! Thanks for sharing some super-useful tips (and giving some great examples to bring it all home)!

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