Versatile Knit Dress from Sewing Happiness

on April 21 | in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 96 Comments

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you!

Sewing Happiness: A Year of Simple Projects for Living Well is a new book out from Sanae Ishida. Sanae weaves twenty easy sewing projects with thoughtful narrative about working through a difficult time in her life and health. Sewing was a big part of her return to a healthy body and balance, and the peace this “sewing happiness” brings to her life is important. It’s a lovely book, and very relatable if you’ve ever struggled with your health or with finding meaning and joy in your life.

From the publisher:

    Twenty simple sewing projects are tied together with a thread of memoir that tells the story of how sewing brought Sanae Ishida profound happiness. Each seasonal project, specially designed to promote health, creativity, relationships and more, provides gentle inspiration to live your best life.

    When Ishida was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lost her corporate job, she thought her life was over. But these challenges ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her because they forced her to take stock of her life and focus on the important things, and enabled her to rediscover sewing–her true passion.

    Inspired to succeed at just one thing, Ishida vowed to sew all of her daughter’s clothes (and most of her own) for one year. Sewing Happiness includes 20 projects plus variations (including Japanese-inspired home goods and children’s and women’s clothing) organized by season, and stitched together with Ishida’s charming personal story.

We have an excerpt from the book for you, and a chance to win too! The Versatile Knit Dress will be a wardrobe staple, and Sanae takes you through each step in the instructions below. You can also comment for a chance to win Sewing Happiness: A Year of Simple Projects for Living Well. (US addresses only this time, please.)

(c) 2016 By Sanae Ishida. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Sewing Happiness: A Year of Simple Projects for Living Well by permission of Sasquatch Books.

It took me a while to work up the courage to start sewing for myself. But once I did, I was addicted. Through trial and error, I ascertained that I like clean, streamlined designs. No frills, frou-frou, or blinding bling for me. And when it comes to clothes, I’m all about comfort. I’ve tried a lot of different patterns since I started sewing, but the ones I wear over and over are the ones made out of knit with little fanfare. That’s exactly what I’ve created here— a low-key dress made out of knit jersey. I’ve had to go through a myriad of iterations to figure out what style works best for my unique body type, and I’m not sure if I’ve completely nailed it yet, but I keep trying. The best part is in the practice and learning, and I hope you’ll feel encouraged to do the same.

This is one of those workhorse garments that you’ll reach for time and time again. With a little nip and tuck and snip and extension here and there, the possibilities are really endless for this beginner-friendly, versatile knit dress. Now, I know that there’s a visceral fear of knits out there, but take heart: the stretchy stuff is incredibly forgiving.

I’ve created a couple versions of this dress using different skirt lengths, which is an easy way to alter the entire look of the dress. All you need is a tank top that you already own to get started on the drafting process. Make sure that the stretchiness of the tank top is comparable to the fabric you’re using to get similar fit. For example, if your tank top is super stretchy but your fabric is not (some knits like interlock don’t stretch a lot), the bodice of your dress will be too tight. And vice versa. It’s always a good idea to first test this out on inexpensive knit jersey before cutting into the nice stuff, just in case. Drafting a dress may seem daunting, and it’s quite possible that your first attempt won’t look exactly the way you’d hoped. If that happens, I urge you to soldier on and try it again with tweaks because oftentimes repetition is the greatest teacher. I’ve done my best to include detailed instructions, and I know that with some practice, your result will be a keeper.

Supplies + Materials:

  • 2 to 3 yards knit fabric
  • Coordinating thread
  • Ballpoint or stretch sewing machine needles
  • Drafting kit
  • Favorite tank top or sleeveless knit dress
  • Rotary cutter (optional)
  • Serger or overlock machine (optional)

Fabric Recommendations:
Knit jersey is the required fabric for this project, but keep in mind not all knit jerseys are created equal. Try to find stretchy fabric that isn’t too thin (you’ll thank me) or prone to curling at the edges. A touch of spandex or lycra— just a touch (you’re not auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance), will make the sewing experience much nicer. Organic bamboo or hemp cotton knit is absolutely lovely, but quite pricey, or you can actually find some beautiful drapey polyester-blend knits if you don’t mind polyester. Make sure to prep the fabric by washing, drying, and pressing.

Finished Dimensions: Modifiable to your size and desired length.

1. Did you find a favorite tank top or sleeveless knit dress? This will form the basis of your pattern piece. Put it on, and with a pin or a marking tool that won’t leave a permanent mark, decide where you would like your waist to be at the side. Mark or pin that spot. From that waist point, measure how far down you’d like the skirt portion of the dress to fall. Make a note of that dimension.

2. On a flat surface, lay a large piece of pattern paper. Fold your tank top or dress in half so that your mark/pin is visible. Lay the folded garment on top of the paper. With weights or soup cans or whatever you have on hand, hold down the garment and trace the bodice up to the point of the mark/pin. Remove the garment and clean up your traced lines where they may look uneven or crooked.

3. Make sure that you have right angles at the following sections: neckline at center fold, neckline corner where shoulder begins, corner under the arms, the corner at the waist, the waistline that meets at the center. Cut out your front bodice pattern piece and label it “Versatile knit Dress—FRONT—cut 1 on fold.” Drape this bodice pattern piece against your body to see if it’s hitting mostly in the places that look good to you, but keep in mind that knit jersey stretches so this doesn’t require meticulous precision. I usually don’t need to add a seam allowance because the knit jerseys I buy at fabric stores seem to always have way more stretch than retail-wear knits. However, the fit really depends on the type of fabric you use, so you might need to tweak this bodice pattern piece a bit before you get just the right fit.

4. Lay the front bodice piece onto the pattern paper and trace. You’re going to raise the neckline a little for the back, and my highly technical method of doing this is eyeballing what looks good, and then drawing the new neckline. You could also determine an exact measurement and use a curved ruler to make this neckline. Either works. The only thing to keep in mind is that just like the front neckline, the line that meets at the center fold should be perpendicular (or a right angle) or you will end up with either a peak or divot in the center back. Cut out and label this piece “Versatile knit Dress—baCk— Cut 1 on fold.”

5. The skirt is a simple rectangle. Using the measurement you calculated in step 1, add 1 1/2 total inches for the hem and waist seam allowances. This is your skirt pattern height. Make a note of this number.
For the width, take your pattern piece bodice waist measurement, double it (remember, the pattern piece is for only half the body) and add 4 inches. Keep in mind that the skirt will be gathered at the waist and you might need to adjust after making your muslin version, which is always a good idea. Make a note of this width.

I like to measure the skirt dimensions directly on the fabric, but if you prefer to have a pattern piece, first draw out the rectangle on your pattern paper. If you choose to create a pattern piece, label with “Versatile Knit Dress—Skirt—Cut 2.”

6. Time for some cutting action. Wrangle your knit fabric onto your cutting surface. Unless it’s become horribly wrinkled in the prepping process, you shouldn’t need to iron it. For the bodice pieces, I like to find the center point of the fabric, and then fold the two edges inward toward the middle (like double doors) with the RIGHT sides facing.

Pin or use weights to hold the pattern pieces in place. Trace with a marking tool, and cut out.

A note about using striped fabric, which is often my go-to for knits. If you don’t want terribly mismatched stripes, try this method. The easiest way I’ve found to match up stripes is cutting the pieces as a single layer (instead of on the fold), aligning the stripes at underarm sections, corners, bottom edges, etc. so I trace the one half pattern piece, and then flip it around to trace the other half, keeping my eye on stripes placement. This will add a little extra time, but the professional finish, in my opinion, is worth it. This method is applicable to all prints you want to make appear seamless.

7. Once you’ve cut out the bodices, fold the remaining fabric in half, and measure out the skirt dimensions. You should have two skirt pieces. If you’re using stripes or a print that you want to match up, cut out the skirt pieces from a single layer.

You can place all the pattern pieces and measure out the skirt at the same time as the bodice pieces, but I don’t have a large enough surface to do so. I always try to maximize the fabric whenever possible by cutting pieces close together.

8. To make the neckband and armhole band bindings, I use yet another highly technical method. I simply cut across the length of the fabric (which is usually about 60 inches) at a 1 1/2-inch height. A rotary cutter and large quilter’s ruler is extremely handy for this. One 60-inch length is sufficient for both neckline and armhole bindings for me, but if it doesn’t look like enough, cut two. Extra binding is always great to have. Note: unlike wovens, knit fabrics are sufficiently stretchy from selvage to selvage, so you don’t need to cut binding on the bias (for wovens, the fabric stretches more on the bias).

9. Ok, you’re set with all the pieces you need, minus exact neckband and armhole binding measurements, but we’ll work on those later. At this point you should have cut out following:
– Front bodice
– Back bodice
– Skirt pieces (front and back)
– Binding strips for neck and armhole bands

10. Very Important: Change your sewing machine needle to a ballpoint or stretch needle. You will be happier for it since these needles are specifically designed for knit fabrics. Some people recommend a walking foot, but I’ve never used one and have sewn dozens and dozens of knit projects successfully. There are several stitch style options for knit fabrics (see sewing knits, page 105). A regular straight stitch isn’t ideal because it doesn’t have enough elasticity or stretch, and will break easily.

11. Pin the front and back bodices to each other at the shoulders with the RIGHT sides facing. I use extra fine pins (Wonder Clips are fantastic for knits too) since regular pins may leave holes in the fabric. Using your choice of one of the knit-friendly stitches, sew 3/8 inch from the edge.

Feel free to leave the raw edges as is since knit fabrics don’t fray. I usually use an overlocking stitch to finish the raw edges, but this is purely out of habit. Press the seams open, or if you overlocked the edges, press overlocked edges toward the back.

12. Pin or the clip sides together with the RIGHT sides facing. If your fabric has stripes or a print that needs to match up, pay attention to aligning these elements as you pin/clip. Sew 3/8 inch from the edges. Finish (or not) the raw edges. Press the seams in the same way you did for the shoulders.

13. Pin or clip the skirt pieces together (again, paying attention to match up stripes or prints), RIGHT sides facing. Sew 3/8 inch from edge. You know the drill with raw edges now.

14. Lay your sewn bodice piece on a flat surface, front facing up. Loop the binding strip around the neckline—don’t stretch the binding if you can help it—and cut a length that exactly matches the neckline circumference. Use pins or clips if it helps.

15. With the RIGHT sides facing, sew the short ends of the binding together with a knit-appropriate stitch, about 3/8 inch from the edges. Press the seam open. Then, fold the neckband in half lengthwise, WRONG sides facing, and press.

16. With the seam placed at the center back, pin the neckband to the bodice neckline with raw edges matching and the folded side at the bottom. You may have to stretch the neckband ever so slightly to get it to fit evenly around the neckline.

17. Place your machine foot aligned to the left edge of the folded side of the neckband. Sew 1/4 inch from the folded edge.

18. Finish the raw edge (or not) and press it toward the bodice. This next step is something that I wouldn’t normally recommend, but I’ve done this on countless necklines and have never had a problem. Change to a straight stitch with a length of about 3 1/2. Working from the center back on the RIGHT side of the bodice, stitch 1/4 inch from the edge where the neckband meets the bodice. This holds the seam allowance in place, and gives the neckline a more finished appearance.

19. Repeat steps 14 to 18 to create and attach the armhole bindings to the dress. Make sure to line up the binding seam to the arm hole seam as you pin the binding to the arm hole.

20. To gather the skirt, change your stitch style to a straight stitch, and increase your machine stitch length to the maximum. Without backstitching at the beginning or the end, sew one row about 1/4 inch from the top edge, leaving a tail of about 3 inches at the beginning and the end of the row. Then sew a second row (again without backstitching) about 5/8 inch from the top row (again leaving 3-inch tails on either end). Now pull on the two threads that are on the same side. Leave the threads on the other side alone for now. Pull on the threads to gather the fabric, alternating between the left and right sides to get the gathers going.

21. With the WRONG side of the skirt facing out and the gathers at the top, insert the bodice RIGHT side out and upside down. Pin or clip at the side seams and adjust so the gathers are spaced evenly. Change your stitch back to a knit-appropriate one and sew 3/8 inch from edge. Tip: sew with the gathered side up and use a pin to gently adjust the gathers as you sew.

22. Hem the skirt. My preferred method is to overlock/serge the hem, then fold up 1/2 inch, press, and zigzag stitch close to the edge. However, there are a number of other methods:
– Skip the overlocking step, fold up 1/2 inch, press, and edgestitch.
– Fold once by 1/2 inch and fold again by 1/2 inch, press, and edgestitch (this will shorten the hem by 1 inch).
– Single fold by 1/2 inch and use a double-needle to mimic a professional finish.
Whatever method you choose, once you’ve sewn the hem, you’re all done! Enjoy your new lovely dress!

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96 Responses to Versatile Knit Dress from Sewing Happiness

  1. Eleanor says:

    I love this – so cute!

  2. Diana says:

    Wow! This dress and instructions look amazing. I want to try knit as I continue on the sewing journey that’s taking me away from my grief. I can’t wait to read the book as well.

  3. Kristen says:

    I would like to read more about your path to a healthier life, as well as see more of the patterns!

  4. Rena Pearson says:

    Sewing is always therapeutic! Lovely book.

  5. melanie c says:

    Love this pattern! The book looks fabulous!

  6. katherine scholl says:

    This pattern would make a great cover-up over a swimsuit too. Lots of possibilities.

  7. Julie Manouchehri says:

    Wow! These instructions (and the awesome illustrations) suddenly make my fear of knits seem really silly, I’m excited to try it now.

  8. Leah Casper says:

    What a fun blog! I stumbled upon it and am delighted-thank you for your work. This book looks like an inspiration and a great gift idea too.

  9. Sandy K says:

    Wonderful dress, looks so comfy.

  10. Vicki H says:

    Love the dress. Great tutorial.

  11. Ellen M. says:

    It’s intimidating to think of making clothes without a pattern, but Sanae makes it look easy. What a beautiful book!

  12. Jamie says:

    This dress looks so flattering for my body type, short and a little curvy. I have the perfect knit, just need the time to sew it!

  13. Tiffany says:

    Love this dress!!! My New Years resolution is to make myself a few items…scares me to death lol! I’d love to win the book, your instructions are pretty understandable to me, which is amazing for my poor head. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Dawn Jones says:

    I love knit skirts, this dress looks awesome!

  15. Kate says:

    I understand well how one can lose ones sorrows in the act of making and crafting — and this book looks like a lovely companion for some of that soul medicine!

  16. kim t. says:

    looks like a neat book!

  17. Pam says:

    I love the idea of sewing as a healing endeavor.

  18. Sonya says:

    I’d love to win this book. I’ve had cold feet about sewing my own clothes for too long. I’ve made numerous costumes for my daughter with luck and stitch witchery. I feel like I’m ready to make permanent garments, and this book looks perfect for my needs; detailed instruction, a year’s worth of projects, and a great story.

  19. Jenny Truong says:

    awesome comfy dress!

  20. Tami Durfey says:

    My daughter would love to win this! She is excited to sew new things and this would give her lots of ideas!

  21. Laura says:

    Great tutorial. Would love to win.

  22. Carmen N says:

    What a great wardrobe staple – I need to make one (or 1/2 dozen)!

  23. Beth says:

    Love “simple” Japanese style sewing– Would love to win a copy of this book.

  24. Sarah says:

    yay. this looks like such a great project. i’d love to win.

  25. Mary M says:

    This book looks amazing. I’d love to read about her journey with health, wellness and sewing. And the projects look like fun. Thanks for the dress pattern!

  26. Christine Montgomery says:

    The book sounds beautiful and I love the simple instructions for this dress. Thanks!

  27. Andi M says:

    I would love a copy of this book. It seems to make garment sewing much easier!

  28. Linda Gagliano says:

    I love that she’s sharing her story. I find as I grow older that the meaningful part is as important as the sewing.

  29. Marianne says:

    I love Sanae’s blog! Thanks for the pattern, I would love to get my hands on her book.

  30. Claire Ross says:

    This looks like a fab book. Thanks for the giveaway x

  31. Brenda says:

    Great tutorial, and a great dress for summer. Looks like it could hardly be easier. Would love to win the book and see the rest of her projects!

  32. Jennifer says:

    This book looks so lovely. I’m so grateful that this book tour has introduced me to Sanae Ishida and her blog. I have a lot of catching up to do!

  33. NitaPaula says:

    I would love to win this book and give it to my friend. She would love it!

  34. Delia Jones says:

    After spending the day with a friend sewing, I feel much more refreshed. I look forward to reading Sewing Happiness.

  35. Alana says:

    I love this dress!!

  36. Brenda Bailey says:

    I really enjoyed this tutorial and want to try this with an empire waist design. Thanks for making the instructions so clear and simple! I rediscovered the joys of sewing many years after I had stopped for years. You give me the courage to try to make some clothes for my unique “matronly” figure.

  37. Rebecca Pelletier says:

    This book looks great! I ? reading Sanae’s inspiring blog.

  38. Emma says:

    What a beautiful dress! I would love to have this book and try out the other projects.

  39. Amy MacKay says:

    I have always been a sewist, however, I had taken a long break from it. After going through a tough bought in my life, I too decided to get back to my favorite hobby. I JUST created a sewing space for myself and can’t wait to get back to sewing. Your book seems like a perfect inspiration!

  40. Ruth L says:

    I love the versatility of this dress – I can’t wait to find the perfect knit fabric and get busy creating! Thanks!

  41. Terri Zepp says:

    I really like the fun and simple instructions. What a great dress! Cool and comfy. Thanks for sharing and all best wishes for Sanae. 🙂 I am going to have to give this one a shot. (I quilt constantly, but have always wanted an easy starter dress to learn on….).

  42. Tina Jeo says:

    Love the simplicity and easiness of this dress.

  43. Jessica W says:

    I love how the dress turned out. The fabric is so chic

  44. Lori Morton says:

    Thank you soooo much for sharing your pattern! Love, love LOOOVE this dress! (& yep…big chicken to sew knits! lol Your directions sound so encouraging..I am sure I can follow with a successful outcome!)

    Thank you too, for chance to win your Give-a-way! 😀

  45. Heather S says:

    This looks like a wonderful book, I would la la LOVE to win and use it!

  46. sangeetha says:

    that is a versatile dress. and the instructions make it sound simple.

  47. Beth says:

    Looks like a wonderful book!

  48. Jessica Hansen says:

    If this had sleeves it really would be the work horse pattern for me she says it would be. It is really cute! I bet the book would be a great read. Isn’t it great how creating things and being productive can make you feel so much better about everything ever?

  49. Cinnamom in MN says:

    Looks very helpful, thankyou.

  50. kathyh in OR says:

    This looks like an interesting book. Thanks for the giveaway.

  51. Cindy says:

    This book looks like one that would be very useful, and a great gift for whomever wins it. I have also recently resolved to sew most of my own clothes. I have found with each project, that my skills improve and my confidence level is rising. I think the most amazing transformation for me
    is that I now can create things I love to wear, without regard to current trends.

  52. Phyllis H says:

    I admire you courage and tenacity. When I had my stroke Dec 1 2014, I made changes in my life too. I decided do only things that made me happy. Sewing is my love so I to have a lot of new clothes that I really like. The dress is just my style. To your happiness Sanae.

  53. Crystal Rose in MN says:

    What a neat dress and a neat idea for a book.

  54. karen in CA USA says:

    What is that fabric used on the shorter dress in the last picture? It’s so cool!

  55. Susan Grancio says:

    Excellent directions! Now to look for some likely fabric.

  56. Margo in WA says:

    What a great simple dress! Thanks for the free pattern. I would love to check this book out!

  57. Kathy says:

    That dress looks really comfortable for summer!

  58. Michelle says:

    What a lovely dress! Knit dresses are my go-to as well, especially when I want to feel adorable and be comfy (which is practically always). Looking forward to getting this book, it’s on my to-buy list now.

  59. Lesley says:

    I’ve lately been interested in trying to see my own clothes

  60. Jessica C says:

    The dress looks effortless and chic!

  61. Emina C. says:

    I have always liked (and used in the past) simple beauty of Japanese patterns. Both for sewing and also a beauty of Japanese design in crochet. This just proves the point – while not a new idea she has taken it to another (pretty) level.

  62. Great article on constructing a knit dress!

  63. Charlotte in Ga says:

    Looks like a great pattern and book.

  64. Marilyn says:

    Love the dress!

  65. Samina says:

    That’s the perfect dress for me to spend this summer in! Thanks for the great tutorial.

  66. Carole Williams says:

    Very good instructions with good illustrations should permit making this dress easier than doing it on my own. I will have to find some knit and try it very soon. Thanks for the information.

  67. Debby says:

    I have been really wanting to try and sew a summer dress. This has really encouraged me to give it a go. Sewing has been my happy place as I try to de-stress and get healthy! Book looks amazing.

  68. alexa says:

    I adore her blog and am really excited for her new book.

  69. Monica says:

    I love the dress. It reminds me of dresses I wore in the 80’s 90’s. Its simple and comfy.

  70. Kara says:

    What a lovely concept of sewing through the year – looks like a great book!

  71. Jessica says:

    This looks like an interesting book!

  72. beth p says:

    Sounds like a lovely book! Thanks for the giveaway.

  73. Kathy Hassig says:

    Seems simple enough for me to try! Thanks

  74. Athena says:

    I’ve always wanted to see my own clothes but my one attempt was horid. I tried to sew pajama pants as a Christmas gift for my sister. Somehow I ended up with pants small enough for her 5 year old daughter instead! Want to try again however.

  75. MelodyJ says:

    This has some nice simple designs.

  76. Lee says:

    I love the design of this dress – looks like an awesome book!

  77. Shannon Phillips says:

    I love the fabric she used for the dress! Looks comfy!

  78. --Anu says:

    I have been looking forward to this release!

  79. Ashley says:

    The dress is lovely and you make it sound so easy! I will have to give it a try!

  80. Alissa Schade says:

    This books looks amazing!!

  81. Cynthia Meredith says:

    The book looks fantastic!

  82. Ali news says:

    What a lovely book

  83. Jeri Savoie says:

    The dress s lovely, and the book is too!

  84. Kate says:

    This is a lovely tutorial!

  85. Linda says:

    Looks neat! Thanks!

  86. HeatherK says:

    That dress looks so comfortable. I’m definitely going to find this book so I can see the rest of the projects. Thanks for sharing!

  87. Alison says:

    I am scared to try sewing with knits, but perhaps this book would help.

  88. KarenH in OK says:

    That is such a cute dress!

  89. Emily from MT says:

    Ooh I love her blog! So happy to get a peek at her new book! I’d love a chance to win a copy! Thanks!

  90. Kathy Oettle says:

    Hi I’m a beginner sewer. I enjoyed the excerpt from the book and I hope to read more on the future 🙂

  91. Laura says:

    Would love to win a copy!

  92. That is a pretty dress! My favorite fabric to wear is knit because it is so comfy!

  93. Gloria says:

    I have never tried to draw my own pattern but this makes it look, if not easy, do-able. Thanks.

  94. Tonia Jeffery says:

    Looks like a great and comfy dress!

  95. Kathy E. says:

    The Versatile Knit Dress looks like the perfect summer component for my wardrobe. I love it both the long and short versions. It would also look great with a light sweater or jacket for those cooler evenings. Thanks for sharing the tutorial!

  96. Mandi in CO says:

    This is the kind of yearlong project I could get into! I’m totally interested in this book.

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