Wrapping myself in all things wrap-around

A wrap-around skirt, along with a wrap-around dress, came into my life this summer. Their arrival left me suddenly wondering why I had left these oh-so cute and very handy pieces of clothing back in the nineties, along with my jersey sunflower twin set, with the frilled-trim hemline.

The skirt was found at a church table sale, along with armfuls of other circa 1998 "must-haves" (and when I say "must haves" I really mean, 'it would be rude not to take them when the stallholder has offered you all you can carry for a fiver'). Also in the haul was a mini dress with a lace trimmed neckline and a crisscross tie up back, green jelly shoes with rusty buckles that have since disintegrated, among other things that at the time, I could not live without (okay, obviously slight exaggeration), but have since forgotten.

daisy skirt_1
daisy skirt_2

As you can see, the skirt is short (far too short for me) and quite flimsy. It has not been made very well, as the front facing isn't quite in place, and parts of it just seem a little sad and sorry. Although I am quite sure it is my size, there is barely enough fabric to fit around me properly. But don't you just love that daisy print? It instantly make me feel happy. It is the most perfect thing to wear around the house on a sticky summer day (okay, I won't lie, I have worn it beyond the front door, and paid for it considerably when the first gush of wind blew). Lesson learned (until next summer, when I have forgotten the pitfalls of this particular skirt).

So onto the lovely wrap-around dress. Which, thankfully, I can wear outside without the fear of exposing that bit too much leg to passers-by.

Magical mystery tour_1

The wrap around dress came from a magical mystery tour I unbelievably took to Spain over the summer.

A long story short, I somehow managed to spend a day in a lovely old retro flat in Madrid, madly trying on piles of vintage dresses, skirts, blouses and coats, and then cramming all I could fit, into a suitcase (along with a haul of handbags and gloves, that are so petite that I can barely squeeze my hands into them) and dragging my treasure trove back to London, all in the same day. 

Magical mystery tour_2

The photos don't really do the place, or the trip, justice, as they were speedily taken with my phone between treasure hunting trips in each of the rooms. The place was a deceased estate, so the family had just pulled all the clothes out and layed them wherever they could fit, for lucky people like me to trawl through.

Magical mystery tour_3

The fantasy ended abruptly when I got back home and the boyfriend told me that our room smelt like a charity shop (and not in the good way) and I had to stash my haul back in the suitcase under our bed. Since then I have been removing items, piece-by-piece, giving them a quick spray of vodka and a sunshine session, and then easing them into my already overflowing wardrobe. A few work perfectly, but some are in line to receive a bit of TLC when I get the time (mainly little things like missing buttons and scary 1970's pointed collars needing adjusting).

Back to the beloved wrap-around dress.

wrap dress

In the haul, there were two of these handmade beauties. I decided to part with one of the dresses, as it would be rude not to share one of these winning pieces with one of my favourite lady friends; while this one slipped so effortlessly into my wardrobe that I wondered how I had coped without it for so long.

As you may notice, the design of it is a little strange, as the overlapped part of the skirt and buttons are at the back (which for those of us who are not contortionists know can be very awkward to get into), so I have solved the problem by wearing it backwards (one of the few times that I am thankful that my front is as flat as my back).

So after falling in love with two wrap around pieces in a matter of weeks, I thought it was time to take what I love about these two pieces and make something of my own. I know this is probably not the ideal time to be writing a post about a sleeveless wrap-around dress, but I am just going to do it anyway, as there are places in the world where it is warm right now, and there are holidays to be had!

wrap dress_3

And that is how the wrap dress was born (not very original name I know. I had previously given it the nickname the "Purple-People-Eater" dress, but now realise that it makes little or no sense whatsoever in relation to the dress, if you take the fabric away).

I bravely jumped at the fabric when I came across it at a fabric shop in Walthamstow. New owners had moved into the shop and they were trying to get rid of the old stock, so I picked up this fabric for £1 per metre (although I have been back since and it doesn't look like their prices have increased above the "Grab-everything-you-possibly-can" clearance sale prices).

wrap dress_4

I wanted my new dress to have the same wrap-skirt as the original dress, but a different bodice, as the original bodice is quite awkward in design. I went for a basic shape, with princecess panels for fit, and buttons down the centre front (excuse the dodgy sewing of the princess panel line - I probably should have been more careful!)

wrap dress_5

The dress features in-seam pockets, because, as you may already know, I love pockets!

The pattern didn't take long to make, as I have my blocks on hand, and didn't require too many adjustments.

This pattern is not a difficult one to make. There are a number of steps required to transform the two separate blocks (bodice block and skirt block) into this dress, but none of them are overly challenging for the novice pattern maker.

I will split the tutorials over a handful of posts, because otherwise it will be information overload, and you may fall asleep at your computer and end up with a keyboard shape imprint on your right cheek, if I do it all at once.

Before getting started on transforming my bodice darts to princess panels, I made a few minor adjustments.

I lowered the armhole, for ease and comfort. 

I also reduced my shoulder measurement from 12cm to 8cm (by shortening at either end and redrawing neckline and armhole).

Princess panels

To transform the bodice block into the princess panels I was dreaming of, is quite a simple pattern maneuver.

Take the front and back pattern pieces.

These are not my original blocks. To get to this point I had moved the front shoulder dart to the armhole, and added the back shoulder dart to the back waist. 

You will be separating each pattern into two separate pieces, and eliminating the darts all together. The panel lines will provide the shaping you require for fit around the bust and waist.

Start with the front pattern. 

To avoid pointy Madonna breasts, you will need to change the rigid angles of the dart arms into smooth curves.

Draw a line that follows the lower dart arm at the armhole, and gradually curves as it approaches the dart point (start curving the line a couple of centimetres back from the dart point). Continue the curved line so that it meets the outside arm of the waist dart and continue along dart arm, to waist.

You will see that this new line has removed the sharp corner at the bust point.

Move onto the next panel (centre front) and do the same thing. This time the curve will be concave, rather than the convex curve of the side panel. 

As you can see, to make this curve, a small amount will need to be added at the point of the curve. This will even out the amount that was removed from the side front panel (as you can see, this small triangle has been relocated from one side to the other).

Trace each pattern onto a separate piece of pattern paper, so that you will have two independent patterns.

Repeat process for the back pattern piece.

Checking seams

Before adding seam allowance, it is important that you check how the seams fit together.

It may sound tedious, but is is really important that you ALWAYS check that your patterns fit together correctly before going on ahead and cutting your fabric.

It may seem a bit over the top to check each seam, but taking a few minutes to check your patterns at this stage can save you cutting out incorrect patterns and wasting precious time and fabric later on . I previously wrote a post about how to go about checking straight seams, but the process is slightly different for curves.

Take the patterns you are checking and focus on the curved seams, and how they fit together.

Match the seams together, as if you were sewing them (one on top of the other). You may need to flip one upside-down (which is the case in the example).

If you are checking patterns that do not have seam allowance you can simply match the edges. If your patterns have seam allowance, make sure you are matching the stitching lines and not the edge of the patterns (this is when transparent pattern paper is very handy).

Before turning the pattern to continue following the seam, mark a notch (make sure you transfer it onto the pattern underneath too). Curved seams can be difficult to sew - so mark notches at regular intervals, to make it easier later on.

Just like when you pivot a sleeve to see how it fits into the armhole, you will need to use a stiletto (or a sharp pencil or pin) to hold the patterns together, while the lower pattern stays in place and you rotate the upper pattern. As you rotate, the seams will come in line again. Once they are in line, hold in place and move the point of the stiletto to the next pivot point.

Continue rotating the pattern until you reach the end of the seam.

Mark another notch. Once again, ensure the notch is transferred onto both pattern pieces.

Check that the seams are the same length. 

As you can see in the example, the lower panel is slightly longer than the other pattern).

If it is only longer (or shorter) by a small amount (up to 1cm), simply trim off the excess.

If the discrepancy is bigger, you will need to remove half the excess from the length of one pattern, and add the other half to the other pattern, so that they are the same length.

And voila! The patterns are now checked and notched and ready for seam allowance. The next tutorial will guide you through how to add an extension for buttons on the centre back or centre front.

Until then, happy drafting!

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