Some say there’s “nothing new under the sun” in fashion, and that it’s all been done before. However, style evolves constantly. Case in point: the classic tie-shoulder girls dress. If you regularly sew children’s clothes, chances are you already have the Oliver and S “Popover” or The Cottage Mama “Picnic Dress” (both are free downloads). You may have a vintage pattern for a similar style. I’ve had this design in my little Etsy shop for so many years that my once-little models are now in Middle School:
Violette Field Threads new “London” dress pattern is a classic in the same vein as all of these, however it is updated with a twist: an enormous sweep, perfect for twirling:
Could you take a pattern that you already have, and increase the sweep? Of course…but since this pattern is free (if you join the VFT Facebook group) why bother with all the calculations? Why not just get this one?
Even a free pattern costs time and energy, so I tested this one to see if it is a “keeper”. The printout is quick and easy, as there are only 4 pattern pieces and all are identical front-to-back:
- Bodice (on fold)
- Armscye cutout
- Skirt (on fold)
- Ruffle (on fold)
(You can save on ink and tape/glue by drawing your own skirt pattern pieces to the measurement chart provided, or simply marking your fabric directly with tailor’s chalk and cutting, or ripping rectangles.)
A design purist might argue that even a simple pop-over-the-head style as this should be drafted with a specific fronts and backs: the back bodice should be wider across than the front, the back bodice should sit higher on the body than the front (ie; the back skirt should be cut a higher height than the front), and the back armscye should be more shallow than the front. That is how I draft my heirloom gowns, but I’m perfectly fine with a mirrored front and back for a quick un-fitted summer dress.
You also need bias tape, and if you are not purchasing packaged tape, there is a tutorial included for cutting your own fabric strips on the bias. However, it requires a full yard of fabric. I have a more fabric-efficient method for cutting bias here. Even with the 2″ width bias strips that you need for this dress, you’ll get enough for 2+ dresses out of 5/8 yard of fabric. If you choose a neutral like a dot or check, it’ll go with multiple prints:
Onto the muslin: the beauty of mirrored front-back garments is that you only need to muslin either the front OR the back. I cut out a lightweight muslin in size 2, gathered the skirt to match up with the bodice…and discovered that my ruffler can’t gather that tight:
A reader explained to me that the pattern was designed using essentially width-of-fabric for all sizes. For me, because I sew to sell and must have size-proportionate garments, that just won’t work. As it is, the skirt pattern results in these ratios:
- Size 2: skirt 36.5″ to bodice 7″ = ratio 5.2
- Size 3: skirt 37″ to bodice 7.5″ = ratio 4.9
- Size 4: skirt 37.5″ to bodice 7.75 = ratio 4.8
- Size 5: skirt 38″ to bodice 8.25″ = ratio 4.6
- Size 6: skirt 39″ to bodice 8.75″ = ratio 4.4
- Size 7: skirt 39″ to bodice 9.25″ = ratio 4.2
- Size 8: skirt 39.5″ to bodice 9.75″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 9/10: skirt 40″ to bodice 9.75 = ratio 4.1
That 5.2 to 1 ratio is why I couldn’t get the skirt gathered tight enough to fit the bodice.
I regraded the skirt so that all sizes have the same gathering ratio:
- Size 2: skirt 29″ to bodice 7″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 3: skirt 31″ to bodice 7.5″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 4: skirt 32″ to bodice 7.75 = ratio 4.1
- Size 5: skirt 34″ to bodice 8.25″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 6: skirt 36″ to bodice 8.75″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 7: skirt 38″ to bodice 9.25″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 8: skirt 40″ to bodice 9.75″ = ratio 4.1
- Size 9/10: skirt 40″ to bodice 9.75 = ratio 4.1
I regraded the skirt widths:
….trimmed down the skirt muslin width:
….and re-gathered. Much better:
NOTE: Every fabric quality “gathers” differently. Obviously chiffon can gather with a far greater ratio than linen. It’s important to use a muslin weight that is as close as possible to the fabric you plan on sewing. Even if you skip the muslin process, I would suggest gathering a strip of your dress fabric to see what ratio works best. You don’t even need to cut a piece of fabric to do this, just put the end of the fabric bolt through your gathering foot or gather using basting stitches, whatever method you prefer. You can remove the stitches afterwards, so no fabric is lost.
I just realized that since the bodices of size 8 and size 9/10 have the same width measurement, I’ll need to re-grade a new wider size 9/10 bodice pattern.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: Pattern has been revised, you can log in to VFT.com and redownload your pattern
So here is my muslin, bodice cut exactly from the pattern, and skirt gathered as tightly as my gathering foot will allow for this muslin weight. I’m really happy with the sweep and fullness:
Bodice height? What do you think? The instructions say “The London pattern is designed to feature a very short front and back bodice. If you prefer it to be slightly longer, simply add up to 5/8″ to the bottom edge.”
Adding an extension to the bodice can be a bit tricky, since anything you do one part of a pattern always has repercussions. I believe the pattern file will be updated soon with an explanation with photos to show how to process this design tip.
For myself, I added to the top of the bodice (5/8″) because the neckline appeared too low/bare to me, however the designer prefers adding to the bottom edge.
UPDATE 5/2/2017: Pattern has been revised with photo instructions for adding height to the bottom of the bodice, you can log in to VFT.com and redownload your pattern:
The muslin total garment length measures 16 1/2″ at center-front, pretty close to the size chart. But I have concerns about the length grading to the rest of the size range. On the Finished Measurement Chart, it says the finished-garment length grade rule is:
- 1″ between sizes 2,3,4,5, and 6
- 2″ between sizes 6 and 7
- 1″ between size 7 and 8,
- 2″ between sizes 8 and 9/10
On the skirt pattern piece alone, the grades range from 3/4″ to 1 and 3/4″. If you add up the CF height grade of the bodice, plus the skirt, plus the ruffle, you get these total Center Front grades:
- Size 2 to 3: 1/4″ + 1″ + 0″ = 1″
- Size 3 to 4: 1/4″ + 3/4″ + 0″ = 1″
- Size 4 to 5: 1/4″ + 1 1/2″ + 1″ = 2 3/4″
- Size 5 to 6: 1/4″ + 3/4″ + 0″ = 1″
- Size 6 to 7: 1/4″ + 1 3/4″ + 0″ = 2″
- Size 7 to 8: 1/4″ + 3/4″ + 0″ = 1″
- Size 8 to 9/10: 1/4″ + 3/4″ + 0″ = 1″
That’s a big jump from size 4 to 5: the skirt jumps 1 1/2″ plus the ruffle jumps 1″. The Finished Measurement chart says the dresses increase from 18″ total length in size 4 to 19″ total length in size 5. Actually a size 5 finished garment measures over 20″ in CF length. So if you take an order for a dress and quote the length as per the chart, it’s best to adjust the skirt pattern length first, otherwise you might need alterations.
- I graded the bodice for a true size 9/10, and then add 5/8″ to the top of all sizes however the designer advises she will update the pattern to explain how to add 5/8″ or so to the bottom, which she prefers.
- I graded down the skirt width ratio , and re-graded the skirt length with a standard rule
I went back and re-graded the 9/10 bodice width by connecting the dots and extending the lines :
….drew in the new neckline:
…then extended the bottom edge for size 9/10:
…and finally drew in the new armscye:
Next I added 5/8″ to the bodice height:
…drew in the new higher size 9/10 neckline:
…and finished by extending the armsye up 5/8″:
….and then followed through with adding 5/8″ height to the tops of all of the bodice sizes:
NOTE: any adjustments to the bodice must be made also to the armhole template. I photocopied and pasted the adjusted bodice pattern piece to the armhole pattern piece, then extended the adjusted size 9/10 bodice (green line) to the side-seam:.
…and then filled in the other sizes:
Now the height of the armhole template exactly coordinates with the height of the bodice: BOTH have been increased in height by 5/8″.
Then I re-graded the skirt width because of the new size 9/10 bodice, and then re-graded the skirt height by subtracting the bodice height and ruffle height from the center-front finished garment height:
Time to cut into “real” fabric:
….and this is the result:
Super-cute, right? And, since the skirt pattern is rectangular, this is a perfect pattern for border prints or horizontal stripes!