A TALE OF TWO DRESSES & ONE PATTERN (Simplicity 8051)
These two dresses are made from the same pattern using different fabric types and made about a year and a half apart from each other. I have grown a lot as a sewist since the first dress. Also, I had some fitting issues in the first dress which I tried to solve in the second. I guess this is why people make muslins. Modifications include adding a bra shelf and cups, fitting, and adding pockets.
Total Cost for Both Dresses:
Pattern: $20 (JoAnns)
Fabric: Free (family destash)
Buttons: ~$6 (JoAnns)
Zippers: ~$2 (Goodwill)
Bra cups: Free (recycled)
Elastic: ~$1 (recycled)
Total: $29 for both dresses
Estimated Retail: $52 - $400*
*based on a Google shopping search for 2 dresses. I was unable to find any dresses in this description with pockets however.
A couple of years ago, I was just getting back into sewing and I actually bought a NEW sewing pattern from JoAnn’s. If you have followed the blog so far, you may have noticed this isn’t normal for me. Now, I normally buy patterns secondhand and make do. Otherwise, I try to also support indie pattern companies. However, this purchase happened before that era of my making journey began.
The pattern is Simplicity 8051. I bought it at JoAnn’s, but you can get it for significantly cheaper off of the Simplicity website (linked). I was drawn to the pattern because of the lovely shape; I love a nice, full skirt and a fitted waist. And the keyhole detail at the back pushed me to purchase.
One thing I really really love about this pattern aside from the obvious, is that it is available in two views that flatter different body shapes. I made the dress in view A which has a gathered bodice to make me look more endowed. View B has a lower cut with a cut more amenable to a bra which is great for women who need the extra support.
Both fabrics were given to me by folks who didn’t want them anymore. The fabric for the first dress is a salmon colored denim that was destashed by my wasband’s grandma after she moved into a nursing home. For the lining, I used more destash from her. I’m not crazy about this loud pattern, but I wanted to use it up and it matched the denim (kind of).
The second dress is an emerald green cotton which has a significantly more interesting backstory (see below), it’s from my mother. I have about 6 more yards of this green and I have no idea what to make with it. Maybe a button-up shirt? 12 button-up shirts?
BACKSTORY ABOUT GREEN FABRIC & STUPID HORSES: The green fabric was bought to act as a curtain so that my mom’s horse wouldn’t notice other horses while at large horse shows. My mom actually tacks up fabric on the sides of the stalls she rents at horse shows because her horse gets so attached to his neighbors overnight that he flips out when they leave. So the curtains stop him from developing a co-dependency with strange horses. If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right.
This pattern has a zippered back (which I made a poor job of in both dresses). It calls for an invisible zipper, but I didn’t use one for either because I kind of like having a visible zipper. Both zippers came from a grab bag pack I found at Goodwill for a few bucks. This was an especially great thrift score for me, but it’s a bittersweet memory now that I’m almost out of zippers from that bag.
The buttons were a tough call for me. I hemmed and hawed over buttons for the pink dress for a long time and because I had a lot of trouble fitting the neckline, I ended up going with one, bigger button, instead of 3 smaller ones. For the green dress, I used little pewter buttons I had leftover from the Bit of Funk Sweater.
The real dirty secret on the pink dress is that I didn’t really know how to make buttonholes on my machine when I made it, so the button is non-functioning! To put this dress on, I just unzip it and slip it over my head. I felt awfully guilty about this until I finished the same dress in green. I did a pretty good job for those buttons, but I still have a heck of a time getting them buttoned myself and I don’t have a doting husband to button them for me. So I actually keep this neckline buttoned and slip this dress over my head too. This is probably an important life lesson for me to not feel so guilty about my mistakes. ...or something.
When I finished the bodice of the pink dress, I was horrified to find that it was awfully tight. I thought I got the measurements just right, but it squeezed me terribly under the arms and was almost impossible to get on and off. With interfacing, lining, and several pieces working together, I was really worried about how to fix this issue. I ended up with a jerry-rigged solution for the pink dress and kept notes on the pattern for what I would change next time:
For the pink dress: Instead of having loops and buttons meet in the back, I added a couple of inches of fabric on each side of the back neckline and did one button (non-functional...see above).
For the green dress: When I cut out the back pieces for the neck, I added a couple of inches on the button side.
For the pink dress: To solve the tight armpits, I sliced down the side seam, cut through the interfacing and inserted a little triangle of the lining fabric to widen the bodice just under the arm. It doesn’t look great on the inside, but I like the little pop of contrast there that you can see on the outside.
For the green dress: I was determined not to have to slice through the interfacing on the green dress, so I widened the bodice pieces before I cut them out. This would have worked great except that I forgot to add length to the corresponding piece of interfacing. As such, I ended up with bodice pieces that fit well but an interfacing piece that didn’t line up. Luckily, I’m too cheap to deal with actual interfacing most of the time, I had just used the same green fabric, so I cut it’s curve a little deeper to give myself some more space and just eased it out. It doesn’t lay quite right, but it gets the job done and the outside looks fine.
I have a very long torso. I know this, but I didn’t account for it when making the first dress. By the time I was adding the waist to the bodice, I noted that the skirt was going to start a bit above my waistline.
For the pink dress: I didn’t want to go cut out new pieces, so I just decreased the seam allowance to ⅓” on the top and the bottom of waist pieces. This didn’t work great, but it wasn’t terrible. The waist on the pink dress is just above my natural waist and makes me look just a touch heavier than I really am.
For the green dress: My second time around, I made the waist pieces about an inch longer so that line of the skirt sits at my natural waist. This worked out well I believe, and this fitting change (plus the thinner weave of the green over the pink) made the green dress more flattering to my figure.
Adding a bra shelf and cups:
I had originally intended to just sew in some old bra cups so I wouldn’t have to worry about my bra showing in the back peek-a-boo. However, there wasn’t really a great place to stitch it in without it being visible. So instead of just sewing in cups, I added an internal bra shelf. To do this for the first time, I referred to a great tutorial I had pinned years ago.
To make the piece for the inner bra shelf, I made a new pattern piece out of newspaper. I lined up the bodice’s existing armpit curve and decreased the size of the center of the piece so that it wouldn’t include any gathering. After that, I just sewed a piece of 1” elastic along the bottom. (This elastic was recycled from the waistline of baby pants.) I then sewed in cups from an old bra whose elastic had worn out. I added this bra shelf to the pink dress after the dress was finished. To sew it in, I stitched in the ditch of the bodice and neck pieces so the seam wouldn’t be so visible.
For the green dress, I added the bra shelf in as I created the bodice. Because of this, I was able to sew it in at the same time I sewed the neckline to the regular bodice. This made it look nicer and was easier in the long run. One regret I have with the green dress bra shelf is that I used fold-over elastic I purchased for underwear making instead of the 1” elastic. This foldover elastic feels nicer to wear, but I didn’t account for it’s extra stretchiness, so I had to fiddle with it a bit to get the right amount of support.
There’s an extra red-neck touch in the green dress bra shelf. I wanted a bit of extra padding (because I have tiny boobs) so I actually cut open the bra cups and inserted clean waste wool leftover from spinning to give them a little more oomph. I’m amazed that this worked. But it actually did. After that, I sewed in the cups as described in the tutorial (linked above).
The last big extra I added onto these dresses were pockets. As you may know, I’m all about creating rules for clothes, and one rule I have for dresses is that they must have pockets! For the pink dress, I added in extra pieces of fabric to keep the lining from showing and made the pockets about the same shape as my hand. These turned out a bit smaller than I would like (my phone doesn’t fit in them very well).
For the green dress, I didn’t add in the extra fabric pieces and just added a 1” x 6” little outcropped section to the skirt panels on the outsides before I cut it out for the pieces. When I sewed the side seams together, I didn’t sew these little sections together. Instead I folded them inwards and then sewed in pocket pieces which I traced off a pants pattern. To keep them laying nicely, I topstitched them down with a decorative stitch. I really like the way this turned out.
In my head, I would love to make this dress again with a ton of embroidery. The pink dress just has one little flower embroidered on the skirt. The green dress as a little lily embroidered on the center waist. This embroidery took a bit more planning because I had to add it before I lined the waist. Also, my embroidery machine tried to eat the fabric and actually made a tiny hole in the waist. I sewed this closed with a matching thread and it’s hardly noticeable at all. However, it has turned me off to my embroidery machine for a bit.
I was hoping to do french seams for the inside of the skirt, but my instinct to sew right sides together got the best of me before I could remember that little detail. So the internal skirt isn’t very lovely.
When I made the pink dress, I also made a pair of capris and shorts out the same fabric as the lining. This is really fun because the skirt flies up easily, so I can always feel confident my underduds aren’t showing. I also made a matching clutch out of the fabric as practice for a commission. It’s awfully fun to be able to go out with a matching dress and purse.
Muslins can be really nice! I certainly had a lot fewer headaches and heartaches making the second dress than I did making the first. Also, I was dealt a powerful lesson in the behavior of different fabrics. While the pink denim seems ridiculous for this little dress, its heft actually makes the dress fly up more when I twirl than the cotton lawn does. I would consider making the waste and neck of this dress in a lighter fabric and still doing a bit heavier for the skirt and bodice.
Do they adhere to my rules?
Ethical: The fabric and zippers for these dresses are secondhand. Although I did a fair amount of cursing, I don’t think any human rights violations or major environmental harm occurred. Check!
Affordable: Aside from the pattern, the supplies for both dresses combined cost less than $20. Considering I’ve worn the pink one dozens of times and will probably wear the green one plenty, I’d say check!
Comfortable: Especially with the bra shelves, theses dresses are quite comfortable. The pockets make them useful to wear. Check!
Beautiful: They’re not show-stoppers. But I feel great wearing these dresses and I love the peek-a-boo back! Check!