Copycat: a favourite dress

This was a request from my super little sister. I forget who bought her this dress, but it fitted wonderfully and could be dressed up and down for many occasions, so naturally she wore it to death (as you can see below)!
Copying a damaged garment that can no longer be worn is in many ways much easier than copying one still in use... you can take it apart! This dress was a lovely simple design made from separate top and skirt pieces and given shape with pleats and darts.

Worn to death favourite garment

TECHNIQUE 1: Pick it apart.

With a garment that won't be worn again, the temptation is to cut along the seams to quickly free up the pieces you need to copy. But I find taking the time to unpick the garment instead will reap several rewards. 

Firstly, you get to see how the piece is actually constructed, from the type of seam finish to the hem depth and the order of seam construction. You will also end up with a pile of pieces ready for tracing which already have seam allowances added. Finally, subtle shaping needed to allow for things like pleats will be visible when you smooth out the unpicked piece, where you may have otherwise produced a rather blunt straight edge by cutting.

TECHNIQUE 2: Know your pattern rules!

This is where some basic pattern cutting knowledge from a good book will come in handy. However well you press your pieces out and however carefully you draw around them, fabric (and particularly fabric that has been worn to death!) distorts easily and can lead to a pattern mishap if you just go on your traced shapes. The first thing to remember is to look for symmetrical pieces and trace only one half, as you will cut these on the fold.

A few things to check when you have traced them all off (the pros call this "truing" the pattern):

- Do your seams match in length? This means checking side seams front-to-back, as well as side-to-side for symmetry; and checking shoulder and waist seams likewise.
- Do the armholes make 90 degree angles at the seam?
- Is the neckline symmetrical and does it form a smooth curve from front to back piece?
- Have you transferred markings for darts and pleats?
- Are your darts symmetrical?

This dress presented an interesting challenge, because the front has an asymmetrical drape which means when unpicked and pressed flat, it forms a very odd shape indeed! This asymmetrical piece is not something you can cut on the fold! So once I had done the first tracing, I tidied up one armhole (on the more "normal" side) and then traced over it a second time on fresh paper to transfer the same curve to the other armhole, which had been rather more distorted and came out looking very wonky. I made the neck curve symmetrical using the same approach. To my amazement, the side seams matched perfectly! 

There are some brilliant tutorials on pattern cutting at The Cutting Class.

Sewing pattern drafting cutting rules

TECHNIQUE 3: Binding curved edges.

This is tricky to get right on fabrics that you can accidentally stretch our of shape. First I bought some amazing black faux leather bias tape I found at the brilliant Maculloch & Wallis, but once on I realised it was too wide and not stretchy enough, and pulled the armholes out of shape so that they gaped. So I unpicked it all again... luckily this fabric is very resilient and had not a mark left on it!

Open in Google Maps
There is a really helpful tutorial on binding and banding knit armholes and necklines over at Colette, which immediately helped me to realise the basis of the problem I was having. I highly recommend it if you're stuck finishing knit edges!

The gist of the issue was that the length of bias I was using matched the length at the point it was sewn on the armhole, which is nearly a centimetre from the edge, and this is a greater distance than the actual edge over which you fold the bias. I got around this going back to my paper pattern and measuring what the actual armhole edge (minus the same allowance) and cut and stitched same-fabric bias strips to the exact length. These look frighteningly smaller than the armhole itself, but take a deep breath and ease the armhole edge onto the bias strip evenly, and you will find the end result pulls the armhole into the shape it's meant to be!

Sewing binding armhole edges
MY HACK 1: Just change the fabric to change the look...

You can imagine that picking a different fabric for this could completely change the look. I realised this as I picked it apart to find the fabric's satin side on the inside. The other way round, this would have been very much more of a party dress.

Annie wanted a copy of this in a neutral shade again, which I need to try and find a match for somewhere. But to make it up for the first go, I got cracking with a lovely medium-weight herringbone fabric I bought with work wear in mind. It is actually a knit, with a slight stretch to it, so I used a stretch zig-zig stitch for most of the seams and in this way gave the finished garment a bit more ease than it would have in a woven fabric.

Given this was an impulse-buy fabric, it was wonderfully easy to manage and did not fray at all, so I could leave the inside edges raw and just finish the seams by gently hand tacking them flat (this fabric has a bit of spring, not totally flattened by ironing). It took a blind hem beautifully along the bottom edge. Gotta love that blind hem foot...

If and when the new owner will model it for me, I will put a photo up!       
Self drafted copycat pattern knit dress
Self drafted copycat pattern knit dress


  1. Really lovely dress. I saw your post on Burdastyle. I love what you're doing so far. Keep at it!