I like to browse designer fashions on the net, then sew my own versions. One evening a blue and white Oscar de La Renta dress from the Neiman Marcus site inspired me. It has pleats down the front from yoke to hip, which release into a full skirt (but a bit too short for me). Essentially, it’s a tube that expands and contracts and expands again from top to bottom.
I had a lovely blue and white floral print in my stash, but the piece was too small, just a little over 2 yards, and included green. The blue and white floral cotton sateen I found at Mood Fabrics has a lot more blue and a lot less white than the inspiration dress, but it’s in the same colors with the same spirit.
I posted my inspiration on forum at Pattern Review, and was advised to start with pre-pleated fabric. It was great advice, and I took it.
I’ve made my fair share of pleated skirts, but never used pleats to make a fit and flare dress. I searched for a pattern to guide me. The closest I came was Vogue 1461. I disliked the boaty neck and short hem, but bought the pattern anyway for insight on how this dress is made. Hems are easy to move up and down, and boaty necklines aren’t hard to redraft. My inspiration dress had a yoke, the Vogue pattern did not, also an easy adjustment. I’ll replace the sleeves completely.
The Vogue instructions left me feeling a little dismayed. They drafted shape into each pleat. In other words, the pleats did not maintain a steady shape. They got narrower at the bust, deeper at the waist, then narrower again before releasing into the full skirt. Now, if I were making the dress for a body that fit Vogues measurements, that would be great! But, I am not. I am making it to fit my measurements, which are not what Vogue had in mind when they drafted this ( or any) pattern.
I didn’t want to mess with putting shaping in pleats. I wanted to use a single panel each for the front and back of the dress, using the same number of pleats as the original dress. My idea was to push the shaping into the side and center back seams.
I decided to use the lining pattern pieces from the Vogue pattern as my base, and do my own thing with the outer layer. I traced the lining pieces onto an old sheet, cutting a yoke into the front section. I assembled the pieces and tweaked them to fit. Then I ripped it apart.
I measured the length from shoulder to hem and added a few extra “Just In Case” inches. Note: My just below the knee hem is considerably longer than either the Vogue pattern or the original inspiration dress. I cut two pieces of fashion fabric that same length and pleated them, leaving one large piece unpleated.
After tinkering a bit, I discovered the width of my yardstick was exactly half the width for each pleat. Using the yardstick and blue tailors chalk, I marked the pleats on the back of the two cut fabric pieces. Solid lines indicate fold lines, horizontal slashes indicated the gap between pleats.
I stitched the pleats down the entire length of the fabric sections, because I thought it would be easier to handle the fabric. First, I layed and cut the lower front out of one piece. Next, I laid both back pieces out on the second piece of pleated fabric, and cut them. I searched through my stash of commercial and homemade patterns for a relatively narrow peasant sleeve, and checked to make sure the cap would fit the armhole. Then I cut the sleeves and bodice from the last unpleated piece of fabric. Finally, I cut a lining from the thin silk habotai I keep in my stash for dying scarves and veils.
Shoulder seams are often the first construction step, but I chose to sew the center back seam first. I attached the yoke to the lower front, and finally got to the shoulder seams. I used my serger to finish all the seam allowances before sewing the side seams. After I had the main sections together, I realized I forgot to add a zip! But, the fabric has a bit of stretch so I can still get it on and off.
I assembled the lining, and sewed it to the dress at the neckline. I turned my attention to the sleeves, finishing the raw edges before sewing them together, leaving about and inch unsewn at the bottom. I didn’t know if I would finish the sleeve with a narrow cuff, like the inspiration dress, or cheat and use a simple elastic casing. Finally, I inserted the sleeves into the dress.
I anxiously tried the dress on. And discovered that it was just too loose and baggy around the waist. As hard as I tried, I could not avoid it – I would have to add shaping to the pleats. At this point, the pleats still extended the full length of the dress.
I finished the sleeves with a narrow band and a small snap.
I put the dress on inside out, and carefully used safety pins to deepen the front pleats at the waist. After restitching the pleats I tried the dress on again. Although I took in only a tiny bit on each pleat, it made a huge difference in fit. Bonus – I can still pull it on and off without a zip.
The neckline stubbornly refused to lie flat until I topstitched it into submission. The final step was marking the point where I wanted the pleats to release, and opening the seam from hem to release point.
I wore this dress to the theater to see Matilda the Musical. The play was great! The dress was wonderful – except I think the jewel neck is just too high for comfort. I think I will cut the neck lower, and use some scraps to make a thin bias binding.