The Red Polkadot Dress

Lady in a Red Dress

Some people can wear cinched waistbands. Some people can wear big shoulder-puffs. Some people can wear dirndl skirts.

Generally speaking, these people are not me. This is really too bad, as I like many of these looks on other people. And I’ve tried them on myself time and again over the years, only to go “ah, yes, that’s why I don’t wear this.” (with the possible exception of pouffy shoulders, which I like enough that I tend to ignore the linebacker effect.)

I really like the idea of dirndl skirts. They’re both ridiculously simple (gathered rectangle—can’t get any more basic than that) and economical of fabric, unlike my preferred circle skirts. But they generally sit right at the waist (not a good spot for me) and add a lot of visual bulk in that area.

With the shrug. There’s a bit of pooching out of the ruching at the bottom of the front panel, where the outer fabric is looser than the lining. Presumably I goofed my seam allowances slightly or something.

However, as I’ve observed before, something magical happens when I slide the “waist” of my garment up or down a few inches. I can wear empire waists or dropped waists until the cows come home. Now, I believe another term for “empire-waist dirndl” is “maternity wear”, but what about a dropped waist dirndl?

Well, apparently that’s just fine.

I wrote a bit here about the bodice construction and my fitting challenges process. Having largely taken care of that, I came to the next stage in construction. The skirt.

Easy, right?

I had initially planned to do a gathered circle-skirt, like the original Katjusha pattern that was my inspiration. But on examining the amount of fabric I had left after I finished the bodice, it seemed like to get the gathering I wanted at the waist (er, hip) I was going to end up with an extremely SHORT skirt. Β Whereas if I went with a dirndl style, there would be plenty of fabric for whatever length I opted for. Some quick and dirty measuring (aka holding the fabric up to my hips), and I was happily ripping away. Four panels of full-width (45″) fabric, a little below knee length plus a bit for hemming.

Red Dress

Confessions of a lazy seamstress: I didn’t even trim off the selvedges. I just tucked them inside the french seams I used to join the four widths. When they pucker up and throw the whole skirt off after the first washing, you can all laugh and point.So, I had settled on my width for the outer skirt, but my voile (or whatever this fabric is) definitely needed a lining. Back to my white cotton (yes, the stuff with the laceworked panel. Don’t worry, I’m moving from the opposite end of the length and there’s a ton of it.For my lining width, I used the width of the shirred back-panel, stretched out. It would’ve been smarter to determine this width before I did all the shirring, but I wasn’t sure it was going to shirr up the right amount at that point. Shirrly* you understand my quandary? Anyway, I decided to use this width for both the front and the back of the lining. I would gather the front to the bodice front, and sew the back flat to the stretched-out bodice back. But, you really want something underneath to give a dirndl (or any full skirt, really, IMO) a little oomph. I decided to make my lining skirt tiered. So I cut it approximately half the length I wanted, and then cut four more pieces of similar length for the bottom tier, and broke out the gathering foot.

Now, this is not my ruffler, with whom I have a passionate love-hate relationship. I wasn’t willing to deal with his idiosyncracies for four measly widths of lining. (If that sounds like a lot of gathering to you, please understand that I got the ruffler foot in the first place to make tiered skirts for tribal bellydance. The first such I made had 32 fabric widths in the bottom tier. And nine tiers, although I think only seven of them ended up being ruffled. So from my rather warped perspective, this is hardly any gathering at all

Red Dress

So I decided to play with my new, inexpensive, and untested gathering foot (Here’s a post contrasting the two). I popped it on, measured some 10″ lengths on scraps of the cotton, played with my stitch-length and tension settings, and after about three tries managed to get a gathering ratio approximating 2:1. Good enough. I began gathering.

I think I’m not going to become a huge fan of the gathering foot. It’s not awful. In fact, compared to some of the shit fits my ruffler has thrown, it was possitively easy to use. But the resulting gathering is not particularly even; it’s highly susceptible to the slightest difference in how I hold the fabric in front of the foot (crowding the needle vs. letting the fabric lie flat). The main thing I like about mechanical gathering with the ruffler over my preferred semi-manual technique (where you zig-zag over a supplementary thread… the zig-zag acts as a casing for the thread drawstring which you can pull up later) is that you don’t have to futz over the gathering being even, even if it may not be the exact ratio you wanted it to be. The gathering foot didn’t seem to have this evenness, and even worse it was pretty tricky to try to re-distribute the gathers after the fact. For the lining, I didn’t care, but I wasn’t enthused about using it for something that will actually be seen. It did turn out about the right length overall, so that’s good anyway, and it was quite fast.

I did give myself one further complication, which is that I had designed the bottom front of the bodice to dip down to a V. I love this feature a ridiculous amount, but it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how to reflect this on the gathered side of the skirt. At least, without sitting down and making an actual pattern and spreading it the required amount, which sounds suspiciously too much like work. Instead, I roughly measured the depth of the “V” (minus seam allowance) down from the top of skirt centre front, and free-handed an arch going from the skirt CF to side-seam. Good enough for government work, as my mother says.

For the outer skirt, I used my preferred semi-manual gathering method, mentioned above. I use this for “moderate” amounts of gathering, or larger amounts (like this) where I value precision of the resulting dimension over precision of every little gather. I gathered the over-skirt to match the width of the underskirt, and stitched them together. Really, fairly easy peasy.


Then, I did something I haven’t done since Tyo was a baby. I hand gathered the entire skirt front (both layers, and hand-basted it to the bodice. WTF? you are asking. I agree. But we were watching Sucker Punch with the kids last night and I could do the gathering and basting by hand without totally ditching the rest of the family. Normally I’d prefer to be hemming in such a situation, but I wasn’t quite sure of the finished length so I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and hand-hem four widths of fabric to the wrong length. I wound up shortening it by several inches, so it’s just as well I didn’t try this.

Possibly I should also have hand-basted the back to the shirring, as that was a beast to do accurately and took a couple of goes. But, water under the bridge. Man, I’m just full of platitudes today. If I can throw “a stitch in time saves nine,” in before the end of the post, I’ll be flying. Well, except that that’s one I rarely follow. It’s still good advice, though.

Red Dress

I am a little concerned that the combination of the front ruching with the full skirt have pushed this past “sundress” territory into the hinterlands of “something to wear to a summer wedding.” Since I don’t expect to be attending any weddings this summer, this would be unfortunate. I may just have to suck it up and be ridiculously overdressed (after all, it wouldn’t be the first time).I wasn’t actively going for a “vintage” look when I made this dress. Although maybe that’s an inevitable reference for any full-skirted, tight-bodiced dress these days. Anyway, pairing it with the shrug just turns the “vintage” look up to eleven. It goes, though, doesn’t it? This shrug is ridiculously versatile. Seriously, I wear it with EVERYTHING. I need about five more.All that gathering in the skirt interacts a bit oddly with the back bodice, despite my best efforts to reinforce the bottom of the shirring with some sturdier elastic, but it’s probably not something most people would notice (dazzled as they will be by the swishy, full skirt, right?)Incidentally, the length is only sightly below my knee. Tyo was standing on the picnic table to take the photos, so they’re from more of a downward angle than usual. I’m wearing the fluffy petticoat as well as the tiered lining.And obviously I need some red heels.

Final project and inspiration. I think I need a fluffier petticoat.

*I normally try very hard to resist the obvious sewing puns. I have never intentionally substitued “sew” for “so”. This one slipped through. I humbly apologize.



Filed under Sewing

48 responses to “The Red Polkadot Dress

  1. Well thats just bugs ear cuteness! Tee hee, sorry was just trying to hold up my end of the sayings… But really it is cuteness!…

    I too do ruffles with the zig zag over a nylon fishing line. I like the fising line as its supersturdy never breaks and its cheap at the Walmart. Its great if your doing a heavy drape or something like that as well. anywho…

    That shrug, well once again its perfect with that dress. I am looking for fabric for mine but so far nothing. I snuck off to the fabric store the other day. Couldn’t find a darn thing to make one from. I also was going to be winging how much fabric to buy if I did as I have not cut and taped the pattern together as of yet to see how much fabric I need for that!

    Again great job on the dress! You can sure put things together fast!

    • The shrug won’t take more than a yard, probably a little less, although the fabric needs to be relatively wide (45″ MIGHT cut it for the size small but I wouldn’t want to swear on that without checking). I guess it’s not really the sweater knit season down there, either, though, is it? πŸ˜‰

  2. Lurve it! Colour, shape all looks fab on you. The runching down the bodice front is v. cool too (even though you said before you weren’t sure how flattering it would turn out).

    Re: non-wedding wear from the dress – I reckon a cropped darker denim jacket (rolled-up sleeves) and a short-sleeved (or long LOL!) charcoal-grey marl-effect tee underneath the dress would totally make this day-wear πŸ™‚

  3. Ohhhh – and some kinda funky leather belt with some rockin’ boots/shoe-boots (of the more practical kinda vs. the spiky heel & make your feet hurt kind) would be fab too πŸ˜‰

    • Once again, Claire solves my problems. I wore it out with the cropped jean jacket and it was perfect. When it cools down a bit I’ll try it with boots, but for now I’m going to relish in the illusion of real summer πŸ™‚

  4. Love, love love it!! Yes, it does have a bit of a vintage vibe, but isn’t that of the moment? And yes, red shoes, although I think Claire may have something there with the tough boots thing. That sounds very you.

  5. Cute dress! Very flattering.

  6. You look amazing in that dress! I know your husband isn’t a fan of red, but it’s truly smashing. I’d twirl and swish around CONSTANTLY in it. Fantastic job!

  7. That’s an incredibly awesome dress, I love the vintage look with your shrug! Who cares about bein slightly overdressed, I think it’ll be great for summer! πŸ™‚

  8. Beautiful dress!!! You look great in it – I wouldn’t save it for special occassions….

  9. That is really fabulous! You are right … you can wear the ‘drop waist’ dress and it is really flattering on you. That dress gives you a very different shape that suits you. I love the fabric and you look great!

  10. Such a pretty dress! Polka dots and red all in one dress? I want one! I agree, it’s time to acquire some new red heels. :]

  11. it looks great, and I love the twirl. I agree it could use a fluffier petticoat to achieve what you were going for in the drawing.
    Granted, I wear fluffyish dresses all the time, and am constantly overdressed, but I say go for it. Nothing is as much fun as twirling through a day πŸ™‚

  12. That dress looks amazing! I think it does walk that line between sundress and cocktail dress, but that just makes it more versatile. Change it up with a shrug and sandals or fancy shoes, perhaps?

    I have to admit that your description of how you fudged and winged your way through the construction had me holding my breath at times. I almost never have good luck when I make random sewing decisions. You must have a sewing fairy godmother! I once tried a gathering foot and came to the conclusion that as much as I hate gathering, I’m too OCD to do it that way.

    • Ehm. Although I do fight against my half-ass sewing tendencies, they definitely come out, especially in projects like this. The nice thing about insane amounts of gathers is they’re really rather forgiving of imprecise measuring etc.

      I find the big scary ruffler foot to be more consistent than the gatherer, when it’s not throwing fits (my mom’s 60s era ruffler is the exact same design but that much sturdier and better finished than my modern version, and hence much less temperamental). I prefer to gather a length then trim it to the precise length I need, but for whatever reason I didn’t do that here. It all worked out okay, though, and where it didn’t I improvised πŸ˜‰

  13. It looks gorgeous, and yeah, ready for a spot of jiving! The first picture of you is really lovely.

  14. wow. you draw it, and it happens. (although i’d be surprised if you could draw anything for the next few days after all that hand gathering.) you look mahvelous!

    • It wasn’t THAT much hand gathering… just a 42″ width to a bodice-front width. It’s just that I pretty much NEVER do pure hand-gathering any more… I did miles and miles of it for troupe costumes back in the day, and the machine gathering is much my preferred method now.

  15. Um, gathering 32 fabric widths in the bottom tier? No thank you.
    I LOVE this dress. And I love the V at the front a ridiculous amount to. It really makes this dress unique. I think it definitely could be dressed up for a summer wedding, but I could also see it with a pair of strappy flats to make it more casual. Awesome dress.

    • OK, I did THAT gathering with the ruffler foot. Starting with the bottom tier, it took me a full day to gather the first tier, then another day or two to do the rest of the skirt. That is quite a skirt…

  16. i saw the top pic and gasped, that dress is hands-down GORGEOUS!!!! omg, i love it. love the ruching on the bodice, love the gathered skirt love that you made it work for your body. oooh and i love even more that you admit to being extremely scientific and precise in your measuring and pattern-making πŸ˜‰

    • I can totally see you in a dress like this! (Except that you can pull of the waistband-at-the-waist look)

      My mantra in sewing is “precision, precision, precision.”

      Hey, I didn’t say I followed it.

  17. Beautiful dress! Don’t worry about being overdressed. There are enough hoodies out there already! (Nothing against hoodies but at the theatre…Really?!)
    You have such a great way of calculating fabric amounts. Maybe I’ll be there one day but I can only read the pattern suggestions.
    Put this dress on and hit a drive thru for a milkshake!

    • My highly scientific caculation of the amount of fabric for the skirt? Whatever’s left over from the bodice! (in this case I think it was about 3m of 45″ wide fabric). I did actually trim a couple of inches of length off the skirt after I had it attached and could decide on length… fortunate because otherwise I would’ve had to squeeze the straps out of some VERY tiny scraps from the bodice area of the dress…

      I wonder if you can get malted milkshakes anywhere in town?

  18. I think it’s the bee’s knees! πŸ˜‰ The shape is super-flattering on you. I can’t pull off drop-waist styles to save my life, and envy ladies who can. Beautiful job!

    • Haha! And I envy those who can do a regular waist. Grass is greener, etc. ;).

      Although you look lovely in your Ceylon, and that has a teeny bit of a dropped waist…

  19. I love this dress! I made a red polka dot halter dress last summer and didn’t get the size right. I did some fixes to it, but it’s in need of a re-do. The shrug works so nicely with this dress, and I love the tiered lining idea. Also I think it’s awesome that your daughter is the photographer! πŸ™‚

  20. Fun! Everyone needs a red dress. I can’t believe you don’t already have a petticoat! I made a sad not-really-a-petticoat thing a couple years ago, just a bunch of layers of tulle and an elastic waist, no tiers, and even my sad little thing is fun to use.

    • Oh, I do have a cute, ruffly tiered petticoat. But I’ve noticed it’s not quite as fluffy as it was when I first made it… I’m thinking it needs a companion. Possibly of a crisper fabric….

  21. Awesome! You look so amazing in red, and it fits beautifully on you! Just stunning, and I love how it’s vintagy but you give it a totally modern feel. A couple of strategically placed tacks might fix the ‘pooching’. I’m not a fan of gathering feet either, it never ends up the right length for me, but there’s probably some technique to using them that I don’t know about!

  22. How fun! What a groovy dress. All you need now is a jute box and some swingin’ tunes.

  23. Awww, you look ravishing in that dress! So much that I read ALL the construction details of your post, and I’m far from being a sewing geek. I especially love the V-shape of the front (the V-waistband is the main reason why I purchased the crescent skirt pattern, actually), and you wear it very well _ the low waist was agood idea!

  24. I am so in love with that dress. Polkadots… drool….!

  25. Well done! And completed in time for summer! Unlike my summer dress which hangs, awaiting a zipper and hem…

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  29. Ooo, I missed this post (one of approximately 80 bajillion, lately). Came over here from your nieces adorable dress. I like how this one turned out. Did you plan and sketch this dress yourself (i.e. is that drawing yours)?

    I really like the dropped waist and the v at the front. Nice touches. It looks lovely on you.

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  34. Jeff Laskowski

    My GOSH what a beautiful dress!

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