Friday, June 24, 2011

How to: Sew a Patternless Dress

Author: Karisa Tell

If you're a seasoned seamstress, you probably use patterns all the time. You probably have a collection of vintage Simplicity patterns that have been cut, pinned, and stashed for decades. The majority of beginner sewers, however, can't tell which end is up when looking at a pattern (literally–I once looked at a pattern and could not tell whether it was upside down or not). Once I discovered the world of sewing tutorials (as opposed to tangible patterns), I was hooked!

When I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding and told that I could wear any dress I wanted, as long as it was black, I knew I had to make a sewing project out of it. I combined two sewing tutorials I found online.
Here's what I did:
  1. First I took a huge piece of chiffon (left over from my Hair Pom project!) and cut it into long strips, 2 inches wide. (Note: I didn't read the directions in full until I was, well, all done. So learn from my mistakes: BUY NON-FRAY CHIFFON!!!)
  2. Turn your sewing machine to it's largest stitch and increase the upper thread tension. You don't need to put it at its highest tension setting because chiffon is a very thin fabric, so it will ruffle easily. Sew a line down the center of each strip (refer to my ruffling tutorial for more info on making ruffles). When you get to the end of a strip, feel free to attach a second strip by feeding it right into the machine.
  3. Once you've got a bunch of ruffles done, it's time to attach them to your skirt piece. I bought two yards of black fabric and cut it in half lengthwise (so that the "waist" measurement was 2 yards and the length was appropriate–I wanted it to start at my natural waist and end around my knees, plus seam allowances). Sew the first ruffle around the bottom of your fabric piece, making sure you have changed your machine settings to a lower tension and smaller stitch length. Continue sewing ruffles until you're satisfied. The Can-Can skirt has ruffles all the way up, but I chose to only do a few rows along the bottom of the skirt.
  4. Thus far, your skirt has just been a gigantic rectangle. To turn it into a skirt, we're going to refer to Megan Nielsen's gathering instructions. Take a piece of elastic waistband and measure how big you want it to be (wrap it against your waist, wherever you want the skirt to start). Pin your cut piece of elastic to the skirt piece, making sure to stretch the waistband as you go. Zig-Zag stitch the waistband to the skirt piece, again stretching as you go.
  5. I way over estimated how much my waistband was going to stretch, so I ended up with extra fabric after I sewed the elastic on. Just cut this piece off and throw it in the scrap pile. I would recommend using only 1 yard or a yard and a half instead of 2 yards of skirt fabric, like I used. Next, hold the raw edges of your skirt length together, wrong sides facing in, and stitch them together.
  6. Hem the bottom of the skirt. At this point, you have a skirt that you could potentially wear by itself. So if you'd rather make a patternless skirt, you're done!
  7. Instead of using a tank top, I purchased a black blouse from a thrift store to use as the top. I thought this would be a little more wedding appropriate.
  8. I realized I didn't really like the blouse all that much when I tried it on with the skirt, but I'd already purchased it, so I had to make do. I ripped out the ruffles, buttons, and collar, cut the bottom of the shirt at my natural waist, and removed the shirring from the back.
  9. After I had basically destroyed the blouse, I was pretty sure I'd have to scrap it and start over. But I just kept going anyway! I sewed the front of the shirt together and added another strip of ruffled chiffon around the neckline.
  10. Finally, it's time to attach your top to your bottom! I tucked the blouse inside the skirt, so that the waistband lay flat on top of the blouse. Then I pinned all the way around and zig-zag stitched it down.
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About the Author

Karisa Tell is an Editor for and

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