Friday, June 7, 2013

Sewing Friends: Marnae from the Powell Family

Hi! I'm Marnae, a licensed Veterinarian, chosen stay-at-home-mom, who has a passion for sewing. I blog at The Powell Family, where I share bit of life along with a little sewing...and I'm excited to be here today!

While I love the ease of a sleeveless bodice, it's nice to have the coverage of sleeves without having to sew them in, or layer with a T-shirt. I tried to add a faux cap sleeve to a sleeveless bodice in this dress, but it didn't translate well. So, when I found this pattern book at the library I was excited to find steps that I could follow to switch a basic bodice to a "dropped shoulder" bodice. This is such a great technique because it can be applied to virtually any bodice, and creates a cap sleeve without having to set in a sleeve. I started with the Flashback Skinny Tee from Made By Rae...and went a little crazy!

I started by making a reversible option, then a regular basic dress, then a color-blocked version, then a drawstring waist/cinched shoulder version and the list goes on (see above collage). I think I have made at least 8 different variations of this dress--using both woven and knit materials. Obviously I won't show you how I made all of them, but I will show you how to do the basic pattern alteration, and let YOU run with it. It is kind of addictive...PLUS, and this is a huge plus, the dresses are comfortable, perfect for summer, and best of all practical. My girls have worn all the variations several times youngest wore her pink/black striped version two days in a row, and then climbed up on a chair to retrieve it from the dirty clothes! I also utilized many thrift store T-shirts, and at 25 cents a piece, made for lots of dirt cheap dresses. I only used yardage on a few dresses, and all of that was thrifted except for one piece. So...are you ready to learn how to make your own dropped-shoulder dress?

First, choose your favorite bodice pattern (or make your own). I used the Flashback skinny Tee (I went up a size to a 7/8, which fits both my 5 year old and my newly 7 year old) for this example. I also ended up using a scaled down free T-shirt pattern from Made (4-5 T) to make a dress for my three year old (Melly Sews also has a free 2-4T pattern here), and used the bodice from the Spring Fever Dress (omitting the cut out in back) to create a dropped shoulder dress from woven material.
Trace around the original pattern onto freezer paper, or your choice of paper. ( I use old design draft sheets from my husbands engineering firm)

For steps 1-5 refer to the above picture

Step 1: Draw a line from the point of the shoulder at the armhole, across the bodice and intersecting with the center front at a 90 degree angle (from small yellow pin to large yellow pin). You will probably have to extend the center front line up a little.

Step 2: Extend the shoulder 3 1/4" from this line (small yellow pin to the large red pin). This is the same number stated in the pattern book for an adult pattern, but I found it worked well for the size 5/6 dresses I made. If you want a more subtle sleeve, decrease the amount you extend the line, and for a more exaggerated sleeve, extend the line more. (I decreased the length of the line to 2 3/4" for the 3T that I made, but that number (3 1/4") should work for most dress sizes 5/6 and up--you could even make one for you!!...just drop to armhole to 1 1/4")

Step 3: Draw a line from the extended point (large red pin) to the top of the neckline (small red pin).

Step 4: Drop the armhole slightly (from large green pin to small green pin). The pattern book suggests 1 1/4" for an adult pattern; I scaled it back to 3/4" for my 5/6 dresses, and 1/2" for my 3T.

Step 5: Join the new armhole mark (small green pin) to the extended line (large red pin) from step #3.

Step 6: Repeat for the back bodice. (see below for finished bodice without lines)

Step 7: To check the fit of the armhole, place the front and back shoulders together (butting the shoulders up against each other and matching the neckline) and trim if necessary to fit.

Step 8: Extend bodice as desired. I chose a simple A-line for most of the knit dresses, but also used the bodice as is, attached to a circle skirt (in both knit and woven material) and a gathered skirt (from woven material).

That's it. Simple alteration, but so many possibilities!
A few notes:
1. For my knit versions, I finished all the necks by binding them with ribbing/knit loosely based on the lengths given from the bodice pattern I used.

If you made your own pattern, and don't know how long to cut your binding, you can go here. She gives you a formula to use to determine how much binding you will need if you are making your own pattern. BUT, you also need to take into account how much stretch your ribbing/knit material has. I have found that the more stretch a knit (i.e. spandex/lycra content) has, the longer I need my piece to be...and conversely, the less stretch or rebound a knit has, the shorter you want your piece to be.

2. To finish the sleeves, I tried several options: binding with knit (similar to the neck), creating a small, narrow hem, or leaving the edges raw. In the end, I preferred to finish the sleeves with a narrow hem BEFORE I sewed the sides of the dress together. Simply mark the bottom of your armhole, and hem from the front of the dress to the mark on the back, then stitch the front and back together, stopping at the bottom of your armhole. I also liked to reinforce the armhole with a zigzag stitch horizontally across the bottom of the armhole just through the seam allowance.

3. To hem the bottom, I either used the existing hem (if possible!!), bound the edge using knit bias tape, or hemmed it using stitch 22 on my Bernina.

I also sewed all the seams on my serger...BUT, that being said, it is entirely possible to sew knits on a regular machine. Rather than rehash all the "sewing with knit tips" that are out there, here are a few useful links:
Melly Sews--a post on sewing T-shirts 101 with pitfalls to avoid
Made-by-Rae-- Knits series.
Sewaholic--A list of sewing with knits tips/links

Now that we've covered all the boring stuff, on to the pretty pictures!! Here are some of the options that I came up with using the basic dropped shoulder alteration.
First up: Reversible Dress

For this version I used the basic dropped shoulder alteration, and essentially cut and sewed 2 separate dresses--except for the binding on the neck and sleeves. I added the pockets as an afterthought AFTER the dresses were sewn together, but if you want to add pockets, it would be much easier to add them before you sew the dresses together! Once you have your two dresses sewn together at the shoulders and sides(up to your armhole mark), place the dresses RST (one dress inside the other) and sew your hem at the bottom using your desired seam allowance. Pull dresses apart and put dresses together again(one dress inside the other) but this time making sure wrong sides are together. Match up the armholes/neck line. Bind arms and neck. I used a strip of one of the fabrics, folded it over, and sandwiched the two dresses in between, leaving the edge raw. Because of the properties of the fabric I used they rolled as I stretched them to fit the neckline, and created a cool rolled finish on the neck.

Option 2: Color-blocked A-line dress (with awesome gold trim and pocket!) my girls LOVED the gold. I used reclaimed spandex from a costume found at the thrift store and all thrifted T-shirts for these. Total cost: 25 cents! I used the basic dropped shoulder pattern, but cut the pattern into separate pieces, adding in seam allowances as needed as I cut out the separate pieces. Then I added the pocket, and sewed together the pieces to make a front and a back, sewed the shoulders, sewed up side seams and bound the neck. I left the armholes raw on this one, and it turned out great.

I also made another color-blocked one that I ended up binding the hem (because I forgot to take off the seam allowance on the pattern to allow for an existing hem on a T-shirt). Kicking myself for that one!!

Option 3: Basic
This one is as simple as it gets: two pattern pieces sewn together, bound at the neck with a narrow hem on the arm holes. Super quick to put together, also made from a thrifted T-shirt. This was a size three--the extension from the shoulder was smaller (2 3/4"), and the armhole drop was 1/2" as stated above.

Options 4, 5, 6,7 are more complicated, so I'll just show pictures and hopefully get some more in depth tutorials done for them on my blog. I have taken tutorial would just be way too long to show them all here.
Option 4: Exaggerated dropped shoulder bodice (5 1/4" extension from shoulder) with ruched shoulders w/drawstring waist

Option 5: Exaggerated dropped shoulder dress with tab shoulders

Option 6/7: Basic dropped shoulder bodice and circle skirt (knit material) or Basic dropped shoulder bodice and circle skirt (woven material) with drawstring tie

Option 8: Basic dropped shoulder bodice (using the spring fever dress) from woven material ...this one may be my favorite! I used a thrifted, hand embroidered women's skirt, gathered it and attached it to the basic bodice. The bodice was cut from the top of the skirt material, but because I didn't have quite enough fabric, I used some vintage red/white flower material to create a band at the bottom of the bodice, trimmed in white grosgrain ribbon. My favorite part is the contrasting button placket. Silly, I know because you can't even see it!!

So there you have it. Kudos to you if you made it this far! I will hopefully have some more tutorials up for the last few options on my stop by if you are interested!

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  1. Thank you so much for this tutorial - Love all your dresses - heading home after work, making some dresses!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! Will definitely give this a try.

  3. Marnae, this is a great tutorial! It is amazing what you can do with a basic block. I will be trying this! Thanks!

  4. Thanks for this great tutorial! I'm ready to head for the thrift store to see what treasures I can find and re-do! And I've added your blog to my reading list!

  5. This is awesome! Thanks for the tutorial and for showing all the options. I really like the ruched sleeve and may try to make something like that for myself!

  6. Marnae, you never cease to amaze me!!! Awesome dresses....looks like the girls have their summer wardrobe all done!

  7. These are all amazing! Great job and I'm sure your girls are loving their dresses! I love all of the different combinations.

  8. Holly smokes woman! You made a ton of different looks with that simple pattern alteration. I am definitely putting this skill in my tool kit. Thanks you! ~Major Moma

  9. What a versatile pattern modification! And I love the red embroidered dress best too! It's adorable!

  10. Yea!I'm glad you all like them and are going to make some! They were so fun to make and it felt so rewarding to make things that I KNOW my girls are going to wear! I'd love to see your version too...

  11. Wow! Love the floral one! :)

  12. This tutorial is lovely and timely. All the dresses are beautiful. I loveeee the last one most. Thanks a ton.

  13. What a GREAT tutorial!!! I have my well loved Flashback Skinny Tee pattern that I will be busting out again to add the dropped shoulder! I would LOVE LOVE a tutorial on your ruched and tab shoulders that you added to your #4 and #5 dresses. Thanks!!!

    1. Shelley, I just posted a tutorial on how I made the ruched and the tab-shoulder dresses..hope this helps. Sorry it's taken so long..I've had some annoying uploading problems!

  14. I really love the tie sleeves. I made myself a similar striped dress and love that design element. Cute dresses,all of them!

  15. Thanks for all the kind comments! I will try and get up some more details on my blog about the last three options: the exaggerated shoulder (rouched/tab shoulder) and the woven/cross-stitched dress..maybe today but no promises :)

  16. I love all your creations!
    And this is a great tutorial. Thank you!

  17. Thank you this is exactly what I needed! So if extending the sleeve out 3.25” doesn’t take out past the side seam of the shirt, can I just keep extending that line?


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