Copy my Favorite Dress

We all have garments we love to wear and some of us keep wearing them long past their “sell by” date.

So when a woman called to say she was willing to have her best, most comfortable dress taken apart and copied so she could have more made, I understood. She went on to explain that she had worn it for 30 years and it still fit her. Wow, quite a feat but once I saw the shape of the dress I knew why. Enter the world of the pillowcase with tie straps:

Click on the photos for a closer look at very worn.

Do the words “comfortable” and “linen” EVER conjure up stylish or flattering? I don’t think so. This dress was worn through with holes on the elbows, all around the tie straps and basically misshapen as there was not a scrap of interfacing in it. My job was to take it completely apart and make a pattern. Before I share the photos of the process I will give you a hint where this dress was made 30 years ago…Amish country in Pennsylvania. The label is “Aly Wear, proudly made in Pennsylvania” produced by a now defunct company after the owners were indicted on defrauding a lending institution to the tune of 3 million dollars…interesting what Google turns up. Even Ebay had this exact dress up for sale for $9…imagine!

Let’s get started with some tools I use…Soil Separator from Home Depot makes great patterns. It is a thin fabric mesh that can be pinned and folded and can be used over or under garment pieces for copying. It is cheap and available and is also sold under other names like Do-Sew.

Once the dress was taken apart and pressed to get the edges flat I realized that the inside of the seams were white, and never absorbed the dye after it was manufactured. In other words it was made first as “greige goods” out of un-dyed linen and then dyed whatever color they needed to be sold.

Here are the only features that take it out of the BAG category…the neck has bias binding, a keyhole opening and the skirt has faced pockets that just hang like sad sacks on her hips. No interfacing in the top bias edge lets them sag.

The front top is still connected to the back section with the bias binding but pinned down on the folded Do-Sew so when opened out it is complete with round keyhole. I just trim around these layers.

The rest of the pattern pieces are created in the same way: Back top and bias binding hem edge sleeves (no front or back difference) and back skirt: Notice that I am squaring up the hem as it was not straight after many years of wearing but I followed the weft (left to right) lines to make sure it had been originally cut on grain. And now to the tricky part…layering the pockets, pocket facings and top of the skirt to be cut away:

First I flipped the top edge of the skirt down, traced a piece of pocket Do-Sew 3/8 larger than the finished pocket, duplicated this with a facing and layered it all together to make sure it looked like the original. They will all be stitched, flipped to the inside and top stitched but being bias I will use some interfacing to prevent it from stretching later.

When I take apart any garment I record the sewing sequence and number the pieces…whether I am the poor unfortunate seamstress who has to re-create this masterpiece, it is better to be organized than not. So, here is the result, a page of sewing directions, and a stack of Do-Sew pattern pieces labeled with masking tape because Do-Sew does not like any sort of ink. and the old dress bagged up for future reference:

Hoping that you are not asked to copy any well-loved garments any time soon but if you do, track down some Do-Sew, tracing paper on a roll and record the sewing sequence, you will be glad you did. This week I will be enjoying the new peppers and eggplants being produced in the veggie garden and thinking about the autumn raspberry plants that are showing flowers!

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16 Responses to Copy my Favorite Dress

  1. theresa says:

    Great tips! I have a garment I want to copy without taking it apart and you’ve given me some solid ideas. As to linen garments, sack like as some may be, the fiber is wonderfully comfortable and I completely understand her wanting to have more of them, well made or not. One thing is for sure, the copies will be much nicer than the original with such a talented seamstress as yourself at the machine. And I mean that!

  2. mrsmole says:

    Being a garment detective allows you to see how badly drafted and how badly made garments can be once they are un-sewn/ripped open. The front and back are identical, the sleeves have no front or back differences…it IS a pillowcase and the only shape making features are the two 24 inch long bias ties meant to restrict volumes of thick fabric somewhere in the middle of the wearer. These things were mass produced, then dyed colors meant to entice the buyer to purchase. Who knows what they cost 30 years ago if they are still asking $9 today? Fingers crossed that my labor charges will keep her from having too many of these made…I should refer her to you, you make great clothes!

    • theresa says:

      LOL, no way, don’t you dare send them to me! 🙂 And while I never thought of it, it does look like a surgical gown. But they say love is blind and we’ll see if the it makes the wallet a bottomless pit. I do make a nice pillowcase tho…

      • mrsmole says:

        Yes, it could have been a surgical gown as it measures bust, waist and hips at 45 inches. Yes, Theresa you do make some killer things!

  3. prttynpnk says:

    Whoa. When did they stop wearing muslin surgical gowns and go to disposable? I don’t think that I would like this even in a frisky leopard print….

    • mrsmole says:

      Well Anne, these fashions are alive and well in the rural areas and actually promoted by women who have stopped wearing a bra, lipstick and hair dye. Since when did real women want to wear their clothes frontwards or backwards and it just didn’t matter? Just tie those ties under where the boobs sit and voila’…chic fashion! A frisky leopard print would only encourage more of this!!!

  4. mrsmole says:

    While the drums are beating and the witch doctor reveals the knife or gazes into the volcano! On the lighter side it could also be a funeral shroud (like on your blog on Wearable Wednesday designer presentations) or something a devotee wears to his/her complete immersion baptism in the River Jordon. Could be the start of a new Etsy shop- “Shapeless”.

  5. Perhaps I should send your client my shroud-dress pattern 🙂

  6. Ines says:

    For Lisa: i definitely like the top, I think sleeveless is better. I also like the art part a lot. I think that the bottom doesn’t needs to be a solid for sure a pattern plus the balloon effect is too costumey, they needed to say that in the pattern!

  7. mrsmole says:

    Ines, I think you wanted to put this comment on the blog post today SEW BAD instead of this one.

  8. Jasmine says:

    I have done just that with a dress but not sure how to increase it as my bust, waist and hips have all got bigger. Not like your bag lady. Any help?

  9. mrsmole says:

    The best thing to do is Google alterations for full bust alteration and see the different ways it can be done. Some patterns can just be added all the way down the side seams but it is hard to say without seeing the original dress and knowing your measurements.

  10. Lee says:

    I am interested in knowing if you have the pattern for this and if you would be willing to make me one! Really!

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