Early August, my sister asked me to be her +1 to her friend’s wedding. I wanted to wear something nice but comfortable. I love the sari look but with a toddler in-tow I didn’t want to be worrying about my outfit falling apart. I had an anarkali in the closet, but it doesn’t quite fit right. I figured I could make one.. it’s only a TON of fabric put together, right?!
I set out making it easy in my head (most of my projects start this way) – nice fitting bodice with a full circle skirt. That’s it! Soooo easy, right? Step 1 was finding the right pattern for the bodice. After looking at waaaay too many, I decided I just wanted a well drafted princess seam bodice. In comes By Hand London’s Elisalex Dress – princess seams, sleeves and lined bodice. BINGO!
Because this was going to be woven, and fitted, I decided to do a tissue fit first. This helped me modify a few things before ever cutting any fabric. I first learned of this fitting method while listening to Love to Sew Podcast where they interviewed Melissa Watson who teaches Palmer/Pletch tissue fitting method. Definitely recommend tissue fitting.
- Removed 1 1/3″ length from bodice length 4″ from the hem
- Removed 1/2″ length from center pieces near the shoulder
- Removed 1/2″ from center front fold so the princess seam would sit on the bust
- Added 1/2″ to front side seams to compensate for #3
- Sloped shoulder 1/8″ from mid-point
- Removed 1/8″ from shoulder length
- Moved full bust point down 1 3/8″
- Changed the neckline to sweetheart in front and big scoop in the back
First muslin was a big success. I originally was going to keep the bodice loose enough to skip the back zipper. Adjustment wise, there was a small sliver of fabric on my left back shoulder that I needed to remove. I got some feedback from the Self Sewn Wardrobe Facebook group (btw if you sew, you should join them!) to slope the shoulder more instead of using a dart to remove the excess fabric. That did the trick!
On to the sleeves – it looked flat at the cap, seemed like too much fabric at the back, and was a bit too tight when I bent my arm. Definitely need to make adjustments for the next muslin.
Modifications made from muslin #1:
- Removed 1 1/4″ at center back for a swayback adjustment
- Redrew the center line, removing 3/8″ at the top, increasing to 1/2″ and finally leading in to the swayback for better fit at the back
- Removed 3/8″ wedges at the top of the side seams to get rid of “wings”
For some reason, I thought the fabric I was going to use was stiffer so I made the next muslin using a thicker brocade fabric. The bodice went well and looked okay too. On the sleeves, I did a full arm adjustment and made it wider. I also cut off some from the bodice armscye.
Aaaand then I put it on … and I couldn’t move my arms..whomp whomp…
Modifications made from muslin #2:
- Add back what I removed from the armscye from both front and back
- Sleeves needed to be redone
Muslin #3/Final Lining
At this point, I was a bit frustrated. Sleeves always give me a hard time. But I was not going to be defeated! I decided to start over with the sleeves using the original pattern piece and tracing a larger size all around.
Then began to cut out the lining pieces .. and once I was done cutting all bodice pieces, I realized I cut on the cross grain out of quilting cotton… That was NOT going to work. Because I was using this for the skirt lining as well, I didn’t know if I could cut another bodice out of the same fabric. So I found a garment that was in the donate pile, that I have had for at least 20 years.
I recut the bodice and cut a sleeve as well. Everything worked just the way I wanted it to. The sleeve eased into the armscye with no issues and I could bend my arm and not be cutting off limbs.
Thinking to myself, that the fabric I’m going to be using is a bit delicate and that I really wanted a closer fit at the waist, I added a zipper. This red invisible zipper was in my zipper stash and thought it would be okay if it didn’t get it installed correctly, the red would add some color.
Modifications made from muslin #3:
- Cut each bodice piece 1″ longer to have the skirt sit just a bit lower than originally planned.
- Cut side panels with an added 1/2″ for future widening if need be, it would still be sewn at the original stitch line.
Originally, I was going to make this out of a sari that I found at a thrift shop, it was a grey and gold bandhni print with maroon and yellow border. My sister convinced me to go for something brighter in color. I went through my saris and found this orangey-yellow sari with a blood red border.
It was given to me by my mother, maybe a couple of years before she passed away. I had never worn it, one because of no occasion to wear it to, and because it didn’t drape well on me as a sari. My sister tried to convince me that it would look good. I was really quite hesitant of the color, and about botching something so emotionally precious to me. In the end, my sister was right, it did look good. And I feel happy wearing it. The colors aren’t quite right in the picture below, but it is the same sari.
It took some figuring out, but after perusing Instagram, I found some inspirations that I wanted to work with. Adding red details helped break up the large amount of yellow, red piping along the neckline, using the border as the hem of the sleeves, red “belt” along the waist, and of course the border at the hem.
Once all the sari pieces were cut, I immediately serged all the edges to prevent fraying. In this, I noticed that the fabric was quite delicate and it needed some reinforcements. I found an old cotton dupatta (stole) that was thin enough to not add too much bulk and underlined all the bodice pieces with it.
I left the sleeves unlined. Underlining helped with the construction as well, the pieces didn’t move as much. However, just to be safe, I did put my walking foot on the machine.
I had a hard time picking the right area of red to add as the belt. These were my three options:
I decided to go with the striped area that is actually part of the hem border (bottom option in the photo above) that I cut around and folded in.
It was attached into the side seams so if I do need to widen the bodice, the belt will not have any missing spots.
The plan was to dance in this dress, and what better way to achieve dancing awesomeness than to add a full circle skirt.
The skirt was measured using By Hand London’s circle skirt calculator. I could do the math, but I always forget the seam allowances or something else. The sari did fall a bit short so I had to add a sliver of fabric to complete the circle. I’ve seen this in ready to wear clothes as well, and it isn’t terribly noticeable.
But before I cut the circle, I had cut out the border part from either side of the sari with a 1/2″ seam allowance. It was to be reattached once the skirt was done.
The troubling beast, yet again… I couldn’t for the life of me get the sleeves to ease into the armscye. I was so frustrated, that I had to put the dress away and work on my daughter’s version first (another post on that coming soon). When I picked it up again, I pulled the sleeves so that in the end, I ended up having to remove 1 1/2″ from the top of the sleeve cap blending to 1″ at the armpit. I decided to hand baste the sleeves in beforehand so that I could make sure they really did fit. I will definitely be hand basting sleeves in the future, soooo much easier to attach this way! And now I can dance in them!
Pockets were a must! But again, underlined it to make sure the sari fabric could hold the contents in for a long period of time.
Once the border was attached back to the circle, I was in the home stretch. All there was left to do was add the sequin trim to hide the seam line. And done!
Whew! That was a long post! Thanks for sticking in there with me. I write it for two reasons 1) I hope I can help others in making something like this for themselves and 2) to document it all for my reference.