Sewing and Wearing So Many Shifts: A Guest Post from Beta Tester Extraordinaire Julie

Julie lives in Philadelphia, possesses glorious red curls, and, as far as I know, has sewn more shifts than any other civilian! For 2013, she's challenging herself to make all her own clothes and accessories and is blogging about her project at Handmade Mess. Today, she takes us on a tour of the many shifts she's made using her custom Wear the Shift sewing pattern as a jumping off point. So many pretty ideas! Thanks Julie!

(And, my lovelies, everyone can get their own custom pattern starting tomorrow! Stay tuned!)

Each of these dresses was made using the same pattern: my Wear the Shift custom-fit shift dress pattern. What I’ve discovered while working with this is that once you have a basic, well-fitting dress pattern, the variations to customize that basic shape are pretty much endless. I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of possibilities.

The basic shift design is a sleeveless, scoop-necked dress shaped with darts at the bust and back. Shown at the far left, above (and here), it’s great for a summer weight dress, a shell for layering, or as a jumper.  I liked it so much, I wanted to wear a shift in all seasons, so I quickly made another, raising the back neckline and adding short sleeves. (Julie's tutorial on how to do this is coming soon! -ed.)

From there, it seemed that every fabric lurking in my stash was another potential shift dress, each one lending different characteristics to the pattern.  A thick, stretchy bouclé fabric turned the design into a snuggly sweater dress. The neckline was raised for a more conservative shape to offset a flashy red wool. I removed pockets from the side for a smoother line, only to add them back later in the form of curved patch pockets as a design feature.

Along the way, the fit changed a bit, as well. I learned that even with the same pattern, the weights, thicknesses, and drapes of different fabrics required slight alterations to the basic shape. To dresses in thicker cloth, I added a small vertical dart to the front panels, under the bust, to create a waistline. I removed the side zipper, then later added a center back zipper on a version with a closer neckline, to make getting in and out easier.

I found it simple enough to make changes to the basic pattern, patching in new necklines, pockets, etc., using newspaper to add or fill, and marking other changes right on the original pattern, so that I could follow my notes in subsequent versions, if I wished.

And then, I started playing with the idea of a collar, creating a removable piece that could snap into the dress’s neckline, and then be removed for a different look on the same dress.

I still have more to figure out.  I’m still studying the art of darts, in particular. I know objectively that a basic “sloper” or dress form should have a bust point and static depth and length for proper shaping of a dart, yet I find that in practice, the length, in particular, varies with the weight of the fabric I’m working with, and I often end up adjusting darts a bit after the shoulders and sides have been seamed.

This photo shows the wide variation in dart positioning I’ve made, plus the vertical bust dart that I added to my basic front, whenever I’m working with thicker stiffer material, to keep the dress drapey and shapely.

The good thing is that I know the basic dress pattern -- my original shift -- fits properly, to my own unique measurements, so as I embark on creative variations on my own, I always have a strong foundation to return to. When in doubt, I can throw out my markings and alterations and go back to the original. In this way, sewing with my own custom-fit pattern has allowed me to be more adventurous in my sewing than I’ve ever dared to be with commercial patterns built to an idealized form. With those, I never knew if it was the pattern that was wrong (or just wrongly fitted to my body) or if it was I who had messed it up along the way.

I’m having quite a bit of fun learning in the classroom of my own home workroom, and testing my experiments in the form of fun, wearable dresses, out in the street.  If Wear the Shift ever expands to other garments (maybe slacks and jackets,?) I’d love to follow along.