Sunday Sewing ... Easy Summer Maxi Dress

Easy no pattern summer maxi dressNo pattern empire line maxi dress. 

In anticipation of some sun this summer I attempted to sew a maxi dress without a pattern from fabric I had left over from an earlier make. Though I had found this viscose tricky to manage when sewing it felt so nice on I had to find a way of using it for the hot weather. After toying around with some skirt draping I decided to take the opportunity to make a maxi dress as I have never found one in the shops that fits me (all far too long). Now I have ended up with a comfortable, summery dress perfect for my upcoming holiday.

No-pattern sewing is new to me, a novice at best in why take the step into the unkown? Three reasons...I wanted to make it straight away, I also didn't really want to spend money on another pattern (having quite a few stored up unused already), and none of the ones I saw online matched what I had in my head. So I started winging it.

What I used:
Fabric  - tropical print viscose £4.99 per metre from Remnant Kings
Thread - Gutermann 736
Elastic - 25 mm Gold-Zack soft elastic from John Lewis

What I did:
Measure and cut.
For the main body of the dress I used three measurements to essentially create two rectangles together in one piece of fabric: 

  1. First is the length … top to floor keeping tape measure close to the body over the bust. Add 4.5cm for elastic casing at top of dress, plus 3cm for hem.
  2. Next is your width measurement. This dress has no fastenings so will need to be pulled over either shoulders or hips. I chose hips as they are easier to measure! I took a tape measure around the hips and added enough ‘ease’ to get the dress on and off easily. The bare minimum in my case as the viscose had a little stretch and I didn't want lots of excess fabric on the top half.
  3. Finally I measured the distance between top bust and under bust/waist. 

Rectangle 1 is the top half half of the dress (measurement 2 x 3).
Rectangle 2 is the bottom half of the dress (measurement 1 take away 3 x 2)
These were drawn out next to each other and cut out as one large piece (on the fold, so widths divided by 2).

There were only a couple more elements left to get ready.

Elastic: Measure and cut a length of elastic for the top and the under bust/waist. I did this without a tape measure using just the elastic and a safety pin, testing out what was comfortable yet stable. I added 1.5cm seam allowances and cut.

Under bust casing. Measure and cut a rectangle 5cm wide x measurement 2 (hips), plus 3cm for seam allowances

1. Turn and press 1.5cm back seam down length of dress, ready for later.

2. Top casing: Turn and press top 1 cm to the wrong side, then another 3.5 cm for elastic casing. Pin and topstitch in place. 
(The back seam should be turned in from step 1, leaving a nice opening for the elastic rather than raw edges).
3. Under bust/waist casing: Turn over and press 1.5cm on the short ends of the rectangle (wrong sides facing). Sew in place. This is to leave a small opening inside the dress to pass the elastic through.
Turn over 1 cm on each of the longer sides of the rectangle (wrongs sides facing) and press.
Clip the corners to reduce bulk.
Using measurement 3 pin the casing at this distance in a parallel line to the top bust casing. 
Topstitch in place.

Being eternally worried about my propensity to wonky stitching, and not being able to use a seam guide due to where it was on the dress, I came up with this...

I pinned the elastic in place, and used this as a guide against the machine foot to create a straight line of stitching.
When I needed to switch sides I switched to a zip foot, which was even better for guiding against the elastic.

4. Pin and stitch back seam from top to bottom. Trim, press open and finish with zig zag stitch.

5. Bottom hem: Turn and press 1.5 cm to the wrong side, then turn and press another 1.5 cm. Pin in place and topstitch.

6. Insert elastic to casings by fixing a safety pin to the end and feeding through until both ends are poking out of the opening. Secure the ends with 1.5cm seam allowances, and then secure the remaining flaps down either side of the seam with a line of stitching.

7. Pray for some sun!


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Welcome to Sewing and Other Stories; my journeys with sewing and knitting; pattern reviews, tips and guides for beginners. I'm also the designer behind West Beach Knits knitting patterns and I host a Knitting and Sewing channel on YouTube where you can see all of this in person. Come have a look!

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