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Once again, work has gotten to be so hectic that time for everything else has just about dried up. I tried at first to buy some extra minutes by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases from utterance, such as “please,” “thank you,” “are you going to eat that?” and “you don’t mind if I cut ahead of you, right?” And although I found myself at the front of queues much sooner after implementing these changes, I still found myself short on time, which meant no sewing for weeks on end. I finally squeezed a few hours this weekend to finish up a stagnating project (most likely at the expense of lectures that needed prepping or students that needed help- suckas!) – a dress inspired by the Kate Spade “Jillian” polka dot dress. Here’s the original:
Sooooooo pretty, right?? This dress has been drooled over by many a seamstress, including Kerry, who took a much smarter and more efficient approach to satisfying her covet. Not so for the Selfish Seamstress, who had to do things the slow way. (Kerry, incidentally, is so similar to Selfish in proportions that Selfish occasionally dreams of annexing Kerry, installing her in the sewing room, and using her as some sort of feisty, live-action dress form. Oh, what fun we would have, and what a precise fit!)
I don’t know on what blog or website I first saw the dress, but I am sure that the picture above is the first one I saw, and the one I fell for. I don’t think I would have gotten quite so excited over it if I had only seen the modeled dress. Subsequent research on the dress revealed a slightly more sedate, less flared skirt than I had expected as well as a rather polka-dot-disruptive back seamed skirt that I wanted to avoid (as I had done before when knocking off other polka dot garments).
And so I set off to improve upon the original to make it more to my liking. Yes, you read that correctly- a crankpot nobody sewing blogger with average sewing skills, no fashion design training, and paltry creative vision of her own actually claimed she was going to improve upon KATE SPADE. Improve. Kate Spade. Hubrisalicious!
Planned improvement #1: more flare in the skirt. Planned improvement #2: side zip instead of back zip to ditch the back seam. Planned improvement #3: COTTON. Online retailers described the original polka dot Jillian dress as being done in “heavy silk organza.” Really? Looks like taffeta to me. Whatever weave it is, it’s strictly a party dress in sheeny, stiff silk. And Selfish never gets invited to parties on account of her tendency to ruin everyone else’s evening, so she was aiming for a little more versatility- something she could wear to ruin general everyday events for people.
Improvement #3 turned out to be a rather tall order, as it was hard to find the right navy and white polka dot cotton fabric. I didn’t want to wuss out with some rinky-dink mid-scale 1/2″ polka dot. I wanted a proper, robust, intentionally large, unashamed dot. Plus I wanted a regular dot pattern, like Kate’s, and not an irregular, scattered dot. See this? Unacceptable:
After much scouring of the internet, I found this perfectly patterned navy and and white cotton on Denver Fabrics, with just the right size dot (slightly less dense than the original, but not a problem) and a smooth, sateen-like weave, for the just-right price of $5.50 . (Of course, I was so desperate to have the dress that I paid the $40 international shipping to procure 2.5 yards of it. Oh, Selfish, there you go again.) The dots are perfectly circular in real life- they just look a little eccentric in the picture.
The fabric arrived and although it’s not lightweight, it’s softer and drapier than I was expecting- it feels like the high thread count cotton Royal Sateen bedsheets that my mom loves, after they’ve been through the wash a couple of times. So, rather limp and prone to wrinkling- better suited to a softer, looser style of dress than the crisp fit and flare silhouette that I had envisioned. But I was determined and certainly wasn’t going to find a better print so I pressed on.
I was going to draft the dress from scratch, and then I remembered that I had a custom-drafted pattern with just the right bodice for it that I could use as a block- my good old Coffee Date Dress (download the pattern and instructions for free here!). I slashed-and-spread the skirt in several places to give it a little more flare for good measure (the original Coffee Date Dress draft has a rather modest flare) and added a 4″ inverted box pleat in the center front à la Kate. I omitted the Coffee Date Dress’s back zip in favor of a side invisible zip to avoid the dreaded polka dot disruption:
The side seam polka-dot disruption is much less jarring since the side seam of the skirt is on the bias and no strong vertical elements to get interrupted:
And of course, I drafted the fun midriff drape and the bow (the tails of my bow are a little longer than in the original. Somehow I thought the little bow looked rather twee, but with this style of dress that’s kind of like further splitting hairs that have already been split.) The bow droops a bit due to the softness of the fabric so I may open it up again and line or interface it.
Because the fabric was so soft, I opted to do a full lining instead of facings to give it a little more body. I used a champagne taffeta lining from my stash- probably an acetate and rayon blend, but possibly full acetate. It has a bit more stiffness than Bemberg (a good thing for the soft fashion fabric) and the champagne color softens the sparkling whiteness of the polka dot fabric a little (also a good thing, in my opinion.)
I don’t regret adding in the extra flare to the skirt – this dress looks pretty much like what I imagined in my head. But the volume of the skirt does cause the front box pleat to get a little bit lost in the shuffle. And I always forget how short I drafted the original Coffee Date Dress- I’ve got about a 3/4″ hem only because I didn’t want to go any shorter with this style.
There you have it- inspired by the Kate Spade polka dot Jillian dress, knocked off and “improved” by the Selfish Seamstress on the cheap, ready to wear to any number of places and activities where you can fully expect that I will ruin your day and that of everyone around you. Oh, by the way, are you going to eat that? Thanks.
I stumbled upon this image of a Banana Republic polka dot skirt a couple of nights ago and was tickled at the navy dots with yellow combination. Fortunately for me, I had some fabric in a nearly identical print (though not a nearly identical weight) in my stash.
I downloaded BurdaStyle’s free Twinkle by Wenlan A-Plus A-Line skirt pattern, and was off! Oh, I wish I had a cute yellow cardigan now, but as I do not, I’ll model it with my lemony shoes:
The skirt has a front and back yoke, and a couple of pleats down the front.
The back of the skirt is plain:
I cut the yoke on the bias to mix the dots up a little so it wouldn’t be vertical stripes of dots the whole way up. The fabric is a heavy cotton (I believe the Banana Republic one is a lightweight cotton silk blend.), about the weight of cotton duck, and it’s cut a non-stretch ribbed weave:
I used a vintage white metal zipper on the side and some white rayon lining, leftover from the Guggenheim Coat.
My New Love
Best of all, I have no idea how I remembered this, but I found some navy lace hem tape in my sewing box. I don’t know how I ended up with this, but I’m guessing it was probably in a sack of random notions I found at a thrift shop ten years ago or something. Have you ever used this stuff? I hadn’t until yesterday, and now I am IN LOVE! (That’s right, Dan was away for about 10 hours before I found a new object of devotion and affection.)
I handstitched the lace to the edge of the skirt, and then I did an invisible hem along the edge of the lace, also by hand:
And not only does this make it pretty on the inside, it makes the hem sooooo invisible on the outside!
Look, ma, no hem! The zero-bulk of the lace means that the invisible stitches are really truly invisible and there’s no line where the edge of the fabric is attached. I’m going to be buying a LOT more of this stuff.
The Gripe (stop reading here if all you want is the warm, fuzzy side of the skirt story and don’t feel like hearing me complain yet again):
Because The Selfish Seamstress can always find something to grumble about, I do have a gripe with this pattern. I love the style and the fit was great (I made the size 0, and I didn’t edit a thing except to shorten it at the hem). But the pattern was FIFTY-ONE pages. It took more than a tenth of a ream of paper to print out a simple skirt pattern. (If I were to mention this on BurdaStyle, I would undoubtedly be assaulted with a firestorm of “Stop complaining, it’s free, and if you don’t like it, shut up and don’t download it!” type responses. I do love BurdaStyle, but a lot of people there sure seem to love picking fights.) But seriously, it’s not that I’m too lazy to do the work of taping it together or too cheap to buy paper. But I don’t care for the resulting resource waste:
Moreover, the pattern itself uses sooooo much more paper than it has to because the skirt front and back are not drafted on the fold! Instead of creating half of a skirt front and half of a skirt back and instructing the sewer to cut it on the fold, the pattern includes an entire skirt front and an entire skirt back meant to be cut on a single layer of the fabric, even though there’s no reason not to cut it on the fold. Also, the drafting is slightly off so the skirt pieces aren’t quite symmetrical down the center. If one were to use the pattern as drafted, one would actually end up with a less symmetrical end product than if one were to cut it on the fold. I folded them down the middle to figure out why my polka dots weren’t lining up quite right and found this with both pieces:
See how the sides aren’t drafted the same, and the hem isn’t quite symmetrical either? I went back and shaved off the overhang so it was symmetrical and then my dots matched up after that.
I discovered this after also finding that the Sidonie skirt pattern used 26 pieces of paper because they included separate pattern pieces for the skirt and the skirt lining, even though they are exactly the same with the exception of a 1 5/8″ hem allowance on the skirt and a different grain marking.
Each of these patterns used nearly twice as much paper as they should have. I realize that they are patterns intended to appeal to the beginner sewer, and pattern companies assume less and less sewing knowledge as time goes on, and do more and more hand holding with patterns and instructions. But I think even a beginner can handle a very simple concept like cutting on the fold. Are the pattern producers worried that a beginner, confronted with only half of a skirt front pattern and asked to double it in a symmetrical fashion would misunderstand and put zippers on both side seams??
Anyway, this may seem like a petty gripe, but the truth is that task of assembling printed patterns doesn’t annoy me, even if it takes an hour an a half. What bugs me is that the assumption that even the most basic of sewing techniques, such as cutting on the fold, will be too challenging and discouraging for a beginner and the resulting repeated lowering of the bar (do we really have that little faith in people’s abilities and motivation?), combined with unnecessary environmental wastefulness which seems to run so very counter to the reasons why so many of the new generation of home sewers are attracted to making the idea of making their own clothes in the first place.
Oh well, I can’t say I didn’t get a fun skirt out of it :)