The original idea I was dreaming up for my first The Fabric Store make of 2023 was a relaxed pant + robe combo. I kept seeing these colorful matching outfits on pinterest with really fun fabric placement and I was excited to try my own take. I wanted either a bold print or a bold choice of complimentary colored fabric to pair together and ultimately I landed on this lovely Liberty Tana Lawn in a print called Arthur’s Ark X (yellow hue) and Arthur’s Ark Y (blue hue) from The Fabric Store. When my fabric arrived I was surprised at how light and airy it was. Liberty never disappoints, but this Tana Lawn is really special- it’s super floaty without being sheer, so soft it’s almost silky, but not slippery, so it was very easy to sew with. It’s a textile that seems especially suited to something voluminous and dramatic for the summer, which excited me! So I decided to save the matching pants and robe make for some other time and just focus on giving this beautiful fabric a chance to shine.
In addition to all the matchy silk pants and robe sets I’d been mood boarding, I was also accumulating a a nice little collection of bustier-forward dresses on pinterest. For months I have been keeping my eyes out for a proper bustier pattern that I could simply attach a skirt to to bring my vision to life, but no good patterns ever cropped up amongst my go-to indie designers or any of the Big 4 brands I love most.
Which means that by the time I was ready to move forward with my idea, I had to go to etsy to find a bustier pattern and keep my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be a dud. I am so thankful that there is a platform that allows creators and artists to sell their work across the world fairly easily, but the etsy indie pattern scene is a tricky one and usually my last resort- there are lots of not great patterns out there (I’ve been burned before lol) and it isn’t always easy to know what will be an amazing discovery and what will be a complete waste of money.
I found an etsy shop dedicated to selling pattern blocks that looked promising, but when I muslined the bustier pattern I bought there, the fit was disappointing. The boob cups on the bustier were so wide that none of my bra underwires would come close to fitting them lengthwise. And even without the wires, the cups went all the way into my armpit- the shape just wasn’t right for me. I’m a 32B in most bras and rarely if ever have issues with fit in bodices, jackets and bras, so for this to fit so poorly right off the bat was a red flag. On a whim I pulled out an old bustier with boning I had made years ago and realized it was the right shape and look that I wanted for my dress. That garment was made from the Esplanade bra, a bra designed for two-way stretch and powernet fabric that I spiritually adjusted to work for me in a woven fabric (meaning I wasn’t following any particular guidelines and just made adjustments on instinct, putting my faith into the sewing gods that they would guide me). That bra came out cute but definitely had many learning successes- I hoped that applying the things I learned from that bra might make this version work just a little better, and I was right!
First thing I did was eliminate the back pattern piece because I knew I wanted a zipper closure for my dress instead of a long row of bra clasps. Secondly I needed to line the fabric for the bra cups because I only had black bra foam, and although the Tana Lawn fabric is mostly opaque, you could see the darker foam through the lightweight fabric. I left out the boning I’d used on my last bustier because I wanted this garment to feel casual and comfortable, and once it was all sewn up, I was pleased to see that it fit nicely and emotionally supported my boobs in just the right way. However, there was a bit of gaping on the top side seams of the bodice, the part that goes around the sides of my upper bust, under my arms. The Esplanade bra calls for a piece of 1/2″ wide bra elastic to be sewn on the inside of the upper bustier edge and folded over which cinches in that loose fabric and also pulls the bra cups firmly to the breasts so that there is no gaping in the front either (for reference, here is the regular Esplanade bra I made several years ago in proper stretch knit fabrics). I didn’t want to add chunky bra elastic to this dress but I did need the functionality of the elastic, so I made a thin channel on the top edge of the bodice out of my seam allowance and threaded 1/4″ elastic through it on either side, and boy did that do the trick. Thankfully the scrunching of the elastic is barely noticeable when I have the dress on.
Once I got the bodice to a place that felt right, I worked on my skirt. I did a poll in instagram stories asking people if they thought my inspo picture was a 1/2 or a full circle skirt and I was tickled to find out that it was pretty evenly split down the middle- people were just as mystified as I was. Ultimately I split the difference and went with a 3/4 circle skirt, mostly because I didn’t want to play fabric chicken and run out of yardage with a full circle skirt! I used an online calculator to draft my skirt (there are literally dozens of free ones online) and french seamed it up fairly quickly.
Only thing left to do was attach it to the bodice and add my closure, which should have been fairly straight forward, but man oh man this zipper was a DOOZY! I inserted it no less than 7 times! I was trying to find that magical place where the dress felt like it was supporting me and nothing was gonna fall out, but also where my ribs had room to expand and I could breathe comfortably. This of course is the benefit to sewing the bra in stretch fabrics- it gives you the support you need while allowing you to still be an alive human. Every time I found that spot, the waist seam on either side of the zipper in the back would be off by like, a centimeter! So I would take out the basting stitches and try again. Somehow my options were only too tight or slightly off center. Finally, thanks to being in recovery from perfectionism, I chose comfort over the slightly off center seam in the back and stitched it up for good, and I am super happy with my decision, haha.
In terms of the print/color blocking, I had no real plan for it other than to combine the two different fabrics in some way. I played around with placement in the mirror, thinking I might go for half and half in the front and back skirt so that you could see both colors head on and from the back, but I loved the way the full yellow looked on it’s own so I went with keeping the yellow half of the skirt in the front and the blue in the back. I would have also loved seeing the back in full blue including the bodice and the front in full yellow, but I have color blocked in that exact way on other garments before and just wanted to try something new. I decided to make the ties in blue so that you would get that pop of blue color from the front, and I love how the blue of the back skirt kind of billows out a little bit so that it gently frames the yellow in the front. Because of the way the bodice and cups are shaped, I preferred placing my straps at the very outside edge of the cups, but this meant I couldn’t really wear the straps over my shoulders without crossing them in the back- if the front and back straps are tied to their equal counterpart, the straps slide down.
I haven’t tried this yet but I imagine that wearing the dress without the straps won’t be too difficult to do- just tuck them all the way down inside the bodice so they are out of the way. I’m not sure how often I would wear it that way cause I’m in my *Unfussy Clothes* era and wouldn’t want to have to keep adjusting the bodice so it doesn’t slide down, but it’s nice to have the option! The shoes I have paired with the dress are memades from a year or two ago- clogs in black fur that I made to go with a specific dress but happen to go with tons of other things in my closet as well. The clog bottoms are from a company called Omes, but their website is not consistently available and now they go by Shoemaking Heels on etsy. The quality of the clog bottoms from this place is mostly good but I received a pair once where there was almost an entire centimeter difference between the height of the left and right pieces so they were unusable without having to do a lot of work to make them matching. Their customer service is also pretty poor and I’ve had trouble with almost every order I placed. It also took me months to get a shipment from them in the past, so I’m not sure if I would recommend them, per se, but I have made some great pairs of shoes with their product- do with this information what you will , just don’t say I didn’t tell you so, lol.
Overall I am very happy with how this dress came out- I love the drama, love the fun print and color, and I absolutely the way the bustier looks on me- it makes me feel sexy without feeling too exposed, my absolute favorite!