The Skater dress
I’m new to Simple Sew patterns, but when I was asked to be part of the team, I was definitely up for it. So many lovely patterns! It was really tricky to pick a first choice to blog about. I picked the Skater Dress:
I liked the lines of it, and it seemed like a very useful and potentially versatile style. My version ended up slightly different, just because of circumstances, but I’m definitely going to be making this again, and hopefully making it so that it’s more true to the designer’s original plans (i.e. more like the picture on the pattern envelope!)
The fabric I used was a gorgeous stretch sateen generously provided by White Tree Fabrics, and it was a joy to work with. That bit of stretch makes it super-comfortable.
It’s more vivid in real life – a glorious deep aqua colour. I think it also comes in navy and red colourways, but I can’t see them on the website, so you might need to contact White Tree about it, if that sounds of interest to you.
There is already a very good sewing tutorial for the Skater Dress at sewsweetsally’s blog, so there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel. But when I picked this pattern, I knew I was going to have to do some upsizing, so I figured this post could provide some information on how to go about grading the pattern up if you are bigger than an 18.
Settle in for a long read!
What I used:
- Tape measure
- Paper – I used a roll of paper tablecloth I got in France on holiday, because it was so cheap. It’s sturdy and came in lots of colours, which isn’t crucial but is a nice bonus! I’ve also found it doesn’t curl up, which makes it easy to work with. It’s got a pattern embossed onto it, which sometimes made finding the tracing wheel perforations a bit harder, but hey! It really was very cheap. I also used some tissue paper (not shown)
- Pencil and rubber.
- Tracing wheel.
- Cutting mat. Or you could use a table surface that you don’t mind ruining! I’ve got the biggest size mat I could find, A1.
- Ruler and Patternmaster.
- Sellotape. Ideally it would be the matt version that you can write on, but the plain shiny version is what I had to hand.
Step 1 – Measuring myself
– from the nape of my neck to my waist
– from my shoulder to my bust point
Step 2 – Tracing off the original pattern
I traced off the front and the back bodice pieces and the sleeve piece, using the largest size.
I didn’t trace the facing pieces, because the pattern was going to go through some major changes, so it was going to be easier to trace the facings from the final version of the pattern after all the grading and adjustments were done.
I also didn’t trace the skirt at this stage, because it’s a straightforward circle skirt, and I preferred to do the pi calculations after the bodice pieces were finalised.
Step 3 – Working out the all the grading figures
I’m not going to lie to you, this requires some maths! It’s not complicated, but there’s a lot of it. First, I converted the measurements on the pattern from inches to centimetres, because that’s the way I roll.
Then I compared my measurements with the measurements from the pattern, to see how much extra I was going to have to add to each pattern piece. I wasn’t sure if the measurements on the pattern were body sizes or finished garment sizes, but I decided to go with them for now, and see how it went. In general the skater dress is a close fitting silhouette, so it wasn’t going to need too much ease.
I used the Thrifty Stitcher’s tutorial on grading for a reminder of the correct maths and cutting lines. It’s mildly headache-inducing, because of all the maths, but it does all end up making sense.
Once I knew how much I needed to add to the pattern measurements, to expand the bust and waist measurements (include some wearing ease – I added 3cm), the next step was to divide the figure by four, so that the extra gets added across the two front halves and the two back halves of the bodice equally. I then needed to divide those numbers again, so that the extra width got spread in the right proportions across each pattern piece. This time it was a slightly unequal division.
I also checked what height differences I would need to make. The back was fairly easy, but there was some variance between the centre difference figure (4cm) and the side seam difference figure (8 cm). That’s because I have a massive swayback, so I need more fabric at my sides than I do at the small of my back, to avoid wrinkling. I also added 1cm to the shoulder height.
The front was a lot more complex, because of my enormous bust. I was fairly sure I’d need to do a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA). This was starting to get confusing, so I decided that on this initial grading, I would ensure the front matched the back, at the side seams (i.e. that 8cm I just mentioned) and shoulder height (the 1cm) and then I could work out what personal fitting adjustments would be needed afterwards.
For the sleeves, I wanted to add a couple of centimetres to the length, because I’m funny about my elbows, and I wanted to be sure that when I bend my arms, they would still be covered by the half sleeve.
Step 4 – Redrafting the pattern
I was using the slash and spread method of grading. It’s quite time consuming, but it gives the most effective results, when grading large measurement differentials. This method involves you cutting the original sized pattern up, spreading the cut pieces out, and filling in the gaps in between with more paper. If that doesn’t make much sense right now, it will hopefully become clear from the photos that follow. Basically, this is what we’re aiming for:
The Thrifty Stitcher’s post is good at explaining what you are doing and why; what I can usefully do is explain how I made sure I physically spread all my pattern bits by the right designated amount.
- Start by spreading the large piece of paper (I was using pink tissue paper) to be the “filler”.
- Cut the traced off pattern along the cutting lines identified in the Thrifty Stitcher’s tutorial, and place them on the large piece of paper. Work out roughly how much you’re going to need to expand the pattern, so that you can place the pattern appropriately and avoid having to do too much paper piecing later.
- If in doubt, label all the pieces as you go! There will be some small pieces, make sure you don’t lose them. I stuck mine to the outer edges of my cutting mat with sellotape, when I wasn’t working on them.
- Get the big central piece down first. Tape it down securely at the sides. I’ve labelled this piece A in the image below. Extend the grainline marking, so that you can keep track of this and make sure everything is being taped down parallel properly.
- Measure the calculated difference from your maths for each cutting line. On either side of piece A, it’s a smaller grade – in my case, 2cm. I found it helpful to write the difference figures on the pink tissue paper to make sure I didn’t forget and mark the wrong one (ask me why I decided this would be a good plan, go on, ask me). Tape down the piece to the left of piece A (piece B in my photo below). Make sure the pieces are parallel, and on the same vertical lines. Repeat the process with piece C to the right of piece A.
- The final slash in that line of pieces (under the arms) is a larger grade – in my case 4cm.
- Next I moved down to the lower level. The height difference I needed was, um, different, at the centre compared to the side seams, because I have a massive swayback. The difference was 4 cm at the centre, but 8 cm at the side seams. That means the pattern starts to look a bit wonky, pulling down at the bottom seam-side. It’s ok, it means we’re adding extra fabric, where it’s needed.
- The lower level of pieces is also slightly different because I needed to add more at waist level than I needed to add at bust level. So again, the basic shape is being slightly pulled out of whack, so that I’ve got as much extra fabric there as I need.
- I used the same basic order as for the middle section, getting the larger middle piece (E) down first, and then the one to its left (F) second, then G and H to the right.
- Moving on up to the top section, I added 1cm extra to the height of the shoulder section. It didn’t matter too much which way round I go those two top pieces, but for what it’s worth I stuck with my tried and tested method, and did the more central piece (I) first, then the piece on the armscye.
Once all the pattern pieces were taped down, I needed to do some hefty neatening up of the lines. Firstly I redrew the grainline, to make sure it was still correct, then I used my patternmaster (French curve) to redraw the lower edge of the bodice, and the curve of the back V. I had started to cut it out before I remembered I was photo-documenting this process – I hope it’s still clear!
When working on the Front bodice piece, the basic process was the same, BUT instead of extending the grainline as my first thing to sort out, it was the foldline that was my fixed line, so I needed to start with a foldline piece first, extend the line, and work outwards from that towards the side seam edge on each level. The other change I made was to tweak where the bust dart was, at this stage, so I didn’t have too far to shift it when I did the FBA later.
For the sleeves, the order of working was quite simple. I started by taping down the top of the sleeve head (A in the image below). The sleeve piece in this pattern is symmetrical, so I pencilled in the centre line as my fixing line. Next I worked downwards from the top, (piece B). The amount that needed to be added here, is the same as the amount I added vertically to the shoulder/armscye, so that my new sleeve will fit into my new armhole. So in my case that was the 1cm that I’d added to the shoulder height. Then piece C had to be 2cm away from piece B, because that’s the extra elbow-covering length I wanted.
Then it was a case of working on the side pieces. Because the sleeves are symmetrical, I guess I could have done just one single side, and cut on the fold. But I did both. The amount I had to extend sideways (under the arm) is the amount I added to the underarm section of the bodice front and back pieces, again, to make sure that the new sleeve will fit into the new bodice underarm. So in my case that was 4cm. I did the right side first (D and E) and then the left side (F and G), but I could just as easily have done D and F, followed by E and G.
Once I’d neatened the new sleeve edges, I did fold the piece in half, and do a light bit of trimming to make sure it was all symmetrical.
Step 5 – Fitting
Having made all those adjustments, I did a quick tissue fit, holding the new pattern pieces against my body, to make sure they were more or less ok. The back looked right, but as I had thought, the front was clearly in need of an FBA. This post is plenty long enough as it is, so I’m not going to explain about Full Bust Adjustments, there are lots of good explanations and tutorials out there on the internet. But here’s a photo of the front bodice piece as a result – this pattern piece was getting excitingly different from that neat and tidy original!
Next, I made a calico toile, as there were bound to be fitting issues to fix. I only toiled the bodice, but I found that I needed to:
- Make the front a bit narrower, which I did by pinching out 1.5 cm off the fold line
- Move the waist darts out, as they were far too close together. I moved them out by 8cm
- Extend the bust dart apex as it was too short.
- Pinch out a bit of gapeage in the back V.
The great thing about a calico toile is that you can draw on it, to mark all your amendments, and then use that to update your pattern pieces. I transferred all the changes onto my pattern pieces, (now looking incredibly messy!). I could then use these to trace off facings for the neckline. I traced the outer edge of the pattern, across the shoulder, down the neckline/back V, and a little way down the centre fold/centre seam. I added 7cm to that.
Step 6 – Coming back to the skirt pieces
Now that I knew the lower bodice measurements, I could work on the skirt pattern adjustments. I didn’t trace off the original pattern pieces, because I could draw the new pattern straight onto my paper. The skirt is a full circle, divided into a half circle (the front) and two quarter circles (the back). This meant my skirt pieces would need to have Seam Allowances added to my half/quarter circles. I also had a pattern which has more fabric at the front than at the back, because of my FBA, so to get all the seams to match, I was going to need a different circle calculation for front and back.
I measured my toile pieces, because they already had the darts sewn in as well as some of the seam allowances (I hadn’t sewn the back opening), so I would have a net figure for each of my circle and pi calculations.
- Back = 33cm less the centre back seam allowance that I hadn’t sewn (1.5cm) meant the back was 31.5cm net
- For the front I measured only half the lower bodice edge, because I would be making this pattern piece to cut on the fold.
- ½ Front = 39.75 less the 1.5cm I’d pinched out meant the front was 38.25cm net
My logic was that I would need to convert each of those figures into a full circle measurement, and then I would need to divide it by four to get the quarter circle. I would then need to add 1.5cm to each seam edge on the back pieces and to the one seam edge of the front (cut on fold) piece. My circle would end up being slightly wonky because of the two different circumferences, but I can live with that.
The other measurement I needed to work out was how long I wanted the skirt to be, because the skirt on the pattern is rather short and would end up above my knee. I’m not too keen on that much leg being on show, so I opted for a length of 70cm to give me reasonable coverage and a hem allowance.
When drawing the pattern piece, it made sense to use the straight lines I’ve already got with the paper edge/fabric selvedge, so what I needed to work out was how long the yellow section in this diagram (the radius) should be, to create the right amount to cut out the top of the skirt piece, and then measure down from there:
Here comes the maths…
The calculation for the radius is circumference divided by (pi x 2). You don’t need to understand it, just put the numbers in.
So, we know the circumference of the whole circle for the Front piece is 141 (ie, my quarter front waist measurement of 38.25 x 4), we know pi is 3.14, so pi x 2 is 6.28, which means that the radius is 141 divided by 6.28, ie 22.45, let’s say 22.5cm, that’s how far down my straight line from the centre of the circle my skirt front was going to start. I measured 70cm down from there, to get the length I wanted.
BUT, I’d need to sew the skirt piece to the bodice, so I needed to add 1.5cm to the top of the pattern piece, which means taking 1.5cm off the radius above the waistline curve. So now the pattern piece has to start 21cm down from the centre of the circle.
For the back piece, it was the same calculation, with a slightly different circumference (31.5 x 4 is 126), so the radius is circumference (126) divided by pi x 2 (6.28) which gave me the radius length of 20cm (+70cm for the length), and when I took the seam allowance of 1.5 off that, my back skirt piece had to start 18.5cm from the centre of the circle.
So that’s the calculation for the quarter circles. But again, I needed to sew all those circle pieces together into my one big wonky circle for the skirt, so the last thing I needed to do was add the seam allowances at the sides of the two back pieces, and the non-fold side of the front piece.
Boom! Pattern done!
However, in practice, when cutting out the pattern to sew, I found I didn’t have enough fabric for the skirt pieces to be this long, and I had to improvise. It’s the story of my life! I changed the skirt element to be only a half circle, which I could fit as a single piece in the fabric I had left after cutting all the bodice pieces. So it’s less full, but at least my knees are covered! Next time, I’ll make sure I have enough fabric to go for the full circle- I like a bit of twirlyness!
Step 7 – Sewing
With my pattern all now updated and complete, in a perfect world, I would have made another toile, this time a possibly wearable one, in a fabric that I would be happy to wear if it all worked well, but ok with scrapping if it turned out further amendments were needed. Time and blogging deadlines were not on my side though, and I just had to go for it and hope. But it really did need another toile. When I sewed the dress up it was still too big – I’m fairly sure this is because I hadn’t got the right balance between the grading and the FBA. I’ve fettled it so that it works, by pinching the darts in the bodice a bit in a bit more and extending them downwards into the skirt. It means it’s not really a proper Skater dress, but it makes it wearable.
I’m afraid this isn’t my perfect version of this dress. I do like it, but this isn’t what I originally had in my head, so it is a bit disappointing. I really would have preferred to have a perfect version of the dress for my First Simple Sew Blog Post. But life isn’t perfect and the thing about sewing is that even when things aren’t what you originally planned, you can still learn from them.
The lessons I’m taking from this experience are: 1) Get started on my pattern-futzing a lot sooner, because Deadlines. 2) Make more toiles to get the futzing right, and 3) Plan better and consider the pattern lay in advance, to make sure I have the right amount of fabric.
And so long as I forget what it was originally meant to look like, and I embrace this dress for the way it actually does look like, I’m very happy with it. That’s the joy of Improvisation. Nobody else (well, apart from all of you reading this!) knows what it was supposed to look like, and for all anyone else knows, this is EXACTLY how it was meant to turn out!
I totally planned it this way!
Béa blogs at Béa’s Sewing Adventures.