Béa’s Stylish Shell Top Peplum Dress Hack

Sam Hack, Pattern Review, Tips & Tricks 5 Comments

I really like the Stylish Shell Top pattern. It’s been my go-to sleeved top since I first tried it last year. It’s a great canvas for pretty fabrics, because of its clean simple lines. It’s also open to all kinds of hacking.

Summer is the time I crave easy pull-on dresses, that are cool and loose enough not to cling when it gets hot. I was sure that I could lengthen the Stylish Shell Top pattern to make exactly that sort of dress. I’d bought this fab print fabric at Walthamstow Market in June (I just couldn’t resist those flamingos!) knowing it would make a super summer dress. I’m not entirely sure what it’s made of, but I’m guessing viscose. It’s got plenty of drape and swing, which is what I wanted for this project.

You can see where I was going with this hack. I just needed to lengthen the body of the top, so that it came down to my mid-thigh, and add the peplums/frills to the sleeves and hem. Easy! My bodice pattern pieces were already graded to my size and adjusted for my full bust, from the previous times I’ve used it, so that was all set.

I just needed to do a few checks and measurements, and make some notes for the cutting out. First the body pieces:

1.  I needed to check that the circumference of the lower hem of the top would fit over my derriere, just in case I needed to widen it. But it was fine. I even thought I could taper it in a bit, but decided to leave that decision until I could try it on, before adding the peplum.

2.  Next I needed to see how long I would need to cut the body pieces, to reach mid-thigh. The easiest way was to try on one of my earlier tops, and measure the difference between the hem and where I wanted the peplum to start. That came to 28cm. Since the pattern already includes a hem allowance, I didn’t need to worry about adding any seam allowance. So I knew I just needed to add 28cm of length to the pattern piece, when cutting.

Moving onto the sleeves, I finally got around to making a sleeve pattern piece that was longer and more tapered than the original sleeves that come with this pattern, so that it fits the arm more closely. Up until this point I’d winged it – I’m very much a suck-it-and-see type of pattern-hacker! This is how my sleeve piece compares to the original sleeve piece that comes with the pattern (my original does include a small width adjustment from my first make).

3.  My next check, against my adjusted sleeve pattern, was to establish how long I wanted the sleeves to be before the peplum started, and while I was at it, how much longer the sleeve should be with the peplum added. I wanted the basic sleeve length to be 22cms from the shoulder and once I added back the 1cm seam allowance at the sleeve head, and a 1½cm seam allowance for the peplum, I could fold my pattern piece back to give me the total length of 26½cm.

4.  The fourth check was to see what dimensions I would need for the peplums, on the sleeve and at the hem. For the sleeves, I measured the width just by holding my tape measure in a ring around my elbow, and adjusting it to about the size I thought it should be. I didn’t want too much floof there, so it was only a little bit wider than the sleeve pattern hem, 56cm, and it needed two seam allowances of 1½cm. For the height, again I measured how far down the arm I wanted the peplum to come, after the basic sleeve finished, and it came to 12cm. I added the 1½cm seam allowance and 2cms of hem allowance. That gave me the total dimensions of 59cm x 15½cms for each sleeve peplum.

For the hem I wanted a bit more swish, so I was going for the full width of the fabric, doubled, and I wanted it to be about 25cm tall. I decided it would depend on how much fabric I had available after cutting the other pieces.

5.  My final check was to make sure I could fit all the pieces onto the length of fabric I had – 3 metres. It was too narrow to fit my body pieces side by side, so I had to fit two lengths, with my fold over to the side. This would mean I could use the spare width for the sleeve pieces, and still have plenty for my hem peplum. I was all good to go!

Someone slimmer than me, or less busty, could probably make the same project with only 2 metres of fabric or less.

Armed with my notes, I was able to cut the pattern pieces, with all the necessary adjustments done by drawing straight onto the fabric with a Frixxion pen (other heat-erasable pens are available 😉 ), so that the marks would disappear when I pressed the fabric. (Of course I did a test in advance to make sure it would disappear!) For the peplum pieces, I used my clear quilting ruler, for nice straight lines and correct angles.

I did make a couple of amendments at the cutting stage. Firstly, once I’d cut the sleeves and held the fabric up to my arm, I felt they were still a bit flappier than I wanted, so I tapered them in a bit. Secondly, I made the neckline a couple of centimetres deeper at the front – it’s a summer dress after all.

And that was really all the hard work done. The sewing was quite straightforward. The order I followed was:

  1. Sew the bust darts
  2. Sew the shoulder and side seams
  3. Sew the sleeve seams
  4. Sew the gathering stitches along the top long edge of the sleeve peplum pieces
  5. Sew the gathering stitches along the top long edge of the hem peplum pieces (it’s easier to do the gathering in two goes, when there’s this much fabric, just in case a thread breaks)
  6. Fold the sleeve peplums in half and sew along the “height” seam to make a short wide tube
  7. Pull in the gathering stitches on the sleeve peplums, to match the lower edge of the sleeves, and sew the peplums onto the sleeves.
  8. Join the two hem peplum pieces to make a short and very wide tube
  9. Pull in the gathering stitches on the hem peplums, matching the hem of the dress, and the two side seams, and sew onto the hem of the dress.
  10. Insert the sleeves – there’s some advice on this in It Looks Like I Made It’s shell top post and in my first shell top post.
  11. Finish the neckline with bias binding.
  12. Hem the peplums at the sleeve and hem.

Béa blogs at Béa’s Sewing Adventures

Buy your Stylish Shell Top pattern here and find the back of pattern envelope below.

Comments 5

  1. Pingback: Flamingos | Béa's Sewing Adventures

  2. You look fabulous. I love the hack! As a bigger person, I didn’t think a dress would suit me but I think this one will. Thank you for explanation of fitting.

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