Ruffles and Flutters

The Ellie & Mac Felicia Custom-Fit Cup Size Dress Pattern is super cute, but takes some time to make, especially if you include the flutter and ruffle options. It offers a nice custom fit by providing cup-size options and bodice darts. This isn’t all that critical for those with my proportions, especially when I sew with light, stretchy fabrics. However, I do think the bodice pattern will be nice for sewing heavier knits. I sewed my dress with a lightweight and drapey rayon spandex deadstock fabric form The lightweight fabric drapes quite nicely for ruffles and flutters, so I took advantage of that.

I made the high v-neck option with the long flutter sleeve. I made a couple of deviations from the pattern for both the neck and the sleeve. When I started basting together the v-neck, following the pattern instructions, I found that the acute angle that is marked for the v-neck back is too sharp an angle to smoothly match the high v-neck in the bodice. After trying unsuccessfully to make it work a couple of times, I cut a new neck band and cut the angle at 90 degrees. This lined up with the bodice perfectly and lies very smooth. (From looking at photos others have posted, it looks like others may have had this problem too and would benefit from a 90 degree cut.) The other change I made was to fold the arm facings in half so that I when I top stitched them down they have a finished edge and do not need to be trimmed. This might not work with heavier fabric but worked really well with my light-weight fabric.

I added work for myself by adding a ruffle to the bottom of the skirt. I cut the skirt mini-skirt length and cut a 4.25″ x 140″ ruffle, as suggested in the add-on ruffle tutorial. (I’m 5’2″ so miniskirt plus ruffle comes to just above my knee.)I hemmed the ruffle and gathered the ruffle in four sections before attaching it to the bottom of the skirt. The ruffle looks really nice, but it was time consuming to do all that gathering and get it even, especially using such stretchy fabric.

Because I refuse to sew dresses without pockets, I added inseam pockets to the sides of the skirt and secured them at the waist. I view this step as critical, but it did add to the time needed to complete this project. In addition, once I had the whole thing sewn together I realized that the fabric was so stretchy that the bodice had “grown” a bit from the weight of the skirt — and that was before I put anything into the pockets. The clear elastic didn’t help, and was a bit itchy around my waist. I ended up cutting off the skirt removing about an inch of fabric from both the bottom of the bodice and the top of the skirt, and then reattaching them with a 1.5-inch waistband in between, cut with a smaller diameter than the bodice so that it would stretch around my waist. I lined the waistband with athletic knit to add some stability to the waistband. This looks and feels a lot better, and I can actually put things in my pockets now too.

Overall, I’m pleased with the results, even if annoyed by the process. The ruffle at the bottom looks great with the flutter sleeves. The rayon spandex is soft and breathable and very comfortable to wear, but given my feelings about pockets, I will think twice before using it for anything other than a top in the future. I was very happy to figure out how to get the v-neck to lie flat and to recover from the growing fabric problem by adding a lined waistband.

How to sew a $1000 prom dress for $120

Last winter my daughter was browsing online looking for prom dress inspiration when she found the dresses of her dreams: Teuta Matoshi’s Flourishing Meadow Corset Dress, Flourishinig Meadow Midi Dress, and Flourishing Meadow Gown. She loved the sage green embroidered tulle, full skirt, and enormous tulle puff sleeves. She preferred the long sleeves on the corset dress and the V neck on the gown (but maybe not cut quite that low). What she didn’t like was the $850-$1050 price tag. Just in case, she showed me the dresses. When I suggested that we could try sewing something similar she objected that reproducing the embroidery on the tulle would be difficult and time consuming. I assured her that we could buy the tulle already embroidered.

I asked my daughter to look at online pattern shops for a suitable dress pattern (ideally with projector PDF files), and to check online fabric stores and Etsy for embroidered tulle. Over winter break she got to work and emailed me a list of URLs for dress patterns and tulle. The dress patterns were designed with zippers for woven fabrics, and all would require some modification to get the look she was going for. It occurred to me that one of my favorite indie pattern companies Sinclair Patterns had a knit dress in a similar style. I wondered whether the Sinclair Yasmin dress might be adapted to have deep front and back Vs (but not so deep as to preclude wearing a normal bra), a full skirt, and a tulle overlay. I remembered seeing a post from a sewist on Sinclair’s Facebook group in which she had used the Yasmin pattern to reproduce the Internet famous Lirika Matoshi strawberry dress, which also has a tulle overlay. I decided the Yasmin pattern could work.

My daughter debated which tulle to use at length, and eventually selected tulle that appears to be exactly the same as the tulle used in the original flourishing meadow dresses. The embroidery might be a little bit looser than in the original, but otherwise it seems to be the same. We ordered the tulle from an online lace store in Hong Kong that sells on Etsy.

Once we settled on the pattern and the tulle, we needed to find light green fabric that matched the tulle. It is really difficult to shop for fabric by color online as the color looks different on different monitors and different lighting conditions impact the fabric photos. I also wasn’t entirely sure what kind of fabric I wanted. I knew I wanted a knit, something with some sheen to it, and ideally a bit of structure but also fairly drapey. I ordered about 20 different green fabric samples from four different online fabric stores. I tried scuba, ITY, tricot, and various other fabrics with combinations of spandex, polyester, nylong, and rayon in their fiber content. I ordered variations on sage green, light green, mint green and “greeninsh” (yes that’s what one fabric store call it) colors. You can see most of the samples in the photo below. Note how much variation there is in the fabrics, including those that have the same color name.

The winner was Sage Sparkle Nylon/Spandex from Califabrics, which was the perfect color and weight for this project (and a little lighter than the green in the original dress). This is a fabric that might be used to make leotards or bathing suits, but also has a nice drape for a dress. When I went back to the website to order five yards of it, I discovered they had only one yard left. As it was a designer deadstock, I feared it might not be possible to get more, but I emailed the store to find out. About a week later, Ron from Califabrics emailed me to say he had found another 15 yards of this fabric (Thank you Ron!). I was so excited I ordered it immediately!

Before cutting into the beautiful prom dress fabric, I decided I would do some prototyping first. I sewed myself a Yasmin dress out of floral ITY fabric without alterations and then sewed my daughter a Yasmin top modified to have front and back deep Vs. Finally, I sewed myself a lovely baby blue knee-length dress with the V alterations, a full-circle skirt, and a tulle overlay with embroidered daisies. I learned a lot in the prototyping process and got a really lovely dress for myself that I probably would not have otherwise attempted (and I wore it a couple of weeks ago to perform with my flute choir).

After my extensive prototyping, I opened the Yasmin pattern in Affinity Designer and modified it for this final prom project. I started with the 2R size and drew in a square shoulder adjustment (that I had discovered my daughter needed when I made her the modified top) and the modified front and back Vs from my prototyping. I moved all the dots for marking the pleats closer to the seam allowance so that I could mark them on the fabric without fear of them showing up on the finished garment. Having learned from making my blue dress that the tulle overlay substantially reduces the bodice ease, I added about an inch to the side seams of both the front and back bodice pieces, starting at the bottom and tapering up to a quarter of an inch at the armscye. I also added about an inch to each side of the front and back waistband pieces, effectively adding almost 4 inches of ease. (That seemed like a lot to add, but I needed it for the blue dress and I figured if it turned out to be unnecessary I could always trim it off and resew the side seam.) I further modified the bishop sleeves I used in the blue dress to make them even wider and puffier, including stretching out the top of the sleeve so that it needed to be gathered before being attached. Finally, I drafted a full-length (40 inch) full-circle skirt pattern based on the Sinclair flared skirt add-on pack for the Valley Skater Dress. I then opened a new Affinity Designer file and made a a page the size of my 5-yard fabric piece. I copied the pattern pieces onto this page and laid them out so everything would fit. The big puffy sleeves just barely fit (I had considered making them even bigger to more closely match the original, but this was all I could do with the fabric I had). I decided I could cut the skirt as two giant semi-circles and avoid the center seam.

I realized that the projector wasn’t going to be much help for cutting the full-length full-circle skirt. So instead of projecting I moved all my cutting mats to the floor and spread the green lining fabric out on them. Then I enlisted my husband to assist me in making a giant compass out of a pencil and a piece of string to draw the semi-circles on the fabric (you never know when things you learned in geometry class may come in handy!). I then cut the semi-circles with a rotary cutter. I used the lining semi-circles as a template to cut the tulle semi-circles. I then moved my cutting mats back to my sewing room and projected the bodice and pocket pieces as usual. I cut the bodice pieces on the bias to maximize the stretch I could get out of the tulle in both directions. The waistband needed the most horizontal stretch, so I cut that entirely in the horizontal stretch direction. You can see this in the finished dress if you look at how the flowers are angled in the bodice. The flowers on the skirt are vertical in the center and horizontal on the sides due to the semi-circle construction.

Once everything was cut out, I zigzagged all the tulle pieces for the bodice to their corresponding lining pieces so that I could sew the two layers as one (flatlining). Then I started working on the pleats, first pinning and taping on both sides them before zigzagging them in place. Then I sewed together the bodice and checked the fit on my daughter. It fit well without any further modification, so I went ahead and attached the sleeves and made a casing at the wrists for 1/4-inch elastic. I checked the fit again on my daughter and she approved.

Next, I moved on to sewing the skirt. I sewed the to tulle pieces together with a shallow zigzag and a quarter-inch seam allowance. I left a 5.5-inch opening in the side seams to align with the pocket opening in the lining. I attached the pockets to the lining with my sewing machine and understitched them. Then I used my serger to sew the lining side seams in place. To help keep things from slipping out of the pockets I sewed the pockets partially closed from the top down 1.5 inches, left a 5.5-inch opening, and then sewed to the bottom of the pockets.

The next step was to join the two skirt layers and attach them to the bodice. I sewed the tulle to the lining at the waist with a shallow zigzag stitch and a 1/8-inch seam allowance. I then machine-basted the bottom of the waistband layers together with a 1/8-inch seam allowance. And then I basted the bottom of the waistband to the skirt layers. I had to remove some of the basting when I realized some of the layers had slipped out, but eventually I had everything securely basted together. Finally, I sewed the waistband (with bodice already attached) to the skirt layers with a shallow zigzag and 1/4-inch seam allowance.

At this point the dress was ready to try on and probably finished except for minor adjustments and possibly hemming. However, I had to wait two days for my daughter to return from a college visit before she could try it. You can see it here on a hanger both with and without a long crinoline underneath.

I think it looks nice both ways… more princessy with the crinoline and more sophisticated elegance without. After my daughter tried it on we decided to leave it unhemmed as the length looks about right with the heels she is going to wear to prom. I cut a pretty clean edge on the circle skirt and it is not going to unravel. This probably saved me an hour or two of hemming, even with my folded hem foot. In the end my daughter cut a layer off the crinoline to make it a little less poofy and not as hot to wear.

And here she is all dressed up and ready for prom. We did a photoshoot outside of Phipps. I got some good twirl photos and a nice back view, but forgot to take pictures of the pockets… you can’t see them but they are there, and she was quite pleased to go to prom with her wallet and phone in her pockets and no need to carry a purse.

So in case you are wondering… how much did it cost me to make a $1000 prom dress? The cost of the fabric, pattern, and thread for the dress was about $120. I probably spent another $50 or so on fabric for the two prototype dresses (the prototype top was made from scraps from a previous project) and about $50 on fabric samples (and some of the larger samples will get used in other projects). I didn’t add up the amount of time I spent on this, but it was a labor of love and a lot of fun!

Update: She went to her second prom a week later since the friend she went to prom with goes to a different school. I came home from work early to do her hair and makeup and her “tax” was she had to pose for more photos in our yard. This time I got some pocket photos too.

Totally Tartan! (Part 1)

When I joined the Carnegie Mellon University faculty in 2003, the school mascot was tartan. Yes, a plaid scarf. Kind of strange, but maybe not in a town where the terrible towel is also a thing. But in 2007 CMU decided to adopt the Scotty Dog as the official mascot, which is much better if you want someone to put on a costume and run around at sporting events. Nonetheless, the official CMU tartan remains a major part of the university identity. The CMU Kiltie band (affectionately referred to as the band without pants) wears tartan kilts and the CMU doctoral robes and hoods are adorned with wool tartan trim. You can even buy wool tartan fabric at the book store along with matching tartan flannel pajamas. I have purchased both and have even used the wool tartan in an original quilt design and as part of an original fabric design.

I’ve wanted to buy the tartan design in a fabric other than wool or flannel, and thought I might just digitally print some tartan knit fabric. However, the digital tartan file on the university website since 2010 does not actually properly tile for a fabric repeat. I have spent many hours futzing with it and trying to figure out if there was a way to crop it so that it would tile. I succeeded in a vertical tile, but not a proper horizontal tile. I came close, and maybe nobody else would notice that it is a little off, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it. You might say I was “mad about plaid” and you would be right. So last Fall I reached out to friends in CMU marketing and communications and asked if anyone knew where I could find a version of the digital tartan that would properly tile. After a few weeks of searching my friends reported the answer was “no.” Apparently the lack of repeatability was a known problem and I wasn’t the first to ask, but nobody had ever fixed it. But as CMU was winding down for winter break, one of the designers offered, in the holiday spirit, to fix the digital tartan for me for. I was thrilled! A few days later I received my first repeatable digital tartan files and uploaded them to Spoonflower for printing. I printed a sample of a cotton spandex jersey knit, a couple of yards of polyester modern jersey with 4-inch squares, and a couple of yards of sport Lycra with 5.5-inch squares.

When my fabric arrived I checked out the printing and the sizes of the plaid. After looking at lots of pictures of plaid dresses, I decided I wanted the 5.5-inch version printed on point for a dress, so sent a request to the designer for a diagonal version. In the mean time I decided to make a shirt out of the modern jersey, using the Sinclair Bondi pattern, a pattern I have used many times before. I tried to cut the plaid so it would match horizontally, but otherwise didn’t worry about plaid matching. I’m pretty happy with the results.

After printing up the diagonal tartan in Spoonflower cotton spandex jersey knit, I started working on my tartan dress. I was looking for a pattern that would allow me to keep all the tartan running in the same direction, and thus chose a gathered skirt rather than a circle or semi-circle skirt (which would have had the plaid appear to curve). When I saw a Styla Dublin dress with enormous puff sleeves sewn up in cotton-lycra plaid by another sewist, I decided to try the Dublin pattern. I first used the pattern to make a cotton-lycra Dublin top. Since this pattern didn’t come in a petite size, I was tempted to shorten the skirt of the dress, but decided to go ahead with the size 6 pattern as written, only shortening the shoulder elastic. This seems to have worked just fine. My tartan dress came out great and looks much like the plaid dress that inspired it. And, of course, I made it with usable pockets (lengthened slightly to better hold my phone). The pattern suggests optionally adding clear elastic at the neckline. I didn’t do that but I did understitch the font and back neckline and also understitched the pocket openings.

This is a bit of a different style than I usually wear, and I usually prefer circle or semi-circle skirts for less bulk around the waist. The Spoonflower cotton spandex is somewhat stiff from the saturated inks that sit on top of the fabric rather than absorbing into it so the gathers do poof out a bit. I don’t think this is the most flattering waist style for me, but I still think the dress looks pretty cute. I do love how the stiffer fabric poofs out the sleeves and the ruffle at the bottom of the skirt. The dress is fun to wear and looks great with my Scotty dog necklace (an inexpensive online purchase to keep the outfit on theme). Also, thanks to my neighbors for letting me pose in front of their dogwood, which was in full bloom on the day we took these photos.

I’ve started working on making some athletic wear out of the sport Lycra fabric and have ideas for using up the rest of the cotton spandex fabric. Stay tuned for more totally tartan posts in Part 2 and Part 3!

Vintage blue daisy dress: mom prom practice

Having selected the Sinclair Yasmin pattern to modify for the prom dress and prototyped bodice modifications, my next step was to prototype with a tulle overlay and sleeves, and a full circle skirt. Since the floor-length gown version will require a lot of fabric and I fear I won’t get it right the first time, I decided to prototype a knee-length dress with some inexpensive blue daisy embroidered tulle on Etsy and matching blue nylon spandex for the lining (tranquil aqua 82% nylon, 18% spandex, 210 GSM stretch bodycon satin from Zelouf Fabrics).

I modified the bodice pattern using the same approach I used for my daughter’s top to add deep front and back Vs. Then I mashed the Yasmin sleeve with the bishop sleeve pattern from the Sinclair puffed sleeve add-on pack so that the puffed sleeves would fit the Yasmin armscye. I used the full skirt pattern (with pockets!) from the Sinclair flared skirt add-on pack for the Valley Skater Dress. I prepared all the pattern pieces in Affinity Designer and projected them onto the tulle and lining fabric. In total I cut 16 pieces from the lining fabric and 12 pieces from the tulle fabric (but who’s counting?).

I wanted to attach the tulle to the corresponding lining pieces for all the bodice pieces so I could treat them each as one unit. My original plan was to do this with my serger (and I even rethreaded it with a suitable light grey thread), but I found the serger stitching a bit bulky for this purpose. Instead I used a zigzag stitch on my regular sewing machine to prepare the lining-tulle units. In the end I sewed the whole dress with my sewing machine and did not use my serger at all. I think I could have used it to join the 4 pieces of the lining for the circle skirt, and when I sew the full-length skirt for the prom dress I may go ahead and do that.

Once I had the lining-tulle units prepared, I worked on creating the micro pleats in the bodice. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be with the units properly joined. I did use scotch tape to hold down both sides of the pleats. I had marked the dots for pleating with a pink washable Crayola marker, and some of them are just barely still visible on the finished dress. Next time I will mark them closer to the edge to avoid that problem.

Next I sewed the bodice together, carefully wrapping both sides of the shoulder seams. I hand basted the waistband to the bodice to keep all the pieces aligned. Even so, the point in the center front did not come out very sharp and I ended up redoing it. Actually, that point did not come out particularly sharp in my previous practice pieces either. I found that if I sewed one side of the V all the way to the edge and then sewed the other side, it was easier to get a sharp point than if I sewed it all in one line with a pivot at the point. Someone probably has pointers on how to do this better than I did.

Once the bodice was fully assembled, I tried it on with some trepidation, as I wasn’t entirely sure it would fit. While the lining is a nice 4-way stretch fabric, the tulle only stretches side-to-side (horizontally the way I cut the bodice), and not nearly as much as the lining. Thankfully, I was able to get the bodice on (and off), but it was a bit tight and suffered a bit from not having any real vertical give. This wasn’t so noticeable in the front due to all the pleating, but the back had numerous creases and pulled against the back of my bra in an undesirable way. I also wasn’t entirely happy with the way the back V folded under without quite laying flat; again, the front V worked fine.

I decided to unpick the side seams and add a resew with a wedge of fabric inserted. I experimented with different size and shapes of fabric based in. Eventually I settled on adding about a 1.25 inch wedge on each side at the bottom of the waistband that tapered to nothing when it reached the armscye. I cut the wedges from the lining, layered them with the tulle, and reassembled the bodice (you can see the wedge below the armpit in the finished dress). I will add a bit extra to the side seam of the front and back bodice on my daughter’s dress, baste the side seams, and adjust until I get it right. Even after adding the wedge, I still wasn’t fully happy with the when the back V was folded, but decided to hold off on further modifications until I attached the skirt, as I expected the weight of the skirt to pull the bodice down a bit.

I moved on to the sleeves. I sewed the long seam of the tulle sleeves and then basted and sewed the sleeves to the armscyes. I then folded the sleeve wrists under about half an inch and stitched down a casing, leaving a small opening to add 1/4-inch elastic. It all worked out fine, but as soon as I finished the sleeves I could see that they were not as big and puffy as my daughter wanted. I’m happy with them on my dress, but I will need to go much bigger on my daughter’s dress. I tried on the bodice to confirm that the sleeves fit and that I could still get the bodice on and off without ripping anything. This was not too difficult as long as I took it off by slipping my arms out of the sleeves and then dropping the bodice past my hips rather than trying to pull it over my head.

Next I worked on the skirt. I had cut the full-circle skirt in four sections with pockets in the lining. I attached the pockets flush with the top of the skirt, understitched the pockets and stitched the top and bottom of the pockets into the side seam with pocket openings from 1.5 inch to 7 inches. Once the lining was assembled into a complete skirt, I assembled the four tulle sections, stitching with a narrow zigzag stitch. I did not add tulle pockets, but left slits to match the pocket openings in the lining, as I have seen with some ready-to-wear dresses. Next I machine basted the tulle to the lining at the top of the skirt, and then hand basted the skirt to the waistband. I tried it on and everything seemed to have worked, so I went ahead and sewed the skirt to the waistband with a zigzag stitch.

The moment of truth: I tried on the whole dress… and it fit! And it mostly looked good, but I still wasn’t happy with the back V. I futzed with the folds on the back V a bit and top-stitched the V along the edge. I still wasn’t entirely happy with it so I trimmed the underfold of the V down to about half an inch and then added another row of top stitching at 3/8 inch. This resulted in a much cleaner finish. I plan to modify the pattern for my daughter’s dress to use this approach from the beginning.

The last step was the hem. A full-circle skirt involves a lot of hemming (and usually a lot of hem tape). There are multiple techniques for doing this, which all require multiple passes with a sewing machine or iron. The lining fabric doesn’t unravel or roll so I could have left it unhemmed but hemming gives a nicer finish. I decided to invest in a folded hem foot (Bernina 66 foot) to do the hem in just one pass. It took some practice to learn how to use my new foot, but once I got going I did the whole hem in about 45 minutes without using any hem tape. I expect without the hem foot it would have taken a couple of hours. As the full-length skirt on the prom dress has an even bigger circumference, this approach will save even more time. I did not hem the tulle as that seemed completely unnecessary.

The dress looked great on, and with its 50s vintage vibe, I decided it totally needed a crinoline. (I also love that I achieved a vintage look with modern spandex fabric and thus no need for a zipper or fasteners of any sort). I tried it with my daughter’s short crinoline, but it was too puffy, so I found an inexpensive 50s crinoline available for next-day delivery on Amazon with a smooth waist and puffs that start a bit further down. I can wear it sticking out the bottom of the dress or pull it up further to hide it. The dress is totally wearable without the crinoline but so much more fun with it! I don’t really have an occasion to wear this dress, but I will find one.

Prom practice: prototyping a dress and top with Sinclair Yasmin

I have been commissioned by my high school senior to make the prom dress of her dreams, styled off some photos of ~$1000 Teuta Matoshi gowns with tulle overlays she fell in love with. I was looking for a pattern to use… and I think the Sinclair Yasmin V neck knit dress with pleated accents will do the trick with some tweaks (I was inspired by seeing another sewist post in the Sinclair Facebook group about using this pattern to make her version of the famous Lirika Matoshi strawberry dress which also has a tulle overlay). The original dresses have zippers and were likely lined with woven fabrics, but I think a knit dress will be easier for me to sew and fit, and it will be more comfortable to wear. But before I start altering this pattern, I thought it would be a good idea to sew the pattern as designed first to make sure I understand it.

This is not a projector pattern, but the A0 copyshop pattern projected just fine after I ran it through PDFstitcher to unlock it.

I chose a floral ITY from my stash that I had purchased at and cut it as a sleeveless dress in my usual Sinclair 4p size with the knee-length non-gathered skirt option (basically a half-circle skirt). I used a heavy 300 gsm poly-spandex athletic knit for the waistband lining. I cut the pockets about an inch deeper than the pattern called for. I also added about an inch of stitching along the side seams from the top of the skirt down into the pocket to hold the top of the pocket flat.

I had never sewn pleats before, and this pattern requires pinning and sewing 24 little tiny pleats. This was not straightforward to achieve with slippery ITY fabric. I did a lot of unpicking and basting until I got it (sort of) right. There are a lot of layers that have to come together at the waist and that also proved difficult. I basted the layers and still didn’t get it right the first time.

The finished dress looks great. I think it is quite figure flattering and also comfortable to wear, and I don’t think the bad pleat job is easily noticed (at least not until I point it out). This is a dress I expect to get a lot of wear out of this summer. Some how it was warm enough to model it outside in the first week of March in Pittsburgh, but I’m not actually expecting this to be a dress I wear much for another couple of months. The 300 gsm lining means the waist is quite secure and not going anywhere, even with stuff in the pockets. It is a bit thick though and perhaps that weight for the lining was overkill on a summer dress.

Now that I understood the basics of how this dress goes together and fits, I hacked the bodice pattern to make it more like a prom dress. First I lowered the front V by about 2 inches. Next I split the back bodice on the fold and copied my new lower front V to the back. I chose the depth of the Vs so that the dress would be wearable with a normal bra. I wanted to test this out with just the bodice and not an entire dress, so I added about 5 inches to the height of the waist pieces so I could hem the bottom and make this a wearable top. I didn’t bother with the inner waistbands. I cut this out of sangria microsuede jersey knit from Surge Fabrics leftover from another project. (This is not my favorite fabric to sew with due to it being both slippery and rubbery/clingy at the same time, but my daughter likes the color and I had enough scraps for this project.) I made this in size 2R, my daughter’s size.

This time I taped the pleats down on the front and the back with scotch tape about a quarter inch from the edge before I sewed them down an eighth inch from the edge. The pleats came out a lot better this way. I seem to have inadvertently miscalculated the back shoulder width when I added the back V and they ended up slightly wider than the front shoulders so I added a couple of pleats to even them out. I will widen the back V slightly next time. My daughter tried it on and liked the deep Vs. However, there was extra fabric under the bust. To adjust for her small bust, I ended up removing about 1.25 inches from the front and back inner shoulder, thus changing the slope of the shoulder seams (a square shoulder adjustment), but also raising the bust area that wasn’t been filled out. Since I did this after it was already sewn and pleated it doesn’t all lie as smoothly as I would like (so much for my beautiful pleats), but I think it will work fine when I cut it this way to begin with. The actual dress will also have weight from the skirt pulling the waistband down, which I think will also hold the V neck in place better (I considered top stitching along the Vs but I think it is ok without that – and I can always add top stitching later if she wants it.)

My daughter selected a fancy embroidered tulle fabric for her dress, which I will line with a sparkly nylon/spandex fabric. She wants long puff sleeves made from unlined tulle and a full-length circle skirt. Before cutting into all this fancy fabric, I want to test out sewing this pattern with tulle and adding sleeves and a circle skirt. My plan is to make the V-neck modifications in my size and sew myself a knee-length dress with inexpensive tulle and lining. Then if all goes well I will be ready to sew the prom dress. Stay tuned!

A lot of effort for an effortless hourglass sweater dress

As the temperatures dropped this week and I was preparing for the start of the new semester, I figured I had time to sew one more garment before the semester started, and I wanted something warm and cozy that I could wear to work. I purchased some Banff ultra thick 1×1 rib sweater knit in cranberry from Surge Fabrics back in November, so I got it out and looked for a sweater dress pattern to make with it. This is a 350 gsm chunky fabric in a 50% rayon/28%poly/22%nylon blend, brushed on one side.

I wanted a sweater dress with pockets, and somewhat fitted at the waist. I saw that some sewists had make the Ellie and Mac Effortless Hourglass Swing Dress in a sweater knit so thought I might give that a try. Looking through the photos and Facebook comments, I saw mixed success with the pattern. There were warnings that the pocket construction was not so effortless and I saw a number of dresses that looked more baggy than swingy. But I liked the bishop sleeves and the pockets, and was hoping I could get results similar to the red checked dress on the pattern website. The “hourglass” part of the pattern name refers to the fact that the front panel is shaped like an hourglass and if you use contrasting fabric for the pockets, you get the illusion of an hourglass figure. As I didn’t have another sweater knit that I thought would go well with my fabric, I decided to make it all one color, which also looked nice in some of the examples.

I checked the size chart and settled on size small, cut to the mid-thigh length in the hopes that it would come out above-knee length on me since this pattern does not have petite sizes. I checked for the recommended size adjustments, but all my measurements seemed to suggest the pattern did not need to be adjusted.

I projected the pattern onto my fabric and cut it out quickly, using the more-textured unbrushed side as the right side and the softer, brushed side against the skin. Then I began the pocket assembly and quickly came to realize why people said it was not effortless. Each pocket includes a pocket piece and a pocket liner. The pocket piece has a very narrow protrusion, about a half-inch wide. my first problem was sewing a quarter-inch seam in this very narrow protrusion. When I attached the pocket pieces to the dress and tried to sew it all together I found that the sweater knit had unravelled a bit in the narrow piece and got caught in the seam. Furthermore, my attempts at stretching the pocket a bit to meet the bottom of the pocket liner resulted in a seam that would not possibly lie flat. That’s when I saw the note in the pattern explaining that the bottom of the pocket liner might not match the bottom of the pocket piece and you should just trim accordingly. I don’t know why I was so far off, and after perusing the Facebook group I saw that a lot of other people had this problem too. I watched the pattern video and saw the pockets on the example dress worked perfectly. I attempted to unpick the pocket seams, but that did not go well. I finally gave up, and since I had enough leftover fabric, recut the dress front and pocket pieces. This time I cut them very carefully and made sure my fabric did not stretch while I was cutting. I also added about 3/8 inch to the narrow protrusion (it would probably be easier if the pattern had a wider protrusion to begin with and instructed people to trim it later).

I repeated the pocket assembly process, careful not to catch the frayed edge or stretch anything while I sewed. It went much better the second time, but the pocket liner ended up about two inches longer than the pocket. I considered cutting off two inches from the bottom of the liner, but realized that my pocket would be two small for my cell phone. So instead I added a pocket extension by sewing on a piece of lighter weight knit fabric. Having extended the pocket, I proceeded to sew together the rest of the pattern. I used my sewing machine for the pocket and then used my serger for most of the rest.

All went fairly well until I got to the bishop sleeves. I gathered the heavy sweater fabric for the bishop sleeves, basted it to the cuffs, and then attempted to sew it in place with my serger. This did not go well, and now I need to untangle the mess and rethread my serger. I ended up finishing everything else on my sewing machine and will figure out how to rehabilitate my serger later.

I finally got the dress put together, tried it on, and was fairly disappointed. While the big bishop sleeves were fun, the dress was not swingy at all and the neck opening had stretched out quite a bit. My husband said it looked like a sack, which is true.

But the dress was warm and had pockets, and after all the time I had already invested in it, I decided to try to fix it. To make it less baggy, I pinched in the top of the back seam about 2 inches and graded it down to the waist. I basted that in place and tried it on and like the fit better so I sewed it in place. The neck was still too wide so I cut the neck band open at the center back and threaded 3/8-inch elastic through it and tightened it until I was happy with it. This approach worked pretty well, but even after a lot of ironing, I could not get the neck band to like completely flat. (The pattern should have offered multiple neck heights and some advice on adding interfacing to the neck and pockets for some types of fabric.) Finally, I turned under the bottom edge of the dress and sewed a chunky 2-inch hem to raise it above my knees and give it some more swing.

The alterations were a big improvement. The dress has more of an hourglass fit now and is almost even swingy. And with a strategically placed scarf, you don’t see the wavy neckline. It is warm and has functional pockets and fun sleeves, so I will actually wear it now. However, I don’t think I’ll be using this pattern again. It looks great on some people but doesn’t seem well-suited for me. I also don’t think it was a good choice for a chunky sweater knit (which I love, and choose a more suitable pattern in the future).

Full-circle valley skater dress

I’ve been holding onto this fabulous ivory and black geometric polyester double-knit fabric since last spring, with the plan to turn it into a long-sleeve Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress. The fabric has some body (and just barely enough stretch for this pattern) and a nice drape, so I decided to use the full-circle skirt from the add-on pack for a skirt that would naturally poof out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough fabric, so it took some tetrising to cut it all out (with my projector), and I ended up having to split two of the skirt panels in half and turn the long sleeves into 3/4 sleeves. But by splitting the skirt panels I was able to avoid a seam in the center front of the dress.

Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress with full circle skirt in black and white geometric double knit

I made the pattern mostly as written, lengthening the bodice as recommended when omitting the waistband. I also used my Bondi screwp neck modification, as I have done for my previous Valley dresses. This time I sewed the pockets to the waistband as the pattern suggests, since this is a pretty stable knit and I wasn’t worried about the pockets getting pulled down. I did lengthen the pockets by about an inch to reduce the risk of my phone falling out. The pockets on the finished dress are great and with the full skirt they are nearly invisible, even when full.

This is the first Valley I sewed with a serger, and it went very quickly. It only took about 3 hours to sew after cutting the fabric. Of course, it took a while to hem the 13-foot circumference full-circle skirt. But my teen daughter approves and says the full-circle skirt was definitely worth the effort. Indeed, this is a dress that really is fun to wear.

Sinclair Valley Knit Skater Dress with full circle skirt in black and white geometric double knit. A perfect fall dress?
Such nice pockets!
Fun to twirl!
The circle skirt has a 13-foot circumference.

Password dress: ball gown edition

I made my first bad password dress back in 2013 — a simple, short, sleeveless sheath, that has become quite famous. After wearing it to give a lot of security talks, it started showing wear and so I made a second one — the original is in the privacy art collection of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. But I finally got tired of wearing it to places like Davos in the winter where everyone insisted that I needed to be photographed outside in the snow and experiencing cold arms and lack of pockets, so I made the long-sleeved version last winter. But now I have taken this whole wearable password game to the next level and I give you the password dress: ball gown edition. So as not to keep you in suspense, I’ll jump right to the photos. But scroll past if you want all the details about how and why I made it.

It’s made from a luxurious custom printed crushed velour fabric from Contrado. It’s vibrant and shiny, especially in the sun. And it feels stretchy and soft and is the most comfortable ball gown ever. All of my past custom password fabric orders have been from But they didn’t offer a suitable fabric that was both dressy and stretchy, so I started looking for other custom fabric vendors. Contrado is based in the UK so I was a little bit uncertain about placing an international order, but they offer a ton of fabric options so I ordered a fabric swatch kit. A few days later I opened an envelope with more fabric swatches than I knew what to do with. I didn’t count them, but I think there were over 100. So many fabric choices! I dumped them out on the floor and tested each one for light weight, softness, and stretchability, narrowing down the pile to a short list of scuba variants and crushed velour. They were all nice, but I loved the feel of the crushed velour and the way it catches the light. So with that in mind I ordered some cheap crushed velour to make a muslin of the pattern I intended to make (Sinclair Serena), but at a shorter length. The cheap crushed velour did not feel luxurious at all, but it made a nice dressy summer dress that I have worn several times this summer.

Once I had picked out the fabric and settled on the pattern, I worked on the fabric design. I took the PDF file for the Serena dress in the size 4 petite, and extended the skirt length to be long enough to graze the tops of my feet after hemming. I then created a PDF file the width of the fabric (53.15 inches) by 108 inches long in Affinity Designer. I pasted the Serena pattern pieces into the file, mirroring those that needed to be mirrored. The skirt back at that length was wider than 53 inches, so I decided to add a back seam and print the skirt back in two pieces. I split the skirt back and added a seam allowance to the center back seam. The skirt front is not as full so it fit the fabric width without a problem. I made all the pattern lines red and deleted all of the internal pattern markings, keeping only the outlines. Then I added a solid purple layer under the pattern pieces. The next step was to add all the passwords to the dress. I started with my previous password dress fabric and cut and pasted the passwords inside the pattern pieces (removing the naughty words this time). In some cases I rotated them or scaled them slightly from the previous design. I spent a lot of time rearranging the passwords to fit them all into the puzzle. I also chose some of my favorites for prominent placement. I decided to cover the entire skirt and back of the bodice with passwords but leave the bodice front solid purple.

I could have continued futzing with the password layout for quite some time, but I was not sure how long it would take for my order to be delivered and I had a deadline for finishing the dress, so I saved a giant jpg file and called it done. (I subsequently spotted several small glitches but hopefully nobody else will notice.) I went ahead and placed the order on a Sunday morning in August. Much to my amazement, the fabric was printed in the UK, shipped across the ocean, and was delivered via FedEx to my doorstep in Pittsburgh, PA just TWO DAYS LATER on Tuesday! The custom fabric is expensive. Even with a discount coupon it was $42 per yard. But I paid only $9.95 for standard international shipping.

The Contrado website said the fabric would be machine washable, but was a little vague on whether to expect shrinkage. Given that it was 100% polyester fabric I took a chance that there would be minimal shrinkage (definitely a risk if you print your pattern pieces directly on the fabric) and I was right.

I laid the fabric out on my magnetized cutting mat and cut it out along the red lines with my rotary cutter. I knew from sewing the muslin that crushed velour is slippery and hard to pin in place, so I did a lot of hand basting and then serged most of it, leaving the cutting knife retracted so I wouldn’t accidentally cut anything I didn’t want to cut (since the pattern had 1/4-inch seam allowances there wasn’t really any need to trim as I sewed). The first few steps of the bodice assembly went pretty well, until it came time to join the F1 piece to the F2/F5 piece of the bodice. There are multiple points to line up and after basting and unbasting multiple times I realized that there was no possible way to get everything simultaneously lined up. After about three hours of this I finally gave up and sewed it together so the outside looked good, but the inner lining (purple ITY) looked like a train wreck. But nobody will ever see it, except for the fact that I am showing you this photo right here so that you can see that the inside is a complete disaster but the outside still looks really good. You will see there is a diagonal piece that goes from the top left to the bottom right. There is another diagonal piece that starts in the middle and goes to the bottom right. Those two pieces are supposed to be sewn together on top of each other, but yet there is a bout a 1 inch gap between them. So that nothing would be flapping in the breeze, I sewed the loose edge to the inner lining. I believe the problem has to do with the fact that my fabric stretches only in the horizontal direction and has almost no vertical stretch (going against the advice of the pattern maker). The fabric I used for my muslin was similar, yet somehow I did not end up with this particular problem. I’m perplexed, but it all worked out in the end.

Of course, I chose the pocket option, since Cinderella and I always need pockets, even when we go to a ball. I decided to make the pocket bags out of the purple stretch velour so that they would not show if they fell open. Stretch velour is not really ideal pocket bag material, especially since I stitched the pocket openings up a bit to prevent things from falling out. Sticking my hand in a pocket tends to cause the pocket bag to come out with my hand, but it works well enough for holding my phone and a small wallet. From past experience with this pattern, I know that I prefer the pockets to sit a bit higher than the pattern calls for so they don’t jiggle around when I walk, so I ignored the marks and just tried on the partially completed dress and pinned the pockets where I wanted them to go.

I’m really happy with the end result. It is exactly what I wanted. I was so excited that I put it on and made my husband follow me around my yard with my DXLR camera while I played fashion model and posed for photos. He has no formal photography training but he is starting to get the hang of fashion photography as I explain to him that there is a difference between zooming in and moving closer to the subject.

Did I mention that this dress has some twirlability?

Ok, so why did I make this dress? Well I’m the director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. This is our 20th anniversary year and we held a gala to celebrate on Tuesday. Obviously, I need a password ball gown to wear to the gala. (And of course my husband needed a matching tie.)

CyLab 20th Anniversary Gala

As an added bonus, the Carnegie Science Center held their Geek Out Gala on Thursday, and this was the perfect outfit! So many people I didn’t know came up to me to talk with me about my dress.

Crushed velour Serena dress

A few weeks ago I made a Sinclair Serena dress to try out the pattern, which I plan to use to make a fancy gown. The pattern worked out pretty well in double-brushed polyester, but I’m planning to use a fancy (expensive) custom-printed crushed stretch velour fabric for the gown, so I decided to make the pattern again with some cheap velour. I bought two yards of purple crushed panne velour from Cali fabrics for $4.99 a yard. This fabric is pretty and has similar stretch as the fabric I plan to use, but it is not as soft and doesn’t feel quite as nice. It is also not really purple – I would call it lavender, but it is not the royal purple shown on the website. This is not meant as a high-end fabric, but it is fine for a muslin.

I projected the pattern and cut out the velour. I decided to use a purple ITY fabric for the lining pieces. Then, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to sew the dress together using my brand new Serger, having never serged before. It actually wasn’t that hard, except for the fact that velour is a super slippery fabric and no amount of pinning could get it to hold still. The slippery ITY lining just made it worse. There are parts of this pattern that call for two layers of regular fabric and 2 layers of lining, and getting them all lined up to complete the jigsaw puzzle bodice was a real challenge. I eventually basted together the layers before sewing, and it was fine. But parts of it that I sewed early on are not quite lined up right, although I managed to mostly hide them. Note to self when I make the gown, plan to do a lot of basting.

Besides being very slippery, the velour as almost no vertical stretch. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with this pattern, other than reducing the ability to ease out mistakes. Somehow the back ended up being and inch longer than the front when all was said and done (I’m pretty sure it was cut correctly, but there were numerous sewing errors), and I ended up just trimming it before hemming.

I did make a few mistakes that are mostly attributable to learning how to use my serger while making this dress. I now have a full understanding of the knife function and how not to use it when turning a corner. Repairing some of these mistakes might be one of the reasons the back ended up longer than the front.

I did manage to fix some problems from my last Serena dress. This time I added clear elastic to the neckline for good measure, and I sewed the crossover all the way to the edge. With both of these improvements, there is no possibility of drooping. I also did a better job stretching the armhole bands around the curves, so they look better than last time. In order to reduce pocket flapping,I made the pocket bags a little slimmer and attached them to the skirt a bit higher than the pattern calls for – about 1 inch below the point where the skirt meets the bodice. I made the pocket openings a bit smaller to keep my phone from falling out. I used the velour for the back pocket bags and the lining for the front to reduce bulk. But the lining still peaks out a bit so I may just use the velour for both sides next time.

The good news is that the whole dress did end up coming together nicely. The proof of concept worked and the muslin is a dress I would actually wear in public. In fact I wore it to an outdoor theater production this evening and can report it was both stylish and confortable.

Serena dress

I saw the Sinclair Serena crossover knit dress pattern a while ago and was a bit intimidated about sewing the crossover part, which is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. But I recently was looking for a knit dress pattern that would look great in a full length formal gown, and Serena looked like it could be adapted for this purpose. The gown project will be another story for later, but in the mean time I thought it prudent to sew a short version of this dress with inexpensive fabric to make sure this was going to work. So earlier this month I projected, cut, and sewed Serena in one weekend. Serena is an old pattern without projector files, but I was able to create projector files with pdfstitcher. [Correction: There are projector files, I just some how missed them!]

I used the 4 petite pattern and cut the skirt 1 inch below the above-the-knee length, making it sit exactly at the knee on me. I selected a floral double-brushed polyester for this dress. This is a light-weight, stretchy, and inexpensive fabric that’s very comfortable to wear. I looked at photos from others who have made Serena and saw some interesting approaches to color blocking this dress that really highlight the crossover (and/or the bust) and the jigsaw puzzling involved, but my favorites were all made from a single fabric print without any color blocking. Without the color blocking, you an hardly see the crossover, but you still get a lovely fitted top with a skirt that hangs from a point that I think will work really well for a gown.

Of course I made it with the pocket option (and added about an inch to the bottom of the pocket bags to make sure my phone doesn’t fall out of my pockets)! The pockets are great, but I think the openings sit a little low so in the next dress I will probably raise them about 2 inches higher. The pockets flop around when filled since they aren’t attached to anything except the side seams since there is no waistband to attach them too (and even if there was I probably wouldn’t attach them because I don’t like it when pockets distort the waist band), but I think they would flop less if they were attached higher. My favorite dress pockets are still the Alana dress pockets — no flopping or distorting — but that style of pocket only works with princess seams, alas.

The jigsaw puzzle was not actually too difficult to solve, although I do recommend reading the pattern tutorial very carefully and watching that you don’t try to assemble any of the pieces upside down or backwards (I had a couple of close calls). The pattern suggests optionally adding some elastic to the top edge of the v-neck if it doesn’t recover well from a stretch. I tested the recovery as suggested and it seemed fine, so I did not add the elastic. I have a very slight droop in the top layer of the crossover that might have benefited from adding the elastic, or at least a bit of fusible knit interfacing (maybe next time!), but it is subtle. (Later I realized that I actually ended the seam that holds the crossover down too early. Had I brought the same all the way to the center of the crossover it might not have drooped.) There is also optional top stitching that I opted out of, with no regrets. The arm holes are finished with a binding that I didn’t do a great job of attaching, especially on the left side, so the bottom of the armhole flops out a tad. Next time I will need to take more care with positioning and stretching the band. Most of these are issues that probably nobody would notice except me.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with Serena, and am already planning to make another one soon.

Joanne dress

In October 2022 I ordered some funky paisley ITY fabric I found on Amazon and used it to make a Sinclair Joanne dress. I sewed it according to the pattern as written in size 4p with the knee length option and used clear elastic to stabilize the waist. I used my go-to HeatNBond Soft Stretch for hemming and zigzagged over the edge. I was planning to make it three-quarter sleeves but after looking at some lovely examples of the flounce sleeve on other sewist’s dresses I decided to give flounces a try. I was worried that the flounces would be difficult to implement and would get in the way when wearing. However, the flounces were very straightforward to sew, and I was able to omit hemming the ITY. Positioned at the elbow they don’t tend to get in the way either. And they look awesome with this particular fabric design.

This was my first time sewing ITY and I was worried that it would be slippery and hard to sew, but it actually wasn’t bad at all. I also wondered whether I would need to line it as it has a lot of white areas that are not 100% opaque. It seems fine without linking. Sewing the bodice with the faux wrap looks tricky as it relies on proper stretch for it all to work out. But I found if you follow the instructions it all comes together pretty easily.

One minor complaint is that the clear elastic at the waist can sometimes be uncomfortable since you can end up with plastic elastic rubbing against your skin. I think I might use braided elastic or forgo the elastic in the future.

My biggest complaint was that my phone kept falling out of the pockets, which aren’t deep enough, especially with slippery ITY fabric. I ended up grafting another two inches to the bottom of the pockets after the fact to solve the problem. If I make this dress again (I’m sure I will!) I will definitely make the pockets deeper.

This dress has been great to wear in fall and spring weather, and with a sweater or jacket on chilly days. The print I used is fairly eye catching and regularly brings complements.

Alana dresses

Last September I bought my first Sinclair pattern and sewed an Alana dress. I have since sewn two more (and there will probably be more) and several other Sinclair patterns. I’ve found the Sinclair patterns to be well drafted and pretty straightforward to understand. They can be downloaded as PDFs and printed on a home printer, printed in large format at a copy shop, or projected.

I chose Alana as my first pattern mostly because I liked the pockets. I continue to love the pocket style, where the pockets are anchored by two princess seams. I also liked the neckline that used a facing instead of a binding or band.

I obsessed over what fabric to use, and continuing with my privacy research related theme, I selected fabric with eyes on it — evil eye blue by Laura May. I got the same fabric in the small size for the sleeves. I had both printed on Spooflower modern jersey.

Then I printed out the PDF layer for the size 4 petite pattern on the laser printer at work and spent about an hour taping it together and cutting out all the paper pattern pieces. Then I laid all my cutting mats out on the hallway floor and laid out the fabric as shown in the pattern instructions. I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough fabric for that sort of layout. Puzzled, I looked on the Sinclair website for where to ask questions, and discovered the Sinclair Patterns Group on Facebook. This FB group is a great resource for sewing Sinclair patterns. I found you can easily search for the name of a pattern and find lots of photos of garments other people have made with that pattern, including tips on fabric selection and alterations. You can also post questions or show off your own makes. In any case I soon learned that the layout in the instructions is just a suggestion and may not work depending on the fabric width, garment size, etc. I figured out how to fold the fabric to cut it and get it all in. I also learned from the FB group about a YouTube video tutorial for making the Alana dress.

I used large washers as fabric weights and used my rotary cutter to cut out the fabric. Then I followed the instructions to sew the dress. I selected the regular neckline, long sleeves, and knee-length options. On the advice of the video tutorial I extended the length of the front facing so that it would fall below the bust line. I used a very narrow zigzag stitch for all of the seams and a medium zigzag to finish the seam edges. I finished the sleeve and bottom hems with HeatNBond Soft Stretch and zigzagged over the edges.

When I tried on the dress it looked OK, but the waist is not designed to be fitted, and it looked a little baggy on me. Indeed, the pattern explains that there is about three inches of ease at the waist. So I decided to take the dress in at the sides and the back princess seams to remove most of that ease. The dress looked much better on me without the ease.

I made my second Alana dress in December using a rich purple scuba suede fabric. The fabric is soft, stretchy, washable, and pretty easy to sew. I used a lighter ITY fabric for the front and back facings and extended both of them below the bust. I thought about using a lighter fabric for the inside of the pockets but decided to try the pockets entirely in scuba suede, and they worked out fine. A line of top stitching across the top of the pockets might have been helpful, but it is ok without. I did not bother stitching over the seam edges. Once again I ended up removing the ease. Months later the fabric is holding up pretty well after many wearings and washings, although it is showing some slight signs of pilling.

My third Alana dress was another dress in Spoonflower modern jersey. This time I removed the ease in the pattern when I cut it. Cutting out this one took a while because I obsessed over the fabric placement. This was the third version of my bad passwords dress (there’s a whole story behind it), and this time I wanted to have long sleeves and pockets.

New password dress with sleeves and pockets

And see the original passwords dress below

Lorrie wearing password dress at Privacy@Scale, photo by Adam Mason


After sewing mostly quilts for a while, I was inspired to sew a dress again last summer (2022) because I wanted a dress to wear to the Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2022, a conference that I started in 2005 and is still going strong. I thought it would be fun to have a dress that had soup on it. I thought about a soup-can dress channeling Andy Warhol, but eventually settled on a bright noodle soup pattern called grandma’s recipe, designed by Daniela Friedenthal and available at I had the fabric printed on modern jersey, and then tried to figure out how to sew it.

Sidebar 1: I love Spoonflower modern jersey! It is one of the best polyester jersey’s I have found with a feel similar to cotton, but brighter colors. It is similar to double-brushed polyester (DBP) but has a little bit more body than most of the DPBs I’ve used. The main downside is it is about 4 or 5 times more expensive than DBP and only available for custom printing, not colored solids.

My previous me-made dresses were very simple, sewn from two pieces of fabric with no pockets. This time I wanted a half-circle skater dress with pockets and some better finishing details. I started reading sewing blogs and learned how to sew side-seam pockets and create neck bands and bindings and make smooth knit hems with Soft Stretch hem tape. I reverse engineered some dresses from my closet and drafted a pattern, trying to include enough ease so I wouldn’t need a zipper.

Sidebar 2: I also love Heatnbond Softstretch for knit hems of all sorts. I fuse the tape to the edge of the hem, turn under the hem and press using the paper backing edge as a guide, then peel back the paper and fuse the hem in place, then zigzag over the edge. I’ve used this on dress, shirt, sleeve, and cardigan hems with great results. It even works on curves — you just have to nudge the paper backing around the curve as you press it. I now keep a couple of rolls around at all times so I don’t run out in the middle of a project!

The finished dress worked pretty well. The waist ended up a bit looser than I wanted and the pockets pulled the waist down a bit when I put stuff in them. But a sweater easily hides the imperfections. It is a fairly striking looking dress because of the unique fabric, and I have had total strangers comment on it.

While I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the SOUPS dress, I decided it was good enough that I wasn’t going to remake it. But I wanted to improve my pattern and give it another go. So adjusted the fit of the waist and the pockets a bit and sewed the dress again, this time in soft blue vintage tea cups fabric designed by Cecilia Mok on I chose cups because the name of my lab at CMU is the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security (CUPS) Laboratory. I also went on a quest to find a spoon pendant I could wear with both dresses. Most of the spoons I could find online were either too tiny or too big, or were designed for functional use as drug paraphernalia. I eventually bought a 25 pack of spoon charms for less than $10.

The CUPS dress came out considerably better, but in my further reading about sewing skater dresses, I discovered a free PDF skater dress pattern from Sinclair Patterns. Then I discovered Sinclair’s other patterns and one thing led to another. Watch for future blog posts….

Modern approach to sewing a vintage sundress

I asked my 17-year-old daughter what she would like me to sew for her. After perusing some patterns I suggested she told me what she really wanted was a vintage sundress in a woven fabric with a full-circle poofy, twirly skirt, perhaps like the one she had recently seen worn as a costume in Carnegie Mellon’s student production of Godspell. (See photo below of said costume on display at the CMU carnival.)

So I visited all my favorite PDF pattern websites and found some candidate patterns, but none were quite what she was looking for. I searched the Internet for vintage sundress patters with circle skirts and found a number of patterns from the 1950s that were available from resellers as classic paper patterns. And then I stumbled upon McCall’s M7599, which has been reissued as a PDF pattern. I found some reviews of the pattern, and even a how-to video (and I found another video after I finished sewing that might have been useful to watch too). My daughter examined M7599 and decided that view A was almost perfect. Except she wanted it without the contrast band, above knee length, and, of course, with pockets. These seemed like doable modifications, so I bought the pattern and downloaded the PDF.

The PDF pattern came with a fairly terse set of instructions and was basically a scan of the original pattern with all the layers on one sheet, tiled into 8.5×11 pages, not a convenient modern PDF layered pattern. I was able to assemble the pages into one giant PDF using PDFStitcher, an awesome free tool developed by a sewist. Then I loaded the resulting PDF into Affinity Designer (AD) on my iPad and traced the pattern pieces I was going to use in the correct sizes with a nice thick red line that would show up well when projected onto fabric (see photo below of skirt gores projected on fabric, held in place with magnets, ready for cutting with rotary cutter).

The sizing of vintage patterns is strange. My daughter normally wears a 2 or 4 dress size but according to the size chart she needed a 12. Ultimately after making a muslin and futzing with the pattern I ended up making a size 10 with parts graded to a size 8.

Inspired by the Godspell costume, my daughter searched online for fabric with pages of text, and ultimately settled on the Filigree Zen Chic Newsprint Text and Words fabric from Moda Fabrics in the white colorway. It is a lovely quilter’s cotton fabric, but it occurred to me that it is quite directional and the circle skirt would result in some of the design being upside down. To compensate I divided the full circle into six gores so that I could cut them each right-side up. I drafted the gores directly on the PDF pattern in AD. Of course, this increased the amount of fabric I would need — I ended up using six yards!

Removing the band from the bodice was straightforward — I basically just sewed the pattern as written but without attaching a band. I decided to also leave off the petticoat so that my daughter would have the option of wearing the dress either with or without a petticoat (she can wear a separate petticoat). Since I wasn’t attaching a petticoat I decided the yoke under the petticoat wasn’t needed either so I left that out as well.

I made a muslin of just the bodice so I could adjust the fit. I reduced the size of the bust darts, and brought the straps in a bit. It was also a good opportunity to practice using my zipper foot, which I haven’t used in many years (and zippers kind of scare me). It turned out to be a nice enough crop top that my daughter decided to wear the muslin outside in public. In fact she even wore it to perform with her rock band. She requested thinner straps for the dress and I decided to continue futzing with the bust darts, and ultimately just removed them altogether for the dress.

Figuring out how to implement side-seam pockets was another challenge, as the pattern includes a side zipper, which means the zipper has to attach to the pocket. Fortunately I have a RTW dress with pockets sewn this way so I used it as a model. I drafted pockets in AD and then reverse engineered how to sew it all together. (There are actually instructions online for sewing a pocket in a zipper and a nice video that I will probably watch if I ever attempt something like this again.) This isn’t the most beautiful invisible zipper job, but it doesn’t look terrible, and both the zipper and the pockets are fully functional so I consider it a win.

The penultimate step in the pattern involved slip stitching the bodice lining to the zipper and then to the skirt. Until I reached that step I didn’t fully comprehend how that final finishing would be done or realize how much hand sewing was involved, but I got through it and it turned out fine. The final step was the hem. I knew my daughter wanted the skirt quite a bit shorter than the pattern called for so I had cut it shorter in anticipation. But I hadn’t cut it short enough and it would have required a 2.5 inch hem, which was going to be hard to sew on a circle. So I folded the skirt into quarters and carefully lopped off 1.5 inches with my rotary cutter. Then I sewed a line .5 inch from the edge of the circle all the way round. This allowed me to easily fold the skirt on the stitch line and then fold it again and press to form a 1-inch hem. I stitched the hem down with a straight stitch about 1/8 inch from the edge of the hem. All this was reasonably straight forward but I would like to point out that the circumference of this skirt was about 12 feet, which means that each step (stitching, folding, folding, pressing, stitching again) has to be done over a distance of 12 feet, so it takes a while.

Other than figuring out the bodice fit adjustments, sewing the zipper pocket, and all that hemming, the dress actually came together pretty quickly and wasn’t that difficult to make. And the results are pretty nice. Here it is modeled without a petticoat. (And below that, while performing at her music recital.)

And here it is with petticoat, in full 1950s glory!

Password fashion and home decor roundup

Bad password fabric

I’ve been collecting images of all the cool things that I and others have made with my bad password fabric. The fabric is available from Spoonflower in three size and both with and without the naughty words. It has a purple background and includes 501 passwords. Spoonflower offers a variety of different kinds of fabrics, including a performance knit, basic cotton, and faux suede. They also will print this design on wrapping paper and wall paper.

Bad passwords dress (Security Blanket quilt in background)

Recapping for those who are just seeing this, I designed a series of bad password fabrics based on the most popular passwords stolen in a data breach. First I made a “Security Blanket” quilt printed on basic cotton fabric in pastel colors. This quilt appeared in Science Magazine and was on display at the residence of the Carnegie Mellon University president for most of last year. Then I designed a purple version of the fabric and made a password dress with performance knit fabric. The dress has gotten some nice press on CNET, the Trib, and the Women you should know blog.

Then my friends started requesting other password apparel. Mary Ellen Zurko commissioned my friend Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs to make her a t-shirt from cotton knit fabric. Then Jeremy Epstein asked for ties, and we found Jen Knickerbocker of LoveCrushDresses and got her to offer regular ties and bow ties in her Etsy shop. The ties are made from cotton sateen.

Bad passwords t-shirtbad passwords tiesbad password bow ties (two)

Then Jen Primack bought an old chair and reupholstered it with my passwords fabric in heavy cotton twill. Doesn’t it look great in my living room?

password chair upholstered by Jen Primack password chair upholstered by Jen Primack

Kristin Briney emailed me to tell me she had made a password dress from cotton poplin. And I just made a password infinity scarf from silky faille (a woven polyester).

Kristin Briney's bad password dresspassword infinity scarf

Password baby quilts and couch throws made out of kona cotton are coming soon….

In the mean time, I’ve gotten many requests to wear the password dress to events. I wore it to give an invited talk at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (where I was referred to as a “password researcher and fashion idol“). I also wore it to a couple of briefings I gave to Congressional staff on Capitol Hill.

Lorrie speaking about passwords at Grace Hopper Celebration Lorrie with Jeremy Epstein wearing password apparel Susie, Lorrie, and Roxana at NSF Congressional briefing

And for those wondering about the different types of fabric. The polyester fabrics are much brighter than the cottons. They are all fairly consistently bright with nice saturated colors. My favorite is the performance polyester, which doesn’t wrinkle and has a little bit of stretch and a nice drape. But it’s not really what you want to use for a quilt or a tie. The kona cotton is a little disappointing because the colors print a little dull. The basic cotton (which is similar to the kona but slightly lighter weight and less expensive), cotton sateen, and the heavy cotton twill produce brighter colors. They aren’t as bright as the polyester, but they are noticeably brighter than the kona cotton. The cotton silk also does not produce bright colors. I think the polyester silky faille might work well for ties and some other applications where you might otherwise use a woven cotton but want brighter colors. It’s a little slippery and harder to work with than cotton though. I got samples of the polyester faux suede and polyester eco canvas. They are both lovely bright fabrics, but I haven’t made anything out of them yet.

1/22/15 update: Von Welch, Director of the Center for Applied Cyber Security at Indiana University Bloomington wore his Password tie for a local TV interview. The reporters loved the tie and commented on it at the end of the interview.

2/6/15 update: Baby quilt in kona cotton finished!

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7/16/15 update: I made a password bolster pillow for the CMU ECE department head’s conference room.

DSCF0090 DSCF0097

6/28/20 update: Given current circumstances, password masks were required! I printed my design XX small on cotton spandex jersey and lined the inside of the mask with fabric from an old cotton spandex t-shirt (outer layer and lining each cut 10.5 x 5.5 inches; sewn together at top and bottom; left and right sides folded in and stitched to make a casing on each side; long 1-inch strip of stretchy t-shirt fabric pulled through the two casings and tied to make 2 loops to go around the back of the head). Spoonflower also sells masks already made (and lots of other things) for those of you who don’t sew. This link at Spoonflower might work: See also the images and links at

Password dress

IMG_5014This is old news, but just now getting around to posting it. I made a password dress to go with the password quilt. I wore it to the opening of the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show and to give my artist’s talk.  I also wore it to a faculty meeting and disrupted the meeting.

As with the Security Blanket quilt, I generated a Wordle from the RockYou password set, and then edited it in Adobe Illustrator. I selected brighter colors for the dress and had it printed at on performance knit polyester fabric (UPDATE: You can purchase similar fabric on spoon flower that I created and ties made from this fabric on Easy…. and read about lots of other passwords stuff made by me and other people) I made my own pattern by tracing a store-bought dress I own that fits me well. It is just two pieces of fabric. The only tricky part was finishing the neckline and arm holes. I bought a double needle and used it to do the hem. This was my first foray into sewing with knit fabric.

And here are some more photos from the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show at the Frame. There is also a video of my talk that I will post after it is edited.