knit shift dress | renfrew meets mccalls 6559 meets laurel

if me made may teaches me anything, it’s that my sewing is seriously out of sync with my blogging. and instagram is just an enabler since my makes are almost always seen there first. but, i have a several project backlog of photographed makes, so there does stand the chance that i’ll actually get them on ye olde blog soon-ish.


a couple weeks ago i had a rare evening out with a group of moms from my daughter’s kindergarten class. naturally i needed to make something new for the occasion… you know how it is. but i should back up… i’ve been itching to add some flowy knit maxi skirts to my wardrobe, and i had a 2 yard piece of black cotton/lycra and thought that would be perfect. i drafted out a 1/4 circle skirt, but alas i was about 1/2 a yard short. i decided to try anyways and make an a-line maxi. chalked it out on my fabric, cut it out, sewed up the side seams and… well it was okay, but it just didn’t totally feel right. it was too fitted from waist to hip and would probably end up not worn very often.

awkward arm pose...

awkward arm pose…

i was bummed, but then i remembered the dinner outing and thought maybe i could get a shift dress even if i had to piece it together. well turns out that a failed maxi skirt is the exact amount of fabric required for a shift dress—no piecing necessary! i cut sleeves and binding from my remaining fabric (which i still had a good chunk of) and had a new dress hours later.

photo 1

so let’s talk about my pattern. you may recall last december that i made a shift dress for christmas out of a heavy sweater knit. i wore that dress a lot, so i knew i’d be making it again. i had hacked it by combining my sewaholic renfrew for the top with mccalls 6559 for the bottom. for this dress, i also narrowed the skirt hem, using my colette patterns laurel as a guide. (side note: why didn’t i just use my laurel—minus darts—for this dress? i had intended to, actually, but i pulled out my renfrew for comparison and i was afraid it would take some serious tweaking to get right. with my renfrew/shift previously hacked, the bulk of the work was already done.) basically all i did was line up the waist marking on the mccalls pattern with where my waist hits on the renfrew. line those two up and you’re ready to go! okay, mostly.

photo 2

one thing that has bugged me on my chevron dress is some excess fabric in the back, and little bit of pulling on the front causing the back to look like it’s sagging. to fix all that, i retraced, narrowing the back piece in quite a bit at the waist. then to address the pulling at the front i added in some bust room by slashing at the bust line and adding 3/8″. this excess i simply eased in when i sewed the side seams, keeping the excess concentrated from the armhole to just under the bust. i would tell you that adding in the extra room was my brilliant idea, but that’s how the mccalls pattern is drafted so i figured it was legit. just note that if you have a striped fabric, start your stripe matching under the bust, not at the armhole!


i finished the neckline with a binding facing, rather than a neck band for a nice clean look. i serged a strip of fabric to the front, then turned it to the inside and top stitched with my cover hem. oh yeah… i bought a cover hem (!!!). we’re just getting acquainted, so i’ll hopefully post more on that later!


and that’s about it! i can see this dress covering all the bases from a casual day dress to an accessorized date night dress for almost any season. versatility at it’s finest!

—lisa g.

colette patterns | laurel

the laurel dress by colette patterns is one of those that took a while for me to fall in love with. i suppose, like many, my reaction was a bit meh initially. however i kept loving everyone’s versions of the pattern, and eventually i decided to buy it. i knew i had to do a proper muslin first because to be honest, i wasn’t sure if this shape would work for me. woof. my first try was not good. i graded from a 6 on top (with a SBA) to an 8 on bottom. it was all sorts of wrong and i tossed it in the corner for a time out.


after a couple days of thinking, i decided to come down to a size 2 up top and grade out to a 6 for the waist/hip. i did a 3/8″ FSA, and removed some width at the top of the zip at CB instead of making a neck dark. ahhh! so much closer! i didn’t even bother with an SBA, and the top portion was basically perfect aside from the neck gape. i still had an issue with the hips area, so i shaved off the top of the hip curve (maybe i have low hips? actually that would explain a lot…) and called it good.


since my fabric is mostly sheer, i underlined the front and back with muslin. my fabric has this really cool woven stripe, and the underlining makes the fabric design stand out something fierce. i sewed it up, and when i tried it on i was still left with some weird upper hip flanges. i ended up taking out the curve of the hip area, and marking nearly a straight line from the top of the curve to the lower notch.


it’s weird. i struggled with fitting CP designs so much in the past—cutting, taping, butchering… as it turns out, a lot of my troubles could have been fixed by starting with a much smaller size.


construction notes:

this is a pretty straightforward make. i certainly didn’t rush through the sewing here, and i only needed two days. many people have omitted the zip on this dress, and i don’t know what kind of contortionists those people are, but there is no way i could get this on and off without a zip! i went with an invisible zip, stabilized with tricot fusible from sunni’s shop. this stuff is the best, and makes inserting zips a breeze! it’s been a while since i did an invisible zip, and it went in perfectly the first time. i do STRONGLY suggest that you put the zip in before attaching the front of the dress to the back pieces. it is a thousand times easier that way.


i did the bias binding at the neckline per the instructions, but the sleeves i simply turned a hem and topstitched. the sleeves are also supposed to be bias bound, but this fabric was already pretty prone to fraying due to the loose weave. i was good and stitched the hem by hand. since i had underlined the fabric, it was super easy to do this invisibly.


fit-wise, the armholes are a tad snug, so that’s something to watch out for. also, it never occurred to me to check the width of the lower edge of the sleeve—also tighter than i would have liked. next time i’ll most likely go up a size for the sleeve and armhole. then, i do have a tiny bit of gaping at the neckline. i had taken out some room at the top of the zip, but i think i could adjust the angle of the shoulder seam to help it sit a little nicer. but all in all i am very happy with how the dress came out.


and that’s about it folks! i suspect i’ll be returning to this pattern a few times since it’s so quick to make, and, let’s face it, shift dresses are everywhere these days!

—lisa g.