I found this orange fabric at B&M fabrics in Leeds City market during my visit in July 2014. I knew straight away it was destined to be a maxi dress. I have a RTW maxi dress that I bought about 7 years ago and I wear every holiday. Its a great travelling dress and then I can wear it out to dinner too. I wanted a similar style with my orange fabric. I couldn’t find a pattern that would make the fabric into the design that I had in my head, I wasn’t looking very hard though, as there is only about 10 days a year where I would wear a maxi dress. I remembered that in series 3 of the GBSB, they made a girls dress with lots of shirring, and I always thought that was similar enough to what I wanted. I was looking through my GBSB books and stumbled across the girls dress pattern and then saw there was a hack for an adult’s dress.
The book doesn’t have a pattern but explains what size to cut out your rectangle panels. There is one panel for the bodice and one for the maxi skirt. My measurements mean that the narrow fabric I bought wasn’t going to be big enough, so I tweaked it slightly and cut the right size top, and then the skirt isn’t as full as the pattern suggests.
I thought this would be a quick make. I was really wrong! The entire bodice is shirred, I had never done any shirring before, and under estimated how time consuming it is. I did a fair amount of unpicking to begin with as I couldn’t get the tension of the shirring elastic right. I think where I was going wrong was that I wasn’t consistent in ensuring that the elastic from the bobbin was in the thread feeder. I also shortened the stitch length (whereas I think I should have lengthened it), but it works fine for this dress. I then went to sew over 20 lines of shirring all about 8mm apart. On my bodice this was over 46m of shirring (not including the unpicking). You can’t get much shirring elastic on a bobbin, so I seemed to wind a lot of bobbins during my sewing.
Once I had shirred (and shirred and shirred) my bodice looked great. At this point it was a rectangle so I added a side seam to the bodice, and then sewed a centre back seam into my skirt panel and attached the bodice and the skirt to a wide piece of black elastic that I found in my sewing box. This meant that I could attach both pieces without gathering, matching seams or anything else.
Once I had hemmed the top and the bottom of the dress, I needed a way to keep the dress up, despite the amount of elastic in this dress, it still needed a strap of some sort. I fashioned a wide piece of the fabric as a halter-neck, pinning where I thought it would sit best and then sewing to the bodice. It’s a fairly loose strap as I need enough give to get it over my head. I also left it really wide so that I can style it in a number of different ways depending on the look I want to go for.
It was really nice to learn a new technique with shirring, it was great to do so some slow and accurate sewing (all those lines of shirring need to be parallel), and to use up a piece of my fabric stash. Having worn this on holiday I really need to go back and add a split up the centre back or side, as there isn’t much room for walking! This dress will never get a lot of wear in the UK but actually I am sure that it will become a holiday staple for years to come.