dresses · Project Runway

Project Runway Maternity Dress

I totally fell in love with Shirin’s maternity dress for Project Runway this season. I liked it so much that I decided to make one for my sister—well, a simplified version, anyway.

That one’s Shirin’s. Lovely! It is in silk jersey, has a low cut back (down to the waist), and a straight, but draped neck. I made a few changes to the design:

  • Since my sister hardly ever goes to parties, I raised the back to the neckline so that the dress would be more work (and bra!) friendly. As much as I love the low cut back–and it looks really stunning, I think, in the original version–it would make wearing a bra almost impossible. I don’t know too many pregnant women who would want to go braless, no matter what they do when they aren’t pregnant. Of course, at the moment I only know one pregnant woman, so maybe I’m way off base about the whole bra thing.
  • Since the back of the dress is pretty plain without the low cut and gathering, I extended the smocking all the way around the waist. This gives the back some detailing and helps curve the shape of the dress around the hips.
  • I also decided to lower the neckline a bit because although Shirin’s version has quite a bit of drape, that particular neckline wouldn’t have looked as good on my sister as it does on the model. Instead, I used a basic cowl neck.
  • The armscyes (uh, is that how you do a plural for armscye?) are cut pretty far in on Shirin’s version. I don’t know if that was on purpose or simply that the dress didn’t quite fit the model. It looks a little odd to me, so I cut them a bit closer to the arm on my version. Seems to work better with the cowl neck, anyway.
  • I used rayon jersey instead of silk jersey. She’s only got three months to go before the baby arrives and silk jersey is way more expensive than rayon 😉

The dress itself was pretty easy, actually. I used New Look 6470 (view b) for the cowl neck.

Essentially, I just winged it by extending the shirt into a dress. The only tricky bit has to do with the smocking, which I learned how to do using this tutorial. This dress has only one line of smocking, so I simply placed a grid of three lines of dots across the front and back pieces, just underneath the bust area; the first line of dots was about three inches down from the top of the side seam. The dots were spaced two inches apart and each new row of dots was spaced two inches below the previous row.

This the grid marked on the inside of the front piece of the muslin. I marked them in thread, since my invisible marker didn’t show up too well on the black knit. I placed the grid about an inch or two below the empire waist on the dress.

To make sure that I had enough lateral room to complete the line of smocking, I added a “flap” of fabric to each side seam of both the front and back pieces when I cut them. This was pretty important, because otherwise the dress would have been much too narrow along the smocking line. Below you can see the “flap” of fabric (helpfully pointed out with the pen) on the muslin. I actually made the flap both larger and more rectangular on the finished version. I cut along the pattern line until I reached the point where I wanted the first row of dots. Then I cut away from the pattern line for three inches, down four inches, and then back in to the pattern line. That gave me plenty of additional fabric to work with. The rayon I used had a lot of stretch, so if I make this again in a less flexible fabric I would probably cut the flap longer and maybe even a bit wider.

The flap on the right side of the dress. I didn’t make the flap large enough on this muslin (it looks kind of like a lump off to one side, here), so I enlarged it when I cut the final pieces.

While I really like New Look patterns, I wasn’t crazy about the design of the cowl look for this pattern. There simply isn’t much additional fabric at the neckline–basically you just fold over a little bit along the seam and hope the cowl falls so that the inside of the fabric isn’t too visible. Seems kind of dumb for a cowl neck with a lot of drape. So, I ignored the instructions and instead cut the inside drape of the cowl much longer.

Not much of an overlay, right?

I don’t have a pic of the inside of the cowl neck for the finished dress, but basically I extended the inner drape of the cowl neck all the way to below the bust (I marked the point with the pen in the photo below). This is nice because you can either a.) incorporate the drape into the smocking when you sew it, so that the inner and outer cowl neck will stretch together across the bust or b.) smock only the outside layer and then cover the smocking on the inside (to protect it) with the inner drape of the cowl neck. I ended up incorporating the inner fabric into the smocking.

For the final pieces, I cut the inner drape of the cowl neck all the way down to below the bust, following the pattern lines for the shoulders and armscyes. Since I incorporated the inner drape into the smocking, I also made sure to cut the “flaps” on the inner drape, as well as the outer drape.

I extended the back piece the same way–elongating it and adding in the flaps of fabric on the side for the smocking. After that the dress is super simple. I smocked the front and back pieces separately, based the seams together at the smocking and then more or less serged it all together. I fininshed the armscye seams with my serger and topstitched the back of the armscyes with my sewing machine and handsewed the front. This means there is no topstitching on the front of the dress. I finished the hem of the dress with my serger, doing a lettuce edge so that the hem would be nice and ripply.

On the whole it turned out pretty well. On the dress dummy, I’m afraid it looks a little lumpy and the smocking collapses a bit. That’s because my pregnancy bump for the dummy isn’t as smooth and gradual as my sister’s belly is. I was worried that the cowl neck would hide the smocking, but the smocking is actually really visible and much tighter on my sister than on the dummy. So I guess it worked out well!

Close-up of the back smocking.

The finished dress.

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