A while back I purchased Carla Crimm’s pattern book for sewing children’s clothes, and since then I haven’t bought very many children’s patterns, and I’ve been whining about not having a similar book for women’s clothes. A book that would give me basic designs I could use as a jumping off point to make whatever I want. If I took the time to fit the basic pieces, I would have all of the alterations done forever, and I could just design and sew. I can draft my own patterns, and sometimes I do. When I want the pleasure of having something I designed and drafted myself, it can be fun. But when I just want something to wear, starting from scratch is time consuming so I have been on the lookout for a springboard sewing book for me.
Tanya Whelan’s Sew Many Dresses, Sew Little Time has fulfilled my request at least for dresses and skirts. She has created a catalogue of the basic parts of a dress -bodices, skirts, sleeves, and necklines. We can mix and match them to create hundreds of different looks. Everything from the little cotton dress that goes to the grocery store to a long, strapless evening gown with a slinky, sexy skirt. Once you muslin the basic dress, you can make the same changes to the other pattern options and off you go. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, you still only have a few more muslins to make, and you can make anything.
The basic sewing instructions are grouped together in the front of the book. The terminology is explained well, and it’s “industry standard”. On its own it this part of the book would make a good sewing manual. Then the book goes through the additional things you might need to know as Tanya chooses different bodices, skirts, and sleeves as examples for things you can do with her book. If you need jumping off points to feel comfortable designing your own dresses, you’d be sure to find one here. Also in the book are instructions for turning the skirts into separates. I don’t think she misses any of the basic skirts we all wear. Some of the bodices can be converted to blouses, and Tanya covers that, too.
I bought what’s called the paperback version of the book. It’s actually a spiral bound book with a cardboard cover. The patterns are in a cardboard envelope in a closed pocket in the back of the book.
There are 3 large sheets printed on both sides. If you’re used to BurdaStyle magazine or Ottobre patterns, you’ll be comfortable with how they’re printed over one another. If you’re not, it might take some getting used to. There are 12 sizes to the patterns. The sizes aren’t marked on the pattern lines, but there are 3 shades of grayscale, and the pattern sizes are grouped that way.
Once you know which “gray” your size falls in, it’s not hard to keep track of which lines you should be tracing. I did find I needed a good light to be able to see the lightest gray through my tracing paper at night, but in the daylight it was not a problem. I do like the nested patterns. It makes it much easier to choose different sizes for my bust, waist, and hips, and to swap armhole and sleeve sizes. While the size range of the patterns goes into the measurements of plus-sized patterns, they aren’t drafted for a plus-sized bodies. The nesting makes it easier to choose smaller shoulder widths with larger busts and waists. The smallest size is 32/24/34 and the largest 50 1/2//42 1/2//52 1/2 all in inches. So a lot of us fit in that range.
The pattern size numbers do not correspond to RTW sizes. The 1-12 sizing makes us look at the measurements to pick a size. There’s no temptation to just choose our “usual size” and go with it. I like that. I don’t like that there are no finished garment measurements in the book. It makes it hard to match the size to the fabric you’re using. For example, if you choose to make one of the dresses out of a knit, you will probably want to size down. Without finished garment measurements that becomes a “guess until you get it right”. One day when I have the time, I will get out my tape measure and create my own finished measurement chart for the sizes around my body measurement sizes, but it’s a step I wish the author had done for me.
First I muslined the basic bodice in the size that corresponded to my body size. As I usually have to do with a pattern, I needed to change the slope of the shoulder and add to the bodice length. Although the patterns are drafted for a “B” cup, and I’m a “D”, I didn’t have to do a full bust adjustment. That surprised me, but also let me know there’s considerable ease in the basic bodice pattern. Since the dress I wanted to make has princess seams, I made the same changes to that bodice pattern and made a second muslin. I needed to add a bit more length, but other than that I had a good fit.
So I moved onto the dress fabric. This time I did the design change I wanted, which was to add a pleat down the front. I didn’t cut the skirt yet because I wanted to make sure I had a bodice I liked first. I went down one size because I was using a knit, but the end result was much too big for the fabric. So I took it apart and went down 2 sizes. The dress top is still loose-fitting, but I like the way it looks so I stuck with that.
My original plan was to make a circle skirt, but with the top more loose-fitting than I had seen in my eye, I opted for a six panel skirt instead. The issue with that change is there’s no seam down the middle of the back panel. So I basted the back center seam closed to see if I could get the dress on without a zipper, and it slid on easily. Because I knew an unnecessary seam up the back would bother me, I took the bodice apart and cut a center back piece on the fold and then reassembled the bodice.
I measured the finished width of the center front bodice piece and chose the skirt size based on that. I measured the length of the skirt pieces and shortened them two inches just below the hipline. When I attached the skirt to the bodice, all of the skirt seams lined up perfectly with the princess seams in the bodice. This means it would be simple to line skirt pieces up with bodice pieces, overlap the seam allowances, and eliminate the waist seam. Tanya doesn’t give instructions for doing that, but it’s not hard to figure out how to do it.
The book gives instructions for either lining or doing facings for the bodice, but since I was using a knit, I finished the neck and sleeve edges with FOE. I added some buttons down the fold, made a coordinating belt, and I’m good to go. When I wear it, I’ll get someone to snap a pic, but in the meantime, Marie is loving her new dress.
While I had some fits and starts with the dress, for a first pass at using the book, I’m pleased with the results. I need to do some experimenting with the pattern sizing, but given how many different garments I can make once I have that worked out, it will be worth my time. The patterns are well-drafted, and the instructions are clear and complete. The last sections of the book show you how to do basic pattern alterations.
I haven’t seen the eBook version to make a comparison, but I am more than pleased with the print version. The book is sturdy, lies flat when open, and the master pattern sheets are sturdy.
I expect the print version will hold up well over time. Whether you buy the print version or the eBook, I recommend buying a dressmaker’s French curve to accompany it. It makes tracing the patterns faster and more accurate and is essential for making your own design changes. If you enjoy “pattern hacking”, this is the right book for you. If you enjoy pattern hoarding, this may not be. But the book is worth the money just as a sewing manual.