Hey there! My name is Megan and I'm the sewing, pattern making girl behind Dolly Henry. This is my blog, where I share my own creative adventures and hope to meet fellow fabric enthusiasts. I also design and sell sewing patterns through my online boutique, alongside a beautiful collection of clothing and dolls. Thank you for stopping by!


Making a Summer Dress

With summer approaching, I had a bit of a panicky moment when I looked in my cupboard and realised my summer wardrobe was dismal! As in almost non-existent. Certainly, I have clothes hanging in the 'out' section of the cupboard, but my 'round the house' clothing seemed to be missing. It's been one of those years - when all the clothing seems to have reached its expiry date and needs replacing. I dealt with winter, having purchased new clothes in Autumn.

But there are holes in the summer department. I'm a fabric addict. This means I am more likely to buy too much fabric rather than clothes. I love clothes but because I grew out of buying lots of fast and cheap pieces of flimsy fashion a few years ago, I don't add to my wardrobe very often. I prefer to purchase better quality, longer lasting and better fitting pieces these days. Of course, a shirt can set you back upwards of $100 which used to sound expensive. However, even the cheaper chain stores will charge you upwards of $60 for a badly made shirt now, so it seems more sensible to buy less of the better stuff. 

Nobody shops like I do. I turn things inside out and check the seams and fabric to decide on the quality of the item. I can't come at the four dollar shirts. They don't last anyway, not in this Northern climate and they continue to shrink wash after wash. The tiniest bit of sweat and the shirt won't get you past a season. And people sweat in North Queensland. 

Being a dressmaker, I can't fathom how you can make a shirt so cheaply anyway. I've heard arguments as to why it's good we can buy cheap clothes now but nobody has made a convincing case. Living rurally, you occasionally have to visit the local tip and piles of household waste in a natural environment really brings home how much damage we wasteful creatures are doing to the environment. It's scary.

The combination of wanting better quality clothes and not being able to afford to fill my wardrobe with high-end pieces coupled with my growing need to make sure the fashion I love so much is more ethically produced brought me round to finally turning some of my extensive fabric stash into clothes for me. Cotton is perfect for summer, it washes well, it's cool and it doesn't absorb smell in the same way synthetic fibers do. 

Of course, I'm not blind to the fact cotton has it's own rather ghastly impact on the environment but one step at a time. I am all for improving things but I do think it needs to be done as I can manage it, preferring to believe in the ripple effect over a save the world complex, self-denial and sacrifice. I don't think that makes me selfish, just realistic. There is too much pressure these days for what to eat, what to wear and what to care about. No wonder it's easy to self-implode and crash on the couch with some escapism tv and a box of chocolate.

Before this post gets any more serious, let's get back to my dress. I really love it, I've worn it several times already and while it is still cool, I am wearing it over leggings. Cool as in the temperature. I have no idea if it's considered cool to wear leggings under dresses. Even the word cool might be uncool. Who knows? I don't care anyway!

I've had this floral in my stash for ages, I didn't have enough for a whole dress so I decided to use these Cotton Steel bears for the front bodice, as a feature. At first I was a bit put out I didn't have enough floral but now I like having the fun bodice!

I used an old pattern from my Mum's pattern box for the dress. After a series of unfortunate makes in previous years, I decided to actually look at what dresses I liked to wear already rather than just going with a pattern that I thought looked really pretty without stopping to consider if I would actually wear it.

I had a lot of unrealistic expectations as a teenager, which I think is why whenever my Mum or Grandmother made me a dress or I attempted to make something that I was bitterly disappointed. I laugh now, because I can't believe how silly I was. The downside to the dressmaking mayhem was it has taken me awhile to realise that I can actually sew myself clothes and all the trouble I used to have doesn't exist anymore. 

After surveying my wardrobe, I concluded what I wore most of was very simple bodice shapes with pleated skirts. So I took the bodice off a New Look Pattern (6355) and used it to make my dress. I cut the bodice off at the waistline, added a self-drafted pleated skirt and adjusted the back bodice to create a slightly scooped neckline.

I took the shoulders in several sizes smaller because I always find shoulders are too wide on patterns for me. I cut a 14 (Australian) for the bodice but took the shoulders into a size 10. This troubleshoots the problem I have with bodices gaping at the back between my shoulders, and also the neckline being too wide at the front. It's amazing the difference this makes! It's not hard to grade your pattern in at all. 

Another reason I used to struggle to make my own clothes, is because I followed the pattern measurements. All sewing patterns, both independent and large-scale manufactured point me several times larger than I am. You can imagine the blow to my self-esteem as a teenager when I would measure up at a size 20, only to find when I made the dress it didn't fit at all. It was terribly frustrating. I don't understand pattern measurements! So now I cut off my standard dress size. I usually make a 'mock-up' item first as it is so much more relaxing knowing I am not ruining my 'good' fabric and can tweak the pattern if I need to. 

I've found I nearly always need to move the shoulders right in, as I'm not very broad. The funny thing about making your own clothes is you'll discover you aren't actually a size at all! You are simply you. By the time you have tweaked a pattern to fit you perfectly, not only will it look ten times better than your store-bought dresses, but you'll find your measurements are all over the place. My bust is the deciding factor in most clothes I make,  and darts have become my best friend when it comes to my waist area. With woven fabrics like cotton, there is no stretch so the bigger measurements need to be accommodated. Even if it means your top or dress is a bit big at the waist.

I hate having my shirt stick off my bust without any waist definition. It's just a pet-peeve of mine. So back and tummy darts are a great way to bring the garment back closer to the body. Of course, unless you want to wear a fifties corset and have limited movement, you could make it quite tight but one does need room to breathe when sitting down so leaving it looser can be a good idea. 

Perhaps that explains the slow movements, the upright postures and sexy-breathless tones of the fifties starlets...the poor girls were just strapped in too tightly!

This dress was simple and quite quick to make. I love the simplicity of the design, and recommend using a favourite bodice pattern with your own gathered or pleated skirt attached! It's going to serve me well in summer, it's cool, easy to wash and not at all restrictive to wear - which is important when you work from home!

Have you got any summer sewing plans?

Megan x


  1. Great post, Megan! I've been sewing my own dresses and skirts for the last couple of years! My favourites include the Esme dress by Lotta Jansdotter, the Portfolio dress (OOP) and the Farrow dress! They all have pockets which is most important! I can't buy dresses off the rack because I'm bigger at the bottom than the top, plus I'm short waisted! I love your dress - a one-of-a-kind treasure!!

    1. Hi Michelle, thank you! It's fun doing your own sewing isn't? I'll admit I saw your post on the dresses you'd made a year or so ago and it did help motivate me to get to the point of doing some of my own sewing! Those dresses look gorgeous, I've got a whole bundle of Colette patterns that I haven't made. I did buy them when I was less experienced at sewing though, so I might have to dig them out now I'm more skilled. It is quite difficult for most women to get a dress to fit off the rack, and to fit nicely. It's so wonderful to be empowered with the skills to create our own wardrobes and being able to define our own style, regardless of what fast and big fashion has to say about it! Megan x


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