Our guest blogger today is Kelly Walsh, the Director of Engineering at Spoonflower and an avid seamstress who loves a good hack. Over the next week, in two parts, she will explain how to alter the very popular Alder Shirtdress from Grainline Studio to add sleeves and bodice darts.
If you’re like me, you got into sewing clothing because you’re never quite satisfied with the options you’re given. You always want to change a garment in some way, just to make it different, make it yours. It might be the fit you want to tweak, or maybe it’s the color or design on the fabric, or maybe it’s those small details to add flare. Whatever it is, the whole point of sewing your own clothing is that you can do whatever you want!
I love the concept for Sprout Patterns, but whenever I tell friends about it, I usually hear the same thing: “That sounds so cool! But I’m not just one size, I grade between sizes. They can’t do that (yet!)” Or “That’s nice, but I always like tweaking the patterns I get. If it’s printed on the fabric, I can’t do that.”
Well, I’m here to say that yes, you absolutely can alter a Sprout Patterns garment. You have to get a little creative about it, and you have to plan ahead, but I’m convinced that 9 out of 10 alterations are possible on a Sprout Patterns project. You might have to play with the seam allowances, you might have to get creative with scrap fabric, you might even have to re-draft the bodice. But you’d be doing those things with a normal pattern anyways!
To prove it to you, I’m going to show you the alterations I did on the Alder Shirtdress (View B) by Grainline Studio. I love florals, so I picked a beautiful vintage-ish design called Royal Garden by Oksana Pasishnychenko. Now, everyone I’ve talked to has either loved or hated the “B” option for the shirt dress. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about those gathers, or that line drawing which people either fall in love with, or are completely turned off by. Full confession: I was one of the people who swore I’d never sew it, it wasn’t for me. It’s not that it was a bad dress, just that I knew I’d look like I was wearing a bag. I love shirtdresses, but I’m all pear shaped, and I just didn’t “feel” that silhouette. So I gave myself a challenge: How would I use Sprout to turn the Alder Shirtdress B Variation into a dress that I loved and felt good in?
I made the bodice a bit more fitted and defined my waist by adding some darts, and I drafted some cute tulip sleeves. Here’s what the Alder looks like sewn up exactly as in the instructions.
It’s not a bad dress by any means, but it just didn’t feel flattering. My hips are wide enough that I have to choose a larger size to fit them, and my bust is small enough that I lose all shaping between my shoulders and my hips. But once I added a couple of darts in both the front bodice and the back, I got a dress that looks like this:
I already loved this alteration. I felt like I had a waist again! I could have stopped here and been perfectly pleased with myself, but that was almost too easy. I wanted a challenge to see what else I could do to change this dress just a bit more. I decided that I wanted something to balance the fullness of the skirt, and give the dress a bit more construction. I’m always more of a sleeves girl than a sleeveless girl, so I played with a couple of options and eventually decided on tulip sleeves. After all my alterations and playing, here’s the dress I finally ended up with:
How to: Shaping up and adding darts
There’s a whole lot of ways you can change the shape of a bodice. Some of them are more dramatic than others, and some of them definitely take more effort than others. When considering doing so with Sprout, there are some important considerations to think about. If you’re going to attempt something a little more complicated, like a full bust adjustment, do the math ahead of time and make sure it will work.
Sprout does include a seam allowance in the printed area, which considering that is on every side of every pattern piece, does add up to a lot of “flex” room in how far you can shift a pattern piece before you reach the edge. You can also increase your “margins” by ordering up a size. You’ll have to do some drafting to get it back “down” to your size in certain areas, but it adds some possibilities. I’d definitely recommend checking out the “finished garment” dimensions if you’re planning anything complicated as that will help you plan out how the fabric pieces will match with your body, and how much room you have to shift things. And remember, the darts aren’t actually printed on the fabric for sprout, so you have all that fabric to play with too.
Personally though, I’m usually too lazy to go about doing the math to draft up a whole new bodice draft full bust adjustment craziness. With something that has a relaxed fit, like the Alder Shirtdress, I’m much more likely to simply drape any alterations right on my body or on the dressform.
The Alder only has two horizontal bust darts that come in from the side seams. This is great for creating a subtle shape with a relaxed fit through the waist. However, I have a fairly small bust, and larger hips, and since I had to order the size that would fit my hips, it means the bodice is fairly large for me, and my waist gets utterly lost. According to the Alder size chart, my bust is a size 6, while my waist is a size 10, and my hips are a size 12. I ordered my dress as a size 12, and sewed it exactly according to the instructions, but I wasn’t a big fan of the results.
My goal was to re-emphasize the waist and find some definition around the bust area. The easiest way to do this was to follow classic bodice traditions and add in two vertical darts going from the waist up. I also added slightly smaller darts in the back as well.
Now, yes, you could get out your ruler, and do the math, and draw on your fabric, and if you’re like me get utterly confused. OR you could simply put the dress on inside out and pinch and pin the extra fabric around this area until you like the shape it creates on your body. Let’s be real, no one’s body is exactly symmetrical, no one’s body follows a set of generic math rules. You can draw all the straight lines you want, but I have yet to find a single straight line in my body. I find it so much easier to just map the fabric to my body while it’s on my body.
It’s easiest to do this technique if most of the major seams (especially the shoulders and side seams) in the bodice are already sewn, even if they’re only basted together. I didn’t plan overly well, and so I had done everything on my dress, down to even finishing the interior seams, before I decided to add these darts. That’s probably going too far, as you never know if you’ll want to let out a side seam to make the front dart larger, but it ended up working out in the end.
Here’s me with the dress on inside out, and where and how I ended up positioning the darts. They’re not perfectly even, that’s because my stomach isn’t perfectly flat. Maybe yours is, you lucky duck! There’s not identical, because one side of my body is actually a slightly different shape than the other. This isn’t unusual either, most people are slightly asymmetrical.
IMPORTANT: Definitely double check yourself on this one. Put the dress on and off and on and off again, inside out and right side out, look and see if the fabric is puckering anywhere. Shift things around. Realize you liked it better the other way and shift it back again. Take in the side seams, let them out again. Make sure the dress is hanging off your shoulders straight, and you’re not slouching. Wear the bra that you’re most like to want to wear with this dress. Don’t drape a dress on your body while wearing a bra that you won’t want to wear with the dress, it changes your body, and therefore will change the shape of the dress!
Once you feel good about where your darts are pinned, bast them. Then triple check yourself one last time. Then stitch them, and press them towards the center, just like always. And presto! You’ve made a bodice that fits your body, and fits how you want, better than any pattern could ever guess. All without any math at all.
Here’s some inside out photos of my darts, front and back.
The front darts taper off at the top and the bottom, because of how the front panels of the Alder work. The top of the dart rests just below the point of my bust, and the bottom dips just under my natural waist. The back darts end at their widest point at the waist line. Remember that you’ll have to compensate with the gathers here, since you’re effectively removing fabric from the waistline, your gathers in the back skirt will have to be slightly denser to match lengths.
This one simple change was easy to do and changed this dress for me. And it doesn’t require any extra fabric, any math or drafting skills. I’ll say it again, you can alter sprout patterns projects! It’s okay if your entire body is not just the one size. You can get great results by simply adding some darts and shaping the fabric to your body.
Kelly Walsh attended the NC School of Science and Mathematics and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Philosophy. She spends most of her free time reading, sewing the most elaborate Halloween costumes she can envision (and the occasional everyday outfit), and learning to weave on her 1900s Leclerc floor loom. Her favorite Sprout Pattern of the moment is the Archer Button Up. She joined the Spoonflower team in 2011 as a printer operator, and is currently the Director of Site Engineering.