Makes,  Tutorials

A little red dress: a modified Sew Love Patterns Joelle dress

I’m sure you know the feeling. You see a new pattern and instantly fall in love with it, but there is one little detail that’s stopping you from immediately pushing it to the top of your to-sew pile. When I came across the Sew Love Patterns Joelle dress, I really liked the open neckline, the shape across the bust, and of course the bow detail. But what was putting me off a bit was the little peak-a-boo under the bust, because I don’t really feel like exposing even that little bit of skin there. Nonetheless, when Sew Love Patterns had a sale on, I snapped the pattern up, knowing I would alter it one way or another to eliminate the peak-a-boo.

When I was thinking what to tackle next from my sewing wishlist at the beginning of the year, I thought of this dress, because I wanted to make a party dress. Not that I go to many parties, but just because I felt like it :D. Because I had this alteration in mind and because I suspected the fit across the bust would not be ideal, since Sew Love Patterns are drafted for a B-cup, I decided to approach it responsibly and make a toile.

The toils of toiling & pattern alterations

I picked my size based on my measurements, traced the bust pieces and the back pieces and the original waistband. I then built up the waistband in the centre according to how it should curve around the bust seam based on the bust pieces, filling in the peak-a-boo space. I sewed it together, put on makeshift straps made of some offcuts from my previous project, and assessed the fit.

As you can see from the pictures of the toile, I had to pinch a fair bit at the neckline (the “dart” pinned on the right and released and outlined in blue on the left). Since my cup is more of a C than a B, to make it fit, I picked a size that accommodates my bust but is too big for me elsewhere, which in this case is most noticable above the bust. So I could either have picked a smaller size and made an FBA, or picked a size according to the bust measurement and pinch the excess out. With this particular pattern, I thought it would be fine to go with the chart size and pinch out the excess – Sew Love Patterns have a tutorial on how to do it. Essentially, you just need to find your bust point, pinch out the excess into a dart, and then transfer that dart into the centre front seam, where all the gathering is. This will mean that you will have more fabric to gather there. You can see my final pattern pieces below.

A couple more alterations were needed. Due to the peak-a-boo, the bust pieces are elongated and the waistband piece is relatively narrow. Since I eliminated the peak-a-boo, I wanted the bust pieces to finish right under my bust, meaning the waistband would need to be wider. So I pinched about 1.5cm of fabric horizontally across the bust (as you can see in the photo of the toile above on the right side of the bust) to move the bustline where I wanted it to sit, and then altered my pattern pieces accordingly – shortening the bust pieces and the back bodice pieces and lengthening the waistband by a little bit more – 2cm. I also had to take the waistband in a little bit to make it fit nice and close.

Finally, I also decided I wanted a panelled skirt instead of the A-line that comes with the pattern. So I took the Sew Over It 1940s Tea dress pattern and used that instead, leaving one of the front seams partially open to create a slit. I also made the bow that you can thread through the little tab at the bust and handtack below the straps, but in the end I like the dress better without it, I think.

Now, if you’re thinking that this dress looks much more like the Sew Love Patterns Chloe dress, you’re absolutely right! But when I bought the Joelle, the Chloe had not been released yet, so I didn’t know that my dress of dreams was coming! By the time it came out, I had already bought the Joelle, and since the main feature I loved – the neckline and style lines across the bust – were the same, I thought I would just alter it myself. But if you’re going after the same look as me and want to spare yourself the faff, you can go for the Chloe instead.

Changes in the construction

With the pattern ready to go, I needed to make some decisions about the construction. The original pattern is unlined, with the neckline edge simply bias-bound. I did not like that, so I decided I would line the whole bodice and waistband. The only complication was the little tab that goes over the gathering in the centre front.

So, what I did was I first stabilised the neckline on all of the pieces – on the lining, I simply staystictched it, and on the main fabric, I used seam tape interfacing. Then I sewed the bust pieces and back panels together on the main fabric and on the lining separately. Afterwards, I attached them at the neckline along with the straps at the front (leaving an opening for the other end at the back, so that I could tweak the length later), understitched the seam allowance to the lining, and then sewed on the centre front tab, attaching it with basting stitches at the bottom of the main fabric piece and the other end at the bottom of the lining piece. This allowed me to proceed as you usually would, attaching the main waistband pieces to the main bust pieces, and the lining waistband pieces to the lining bust pieces. Then it was again business as usual – attaching the skirt, sewing in the zipper, then hand stitching the lining along the zipper and the waist.

Mission Little Red Dress complete

And here’s the finished result. I have to say, I was quite chuffed with how well it turned out. I finished it just in time to wear it for a night out with some friends, where we ended up going dancing, and it was perfect for twirling to the soundtrack from Grease and Dirty Dancing.

The only downside is, I made it out of a really cheap remnant of a polycotton suiting, because I knew I was going to be tweaking the pattern a lot and didn’t want anything expensive, and this was the only suitable red fabric I could find. And yes, the red was non-negotiable, since I dreamed up a little red dress! The problem with polycotton, however, is that it does not take well to heat. Because I usually stick to natural fibres, I didn’t fully realise how big a problem it was until I pulled it out of the washing machine and the interfaced waistband came out all bubbly. I haven’t even tried to iron it yet, because I’m almost sure I won’t be able to salvage it… and I can’t face having to unpick it all, recut the waistband, and perhaps interline it instead, since I won’t be able to iron on any interfacing properly.

I guess I’ll have to try to salvage it eventually… but for the moment, I have already ordered a gorgeous green cupro to make another, proper version of this significantly tweaked Joelle dress, which will echoe the gorgeous green number Emma Stone wore in La La Land, ready to dance the night away.

So, what do you think of my transformation of the Joelle? Do you like to take a pattern as your base and alter it to fit your dreamed-up style lines? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,



    • admin

      Thanks, Bekah! I’m sorry, I didn’t take any pictures of how I did that and don’t have time to replicate it now. But basically I measures the length of the strap and then I took an existing flutter sleeve pattern (in this case from the Sew Over It Eve dress) and marked on it the length of the strap on my new dress (along the sleeve head, which made it shorter). Then I modified the rest of the sleeve (freehanding it), essentially rouding the hem up to where my new sleeve head ends. Then before sewing the long side of the strap closed, I attached the hemmed sleeve to one side, sandwiching the sleeve seam allowance inside the strap, and then topstiched the strap, enclosing it in. I’m not sure if I explained it very well, but I hope it gives you at least an idea of what I did.

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