Lazy Tips for Sewing Knits: Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

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From the comments on my recent wrap dress hacks (1 and 2), it seems like lots of us either like wrap dresses or *want* to like them but have trouble making them fit! I thought I’d share some of the logic that I worked my way through with my own hacks, in hopes that it helps anyone trying to make their own.

Remember, all of these are specifically for a knit faux-wrap dress!

1. Drafting the wrap from a tight t-shirt pattern

It’s easy to make your own wrap bodice from a t-shirt pattern. Choose a pattern that is snug, so that the crossover will be fitted and stay in place. (If you want a drapy fit like the Sewaholic Yaletown, then a loose tee like Plantain would be a better starting point.) I used the Sewaholic Renfrew tee as my base. If you are a visual learner like me, it should look like this:

Lazy Tops for Sewing Knits:Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

If you prefer more detail, here’s the really wordy version!

Trace your front bodice shoulder and armscye, and the side seam to wherever your natural waist will be. Draw a new waist-level hem seam (with seam allowance), extending it past the centre line. Trace the beginning of the neckline curve, stopping directly above the nipple/bust point. Then, use a straight ruler to draw a diagonal line down the the bottom waistline, ending directly below where the opposite nipple/bust point will be. (Sorry, bust point seems like such silly demure term to me…) This should result in a crossover which is roughly 1/3 of the entire width of the front bodice, and give you a nice steep angle to the v-neck which keep everything in place!

You might also consider that the crossover will be double layered and less stretchy, and therefore naturally pull the side seams forward. You could a) accept that and move on, b) add a bit of width to the front sides, or c) reduce width at the back waist.

2. Exactly how much crossover? 

This is a big part of making a wrap dress work – so I’m rather ashamed to say I have no handy tips here!  It depends on the shape of the pattern piece, the shape of your torso, and the nature of the knit. Basically, you have to try on the partially finished bodice and see what what works. The best time to try it on is probably once you’ve sewn the shoulders, sleeves and bodice side seams, so you can get an accurate fit. (For some reason though, I try it one when only the shoulders are sewn, and eyeball the crossover then. There’s no logic to this – so I don’t suggest you copy me!😉

3. Finish the surplice bodice with a snug band. 

How snug? I tried to pull the band until it was at about 60-75% of it’s maximum stretch. If you stretch it too far, it will get narrow and any spandex in the fabric will start shining through. On some patterns the print also changes tone if you stretch to far, and that’s not going to look nice.

I don’t use pattern pieces for any of the bands I use to finish knits, because so much depends on individual fabric. Since I knew I wanted the neckband to stay snug and hold up over time, I cut it a bit wider than I would cut the average neckband – say, 2 1/4″ instead of 1 3/4 or 2″.

If you are getting picky… think about where you want the band to be snug and where it should be less stretched. For example, I usually stretch a lot on the curved back neckline, less over the upper bodice where the band will sit straight over your collar bones, then I stretch more where it has to curve over the bust. I stretch less in the inch or two before the bottom of the bodice so that it doesn’t pull up and distort the waist seam.

Lazy Tops for Sewing Knits:Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

4. Stabilize the waist. 

With that snug band pulling up on the waist seam, there needs to be horizontal stability from a waistband or an elastic waist stay. There are lots of options for how you do this!

  • On a dress like the Tiramisu, that stability comes from a wide waistband that is snuggly fitted.
  • If you want a narrower waistband, I’d suggest doing a double layer of fabric or reinforcing it with stretch knit interfacing. (Here’s a dress with a double layered narrow waistband.)
  • Alternately, I sometimes use a soft narrow elastic in the upper seam of a waistband to keep everything in place. I’ve been successful with fold-over elastic, picot elastic and even 1/4″ swim elastic. (That’s what I did here, for example.)
  • For my wrap dresses, I serged 1″ elastic into the seam as I connected the bodice and skirt. I like this method because the elastic is very stable and functions to support the skirt, keep the waist seam straight, and helps the bodice lay smoothly.
  • You could also do elastic in a casing like the Colette Myrtle… but I find that more fiddly to sew and design!

But wait, there’s more! I wanted my elastic to also gather the skirt and bodice to fit, and to use the elastic’s stretch to keep my crossover firmly in place. To do this, you have to gather the elastic differently around the waist, as shown in the diagram below.

Lazy Tops for Sewing Knits:Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

  1. First, measure how long you think the elastic needs to be. I always cut it an inch or so shorter than feels right, because the elastic tends to stretch and loosen up a bit as it’s sewn.
  2. Then, pin the crossover section to the elastic so that the dress is stretched slightly and the elastic isn’t stretched at all. This means that when it is worn, the elastic stretches and pulls the crossover even snugger.
  3. Next, stretch the remaining elastic and pinned it around the side and back of the dress. I had to stretch the elastic quite a bit to gather the dress in snuggly.

You could sewn the elastic to the bodice or skirt separately, then join the two halves together… I prefer to do it all in one serged seam because I like to sew quickly and at this point, the dress is almost done! Just try not to cut the elastic with the serger blade – it’s not disastrous, but it affects how the elastic sits in the finished dress. 

Lazy Tops for Sewing Knits:Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

And that’s it! I hope that was helpful and not TOO confusing! My feeling is that with a project like this you could ignore all the fussy “stretch tighter here and looser here” bits, and still get a perfectly good dress. But if you’ve had issues in the past getting this type of dress to fit, maybe those extra strategies will help the next dress work better!

Do you have any tips to add for making a faux-wrap dress? 

*** If you want more completely inexpert but practical tips on sewing knits, I’ve got links to all my previous Lazy Tips posts listed just below my colour palette at the top left of the blog – or click here!

 

 


10 thoughts on “Lazy Tips for Sewing Knits: Anatomy of a (Faux) Wrap Dress

    1. I had to do so much thinking to figure this one out! how to get the bodice tight but the skirt loose? How to make it wrap at the waist, but not gape open? It’s all such a fun puzzle. I really wish I could teach geometry at school just through sewing and pattern making – it’s such a mental workout!

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      1. I don’t know why, I just suddenly like it again. Truth be told, I have to use all my fabric before I buy more. As in -all- of it! Eep! I don’t know what I will do when my Shelves are empty! Cry? Laugh? Sleep?!

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  1. Huh, for some reason I never quite thought about overlapping the front only part of the way (meaning, not from one sideseam to this other). That should help with the gaping, cool!😀

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