Updated: Jul 14
About a month ago, I had a realization that someday soon I was going to have to wear REAL clothes again. Not only leggings and sweatshirts, but real clothes that people would see me in. It wasn't a happy thought. In normal times I'd love a good pair of jeans and shirt. But these aren't normal times and wearing stretchy and comfy clothes turned out to be an unexpected perk of the shut down that I wasn't ready to give up.
In the summer I usually wear my linen City Gym Shorts and a sleeveless tee. While these also fit the bill of stretchy and comfy, I wanted something even easier to wear. So I went on a search for the perfect knit dress. I wanted to find something that was appropriate to wear outside the confines of my house but as comfortable as a night shirt!
FINDING THE INSPIRATION, PATTERN AND FABRIC
Thanks to Instagram's Big Brothering these Patagonia dresses kept popping up on my feed. They were exactly what I wanted. Don't get me wrong, I am all for spending money on a quality product from a quality company. But, I couldn't make the purchase because I had no doubt that I had the perfect pattern and fabric in my stash to recreate the look.
It's no secret that I'm a sewing supplies hoarder. So, needless to say, it didn't take me long to find what I was looking for: the Blank Slate Patterns Catalina Dress. This wasn't my first go with this pattern. I had tried to make this once years before with little success. At that time knits were still a mystery to me and all it took was a couple of wrong turns for me to abandon the project in a heap. A quick perusal of the instructions and I realized this time around it would be a quick and easy sew. If you have some basic knit sewing skills you'll be able to whip this up in no time. Unless, of course, you decide to make a million changes like I do.
From my stash I picked a blue and white striped poly knit that I had picked up from Affordable Fabrics. Not only does it look breezy and summery, it has a nice weight to it. It wasn't so thin that I would ACTUALLY feel like i was wearing pajamas but also not so heavy that it would weigh on me in the summer heat.
FIRST ROUND OF PATTERN CHANGES...
Out of the gate I made two changes. The first was to adjust the armscye so it had more of a sportier look. The tank cut in the pattern is more like a muscle shirt and I wanted the back to cut in a little. The key here is to just do a little a time until you find one arm you like and then cut the other one to match.
Second, I switched out the neck and arm binding methods. The instructions calls for a woven bias tape finish. While bias tape can keep a knit from stretching out, I don't love it for finishing knits. So I opted for my usual binding method. Quick, easy and very finished looking. (When your 6 year old is your photographer sometimes you just have to run with some of the squirrelier looking photos of yourself!)
THEN CAME THE SKIRT...
Unfortunately that wasn't my last change. After trying it on I remembered why I had banished the first dress I made years ago. The skirt was all wrong for me! The skirt pattern has about 3 inches more width than the bodice. This allows you to gather the skirt into the bodice when you're sewing. Since you cut the pattern on the fold that's actually 6" more skirt width on one side. And because you have a front and back it's a total of 12" all around. This gives it that casual look and keeps it from being form fitting. BUT I've never been comfortable with a lot of extra gathers at my waist. It's totally a personal preference thing. I've seen plenty of Catalina dresses that look adorable with the gather. But I did know that, for me to like it, there was going to need to be a big change to the skirt. Before I could even take a photo I had the seam ripper out (to be honest, I was afraid I would toss this one too if I didn't start fixing it right away!).
Altering the pattern wasn't a big deal. Ripping out all that serger thread was-- or at least it wasn't fun at all! For those who prefer a visual explanation, here's a graphic of the changes I made.
Step 1: Rip apart the right side of the front skirt from the back. Remove the pocket bag and pocket lining.
Step 2: Cut off an extra 4" from the front and the back. If I was adjusting the pattern piece I would remove 2" from the center fold of the skirt pattern piece. I came upon this very scientific measurement by trying on the skirt before ripping it apart and pinching off the extra fabric. Turns out it wasn't quite as scientific as I hoped, but more on that later.
Cut the pocket curve on the right hand side. Attach the pocket bag and lining. Sew to back of skirt before sewing back on to the bodice.
This is important to note: the only reason this straightforward fix worked is because skirt is a simple rectangle. If there was any shaping or, gasp-- pattern matching!, I wouldn't have been able to do this. Luckily we were working with rectangles here and this style dress is super forgiving so it was no big deal!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: THE HEM...
And my last change was the hem. Since it's a simple rectangle, the patterns calls for a straight hem. Like everything else that I can't leave alone, I knew I was going to want to turn this into a curved hem. The key to this, like any adjustment, is to make incremental changes. Knit fabric stretches with it's own weight so as you cut off inches it may pop up higher than you expected. I usually measure where I want the finish hem to end, add 2 inches and cut along that line. If it's still long you can fold a deeper hem or continue to trim off the unnecessary fabric.
THE GUTS OF THE DRESS...
Here's the inside view of the bodice. I found it easiest to the sew the skirt to the bodice with a narrow zig zag per the pattern instructions. I then clean up the edges with the serger. Not only did this make the edges look cleaner but it was much easier to sew to the bodice in the next step. If you don't have a serger you can use a narrow zigzag at the raw edges. Believe me, you'll be thankful you took the time to do this! Then I sewed the serged edge to the bodice with my coverstitch machine. With the coverstitch you have to sew from the right side so I was flying a little blind there so my line is a little wonky. You can see I didn't maximize the casing as much as I should have. If you don't have a coverstitch machine, you could sew it down with a zigzag from the wrong side and you wouldn't miss as much as I did.
I'm not 100% satisfied with the skirt on this one again. It's a little more form fitting around the hips than I wanted, but definitely getting closer. I'll play around with that more on the next one and either add more back into the center or grade out to a larger hip size. Because there will definitely be a next one. At least one more next one. This dress is super comfy, super easy, and super quick to make (once you stop screwing around with the pattern!).
I see endless possibilities with this dress though! I can't wait to make a few more hacks to get it to the perfect summer pull-on-and-head-out-the-door-though-were-still-not-supposed-to-really-go-anywhere dress!
What's your favorite pattern to hack? I love getting new ideas!