hack it: a knit shirtdress!

I instantly knew what I would hack for this challenge: I live in Kansas, & it gets HOT here–100+ degrees & crazy humidity for months on end. I love shirtdresses & have made half a dozen in various woven substrates, but I usually find myself reaching for jersey knits all summer long. So I wondered: are knit shirtdresses a thing? I don’t think I have ever seen one in a store. Is such a creation possible, or am I toying with nature’s most sacred laws? Would it be a beautiful marriage of fashion & function, or would it devolve into a dystopian monstrosity that would make “The Island of Dr. Moreau” look like an innocent nursery rhyme?

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I had two major concerns: 1) Most knit garments I’ve made rely upon a certain degree of negative ease for fitting, but that’s not really an option when a button placket is all that stands between you & flashing the nice man who leads toddler story time at the local library. & 2) I was worried that the weight of the button placket would drag down the front hem & make me look like I was slowly melting.

But I decided to try it! I married the Jenna cardigan from Muse Patterns to the Lady Skater dress pattern from Kitschy Coo Patterns. The Lady Skater is an old stand-by for me, but I’d never made the Jenna.

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I had to muslin the Jenna pattern. I have a pretty big rack, so making sure I got a close fit in the top but also a securely buttoned placket with no gaping was key to making this hack work. Here’s a quick rundown of the fit alterations I made:

  • cut the Jenna in a size 40 in the shoulders, grading out to a 44 at the waist-length
  • 2” FBA (which is pretty much the same process in a dartless knit as it is for a traditional woven with a bust dart), keeping the width through the waist
  • lengthened the center front 5/8”, grading to nothing at the side seams
  • 1/2” narrow shoulder adjustment
  • shortened the sleeves 2”
  • cut the Lady Skater skirt in a size 7

Here’s where the hacking starts! I even made a sketch! I made the bodice from the waist-length version of the cardigan, with gathered shoulders & three-quarter sleeves, & added 2” to the bottom of the bodice (the height of the waistband). The Lady Skater skirt is the same pattern piece cut twice on the fold, one for the front & one for the back. For the hack, I cut the back on the fold & the front as two separate pieces. I had to add a little width to the skirt to make the side seams on the skirt match the side seams on the bodice. The Lady Skater as-is uses negative ease to fit the bodice, which I eliminated by fitting the Jenna pieces exactly to my measurements. I added 1” to the fold line in the skirt back, & 1 3/8” to the center front (extra to accommodate the seam allowance for the button placket).

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I stabilized the shoulder seams & waistline with clear elastic, which is crucial to helping this garment keep its shape, & made sure to flip the seam allowances up over the elastic because that stuff really irritates my skin.

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The Lady Skater pattern doesn’t have pockets. I’ve tried side seam pockets with this pattern, but I don’t like the weight they add to the side seam. I drafted my own side slant pockets, from scratch. This is an easy hack to add to any dress or skirt pattern. Cut your skirt with a little curve or a simple slant for the pocket, plus a pocket bag (I usually go for some kind of fun contrasting print—gray gingham, in this case) & a facing. Remember to include seam allowances! I like to understitch when I turn my pocket bag under so there’s no topstitching & the pocket blends right in with the rest of the garment.

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I simply extended the button placket for the Jenna the length of my skirt. I read somewhere, soon after I started sewing, an admonishment to never include a button without a proper, functioning buttonhole, so the entire button placket is 100% functional, even though the dress easily pulls on over my head with no need for unbuttoning. My sewing machine didn’t love making buttonholes on knit fabric, & I had to go in & clean things up a little with a tiny zigzag, but we got there in the end.

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I used this fabric in a different colorway to make a Lady Skater last spring & I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it. I was actually singled out by the grand marshal at a parade recently as “the lady in the colorful dress”. When I decided to experiment with making a knit shirtdress, I knew I wanted to use this print again, in the red/pink shade with amazing gray flowers. I used gray buttons & gray topstitching to compliment the flowers.

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The finished dress is pretty much perfect, in my eyes. The placket doesn’t gape, the hem is even, the jersey shows off the shoulder gathers beautifully, & say it with me: “secret pajamas”. This is a hack I’d do again in a heartbeat! I could even make a little twinset, pairing a hacked shirtdress with a matching cardigan!

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30 thoughts on “hack it: a knit shirtdress!

    • Oh, it is! I finished it two weeks ago & there has been one night since when I was too tired to put on real pajamas & I wore it to sleep in. (Don’t tell anyone.)

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    • Thank you! Worth noting: both patterns I used were already designed for knits, so it was just a matter of putting them together & finessing the fit to make sure the finished garment was actually functional as a dress & not, say, a dressy robe or something. It’s super-comfy though! I’m excited to rock the shirtdress aesthetic in an easy-to-wear knit.

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  1. when a button placket is all that stands between you & flashing the nice man who leads toddler story time at the local library.- ha ha ha – LOVE!!! Well done you – looks like a perfect achievement of the initial goal 🙂

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  2. You have really come up trumps with this dress. I love the colour, fabric, style and everything about it. It is very flattering on you and if I ever get up to that standard of pattern hacking and sewing I will definitely be stealing your idea. Just love it.

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    • Thank you! I did discover after making this dress that Blank Slate Patterns offers a knit shirtdress pattern. Which is funny, because I used a Blank Slate pattern for the “new to me” challenge during week one of IPM. Not sure how I totally overlooked their knit shirtdress pattern. But I am very pleased with my hack! Both the Jenna & the Lady Skater are great patterns, & they work so well together!

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    • Thanks! It totally occurred to me to just sew on e a bunch of fakey buttons & call it a day. But I really wanted to see if I could make a “proper” shirtdress out of a knit. & you know. It always just feels nice to set yourself a challenge & then meet it, even if you could have achieved a similar result with a shortcut.

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  3. I love it! I’m totally going to copy this idea some day.

    I usually just in seam pocket in my lady skaters. I’ve been thinking about doing pockets like you did to one soon. I’ve done that same pocket design on a few other patterns, and it occurred to me that I had never done it to my favorite pattern.

    I don’t really understand how the clear elastic doesn’t end up irritating your skin. Are you topstitching the seam allowances down to keep them from just flipping the clear elastic toward your skin? I’ve stopped putting elastic in my waist seam and I haven’t seen any problems yet and with my first few that used it on, I just always wear a tank top underneath.

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    • Clear elastic totally irritates my skin. I sew mine to the wrong side of the bodice & then press the seam allowance up to cover it when I attach the bodice to the skirt. That way the elastic is stabilizing the waistline of the garment (definitely a necessity with this one, with pockets & a button placket weighing it down) but only jersey is touching my skin. I serged my skirt & bodice together to ensure that the clear elastic was sandwiched between the layers & would not escape, but the button placket also helps keep the seam allowance where I want it.

      I highly recommend this pocket treatment! It’s perfect for the Lady Skater because you don’t have to account for any gathers or pleats or anything.

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