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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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