Friday, December 16, 2011

Anthropologie Inspired Tie-Neck Sweater Dress

It’s hard to find friends that you can do anything with and still have fun. Even better is when that anything doesn’t involve spending any money. Shayna, my bedsheet supplier, is just such a friend. On Sunday, I had the joy of going back down to San Diego to hang out for the day, and Shayna and I spent a very happy two hours in Anthropologie together. Half of that time was spent walking around the store looking at every single item and discussing its merits or flaws. The other half of the time was spent trying on a good twenty-plus dresses and buying none of them, much to the annoyance of the dressing room attendant (so sorry, lady, but we can’t afford any of your $300 lovelies!). Actually, it was mostly Shayna trying on dresses and me sitting in the dressing room staring at the insides of the dresses, studying their construction. I even learned a couple of things! For example, I always thought that hooks had to go into eyes, but I had problems with the eye showing at the top of a lapped zipper. Well, it turns out that hooks go just as well into thread “eyes,” which are much less visible. What a revelation!

This model must be seven feet tall for the hem to be above her knee.
Anyway, one of the dresses I did try on was the Tie-Neck Sweater Dress (I feel like their dresses usually have more interesting names than that), a sweater-knit color-blocked dress. I love the little bow tie detail and the cap sleeves, but I wasn’t a fan of the color blocking. The darker waist portion didn’t actually hit my waist, and the red of the skirt was not a good red for me. Also, it was way too long! It hit at a really awkward part of the leg, right at the largest part of my calf. A $158 dress that makes me look all out of proportion and emphasizes my burly calves? No thank you! But I did keep in mind that a medium-thickness, slim-cut sweater dress looks pretty good. Definitely not something I would have considered making before, but I went home inspired; I had the perfect rich red sweater knit at home for a sweater dress of my own.

Since the Sew Weekly Challenge this week was to sew something without a pattern, I decided to wing the dress. I’ve tried patternless garment sewing before, but have always had mixed results, probably because I’m always winging it. Anyway, I pulled out a fitted t-shirt of a similar knit weight and traced off a quick cap-sleeve pattern. I extended the bottom of the pattern in a vague A-line to get a good dress length.

The pattern I drew out on leftover fireplace paper.

In a frenzy of excitement, I whipped out my fabric and started laying it out. Unfortunately, in my excitement and the darkness of the floor of my sewing room, I laid out, cut, and stitched the whole dress wrong sides together. In other words, I made myself an inside-out dress. Fortunately, the knit was stretchier than I thought, so when I tried it on I realized I had enough ease to cut off the side seams and re-stitch it right sides together. Phew. After that I just cut a long rectangle for the collar ties and stitched that to the neckline. I ended up cutting a slit and in the front and facing it so that I could get my head through without totally staticking my hair every time. Finally, I turned the sleeves and hem under and stitched to finish it.

This red knit was ridiculously difficult to photograph because of the texture and the little black bits woven in.
This darker wine-red is closer to the actual color of the dress.
The finished dress: much better than the Anthro one, at least for me and my requirements.
Fabric: One yard of 60” sweater knit from Michael Levine Loft (it was barely enough to finish the whole dress, but I did it! Much as I like having room to make mistakes, it is nice to not have any scraps leftover). I was originally saving this fabric for making a cardigan or shrug, but I think it works really well for this dress.  
Notions: None! Love the stretchy knit that requires no closures. 
Techniques used: Sewing with knit? Not sure if that really counts, although I did find this page helpful in choosing the correct stitch on my sewing machine. I do really wish I had a serger though! 
Hours: For making it up as I went, this went fairly quickly! I think it took me about 4 hours, but it would have been faster if the knit wasn’t ridiculously hard to keep on grain. Even so, I think it’s still slightly off.
Will you make this again? Maybe, if I find the right fabric! This dress is super easy and comfortable, after all. 
Total cost: $2! I love buying fabric by the pound! Also, much as I love full skirts, it’s amazing that one can make a whole fitted dress from just a yard of material.
Final thoughts:  This dress is perfect for the mild SoCal winter season! The sweater knit is just cozy enough with tights and boots and a cardigan, but not too bulky. I really like the rich red color and demure colar-and-bow-tie detail. I wish I had taken the time to get the grain perfect, but oh well.  I’m still wondering if I should do something to make the back more fitted, like maybe put a little strip of elastic to gather it a bit? Or I could just be lazy and call it finished.

So for $156 less, I have a sweater dress with all the details I love from the Anthro dress, but without any of the issues. Gosh, I love being able to sew. This was a really easy dress to make, aside from dealing with the mercurial grain of knits. If you’re interested in making your own, here’s an idea of what my pattern pieces looked like:
I'm normally a Burda size 34, Big Four size 10 or 12.
Or, there’s a pretty good tutorial/guide here, which I only discovered after I made my dress. Of course it would be that way!

Also, I am so glad that my husband is done with the quarter because not only is he less busy and stressed, it means that he's available to take pictures for me! It's so much easier than trying to balance the camera on things and running back and forth to see how the pictures turned out.

Look at his handsome shadow taking pictures for me!


  1. This is STUNNING!! Fantastic color on you, and I love the style!

  2. I love this dress on you! The red is so flattering and I adore the bow tie! I can't wait to see it in person! Spending the afternoon in Anthro with you was a dream come true!

  3. Fabulous again! You have an amazing talent for pattern winging - I wish I was brave enough to try that, but I'm too chicken to stray from the comfort of commercial patterns... And about sergers: I have one; I, too, wanted it for knit garments, but honestly I made 2 knit items with it and went back to the regular sewing machine. The manoeverablilty is not great with a serger, and I find the regular machine easier and way more comfortable to use. What I do love my serger for is finishing the seams of woven garments. So it gets a lot of use, just not for knits! Still totally worth asking for from Santa...

  4. You indeed did 'Do It' - this is just gorgeous on you- and a helpful Hubby to help out...what more could you want??? So, what is next on your sewing list...

  5. I can't believe I've never visited your blog before, even though I've admired the projects you post at the SW circle! So...I've added you to my "Other Sewing Scientists" blog roll and I'll have to go back and read all your posts now. Just warning you: there will probably be an unreasonable amount of traffic from my blog ;)
    I have some sweater knit from the NYC meetup that I haven't been able to tackle yet. It is less than 1m, so I may take your idea, but make a knit top instead. Hmmmm.....

  6. This looks great, I like it WAY better than the Anthropologie version ;). And now I totally want a red sweater dress. You are lucky you live a kajillion miles away, I would totally be burgling your closet...

  7. That dress is so cute on you! I just found your blog through Sew & Tell Saturday, and I've added you to the list of blogs I follow. I love seeing another nerdy seamstress out there, and you've made some amazing things. I'm going to have to skim through your archives when I have more time!

  8. Love this dress!! The colour, the fabric has lovely drape and the fit. I have bookmarked this for future reference. I like your winging things method of sewing, very inspiring and so me too :)
    Wow, your hubby takes such good photos with one hand :)

  9. @aleah That is good to know about sergers! I guess I was always imagining them to be some miracle machine for my sewing, making everything look instantly professional and amazing.

    @Another Sewing Scientist Ditto! I'm going to have to check out your blog too!

    @Abby I love meeting other nerdy seamstresses too! Thank you and welcome!

    @Tanit-Isis No, YOU should be glad that you live a kajillion (very scientific number; I like it) miles away, or else I would steal Tyo's robe! No, I'm not above stealing from a child. Even if the robe is too small for me.

    @opportunityknits Thank you! I am huge on winging things; I think that's where the rebelling against scientific measurements part of me comes out! They don't always come out this well, but I tell myself that it's practice in problem-solving :)

  10. I featured this adorable dress at this week's Sew& Tell Saturday. Happy New Year!


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