Saturday, 5 October 2013

French Hat Box Dress

Remember the rub-off experiment I wrote about way back in March this year? Well this is the second dress made from that. I finished this way back in April and for one reason or another I've only just got around to taking photos of it.

Anyway, better late that never as they say. Here are the photos.

Luckily I made notes of this make or I would never have remembered all this. I used the rub-off method to copy a Florence and Fred ready to wear dress. In my March post  I showed you the penultimate muslin and said I was going to make another one. I did this and the only change was to add a bit more length to the bodice.

While making the dress I noticed an error on the skirt part of the muslin I showed you. I added an extra pleat in the centre by mistake. There were 6 pleats and there should only be 5! That extra pleat led me down the path of making the skirt bigger as I mentioned in the post. So the skirt is bigger than it should be for a tulip style but it's not a major problem.

More inexplicable is the roomier bodice on the final version. I tried on the final muslin again and it was far more fitted. The changes I made to the length shouldn't have affected the width! I'm not too worried. It's a day dress, and the ease is needed to move about comfortably. If I make the dress again I'll do another muslin to figure out what happened to the bodice and take some ease out of the skirt.


This is a lovely cotton I bought from Hobbycraft. The fabric was called “French hat box” which I rather liked so that's the name of the dress.


I sorted out the lining fabric that came with the lot I bought from the old lady (which has gone down loads, especially for muslins). I removed all the lining and slippery fabric from their bolts into a plastic crate. There's some great fabric that can be used for lining, including this white one. It's a lovely soft fabric and feels great on the skin.

I did my usual method for inserting the lining based on Angela Kane's method which I talk about here. I under stitched and top stitched the neck and armhole seams (under stitching as far as as I could go – it's not possible to under stitch right up at the shoulders). I added strips of interfacing at the armholes for extra strength.

Stitching in the ditch

I stitched the lower edges of the neckbands together “in the ditch”. Don't under estimate the effect of this little step. It really does improve the look of the dress.


This was my first slot zipper using a regular zipper. I got loads of practice during the muslin stage using this excellent tutorial. My topstitching was about 3/8 inch from the centre of the zipper which I think produces a neater result than a smaller gap.

As my dress was lined I was going to have to do it slightly differently as the tutorial was not for a lined dress. I remembered that Kathleen Fansella's centred zipper technique was for a normal zipper with a facing. I used her method as usual and just topstitched around at the end, taking in the lining at the same time.

The zip came out better on this one that on my first make of this dress (which I have yet to blog). I thought about hand picking the top stitching but I didn't think it would be strong enough even though with this zip method the dress and lining are machine stitched to the zipper tape and then top stitched. The topstitching is vital as the zipper is visible otherwise. I didn't want hand picked top stitching coming undone and exposing the zipper.

This dress also marks the first time I have used Kathleen's centred zipper tutorial completely right! Despite always using her method I had been overlooking one small measurement which makes a huge difference to the final result.

I've mentioned before that Kathleen's method has the facings smaller. Instead of altering my facings (and lining) to make them smaller I have been “over hanging” the facing / lining unit about 0.5 mm beyond the corresponding shell pieces when attaching it to the zipper tape using Kathleen's method. It turns out I haven't been bold enough in the amount of over hang. It needs to over hang by 1.5 cm (if you're using a 1.5 cm seam allowances) to get the optimal effect. The method also reduces bulk at the top of the zip. I haven't trimmed the corners of the zip seams at all and but this makes no difference. (Kathleen trims the corners in her method but I'm still a fan of Tilly's method of not trimming corners).

Thank you as well to Kayotic Sewing of Gently Down The Seam as it was her comment on my post about zippers that got me thinking further about this. I have now updated my post on zippers here with this information. I have added a link there to a tutorial on Pattern Review that Kayotic Sewing referred me to which uses the over hang method.

The bottom of the zip where it joins onto the seam allowance of the dress and lining also came out really well and sits flat against the shell.

See that triangular shape at the bottom? That's the seam joining the bottom of the zipper tape to the lining.  It's at an angle as it starts at the lining seam at the bottom of the dress and has to taper out to meet the end of the line of stitching that attaches the zip to the lining.  I've never seen that explained anywhere like this.  It just came to me as I was making my first version of this dress and has worked nicely.


The dress I copied had a vent so I added one to his make.

I used Sunni's tutorials to draft the lining to the vent which I have linked to in my earlier post on vents. Instead of drafting new lining pieces I used the back skirt pattern piece (with vent) to cut out the lining and then chalked straight onto the fabric the extra ease that is needed at the hips and above the vent. I cut out the vent area on my lining pieces as per the outer shell. I then cut the vent lining down to size when I was ready to sew the vent lining to the outer shell, figuring out where I needed to cut. If you're doing this it's essential to chalk on to both sides of the lining and outer shell pieces the centre back seam line and all the seam lines around the vent. Remember to take into account and add seam allowances to the lining pieces. This is easy to forget. I know because I did it and had to re-cut the back lining piece. (By the way I didn't do Sunni's curve thing on the vent lining).

I adapted my own tutorial here to do the hem on the lining and the corners of the vent.

When sewing up the vent of this skirt I didn't follow any tutorials. Vents freak me out a bit so I wanted to see if I could overcome my fear by sewing it up intuitively. It took ages and a bit of un-picking here and there but it came out fine.

I started by sewing the centre back seam on the lining and dress up to about 2 inches above the vent area. I then chalked on all the seam lines on the vent and chalked in the centre back seam line, extending the chalked line right down to the hem edge (on both the shell and lining pieces). That centre back chalked seam line is valuable for lining up and folding the vent accurately.

I stay stitched with small stitches just inside where the seam line will be on all the critical corners of the vent, including the corner which meets the centre back seam. I did this on the lining and the shell pieces. You need to clip into these corners and so you can clip up to the stay stitching. I also added squares of interfacing in those corners. This is crucial if your fabric frays easily.

I stitched the vent intuitively starting from the long vertical edges of the vent. Where I wasn't sure I would leave a gap of about 1.5cm before the edge of the seam, turn though and then see what I would need to do next. This took some time but it enabled me to work out which bits needed to be clipped to make the vent work and why.


I made a hem facing for the skirt by tracing out pattern pieces from the bottom of the skirt pattern pieces and added seam allowances to the bottom and sides. I love how the hem facing has turned out. It's given a neat result and fits perfectly.    


I love the dress and wore it a lot over the summer, including to work. I'm a rub-off fan and will definitely be doing it again. In fact I bought a nice dress from H&M this summer that I want to rub off. The dress fits really well but has a high-low hem which I'm not keen on. How great that the rub-off method can let me create the dress again with a hem-line more suited to me!

Happy sewing


  1. This dress is so pretty, but I think the inside might even be prettier than the outside! You've really finished this beautifully! I'll be bookmarking this for sure!

    1. Thanks Sonja! I like the insides and how strong they've made the dress!