19 August 2014

Sewing for Tweens: Ghastlie party dress

Lately, I find myself looking at my children and wondering where my babies went. The feeling is especially true for my eldest daughter. She turns nine in a few months, but strangers often mistake her for being a couple of years older. She's tall for her age, and has a maturity about her that I guess comes from being the eldest child. Even so, she's still a young girl who will happily wear clothes that I make for her and it makes my heart glad because I know that this may not always be the case. The challenge will be as she gets older to find the balance between what is age-appropriate versus what she will actually want to wear.

It has often been remarked upon that while there are so many girls' clothing stores, there seems to be not as many age-appropriate clothing options for girls in the 9-13 year old age bracket. My sisters also take a more conservative approach to dressing their daughters which has been such a blessing because the clothes are invariably passed down to us.

Still, it is always nice to have something new every now and then and so it was that I embarked on this sewing project for Sienna last weekend. She selected the fabrics and I looked online for some tween dress inspiration. This polka dot dress with a bit of a rock-n-roll flavour popped up. I was immediately interested in the shape of it and showed it to Sienna, who also really liked it, so that formed the basis for her latest dress.
The fabrics are a black and white stylized print that looks like a Maori koru motif and a slightly subversive Alexander Henry print from the Ghastlies collection. The Ghastlie family have been around for several years and this piece of fabric is from the 2011 series. It had been in my stash for quite a while just biding time until a suitable project came along. I think as my daughters get older, these kinds of prints will become even more popular with them. Some of the facial features are quite menacing especially to younger children like Aimee, who doesn't like the fabric at all but to an older child, the fact that it is slightly spooky and off-beat is part of the appeal. This will be the perfect Halloween party dress.

When we looked at the polka dot dress, the two aspects that appealed to me most were the use of piping and the pockets. I think that by incorporating both of these factors in my version they help to balance out the quite dark mood of the print and keep the dress playful and fresh.
I headed to the blog expecting a detailed tutorial, but found that the instructions assume that the reader has some knowledge of dress construction which meant that I had to rely on what I remembered about making a lined bodice several years ago. I basically resorted to fumbling my way through all the steps, which is fine if you have the time and patience, but I really wanted to whip it up quickly. This is not one of those dresses. There's maths involved, people. There's understitching and adding a zip to a lined bodice, plus handmade piping on this baby, so there are more steps than a Rocky Balboa movie.
Maybe someone has made a dress exactly like this with a free pattern and accompanying tutorial out there somewhere in blogland and I suffered unnecessarily? Anyway, the pain of constructing this dress is really worth it, I think.

Often when I sew without a pattern, there is a lot of unpicking as I am terrible at calculating and pattern drafting in general and I just wing things. I found it to be true for this dress, as I made the bodice too small (I forgot to add seam allowances for the zip - oh, and for the whole bodice) so it's a snug fit. All it means is that Sienna will likely only get a season's wear from it, but that's why I have two other daughters, right? So they can capitalize on their mother's sewing mistakes. I imagined the dress to have a nice, full skirt like the one in the inspiration photo but realized quite late in the process that I had nowhere near enough fabric to make a circle skirt or any kind of full skirt. In the end, I had to settle for one much straighter than I would have liked.
Such a shame because a flared skirt really would have won it for me. With one change in the "plan" (the one that is written in my head), it follows that more allowances needed to be made elsewhere. The hemline was originally going to hit around knee-length, but the straighter style meant that it needed to be shorter to give greater ease of movement. I can't see Sienna doing cartwheels in it, but at least she will be able to run more freely with the hemline at a shorter length.

Are you sick of all the photos yet? Can you tell I am proud of the dress? And of my daughter, but that goes without saying.
Just one more image of how Sienna decided to accessorize the outfit. Love it. Love her. Do you think that I will need to make some new leggings for her?
If you have reached the end of this blog post, well done, now you feel how I did when I finished making the dress. Slightly ragged and a little more aged but pleased to get there in the end. Now go forth and make something. I'll see you over at Leonie's for Show and Tell on Thursday.


  1. Wow that is so cool Leanne! Love the dress. And your gorgeous girl, what a star x

  2. Looks great - my daughter is 12 and I struggle to dress her too. If she had her way she would live in black, camo and denim. Do I worry yet?

  3. Awesome Leanne - and her posing and proud face says it all. I dont really want to think about tween/teeny stages... But I like your thinking, best to start sewing for them now and getting on the same page! Cool dress, cool girls and way cool mum - well done you for sticking at it and winging it to a winner :)

  4. This is awesome! Haha, never noticed the leggings till you pointed them out :) xx

  5. Great dress, saw Sienna in it this morning and thought she looked very cool! Now can you talk my girls into wearing dresses?

  6. It looks really great!!! I love the little bit of piping too, it really sets the other fabrics off nicely!! xx

  7. visiting from show and tell. Absolutely love it. You are so right about there being no age appropriate clothes for 9-13 yr olds