Block print round gown progress

The second dress I made last year was a block print dress using the Sense and Sensibility draw-string dress pattern. I followed the pattern as written pretty much, although I did lengthen the back a little and add a waistband. The dress fitted reasonably. . . but it certainly didn’t flatter my short, round shape, and the off-white background didn’t flatter my skin colour, either.

First block print gown - front

First block print gown in 2015 – not enough fullness

First block print gown - back

Back of first block print gown – not enough fullness


The bodice front was too long, among other things – it fits my DD-E cup friend much better than my C-D cup self. I felt very dowdy in it the day I wore it at JAFA – although fortunately I was having fun, anyway, so I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my dowdiness!

A couple of weeks ago, Lauren and Katie visited for four days of JAFA sewing – a marvellous time! We used the draw-string gown pattern for Katie, but with significant modifications; we shortened the bodice front piece by several inches, so there was no blouson effect, and added fullness to the skirt. She had her dress finished except for hems by the last night, and it looked lovely on her, with soft gathering over the bust and enough fullness in the skirt to drape well.

I was thinking about the pattern grading/sizing and figured that probably in the original dress the pattern was based on, the front bodice piece might measure 1.5 or 2 times the front bodice bust, giving a nice gather. And I suspect that the pattern designer just did the standard pattern grading – e.g. 2 inches total extra per size. *But* if you want to keep the same proportion of gather, it needs to be 3.5 to 4 inches extra per size. I think. I haven’t gone back and looked at the pattern to check, but the way the dress finished on me – around 3 sizes mans health larger than Katie – certainly didn’t have an equivalent proportion of fullness.

I also took a good look at the photos of the Dutch block print dress I’d love to approximate, and noted the lovely gathering of the bodice front. I therefore shortened the bodice length, and added quite a few inches to the width of the front, using the width of the fabric so that the bottom edge measures about 42inch/110cm.

Here’s the bodice so far (entirely hand-stitched):
dress bodice in progress

I like the gathering across the bust, and that will be echoed when the bottom edge is gathered. I may need to shorten it a little further still, especially in the centre front.

I haven’t sewn the sleeves yet, but when cutting them out I added about an inch to the width at the top and underarm, as the pattern as is is a little tight. Lauren and Katie have found the same issue in their sizes, so the pattern is designed for a very slender arm, rather than one with extra muscle or ‘softness’.

For the skirt, I calculated measurements of skirt widths in similar 1790s dresses in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, and the Danish muslin wedding dress pattern diagram. They’re around 320cm, which is 4 widths of the standard width of fabric of the time – 80cm or so. The S&S pattern skirt pieces use less than two widths of 42inch/110cm  wide fabric. Therefore I’m going to use one full width of 42 inch/110cm across the front, to continue the gathering from the bust through the skirt at centre front, and two widths for the skirt back, which will give a total skirt width of around 3.2-3.6yds/300-330cm, appropriate for the styles of the 1790s, and hopefully enough to drape more gracefully over my generously proportioned hips and tum!

JAFA is only 5 weeks away now and I still have a lot of sewing to do. However, major book deadlines are now out of the way so I should have a tad more time for sewing!


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