Sewing Circle: Searching for a shirred bodice pattern

This time on Sewing Circle...

I got a question from a reader about a beautiful dress for her bridesmaids!  Can we help her find a similar pattern?

Q: I'm getting married in October, and I've been on the hunt to the perfect bridesmaid dresses... I found one that I love at J. Crew, but it's a little expensive. My sister lives in India and she suggested that I have them made there, and then I could get the fabric dyed the exact color I want. I have very limited sewing experience (close to none, with the exception of some curtains that I sewed) so there is no way that I know enough to sew anything or even to communicate how much fabric it would require, etc.
I was hoping to find a pattern that I can send to my sister, perhaps along with the J.Crew dress. Would you be able to help me find a pattern that is similar? 

Hi Lela,
Thanks for your email, and thanks for reading! Glad you found my blog. That is a gorgeous dress! It’s absolutely something you can emulate. I recreate dresses just from the photos online.

As far as I know there isn’t ONE pattern out there that’s exactly right, but there are a few that are close. You could adapt one of these based on which elements are most important to you (keep in mind you can put whatever skirt you want on any of these bodices—the original looks like a not-too-full, gathered, long skirt). You actually could do this from any strapless dress pattern, cutting it to the lower empire waist of the original, and just cutting wide bias strips and pinning them for the draping. The cross-body ruching, or draping, isn’t something I’ve seen on a lot of patterns but if you have a mannequin to model it on you don’t need a pattern, just the wide bias pieces. Does that make sense? It looks like, depending on how long and how full you make the skirt, you’ll need 5-6 yards of 45” wide fabric. Here are some patterns you could use as a starting point:
  • This McCall's
  • This McCall's (would be very easy to do the shirring on—use the plain strapless bodice, then cut bias strips, gather on each end, and ruch/pin down at top right and bottom left, top left and bottom right.)
  • This one’s made from a knit, so you’d need another pattern for the bodice and skirt, but the idea could be used elsewhere—they add long strips coming from the back and use them to play with and drape however they want. A great idea for bridesmaid dresses since they can be worn elsewhere in different ways: This McCall's
  • Here’s a look at what the draping can look like—you’d want wider pieces. A Butterick
Also note that the original is silk chiffon over a lining, so you'd need 5-6 yards of each, in the same color.  You also could probably get the look with a really high quality rayon or cotton/lycra knit, and then you would only need to line the bodice.

I hope that helps!!

Readers, have you ever seen a pattern for a similar dress?  What tips do you have for Lela and her sister?  (Or, have you seen a similar dress sold at another store for less than $350?)

Thanks for reading Sewing Circle!

10 comments

  1. This Vogue pattern also has a similar crossed bodice, but with straps. http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v8150-products-7083.php?page_id=861

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  2. Here are three similar dresses:
    http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?GrpTyp=PRD&ItemID=1b6f44d&DeptID=70656&CatID=80145&SO=0&SelDim=4294957900%7e&CatSel=4294936935%7cbride+%2b+bridesmaid&NOffset=0&Ne=4294957900+5+29+3+8+1031+1066+18+904+833+949&x5view=1&shopperType=G&N=4294936935&Nao=0&PSO=0&CmCatId=70656|80145&sa=1
    OR
    http://canada.forever21.com/Product/Product.aspx?BR=F21&Category=whatsnew_app_dresses&ProductID=2000011928&VariantID=
    OR
    http://canada.forever21.com/Product/Product.aspx?BR=F21&Category=whatsnew_app_dresses&ProductID=2000011928&VariantID=

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  3. sandoz186/10/2011

    I've lived in a country where--much like India--having things handmade is the norm, and I had several formal dresses successfully designed and made for me while there (did not have my machines with me), even over-coming a severe language barrier (which shouldn't be an issue in India) with the commonality of sewing terms. Based on that experience, my 2 cents is that detailed sketches (or even photos) or the original dress would be more helpful than an actual pattern. It is very likely that the only portion of a pattern that would be used would be the pictures. I recommend that you send your sister some pictures of the dress and have her talk with seamstresses BEFORE buying fabric, etc. If she doesn't already have a relationship with a seamstress, that will help to build one and will give you more peace-of-mind before investing in a ton of fabric. Oh, one part of a pattern that may help is if you want any boning or special shaping help (i.e., bra cups). Those items can be hard to find in certain countries because they aren't often utilized in local dress.

    Also remember that India has amazing silks (like Mysore) available at very reasonable prices (a sari provides 6 yards of fabric). The seamstress will likely also be able to find (or help your sister find) the fabric there at whole-sale costs, even if you do a custom dye job.

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  4. This is a gorgeous dress
    Looking at the original dress it looks like the detail on the bodice might actually be pieces of fabric wrapped from the front and tied at the back. To copy this if you could find a simple floor length gown pattern with a strapless sweetheart neckline it would be easy.
    Take this McCalls pattern for example http://mccallpattern.mccall.com/m6030-products-10728.php?page_id=109
    Two pieces of gathered chiffon attached at the neckline, essentially over each breast and wrapped and tied at the back would create a similar effect. Another change I would make with this dress is possibly making the skirt more full with an even hemline. The McCalls pattern M6029 mentioned has a great skirt.

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  5. Great tips and thoughts, commenters!

    @Sarah, that Vogue pattern is super close! All she'd need to do is give it a natural waist!

    @Sandoz18, very good point--she should probably check with the potential seamstress first, and find out what they need. Good call...

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  6. Anonymous6/11/2011

    As sandoz18 said, a pattern woudn't do much good in India. They probably woudn't know what to do with one if you put a gun to their head, seriously. I've had several pieces made form pictures from Vogue, Elle etc. And years later I sill wear them, they are such good quality. Have your sister ask around for a good dressmaker, Ex-Pat ladies are usually in the know. What is very important is good measurements of each of your bridesmaids. The before mentioned sewing sites will help you take them. Print out the instruction picture for each of the bridesmaids and write all the measurements on them (make sure you know if they use inches or cm's in India! or you might end up with barbie dresses). And have them made out of silk, it's so cheap there and the girls will love you for it: how many silk gowns will a girl have in her life??
    Good luck!
    Janine

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  7. This Simplicity pattern is freaking hideous at first glance, but the top is very similar to the one above: http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/patterns/sewingpatterns.pl?patternid=17977

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  8. Hope it's not too late to comment ... as others above have said a photo and very detailed instructions to a dressmaker that comes recommended is the best bet ... they won't use a pattern. Be very specific in detail and instruction as there is no refund or return policy and lets face it, the care factor for dissatisfaction would be nil. I had a travel client that went to India twice a year bringing dresses in and they were all beautiful. The fabric choices and colour choices would be mesmerising! Good luck! and as an added thought ... where do you think all these big companies get their stuff made????? At least the dressmaker will get paid directly and not ripped off!

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  9. I know this is a couple days old, but I may have something useful to add. I actually bought the short version of this dress for my sister (she'll be the only bridesmaid in my wedding). Inside the dress, there is a corselet-type foundation that's about 9-12 inches long (extends from the top of the bust to the waist). It's basically a boned bodice that looks similar to this Vogue dress (http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v1227-products-13645.php?page_id=857) but has more coverage. It has hook-and-eye closures, and the dress is attached only along the top. I hope that helps!

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  10. Thanks, folks--your comments aren't too late, I still totally appreciate them! Will make sure Lela sees them =)

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