Q: I'm timid with my dress making (and hovering between beginner and intermediate beginner), but I'd love to start playing with the mix and matching of bodices and skirts. My question is about your process. Do you just make the bodice of one pattern and the skirt of another and then wham! sew them, or does it require a lot of fiddling, math or rocket science? Do you take the pattern of the bodice and the pattern of the skirt and actually grade with a French ruler?
A: Luckily, the answer to your question is pretty simple, and combining bodices and skirts (and sleeves and collars, even!) of different pieces is actually easy and has always been successful for me! I do it all the time--in fact, I think all of the dresses I've made recently have been original combinations. I can't even list all of them here, so many and how would I begin to choose?? It's my norm now. You shouldn't have to grade or use a French curve or do anything fancy, as long as you're cutting out the right size in both pieces.
The basic gist is, if you're combining two patterns of the same a) size (duh, they're both for you) and b) fit/shape, then you'll be golden. So, if your waist is 28", you could combine the bodice for ANY dress that hits at the natural waistline and has a finished waist measurement of 28" with ANY skirt pattern that also has a waist of 28"! Or, as I do, you don't have to use a pattern for the skirt if you pleat or gather it into the waist. Or add a waistband--making sure you make the bodice above it shorter to accommodate it. Like I did here...
The tricky part comes when you use a skirt or bodice that has a scooped front, and you may need to adjust the skirt or bodice to match the skirt or bodice you're pairing it with. And, of course, you want to combine patterns of the same fit/shape--what I mean by that is, you can't combine an empire waist bodice with a skirt that's meant to hit at the natural waist, obviously (you'd get a weird babydoll, and unless that's the look you're going for, it's not going to work!) and you can't combine the bodice for a loose, flowy knit dress with a pencil skirt dress pattern skirt. So look at the finished garment measurements on the pattern package to guide you (if it has anything for the waist or wherever you're combining) and just use common sense, and you'll be fine. So here, I combined a spaghetti strap fitted bodice with a pencil skirt (and added my own ruffle!) and got...
Sometimes with sleeves or even the waist, there's a difference of 1/2" or so, and you can normally stretch or pleat a little to make it fit (as long as you match your center front, back, and sides) or, try on the lining or unfinished bodice and see which pattern you want to cater to--if the armhole is too tight but the sleeve fits fine, cut the armhole a little deeper in the armpit, for example. If the waist is too big on the dress but fine on the skirt, take in the side seam on the dress a little.
Hope that helps! It's a great question and once you get comfortable combining patterns and shapes, you automatically multiply your sewing options from commercial patterns by... a lot. Think of all the possible combinations!!! And, it's a great way to start drafting and modifying your own patterns!
Readers, what's your experience with this? Done a lot of mixing and matching, or do you worry about deviating from the package??