Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conquering the Convertible/Infinity Dress

The finished product!
I have to begin by saying: I'm just learning how to sew. I saw a few patterns for this "super-easy," "only one seam" convertible/infinity dress that I happened to think was really beautiful (and also incredibly flattering to a wide range of body-types). If you don't already know, a convertible or infinity dress is basically a circle skirt with two long straps that can be wrapped around the body and tied in the back. There are tons of different ways to wear this kind of dress (even as a skirt!) and it can come out looking different every time.

Anyway, I looked at the patterns and all the beautiful photographs these other women had taken of themselves in the dresses they made, and thought: OK, no sweat; I can totally make one of these!

I read several tutorials, and even one by someone who was somewhat confused by the other tutorials. I studied them to the full extent of my brain, then I went out and bought fabric and thread and set my sights on tackling the project. Here's the thing: I had decided that I would make the dress for myself to wear to a wedding, so there was some built-in pressure and a definite deadline. I gave myself plenty of time, but it turned out to be just barely enough time to get through the anxiety I was having about it and also to complete the project in time.

What I'm finding with sewing is that it's like everyone who already knows how to do it is in this club, and they all know the rules. No one will come right out and tell me all of the rules at once (though they don't know that they're doing this—it's not at all malicious). Rather, I have had to learn the rules from trial and error, and one at a time. It's been pretty frustrating, but also a great and very satisfying learning experience. If you're even a little bit experienced with sewing, most of the rest of what I'm going to say will probably sound ridiculous. But if—like me—you're not, and you want to attempt this project, then maybe my experience will help you avoid having to make some of my mistakes.

I used two semi-circles to make a slightly
longer skirt. Turns out, my measurements
were screwy and I ended up having to hem it
quite a bit. Luckily, Jaymz was willing to
help with the cutting!
Here's what I learned that helped me complete this project:
  • Reading the sewing machine manual helps. I know, I know, that's way too obvious. But I really did learn some important things about my machine, and now I also know where to find things when I need to look them up again later.
  • You need a ball point needle to sew stretchy fabric. This was mentioned in the tutorials, so I made sure to buy a pack of them when I was at the fabric store picking up my dress fabric. Turns out, my machine came with several of them, and I ended up returning the extras that I bought. They come in different sizes, so you should match the size of the needle with the type of fabric that you have. (For instance, here's a guide to selecting needle sizes for Singer machines, like mine.)
  • Besides the ball point needle, you need a walking presser foot to sew stretchy knits! This is one of the things that I didn't know until I started trying to sew my stretch fabric (even with the ball point needle) and I was having to push it—hard—to get it to go under the presser foot and needle. The walking foot has grabbers (yes, that is most certainly the technical name) on it which "walk" the fabric along under it from the top side, as the ones on the bottom do the same. It keeps the fabric from stretching while it's being sewn. (Here's a helpful YouTube video of the walking presser foot in action.)
  • Don't cut the waist hole too big. I can't say this enough times! Cut it much smaller than you think you should; it will probably be perfect.
  • The waistband is what holds up the dress, not the straps. Because of that, if you cut the waistband too large, your dress will droop down as you wear it, particularly in the back. I tightened my waistband much smaller than the tutorials recommended, but it still wasn't small enough in the end. I'll know next time!
  • I made another nursing necklace
    to go with my dress: a shell pendant
    and glass bead on a silky cord.
  • If you have large breasts, don't try to make the waistband wide enough to cover your bust (as at least one of the tutorials I linked above suggest). The wider waistband will roll down when you're wearing the dress forward (with the straps over your bust), and it will make the waist look bulky.
  • If you don't choose a jersey fabric that rolls on the edges when stretched (the same type of fabric needed to make a no-sew stretchy wrap), then you will need to hem your dress. I didn't think this through when purchasing fabric, and I ended up hemming the dress with iron-on hem tape just a couple of days before the wedding (Jaymz helped). If you choose this method, I highly recommend adhering the hem tape before cutting the fabric off at the proper length (with seam allowance). Having extra fabric helps to make a big crease which will hold the tape while you iron, greatly simplifying the process.
  • Trim all the excess threads when you're finished. Again, a total no-brainer, except when you forget to do it and then you feel threads poking your sides in the middle of Nuptial Mass. ...Not that this would ever happen to me; I would never forget such a basic step!

I had this fantasy that someone would come up to me at the wedding reception and say, "That's such a beautiful dress! Where did you get it?" and I would just smile and thank them. Sadly, it did not play out that way, but at least no one came up to me and said, "Hey, um...excuse me, but...did you know that your dress is falling apart?"
Here we all are at the wedding reception! I only wish I had gotten something
purple for Daniel to wear. (Also, perhaps you can see that I changed my
strap configuration after the top photo was taken.)
In any case, I felt beautiful and comfortable and also relatively cool (in unair-conditioned buildings in Ohio in June) and that's good enough for me!

Have you created anything lately that you're proud of? Have you ever had a project nearly defeat you because you didn't know all the "rules"? I'd love to hear your story!


  1. I think it looks beautiful on you! Great job. I have had many projects get the best of me, but I handle it better now than I used to. I don't know all the rules and am too impatient to sit and read all of them even if there were a book or something full of all that. So I just try, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I'm not sure I'm ready for a project of this magnitude yet. I generally shy away from working on large things like adult clothes, and right now I'm trying to improve my wool diaper cover making skills. Need to use up a little of my sweater stash!

  2. The finished product is spectacular, and it looks phenomenal on you. I am a very similar shape, and I will definitely be looking into getting me one of those. (I might even sew it, but I've got a stack of unfinished projects the height of a bookshelf, so I'll probably throw money at this particular one. :) )

  3. I love this dress! I really need to learn to sew, there's so many things I want to make.

  4. @Jenny: Thank you! What I didn't mention in the post (but certainly meant to--my brain is still on vacation) is that I nearly finished it once, then cut it apart and did it all over again a second time. I feel like crafting/creating requires a certain bit of willingness to take risks and even mess up big and still enjoy the process. This was definitely one of those projects for me! (I've been wanting to try making things out of sweaters like you do...maybe that will be my next project.)

    @Seonaid: Thank you so much! I would love to see a photo of you in your new dress when you get one! =) By the way, I saw several reasonably-priced ones on Etsy, if you're looking to buy instead of DIY.

    @Naomi: I can totally picture you in a dress like this. I hope you do learn to sew!

  5. That is so cool, and you look beautiful! I learned something about sewing on stretchy fabric, too. :) And here I'd just been winging it. (With, I might add, the help of my sewing machine manual — the helpfulness there is so right on!) I need to try out one of these dresses. I have a wedding coming up I have to go to, and the fact that you chose this style makes me think it must work for nursing. :) Sorry no one asked for the name of your designer at the wedding. Sigh.

  6. @Lauren: Thank you! It did work well for nursing. I wore a bra with a tank top under it (but a nursing tank would work fine) and just pulled down to nurse. Though, if you're feeling more modest (which I thought I would) it's easy to do the up&down nursing method in this dress, too.

  7. Thanks so much for this advice! I too am making this dress to wear to a wedding soon! Now I'm off to grab a walking presser foot!

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