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An Instagram inspired retro dress

Posted by Maaike van Besien on

Ok, this is a bit of a long story, but I learned quite a bit while making this dress.

You see, a few weeks ago I went to a special party in Melbourne called "The Dressmakers Do". 

It was a gathering of passionate seamstresses over dinner and drinks, showing off their beautiful handmade dresses. It was my chance to meet all the Melbourne-based Instagrammers and bloggers I had met over the past year.

Instagram is great for sewing inspiration. A part of this dress was inspired by a picture I had spotted there by a Belgian blogger called Isabelle (Instagram @Isabelledelaere). I love her work. She is like the pattern hacker queen!

 She made this dress, and I just loved the collar and faux placket with piping.  So I became a copy cat. I hope she doesn't mind.

I used a bodice pattern from a Belgian book ("200 Jurken"). But to get that perfect fit, it needed a significant amount of adjustments. Darts were moved, length was added, the shoulder widened, neckline and armhole lowered etc.

With my Frankenstein pattern piece, by now held together by lots of sticky tape, I made a prototype. A few more tweaks later I had a perfectly fitting bodice. Great, as now I had a pattern I would be able to use over and over again.

However, I didn't bother testing the sleeves, which turned out to be a big mistake.


For the circle skirt, I drew my own pattern.

I have made circle skirts before, but never really quite mastered it.

When you see people make them on youtube, the opening of the skirt somehow always miraculously matches the waistband or bodice measurement perfectly. This never seemed to happen for me. My calculations were correct, but the fabric tends to stretch a bit on the waist as some is running on the bias. 

I decided to use my waist measurement, and not the bottom of the tight fitting bodice to calculate the skirt waist size. I could always make it bigger I figured. Well, I turned out perfectly this time!

The circle skirt was made out of 3 pieces: 1 front, and the back was cut into 2 to allow for the zipper.

Stitching it all together went pretty smoothly. I used a gorgeous print from Soft Cactus (this fabric is now sold out unfortunately) and combined it with solid Rusty Red for the collar.

 I totally surprised myself with how perfectly the invisible zipper turned out. I have a great invisible zipper foot so it can take all the credit for the result.

I did redo the faux placket 3 times as the first 2 looked too wrinkled, so I increased the thickness of the interfacing I used.


But then came the sleeves... When I tried the dress on with sleeves I could barely move. I considered pretending I was comfortable for a second there, but there was no denying it. They were simply too tight. 

I went to the extend of fully redrafting them while watching an online course on how to draft sleeves!! I had lowered the armhole and had forgotten to adjust my sleeve pattern for it, maybe that was the reason? Knowing in the back of my mind that that was unlikely but I persisted anyway.

A spent a whole afternoon trying to fix the unfixable. The bodice was simply not wide enough at the shoulders. This did really surprise me as I had originally already widened it, and I don't consider myself particularly broad-shouldered! 

Looking at the bodice, it all seems so obvious now! Another sewing lesson learned!


This was all happening the day before I was flying off to Melbourne so I needed to come up with an alternative fast.

So the dress became sleeveless. I finished the armholes with bias tape and put the same trim on the bottom of the skirt to balance it out. 

The dress is fully lined, including another full circle skirt. It makes for a nice full skirt. It really feels great to wear. Even big kids like me love dresses that twirl.

The buttons were bought in Melbourne from Button Mania, and sewed on a few hours before the event. I was ready just in time.

A special thank you to Caroline who kindly helped me with fitting and Suzanne who gave me some great tips on sewing circle skirts.

It's so nice to have a network of sewing friends you can ask for help!

And the party? I had a great time. The dresses were wonderful, and the ladies even more.

It was raining when we finally found the time to take some photos hence I ended up looking a bit like Mary Poppins. We even took some indoor shots with me holding a guitar but that all started to look a bit ridiculous, lol! (Thank you, Maria, for taking the photos!)



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  • This dress is gorgeous! The shoulder width IS perfect for sleeveless, and yep, I wouldn’t have spotted that until it was pointed out to me either.
    It was so nice to meet you too! xx

    Lightning McStitch on
  • Well it looks fantastic, even if the construction was a bit stressful. And that zipper insertion is perfection!

    Marisa on
  • Great dress with lovely and well-done details. It fits you beautiful. on
  • Spending time perfecting the bodice definitely paid off. It fits like a glove. I wouldn’t give all the credit for an incredible zipper to my zipper foot ;)

    Jenya on

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