I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like projects that I think will be easy often end up being the most challenging. This pinafore was no exception. I made this pinafore as a pattern test for Alice and Co. back in July 2020. I loved the experience of being a pattern tester and, at the time, was delighted with how the pinafore turned out. I loved the wrap-around style and the fabric I used. However, I only ever wore it out a couple of times. I found that the ties sat too high and I was really anxious about the pinafore blowing open at the back. I really loved the fabric (Lady Mcelroy Chatsworth House stretch corduroy in ‘rouge’) and didn’t want it to go to waste so I thought I would try some alterations. Naturally, these minor alterations turned into a major surgery.
Firstly, I tried sewing the back partially closed by attaching the underlap edge to the back princess seam using a felling stitch. This worked for one or two wears until I tried to put it on and split the seam. I could’ve just tried sewing it again but, by this point, I was so frustrated with the dress that I decided to try something more radical.
I thought I might be able to get away with adjusting the straps, making them slightly longer, so that the waist would hit in the right place. So I took apart the straps at one end and put on the dress so that I could see how it would look sitting lower – it didn’t fix the issue. I messed about trying a few different things before deciding I would just try remaking the dress entirely. You may notice that I have no photos of the process up to this point as I really thought this would be a quick strap adjustment. However, as I had decided to remake the dress, I figured I would take you along for the ride.
My plan of action was to convert the pinafore into a more traditional pinafore style, with a waist seam and back zip. For this to work, I planned to add a waist seam, adjust the fit of the princess seams, make the straps longer and add an invisible zip. Easy, right?
The first step in this radical transformation was to cut the dress at the waist to create a bodice and skirt I could seam together. This was TERRIFYING and I had to really psych myself up to actually make the first cut. To mark the seam, I just put on the dress inside out, drew on a waist seam then added 1.5 cm of seam allowance below that line. Then, I cut my dress in half. I figured I just had to go for it, there was no going back after this point. If it did turn out to be a disaster I could just make a really nice cushion cover.
Next, I used a seam-ripper to undo the very neat seam finishing I had done almost a year before on the front and back princess seams so that I could make the skirt and bodice more fitted. I had made the pinafore more fitted when I first made it but it’s still quite a boxy fit. My darts ended up going into the pockets but that was fine as they were sewn into the seam anyway, they are still perfectly functional, just a bit narrower at the top! I figured out how much to take the skirt in by trying on the skirt inside out, pinning out darts, taking the skirt off again and drawing in the darts with chalk. Weirdly, I did find I had to take more off the right side of the skirt than the left, I guess I’m not symmetrical!
It’s funny looking back and deconstructing previous makes and discovering weird features of the garment. I had that experience with the bodice, where – for some reason – the front princess seams curved out at the waist. I have no idea how this happened, but I took the opportunity to straighten the seam out.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that, after adjusting the bodice and skirt, the princess seams matched perfectly in the front and back of the dress! This was completely unintentional but definitely a happy accident!
Now I could sew in that new waist seam! First I re-topstitched the seam allowances of the princess seams, neatly finishing them. Then I pinned the bodice and skirt together, sewed it with a straight stitch then overlocked the seam. I pressed the seam allowance up towards the bodice and topstitched it in place.
Before I could move on to the zip, I had to tackle fitting the back of the dress as it was still the width of the wrap-around pinafore. Throughout this project, I found that I was my own best mannequin, trying the pinafore on inside out and pinning it in place. I did the same thing to fit the back of the dress, pinning out the excess in the back. Then I took off the pinafore, marked the straightened seam with chalk, and cut away the excess width leaving 1.5cm seam allowance on either side. I finished each of the back edges on my overlocker so I could press them open once I had inserted the zip and sewed up the back seam.
I used a similar mini skirted pinafore I already own to estimate how long I would need the zip to be which ended up being 10 inches long. Unfortuately my local fabric shop only had a zip that was slightly longer but I was able to shorten it easily by sewing a few stitches back and forth over the width of the zipper teeth and cutting away the excess.
Before sewing in an invisible zip, I like to baste it in place first as I find that pins aren’t secure enough and get in the way. I also usually find that this helps me to match up the waist seam but, as you can see below, this was not the case this time around. I did consider redoing the zip but I had already been through quite a lot with this dress and decided I could live with it for the sake of a millimetre or two. Once I had finished the zip, I sewed the rest of the back seam with a straight stitch.
I wasn’t in the mood to tackle the straps once I had finished the zip as I knew it was going to be really difficult, so I gave myself the much easier task of hemming the skirt. This was really simple as the hem was already pressed into place from the first time I had made the pinafore. I just folded it back into the correct position and topstitched it down. As you can see I am topstitching from the wrong side as I can use the central gap in the presser foot as a guide to get as close to the edge as possible.
Before working on the straps, I also cut out a facing for the top of the pinafore. To draft this piece, I just traced the top edge of the dress. I had to add a seam in the centre front as I was really running low on fabric at this point. I chose to finish the top of the dress with a facing as the rolled hem that I had used the first time I made the dress ended up being quite bulky, especially where the straps are attached. I thought a facing would give a cleaner finish.
Next, I started to work on the straps. This ended up being quite a frustrating process, which is why I don’t have that many photos of it! I knew the straps I had made before were too short so I wanted to use the waist ties as straps instead as they were the same width. I was super proud of myself for this idea as it felt like a really efficient use of the fabric! And it was a really good idea, until I messed it up.
I thought I would use the opportunity to try straight shoulder straps rather than ones which crossed over at the back as it would make the dress easier to get into. First, I pinned and sewed the straps at the back, so they would be easier to pin from the front (thanks to Micarah Tewers for this trick!). However, this became my first obstacle to overcome. As the back of the dress is angled, it was really difficult to pin the straps in such a way that they would be straight on the dress. If I pinned them so the edges of the straps were even to the edge of the dress, they would be at an angle, so I had to figure out which angle to pin them at to make them straight. This took a lot of trial and error but I got there in the end. Once I had got that sorted out, I had to go through the same process with the front of the dress, which is slightly curved.
After all that work, I had the straps trimmed to size and sewn in place but, to my dismay and frustration, the strap gaped at the bottom where it was angled against the back edge of the dress. I tried adjusting it but I think the width of the strap meant that it was never going to lie flush against my back. So, I would have to make the straps cross over. The only other problem was that I had already trimmed the waist ties, so they were now too short. Luckily, I had literally just enough fabric left to make two new straps.
This time, I was not going to make the same mistake and trim the straps before I was 100% certain that they were in the right place and the correct length. I tried to go through the same process of sewing the straps on an angle so that they would sit in the right way but after an inumerable number of attempts I decided to make my life easier and attach the back of the straps to the dress with buttons. That way, I could just lay them over the top of the dress and mark the correct position from there without having to do any more mental gymnastics.
When I was happy with the placement of the straps, I pinned the facing in place, sewed it in place along the neckline and top of the zip, then understitched it so it would lie flat.
At this point, I decided to try on the dress to make sure I was happy with the straps and, of course, there was another problem: the straps sat too far apart at the front of the dress. This was pretty annoying as I had to undo the facing and the understitching to more the straps in but it was a pretty quick fix. I was also becoming very well-acquainted with my stitch-ripper by this point. I thought that moving the straps in would solve an issue of gaping I was having at the front of the dress and it did help a bit. There is still a little gaping at the front neckline but I can live with it!
With this small adjustment complete, I could finish the straps. I marked on the buttonholes, checking their position many, many times, and sewed them on my machine. I used two spare buttons that I had in my collection which, coincidentally, work really well with this fabric! I had had issues matching these buttons with projects but the bold print of the flowers can take their intricate detail and metallic finish.
Now that I was finally convinced that the straps were the correct length, I trimmed off the excess and finished the raw edge by hand. I simply folded in the seam allowance and sewed the ends closed with a whip stitch.
With the straps now complete and looking lovely, the dress was done… right?
I tried on the dress, ready to be very satisfied with my handiwork, when I realised the waist just wasn’t sitting right. At first I thought it was just the bulkiness of the seam but when I inspected it more I realised there was excess in the waist seam. So, I undid the topstitching, and (once again) tried on the dress inside out so I could adjust the seam. As I had already inserted the zip I had to merge the adjustment with the original seam at the back but this worked fine. I sewed the overlocked the new waist seam and redid the top-stitching.
And with that, I was finally done.
This project was really challenging and, at times, very tedious but I’m so glad I did it. As it was, I wasn’t comfortable wearing the dress and it just sat in my wardrobe never being worn. Now I’ve put all the effort into remaking it I really love the style and I can’t wait to wear it over the autumn and winter months.