3D puzzle, 19 pieces


I found this at a clothing swap for no charge; it looks like a child’s dress, in jersey cotton. Guessing it’s from Europe, because the lower label with the washing instructions is in Dutch, French, and German. As it is, it’s moderately worn out. Someone has removed the top label with scissors, leaving a couple of holes. The front bottom hem has fallen down. And even after washing, there’s a stain on one of the sleeves, and the other one is a bit faded. Some kid liked this dress a lot. But the fabric hasn’t pilled more than slightly; it’s fine. Ideal!

I don’t often wear blue, but I love the mixed prints in the same colours here; I’m totally up for recombining them into something for myself. I want to make the most out of something that was probably bound for the trash.

I disassemble the garment. All of the seams are securely serged, to the point that this takes a while. But I want to maximize the amount of fabric that I have. There isn’t much!

Eventually the dress comes apart into 12 pieces, if we count the two sections of binding along the top of the triangular bits.


I decide to draft a pattern for a top. This is new territory for me, but why not start now? I jump in by using the bodice of a cotton dress that fits me well to help get a sense of what the pieces and sizes should look like. I trace those, adding seam allowances and about 5″ of extra length below for a top with waist shaping.


In this way I come up with some tentative back, side, and front pattern pieces.


Then I sew a muslin out of some old stained cotton.


I try it on and draw adjustments.


There are so many places to alter that I end up cutting all new pattern pieces and doing another muslin. But that version fits well!

The only problem now is that when I line up the pattern pieces on the fabric, I discover that the side pieces will need to be subdivided; they’re too big for the fabric pieces I have. I cut them into two half-pieces instead, taping some extra strips to them for seam allowance.


Even then, the remaining pieces of fabric are (sufficient, but) so small that I end up having to divide the back-side pattern pieces in two each as well. While digging around in my box of notions, I decide to hide the extra horizontal seams by adding some little strips of lace I bought in 2010 and cut for something but never used. Some of that might look nice on the front, too!

With that, I end up with 14 pieces of a top, as follows. I’m going to have to figure out binding/edging later, but this is the beginning.


Observe the subtle nap violation in the side pieces on the right here, where the pattern is rotated 90º relative to every other appearance of it. This was inevitable (there wasn’t enough fabric to do otherwise) but very slightly lamentable. Oh well.

Time to assemble the pieces! First I sew together the side-back panels horizontally.


Then I add lace over the seam and attach it by hand.



For each side piece, I baste together this panel and the polka-dotted piece.


Then I sew them down.


And remove the basting.


Now the components look as follows, with compound pieces that basically match the pattern pieces. The diagonal plaid will be the straps!


You can see that having to sew a seam in the parts with lace strips made those pieces a little shorter than the neighbouring polka-dotted sections. I leave this for later. For now, it’s time to sew the sides to the back piece. Before:




For the front panel, I decide to move the lace piece down to waist level to match the back. Hopefully I’m not going to regret making this cut!


Indeed, I don’t regret it. In fact, I decide to put the polka-dots down there as well.


Which, sewn together, equals this.


I neglect to photograph the process of attaching the front panel to the back and sides, but here’s the text version. It goes fine, though the result is too big. The fabric, I notice too late, has more stretch to it than the muslin fabric did. Taking in the sides would make the most sense – it would preserve the location of the side seams – but I’m nervous about messing with the curve along the top of the sides, so I end up cutting 3/4″ from each of the back seams. This looks absolutely fine otherwise and works as intended, but it does mean that the side-seams are now offset a bit towards the back.

Never mind. Time to make the straps. I get some twill-tape out.


I fold the strap fabric and baste it to itself (though hopefully not to the polka-dot skirt here, which is of no relation):


…then measure it to be only very slightly wider than the twill-tape, and sew the seam and cut off the excess. After that, I grab a knitting needle and use the big end to turn the strap-casings right-sides-out.


Now the strap-casings need the twill-tape inserted. So twice in a row, I attach the twill-tape to the end of the knitting-needle…


…and shove it through. Thanks, knitting needle!


Then I align the seam with the middle of the twill-tape (this will be the underside of the strap), and baste it down.


I sew 1/8″ from each edge, then remove the basting.


Two finished straps!


I safety-pin them to the inside back.


I zig-zag all the inside seams, then sew the bottom hem under. From the outside, it now looks like this. So far so good.


I trim the tops of the sides to be more even with each other and the front. In the process, my left index finger discovers that it and my rotary cutter are not friends.

After a short pause to seek help from a Band-Aid, I have to figure out how to finish the edging along the top. There isn’t enough fabric left to do this all in one print; heck, there’s hardly any fabric left at all. I decide to reuse the binding from the original garment along the neckline.


I also try the thing on and mark the desired length of each strap. Now I need to figure out how to add binding to the top of the sides.


The triangles from the original dress front are the only big pieces left, so I cut binding for the sides from them.


I attach those temporarily to the edge of the sides, right-sides-together.


Wherever the four edging pieces meet (i.e. at the two back seams and the two front seams), I undo some basting, join the edging pieces right-sides-together, trim the seam, flip them back over, and sew them down temporarily.

I end up with four pieces of binding in a ring: the plaid sections (the original binding from the dress) at the front and back, and the additional fabric at the sides.


Time to sew that (and the straps) down, hopefully without stretching anything too much.


And remove the temporary stitches from the top.


And finish the inside edges at the top and bottom (subtly, by hand so as to be cautious).


We’re all-but-done when this occurs. Darn.


The trimmed lace (which you’d think I would have noticed comes with holes in it) isn’t being held securely enough by the seams. The rest of the top is stretchy; the lace isn’t. This subjects it to tension. And if the lace partially slipped out here, then the same thing could happen in any of five other places in this top where there is lace in a seam.

So I go back in.


Five times in a row, I set my machine to the smallest stitch size I can manage, add reinforcement beyond the seam, and hopefully convince that lace to stay the heck where it is.


For the sixth place – the damaged front side – I undo the seam and the zigzagged edge a few inches and redo it with the lace tucked back in, then reinforce it as above and go back over the zigzagging. Repaired!


And with that, this top is finished. Then it sits around in a box until I finish a) moving again, and b) replacing Digital Camera #2 (2009-2018).

A necessary disclaimer is that I’m still learning to use Digital Camera #3 (2018-) and Tripod #1 (2018-). Also, the weather in Toronto has been consistently rotten this autumn, so there have been limited times to head outside and take photos anyway. The 2nd of December was one of the few sunny days since the summer.



The binding around the top is not quite tight enough, but with straps it doesn’t matter. And if you’ll allow me to establish something: I love this top. I love it. I love the prints. I love the comfortable stretch-cotton. I love that I pretty much just made up a lesson in pattern-drafting for myself and it worked. I love that I got to assemble the pieces the way I would a puzzle. I love that I finally used those little strips of lace. And I really love the fact that I spent absolutely nothing on new materials and squeezed as much as I could out of an old piece of clothing that was probably bound for the garbage. In short, this ended up being exactly the sort of project that I watched others do that inspired me to start a blog.

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