When I graduated, my gift from my parents was a return ticket to London to visit my sister and see a bit of Europe. It was my first time venturing outside the US (!) and it was amazing. I blogged about it in four parts beginning in Ireland if you’d like to see some pretty pictures of me knitting in places. Perhaps most importantly, plane tickets for special occasions have become something of a tradition in my family and I am 100% here for that.
(Related: I’m setting a goal for myself, and you all can hold me accountable. In October, Jon and I are going to Hawaii to see my parents for the first time in over a year and I want to have an 80% handmade wardrobe for that trip. I have two and a half months! What should I make?)
Now, this story is about a new wardrobe staple of mine, and you have to understand my inspiration before you can fully appreciate its majesty.
Before my trip to Europe, I spent a lot of time on travel blogs trying to figure out what to wear, how to pack, and all those other illusive questions whose answers can only really be found by applying liberal personal experience. Before I left, Mom bought me a dress for the trip – a simple, navy blue cotton-and-lycra knit dress with little capped sleeves and a cute little cutout in the back. I thought it was pretty average at the time, but let me tell you – I wore that dress on my trip as frequently as I could get away with. I wore it on the plane with sweatpants, with shorts in hot weather, socks and leggings in cooler weather, I could give it a good shake and watch the wrinkles disappear. I layered it with scarves and sweaters, and it matched everything. I think it cost about $16 and it was the single best item in my backpack on that trip. In fact, it continues to be my go-to travel dress.
Obviously, I brought the dress when I came (temporarily relocated? expatriated?) to New Zealand, and wore it quite frequently on road trips, beach days, and the occasional hike. My only complaint with it was that although the back cutout was adorable, it was the result of more sunburns than I care to admit.
I wasn’t actually even considering recreating the travel dress, but sometimes you just kind of trip over a bolt of fabric and suddenly realize its destiny. Such was the case in this instance: There’s a place just down the road from our house (and don’t even get me started on the danger of having a fabric store within walking distance of your house) called The Fabric Store, and they’re pretty different from any other fabric store I’ve encountered. Their focus is mainly apparel fabrics, natural fibers (there are exceptions, but they’re tasteful and necessary, and I say that as a person who generally loathes polyester.), and fabrics made and designed in New Zealand.
They, rather uniquely, stock fabric that’s leftover from manufacturing clothes from big labels, rather than specifically made for the home sewist. It’s really a much higher quality than anything I’ve ever found in a brick-and-mortar shop before, and in a few instances I’ve found the same fabric from The Fabric Store as a shirt, dress, or pants in some shop around town (including the fabric I used for this dress! It’s a men’s polo shirt from a very popular activewear brand!).
This fabric, while we’re on the topic, is 1.5m of a lovely teal and black striped knit that’s Merino with 3% lycra, for rebound. The black waistband/binding is another merino with a touch more lycra. It was made using New Zealand wool (I haven’t actually met a New Zealand Merino Sheep yet but I’m working on it.) As much as I admired the wrinkle-resistant qualities of my original dress, this one is about a million times better.
I made the whole thing on my lovely Elna Supermatic, using a combination of straight, zig zag, and stretch stitch cams (the latter is that wavy stitch you can see a bit of on the neckline in the next picture).
Here’s the down low:
I drafted the pattern using my dear old blue dress as inspiration, but eliminated the cutout back, lengthened the skirt, added some gathers in the back for added swish factor, and added the waistband. I actually didn’t plan the black waistband, but it was a little bit too much of a good thing without some visual definition at the waist so I improvised. I also initially cut the skirt about 5 inches longer because as a long-torsoed 6′ person, I have a long history of Too Short Dresses, but mid-calf skirts are for historical reenactments, not adventures.
Also Here’s the PDF.
If you’d like to have a go at drafting your own version, I suggest a fitted favorite t shirt as a jumping off point. The skirt is really just a simple a-line. I also reinforced the lower waistband seam with some 1/2″ elastic in the seamline to keep the weight of the skirt supported. I cut it to the same length as the waistband, though, so it sits lightly around my waist – we’re looking for support, not constriction here, folks. Another construction note: you’ll want to cut and sew your collar and arm bindings like a normal t-shirt: about an inch or so short of the length of the seam, and then stretch the binding fabric into the curves. Some people stretch evenly, but I like to ease my bindings in accordance with how much of a curve there is – that is, less on the sleeves, more in the scoop of the neck, less at the back of the neck, etc. Up to you!
Originally, I was going to use the leftover fabric to make a little pair of matching shorts to wear under the dress (don’t talk to me about controlling my skirt and legs when there’s an adventure to be had!) but the dress is long enough that I’ve decided I don’t need them.
This dress is amazing, let me tell you. Dresses are great to wear while travelling because you don’t have to worry about matching, but it’s also a great everyday outfit, very versatile. Since it’s wool, it dries quickly which is great for accidental splashing, and it’s also a perfect combination of warm and breathable. I do so love natural fibers! I’ve actually already bought the same fabric in an aqua/white stripe, although I’ve got a different style in mind for it.
It’s also super quick to sew up! It took me about two hours to make this dress which is basically unheard of. I don’t remember the last time I made something that was measured in hours instead of days. I want twelve!
On a related side note, for my knitting friends who have noticed the socks – those are the Lakeside knee socks by Julia Vaconsin of Knotions (the pattern’s free!), and they’re about four years old. I love them! They’re warm but not stifling and that lace pattern was so fun to knit up. It was basically magic. They just so happened to match the dress perfectly, so they’ve seen a lot of wear lately. If you want to know more about them, they’re on Ravelry. I’m really getting my woolen-lover on with this outfit. Wool socks, wool dress, what will she think of next! (ahem. I made undies out of some leftover wool scraps this weekend, but that’s another story.)
I’ve worn this dress quite a few times since finishing it, but it seemed rather fitting to photograph it in its natural habitat – North Head, in Devonport was the first place Jon took me on my first day in New Zealand. It’s a great view of the city with walkways, a beach (you’ve just seen loads of pictures of it), very cool history, and even some excellent tunnels to wander through.
What’s even more fitting, we stumbled across a few places that we’d never seen before! It was a pretty fantastic day out.
Just a bit of housekeeping before you run off to the store to get fabric for your new Traveller’s Dress: You may have noticed some new things around here! I want for this space to be helpful and inspirational to those of you who want to make similar things, so I’ve made some changes with that in mind. First, I’ve recategorized and tagged all my old posts so they’re much easier to find if you’re looking for something specific. Second, there’s a tab in the menu bar called My Projects which contains a little gallery of things I’ve made with links to their posts, so you can browse and read about the process for each. Creating that page specifically has made me realize that I’m terribly, very, inexcusably, horribly behind on blogging, but I will make it up to you, I promise!
Also – always feel free to comment or email if you have questions or just want to be friends! Otherwise I’m just screaming into The Void.