There was a lot of sewing going on in the house for the holidays. In the midst of a lockdown, I sewed two pretty cocktail dresses, one a velvet smock inspired by a Vampire’s Wife and H&M collab dress, and the other an organza and sequin shift inspired by a ModCloth dress. I hacked patterns, researched techniques, did a lot of unpicking, and ended up with two beautiful holiday dresses… that are now packed in my closet until I have another fancy event to attend.
These two projects challenged my sewing skills (and patience!). I needed a simple, quick project as a reset to the excesses of holiday sewing. And it had to be something comfortable because that’s all I want to wear after all the delicious food I ate in the past couple of weeks. The perfect choice? Another Plantain Hack! I used the pattern to create an empire-waist dress that is super comfortable and versatile.
This is another Plantain T-shirt pattern hack. I traced a fresh copy of the pattern to save the original. To create the empire bodice, I measured from the middle of the shoulder seam going over the bust apex to two inches below the bust. I drew a straight line to separate the bodice from the rest of the pattern. I then added 5/8″ as seam allowance to both pieces. I raised the neckline by two inches because the Plantain tends to show too much cleavage. I adjusted the neckband by measuring the neckline, removing one inch of that, and using the final number as the new length for the neckband.
The skirt was created by measuring from the point where the bodice ended to right above the knee. That is the length of the skirt. To square the corner created by the side seam and the hem, I started by drawing a straight line from the lowest point of the hem out. I then drew another, parallel line 1/2″ above the hem line. Using a French curve, I drew a curved line connecting the two parallel lines starting from the lowest point of the hem and finishing at a right angle when the curved line reached the upper line.
The final pattern ended up with five pieces: the modified neckband, the original sleeves (short and three-quarter), front bodice, back bodice, and skirt. All pieces are cut on a fold with exception of the sleeves.
My first empire-waist Plantain hack was made with black rayon spandex from Joann. This fabric is really comfortable but very prone to piling. The second version is a medium weight stretch rayon jersey knit fabric with an adorable cat print from Fabric.com. They both feel great against the skin, perfect for lounging around the house or going on errands.
I went with my usual size 46. Because the fabrics had a good amount of stretch, I did not have to add any extra to the side seams.
This dress sews like a T-shirt. I started with sewing the shoulder seams. As usual, I used twill tape to stabilize the seam. I like to sew the neckband right after the shoulder seams because it is easier to work with the piece flat. If I wait until the side seams are sewn, I feel it becomes much more difficult to run the whole piece through the machine.
Next, I added the sleeves. For the black dress, I used the original short sleeve pattern piece. For the kitty version, I used the original 3/4 sleeve pattern piece. I love attaching sleeves to knit garments. They go so much more easily than set-in sleeves—to the point that I now use this flat sleeve method with woven garments whenever I can.
Stabilizing the Waist Seam
When I sewed the black version of this dress, I did not stabilize the empire waist seam. I wish I did; the fabric weighs the dress down, and the neckline stretches as the day goes by. For the kitty version, I added clear elastic to the bodice front.
I first sewed the elastic to the bodice side of the seam. When I tried the dress, the elastic rubbed against my skin in a most uncomfortable way. I unpicked, placed the elastic to the skirt side of the seam, and ran the seam through the serger with the bodice side up. The seam rolls down, and the elastic is kept away from the body.
Sewing the Side Seams
I sewed all the front pieces, then the back pieces, and finally joined the two panels by sewing the side seams. I prefer working with flat pieces instead of round ones. This approach also makes it easier to take in or let out the side seams if I need to.
For the hem, I used my coverstitch machine. I think this is the first time I was able to get the beginning of the stitching to overlap perfectly with the end. I am getting the hang of this beast!
The Empire-Waist Plantain Hack
I cannot thank the Plantain pattern enough. It is an amazing T-shirt pattern, it is free, and it is so easy to hack. I have many garments that have started as a Plantain. I highly recommend it, and if you need ideas on how to hack a T-shirt pattern, Gillian Whitcombe’s Sewcialists article “Hacking the Humble T-shirt” is a great place to start.
I know I will make this pattern over and over. I love how simple it is to sew, and how versatile it is to style. Being that Los Angeles winters are never too harsh, I can wear tights and keep myself warm enough. When I go back home where the weather gets hot and sticky, I can wear these dresses with my Havaianas and look like I never left Rio. No matter the season, I know I will feel cute and comfortable.