I am on a mission to grow my wardrobe with dresses that I can wear at work. I am lucky that there is no official dress code where I work—a public school in Los Angeles. To guide my own work wardrobe standards, I use the demands of my job as a school librarian to determine what I can and cannot wear. I spend a lot of my time working directly with students and reaching up and down shelves for books. I need clothes that are comfortable, match my particular sense of style, and will stay put as I move about my day.
I had forgotten about McCalls 7381. I bought it quite a while ago, and my first attempt to sew it resulted in an ill-fitting garment muslin. This caused the pattern to collect dust until I decided to give it a second try. I am so glad I did.
McCalls 7381 is a pattern for a loose-fitting, bodice-lined pullover dress. The pattern includes shoulder pleats, a raised front waist, and front and back skirt pleats. The skirt has an elasticized back, and the front bodice closes with snaps (more on both of these features later). There are three options of sleeves (sleeveless, short sleeves, and long sleeves gathered into bands), two skirt length options (knee-length and maxi skirt), and two bodice versions (overlapped or with front ties).
This pattern goes from XS (29 1/2-30 1/2 bust, 22-23 waist, 31 1/2-32 1/2 hip) to XXL (46-48 bust, 39- 41 1/2 waist, 48-50 hip).
Since there is a lot of ease in this pattern, I picked a size based on my upper bust (40 inches). I selected a size large and had to add a bit to the bodice side seams.
My first M7381 was made with a black and white polka dot rayon purchased last summer when I was in Rio. It has a lovely feel and a beautiful drape. I lined the bodice with a lightweight black rayon from Fabric Wholesale Direct (a word of caution: the new batch of black rayon I received from them is nothing like the nice, light, and drapey kind I got with my last purchase).
When I was back home this February, I got this lightweight rayon with a beautiful drape and feel. Because it is so lightweight, this fabric is quite see-through. I lined the bodice with this gorgeous mustard rayon I got from Amazon.
Here is a list of modifications I made to get the pattern to fit my body:
Sleeve: Added 1/4″ to the sleeve cap and 7/8″ to the side seam.
Bodice: Raised center front by 3/4″. Raised side seam by 1/2″.
Raising the bodice side seam and adding to the sleeve side seams allow for more sleeve range of motion.
This is a great pattern for an advanced beginner. Since I did not sew the version with the ties, I cannot determine the level of difficulty for that variation. For the version I chose, the trickiest part was lining the bodice.
It is really important that you transfer all the markings from the pattern to the fabric.
I started with sewing all the pleats. The shoulder pleats are made by matching the line with the small circle to the line with the last circle on the right side of the fabric. Pin the pleats in place and baste from the shoulder to the circle. Once all three pleats are sewn, baste across the top of the pleats, parallel to the shoulder edge. Do the same for the skirt pleats, but instead of basting, you will sew the pleats with a regular stitch.
Sewing the Bodice
Sew the lining in the same way you sewed the bodice. Place the bodice and the lining right sides together and sew along the neckline. Trim the seam allowance. Understich—all the way from one side of the bodice to the other along the neckline. Press the neckline.
Understich: To sew a line of stitches close to the edge of a facing to keep it from rolling toward the outside of the garment.
I pinned the bodice to the lining, wrong sides together, and serged all around the raw edges. This allowed me to work with both pieces of fabric as one.
Match the center lines that you transferred from the pattern. Pin in place. Baste following the center mark. I raised the center a bit to avoid lots of cleavage.
When I sewed the polka-dotted version, I changed the side seams from 5/8″ to 1/2″ for a little bit more room. For the leopard print version, I kept the 5/8″ allowance.
The pattern suggests using snaps to close the center front, but I chose buttons instead. I sewed five buttons following the curve of the center front.
Sew two or three rows of basting stitches parallel to the edge and inside the 5/8 seam allowance. Pin the sleeves to the bodice, following the front, center, and back notches. Pull on the bobbin threads until the sleeve fits in the armhole. Sew the sleeve to the bodice.
Whenever possible, I sew my sleeves in flat—no matter if it is a knit or woven garment. I find this a much easier method.
Once the pleats are done, sew the front skirt to the back skirt. The the waist of polka-dotted version was elasticized since I added width with a 1/2″-inch seam allowance. The leopard print version is a bit tighter, hence no need for elastic.
Sewing Bodice to Skirt
Usually, I would have sewn the front bodice to the front skirt, the back bodice to the back skirt, and then run a seam all the way from the sleeve to the hem. Because the elastic is inserted into the seam allowance created by sewing the completed bodice to the completed skirt, I had to change the favorite construction method.
The channel for the elastic is created by sewing the skirt seam allowance to the bodice back to create a channel. I left half an inch on each side of the channel. I sewed one end of the elastic to the left side seam, fed the elastic through the channel, and then sewed the end of the elastic to the right side seam.
Leaving that 1/2″ on each end helped when I secured the elastic ends to the side seams.
I serged the raw edge of the hem and then folded the serged edge twice to create my narrow edge. If you don’t have a serger, just sew a line of basting stitches 1/4 inch away from the raw edge of the hem. Then, fold the hem twice, following the basting stitch as your guide. This method is easy, and I use it instead of the serged edge when bulk is a concern.
I really like the vintage-y air of this pattern. I have to wiggle my way in and out of this dress, but I am really happy that the dress has no buttons or a zipper. I am not big on prints, but I am super happy with how the leopard version came out. It even inspired me to wear bright red nails and lipstick!
Want more lovely dresses for the warmer weather to come (or to layer if you are below the Equador)? Here are a few ideas: