Hot! The “I’m Not Using a Ruler” Dress

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The Facts

Fabric: Shirting batik fabric, $1
Pattern: none
Notions: 3 vintage buttons, $1
Time to complete: 10 hours
First worn: December 2011
Wear again? Probably

Total Cost: ~$2

Firstly, THANK YOU ALL for your kind comments on last week's post! I'm doing better (though I now have a cold) and thank the wonderful Sew Weekly community for being great! If you're down and do the craft thing, here's something that got me laughing.

Ok. That said, how about this challenge? Patternless! This was completely daunting for me. I've said this before but you know how on Project Runway, the biggest dis is "they're such a dressmaker, not a designer." Well, you're looking at someone who is proud to simply be a dressmaker. I'm not too good for patterns. In fact, considering the 1000+ patterns I have, I really don't need to reinvent the wheel. 

Despite this, I was very curious to see how my two years of sewing has affected my ability to go patternless. After all, how many almost identical patterns have I cut out this year? There is a bodice, front and back, skirt and sometimes sleeves. Facings are easy enough and can be replaced with bias binding. So, yeah, that's it.

While I could have simply gone the trial and error route, I decided to be halfway scientific with this thing. So, I watched a video about draping. And in this video the first thing they said was you'll need a bunch of tools including all sorts of rulers I don't have. And even if I had these rulers, that's far too precise for my sewing. After all, when I'm being lazy enough, I just "eye" my darts. Oh, that's so bad. I feel ashamed even writing that.

So instead of using rulers and the like, I adjusted my dress form to the measurements closest to my body. I got some muslin and made the sort of bodice that I've sewn often enough. It had two darts at the breast line (sort of) and two darts at the waist, going up. And then, once I had the fabric in the right shape, I marked it and transfer ed it onto tracing paper.

All of this, mind you, could have been accomplished in like a second with a pattern. But, that's not what this week is about! Keep on going.


Since I was using a border print fabric, I justified a rectangle skirt piece that I gathered. And for the sleeves, I (gasp) just started cutting something that looked like a cap sleeve.

Believe me, I'm never going to be teaching a pattern drafting seminar:

Me: Ok class, here's the part where you kind of just cut your dress out of the fabric.
Student: I don't get it. What about our measurements? What about this curvy ruler I bought?
Me:  Go with your gut.
Student: Are you serious?
Me: Class dismissed! Great work!

Explaining what I did to make this dress is probably even harder than making the dress itself. And while the photographs this week aren't great (I was cold and just wanted to go back into the house), the dress is actually cute. Way too lightweight for the winter, but it works. It's certainly a testament to weekly sewing that I could do this.

And now back to patterns.

image from

image from


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


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  1. Hahaha. That Handmade Ryan Gosling is great!

  2. I love it – it looks great! The buttons on the front and the border print make it extra cute :-).

  3. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who ‘eyeballs’ and ‘thereabouts’. For a first time drafting, it’s worked out very well and you’ve definitely produced a great wearable outfit.

  4. Ha ha your class would be AMAZING Mena! A great post all round and those sleeves are just cute! I think your sewing weekly skillz shine this week! xoxo

  5. I once made a bolero that was easiest enough but had a total of 16 darts! That is just crazy. Your dress way cute!

  6. Your “sewing class” made me laugh– I recently read one of those novels by the “Crafty Chica” that was about a school of patternless sewing. The classes as described in the book weren’t entirely dissimilar to yours. :D
    It turned out lovely!

  7. Mena ,your outfit is adorable.Love the fabrics.. And I so agree with you……..I have tons of patterns [and not enough time to get to them] .why? why? go through all the work of trying to invent a pattern [They are professionals and I am lazy,lol]
    But I do look forward to see what the sw girls will amaze us with.. Happy sewing.
    Proud you are feeling better. Hope your cold gets better soon.

  8. To be honest, I’ve always just draped patterns by eying things! lol. Pattern drafting is different, but draping for me is all about manipulating the fabric and not being too caught up in the technical details. ;) Love how your dress came out–that print is gorgeous!!!!

  9. It’s a lovely dress, Mena! I’m with you – proud to be a simple dressmaker. :)

  10. Lovely dress Mena!! I think you did very well without a pattern :)

  11. I know — it’s so good. The best part is that they’re SOO accurate!

  12. Thanks, Melissa! The buttons were a last minute add. :)

  13. Thanks, Jen! And yay to the eyeballers!

  14. Thanks, Veronica! Oh my class would be performance art.

  15. I love it! It’s exactly the style I would wear :) I’ve never draped or made a pattern, having the same thoughts of, “Why would I do that when I already have a pattern for that?” But I think it would be pretty satisfying… maybe I’ll try it sometime! Anyway your dress is super adorable and I wish it was mine!

  16. Thanks, Jessie! I can only imagine the mess I would do to that bolero!

  17. Thanks, Becky! I should totally check that out. I met the Crafty Chica in St. Paul this year and she had such an amazing, happy presence!

  18. Thanks, Judy! My aspirations include making nice clothes, not reinventing the wheel. Maybe one day I would like to design clothing, but right now I’m a happy dressmaker.

  19. Thanks, Casey! I can’t imagine you eyeing something — you seem so diligent in process! But that’s great to know!

  20. Thanks, Sarah! Viva la dressmakers!

  21. Thanks, Susan! It is satisfying since the idea of it all is incredibly daunting. But I’m glad I did it!

  22. Mena, Beautiful, beautiful dress. I was just wondering. Do you keep all your clothes? I mean you must have huge closets. :-)

  23. What a wonder-full use of print! The frock looks great on you … Well done!

  24. You blitz’d it Mena!! gorgeous dress, she suits you very much.

  25. That dress us incredibly cute. And so are you. And so is Ryan!