Hot! The “Papa was a Roaming Gnome” Dress

The Facts

Fabric: 1 yd cotton polka dot gnome border print $3.99 (£2.46), 2 yds cotton red & white polka dots $7.98 (£4.92).

Patterns: Adapted from Simplicity 2444 for bodice, Vogue 2902 for skirt.  Year: Contemporary.

Notions: 22″ Zip $1.37 (84p) with coupon, and hook & eye and thread from stash.

Time to complete: 12 hours.

First worn: 16th September 2012.

Wear again? Yep, absolutely, once it cools down enough to wear sleeves again.

Total Cost: $13.34 (£8.22).

Challenge: “Polka Dots”.

I’ve always wanted a Vivienne of Holloway polka dot dress. The problem was when I lived in the UK that, let alone the £89 price tag being out of my reach (that’s about $145), their sizes weren’t accommodating to me either. The largest size they do is an XL which they equate to a 22-24. Now this sounds fine until you check out their size guide which says a 22-24 has a 38″ waist…..I don’t. I have a 44″ waist and even with my best steel boned corsets, a 38″ isn’t within my reach. And wearing corsets in 105+ temps definitely isn’t a goer.

So I thought I’d make my own version…

No, I’m not quite sure what the face was all about either.

I knew I wanted a full skirt so I’d need a fair bit of material, so I popped to my favourite discount fabric store to see what they had. In fact they had tons of different polka dots…well, all white dots of different backgrounds at least, reds, greens, pinka, blues, oranges….but although they have fab prices and often an excellent selection this is what you have to hunt through to find anything you want:

That’s a picture of the knits, but the cottons section is just the same. If you want a bargain you have to be prepared to be a fabric diver. I am a fabric diver. After one of my most spectacular reverse 1 and 1/2 somersaults in pike, I pulled out of the fabric mountain a piece of red and white polka dotted material. At first my heart sank to see that the piece I’d grabbed was only about 6 inches wide…….BUT, although most of this 6 inches was polka dots, it had the kitschyest gnome border print on it. Quite often if you find a small bit there’s more (if you’re prepared to search), so a few deep intakes of breath and further dives (4 and 1/2 forward somersaults in tuck), I manged to find a whole yard of the same fabric. Nothing more though. But is better to have dived and found a yard of a something silly than to never to have dived at all.

The something silly came home with me and as per usual at the start of the week, sat on Betty my dressform until I decided what to do with it:

The problem was it was too short to be the border around a full circle skirt that I wanted. I didn’t really want a whimsical pencil skirt out of it. Luckily I’d bought some plain red and white polka dot fabric too, so I decided to use the silly gnomes for the bodice. Choosing the Vogue 2902 for the circle skirt was pretty easy, but it took a bit working through my pattern pieces to see which would get the best use out of the border print without ruining the look with necessary darts. Simplicity 2444 was perfect and I used the front piece so the double waist darts would frame one of the toadstool houses.

Those of you who follow me on instagram and tumblr will have seen my weekly breakdown on Saturday morning when I realised I’d been too economical with the border print and the bodice didn’t actually fit. I hadn’t planned to, but suddenly the dress adapted itself to having a visible zip. I think this looks ok-ish:

The polka dotted hankie on a ‘stick’ didn’t quite work as a photoshoot idea. It was to go with my punning Papa Was A Roaming Gnome but I couldn’t find any available bamboo canes.

Ah, whatever. I’m chuffed with the dress. It’s very me. And yes, I will be wearing it ‘out’ in future….life’s too short not to dress up in the polka dotted gnome dress. Vive la Frosting!

No, themed eyeshadow this week to match the plaid a couple of weeks ago, but how about some polka dotted fingernails? I hear they’re all the rage if you want to be down and with it with the kids (oh, and yes I made the toadstool earrings too – you should know I am Mrs. Matchy Matchy by now):



Tempest Devyne is a Brit who loves rain. She was therefore exiled to the deserts of Arizona. She started tentatively sewing about 3 years ago to make her own burlesque costumes. She'd now like to make pretty clothes for herself that don't rely on velcro and poppers to stay on. She's self-taught with help from the internet and lots of books from the library.


Comments are closed.

  1. I absolutely adore the dress! Gnomes! Punny title! Polka dots! Awesome. If I ever happen across gnome fabric of my very own, there may be a copy cat in order. :)

  2. hahahah! I looove the whole ensemble plus the roaming polka-dot satchel. All of it. I hadn’t thought of what I could do with such a picturesque print, but now… so much potential!

  3. This project makes me smile so much. So much glee!

  4. I love this outfit so much! This may be one of my top 5 for Sew Weekly posts ever!! You make me want to go to the store and find my own panel to sew on my dress!! I doubt it would be as cute, but how fun!! Really really nice job!

  5. I love this dress! I would so wear this with pride. It looks great on you. The fit looks fab and I love the gnomes! Yay to fabric discount stores!

  6. Love so many of your creations but especially this piece of whimsy. such a good job using well what was available. A happy dress, for sure! On a selfish note could you tell me the name of the fabric warehouse
    as I could not get the link to work. thank you and I may see you there as Ivisit AZ several time a year.

    • Hi Sue, yes, it’s SAS Fabrics – they’ve got two stores but my favourite is one in Tempe (1700 Apache Blvd, 85281). You have to be determined and have patience searching for stuff in either of them, and also know that some pieces will have flaws (slight misprints). If you’re ever wanting to make bridal or evening wear this is the best shop ever for rolls of embroidered tulle, organzas, chiffons….but they also have knits, quilting cottons, faux furs, home dec fabrics etc. Plus tons and tons of appliques, buttons, ribbons, patches, zippers and all sorts of trims. I’ve heard some people being a bit snippy about the place because they expect it to be a shop where they can ask assistants to find them stuff…it doesn’t really work like that, you have to be prepared to do your own searching (though I’ve always found the staff fantastic, they are definitely quirky and a bit eccentric but I’m British and that’s my default setting). If you ever spot a mad Brit in eccentric dress say hello!

  7. I love,love this dress..[Red is my favorite color…and polka dots is too,ha]..This dress looks absolutely fabulous on you.. I really WANT
    The bodice is super cute, and adding the circle skirt was such a great idea..
    This is my favorite polka dot listing.. And my favorite challenge ,you have done.. Happy sewing./

  8. ps…forgot to,love the fingernails..Perfect for the dress..

  9. Gnomes!!! I’m still trying to get one for my YARD, never thought of looking for fabric… I’m a sucker for a red/white polka dot so I LOVE this, the gnome factor just makes it EXTRA cool : )

  10. Best. Post. Title. Ever!

  11. You’re so cute and funny, what a fab dress – I have polka dot nails this week too, so it MUST be trendy x

  12. So fun and cute! This dress is super flattering on you. I really like the polka dots, but the gnome print is the icing on the cake!

  13. Oh girl, this dress is fab.. And what a funny post…

  14. Aaah! It’s so cute! It’s fabulous! I love it! I want it! I would totally wear that every day (100% cutesey-er than anything I ever wear be damned!)! You’ve sewn some great stuff, but hands down, this is my favourite!

    And now I want to go to your fabric store – diving is just my kind of fun!

  15. You make me smile Tempest. I agree with Clarissa, the way you have cut this is super super flattering on you. I bet there will be loads of peeps asking you where you bought this dress from and don’t you just love saying ‘I made it’? Way to go Tempest.

  16. You are my hero. And the red/white scheme he of my favorites. Glad you survived the search dive, it was so worthwhile.

  17. Oh, your nails! You’re too cute for words sometimes. Wish I had a fabric store like that around here. Fabulously Tempest, as usual!

  18. Gnomes, puns and polka dot nails! I love everything about it!

  19. There is so much to love about this frock! Gnomes! Spots! Epic matching nails! To much awesome in one post I fear I need to get a martini and sit down… Well done :D

  20. Tempest, I love you. I wish you were my sister and we lived in the same town so we could have matching dresses, because I am all about the red and white polka dots and toadstills! I never believed I could make and wear a dress like that but now I totally want to. I believe its a Michael Miller fabric – yes I Googled it. And look out – cos I am totally knocking that off. But I have to save up first, cos his fabrics are not cheap here. Anyway, Yay!!!!!!!!

  21. That fabric store looks like hours and hours of fun!!! — kind of like searching for buried treasure.

    And who doesn’t love garden gnomes?

  22. You did it! You turned the most ridiculous fabric into an amazingly gorgeous dress! And what’s even better: the dress looks super flattering on you. You did it!!! :D

  23. When I got the Sew Weekly newsletter and I read “My papa was a roaming gnome” in the summary of posts, I immediately thought “Ah, Tempest’s post must have been published” (and no, I hadn’t peeked at the dashboard or at your instagram feed before…). It just sounded like something you’d come up with. :)
    I love that dress. It actually looks very flattering on you and I am super impressed how well you placed those darts. I have trouble deciding what’s my favorite creation of yours so far but I think this one would easily reach the top 5 in the list…

  24. Tempest, I love you. I love that dress. I love the look of that fabric shop. And I need to hunt me down some of that gnome fabric…

  25. Tempest, Thank you so much for the information. The shop sounds like SR Harris northwest of Minneapolis, a literal warehouse but with rolls of end pieces like Perry Ellis etc. and lots of interesting shoppers. Between people gazing and fabric shopping, it is hard to get out of there. Unfortunately I only get there about once a year when visiting friends in St. Paul MN. Thanks again and keep those great posts coming.

  26. What a great dress! You look simply smashing! I think this is one of my favorites. You look so cute and happy. Love the nails too.

  27. Love love love!!! The dress, the post, the fingernails, your face on that first picture. You make me laugh and smile and glad to know you! Vive la Frosting!!

  28. Oh. My. Glob. If you ever decide you don’t want that fabulous confection, promise you’ll send it over my way. That is incredible and silly and I just love it! You’ve done a top job working the darts into the novelty print, I’m really impressed. Strong work!