It’s October! This is seriously my favorite time of the year. I love the upcoming string of holidays and I absolutely LOVE making Halloween costumes! I look forward to it every year!
Last New Year’s Eve, I set some goals for myself, one of which was to improve my sewing skills using patterns, and I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long way! When I heard that my niece might want to be Elsa for Halloween, I jumped at the opportunity to make her costume. I knew it would be a fantastic opportunity to work on my pattern-making skills and so as soon as the Halloween patterns appeared in stores, I snatched this one up and got to work:
I’ve seen two Elsa patterns this year, one by Simplicity and one by McCall’s. This Simplicity pattern was the only one in the store when I bought it (the McCall’s was sold out), so this is the one I got. But I’m kind of partial to Simplicity patterns, so it kind of worked out.
And now, after blood, sweat, and tears (literally), the costume is finished!
(Note about this picture: my dress form is about two sizes smaller than my niece, so I pinned the dress so it would fit better on the form. Also, since the form was too short, you might be able to see my husband hiding at the bottom of the picture. He held the form up so I could get a shot of the whole dress.)
I can’t lie, I am really, really happy with how the dress turned out!
The back is where you can really see my weaknesses. Everything was looking great until I installed that zipper, and then things got a little misaligned. I comforted myself by remembering that it is the back and no one will really care.
Overall, though, I think the dress turned out amazingly well. That’s the thing with patterns. Sometimes they are a huge pain to work with, but I have never been unhappy with something I’ve made using a pattern.
To be truthful, I was insanely nervous going into this project. Buying the fabrics and notions alone caused some alarm! As another blogger wrote, the Elsa dress is the trifecta of bad fabrics. This dress has a knit bodice along with a fabric that is totally sheer and oh, did I mention that all these fabrics are extremely fine and slippery? So I didn’t feel super-great going into it, but I was determined.
To my surprise, this pattern was actually very simple to follow! I’ve read some very poorly-written and/or confusing patterns but I have to say, this pattern was not one of them. That’s not to say the sewing was easy, but the pattern didn’t make matters worse by being confusing. There was one direction that seemed to be missing, which was hemming the sides of the cape in the front. Maybe it was user-error, but I’ve looked over the pattern a few times now and still haven’t seen the directions for that. Luckily I caught it early and hemmed the sides of the cape before I’d sewn the cape on permanently. But other than that, everything was very clear-cut and well-written.
I did make one minor adjustment different from the pattern with how I finished the neckline, but it was a very minor adjustment.
I learned a LOT from this pattern. That happens to be one of the reasons I like using patterns so much, because I always learn something that I can add to my sewing arsenal whenever I use them.
The most difficult part of the pattern, for me was sewing the opposing curves at the top and bottom of the bodice. This was something I’d attempted in the past with my Anna apron and I had failed miserably at it before. In case you’re wondering what I mean, let me show you:
These are the two pattern pieces for the bodice and the yoke (what you see in the picture above this one). When the pattern pieces (and fabric pieces) are laid out like this, they fit together perfectly, like a puzzle. But remember that pesky rule, that you sew the right sides of the fabric together?
When you lay the fabric right sides together, it looks like you see above. Suddenly it doesn’t fit together so well, and it’s quite tricky to maneuver your fabric and sew it so it looks right!
My very first attempt to sew these curves (attaching the bottom of the bodice and the skirt) was an epic failure. I got some really good use out of my seam-ripper and I was extremely frustrated and agitated. Luckily I received two pieces of excellent advice from another seamstress and that advice changed my life forever:
With these curves, I was dealing with two issues: first, there were those opposing curves that needed to be sewn, and second, I was sewing a knit (or stretchy) fabric to a woven (non-stretchy) fabric, which makes things harder. The pieces of advice I got were this: to sew the curves in two separate seams, each toward the middle, and to sew with the woven (in the picture above, the white) fabric on top. The first time I sewed, I had the knit fabric on top, and it kept bunching and moving all around on top of that woven fabric, and it was a nightmare. When I switched it so that the woven was on top, my life improved dramatically. The fabrics ran much more smoothly under the presser-foot and there was no seam-ripping required!
As for sewing in two separate seams, I mean that I sewed from one side of the fabric toward the middle. When I got to the middle, I back-stitched and sewed down the other side, from the edge down to the middle. The seamstress who gave me this advice said it really helps get that point in the middle crisper by avoiding some of the tug and pull that happens when you try to sew one long seam across the bodice.
*Update: An awesome reader commented on something else that really helps with those curves–clipping the seams on the curves. This is is in the pattern instructions and I didn’t mention it originally because I’m so used to doing it, that I didn’t even think of it! But if you’re new to the technique, I promise, it will change your life for the better! Be sure to check out the comments to find the link to the blog post that helped the sweet reader working on this pattern! Another great tutorial can be found here.
Sticking with the above two rules required some creative sewing, including sewing on the left side of the zipper-foot, something I’d never done before. But there are seam guides on that side too, so it all worked out!
The second-hardest part of the dress was the sleeves. This was literally a point where I shed some tears because again, my first try was a no-go. But I did it again, went really slowly, stuck to my above rule about keep the woven fabric on top, and it worked out. The seams for the sleeves were kind of tricky as well. This fabric is totally see-through, and all the other seams with this fabric are French seams. But the seams around the arms aren’t like that, you have to just cut it off and call it good. What I did was trim my seams down a lot and then I did a really small zig-zag stitch along the raw edges and I think it turned out really well because the seams are hardly noticeable!
But, while we’re talking about sleeves, it’s confession time. When I very first started writing this blog, I promised to share my mistakes with you, because I don’t think enough mistakes are shared often enough. And this mistake is fairly big: I sewed one of the sleeves on inside-out! I don’t know what happened, I guess I never turned it after I sewed it into the tube that makes it a sleeve. Oops. I didn’t discover this mistake until the day after the dress was finished, which I guess means it’s not that noticeable (it really isn’t). But that sleeve is sewn in three times over and zig-zag stitched on the ends and it is not coming out. I admit I was pretty upset when I made this dreadful discovery but really, it is hardly noticeable and so I’ve learned to live with it.
A couple more things I learned from this project: pins are SO IMPORTANT! There are times, particularly when I’m working with cotton fabrics, where I get a little skimpy with my pin usage, but this project would absolutely not allow that. Knits in general require using more pins, but with this project there were times (such as with the sleeves) when I literally had pins every half inch. It made a huge difference!
The other thing I learned? Needles are really, really important. I’ve never, ever worked on a project like this which required constant needle-changes. But again, changing the needles out made a huge difference! There were a few times when I tried to just make do with the needle I had, and I always ended up switching it out anyway, because the end results was better when I used a needle suited to the fabric I was working with.
Quick and dirty lesson on needles: the numbers on top (that you see on their packaging) relate to the type of fabric you’re sewing with. The lower the number, the more lightweight the fabric the needle is meant for. And of course, you need a Jersey/ballpoint needle for knit fabrics. The 80/12 is the needle I use the most, because it is a good weight for your typical cotton fabrics. But for this project, I used multiple needles. For the skirt fabric, I used the regular 70/10, which is good for slightly more lightweight fabrics. For any sewing with the bodice fabric, I used the Jersey 70/10 needle. And for that sheer yoke/cape fabric, I used the 60/8 needle (which I almost NEVER use).
Last but not least, I think this is common sense but I’m not sure: when you use fabric glue to apply the rhinestones and snowflakes to the cape, put tissue paper underneath to protect the rest of your dress from the glue! I read a review on-line where the person was unhappy because they said their dress was ruined at the end by the fabric glue and paint seeping through the cape fabric and onto the rest of the dress (you’re supposed to use paint to secure the edges of the snowflakes, but I opted not to do that because when I tested it out beforehand, it looked like crap. And the fabric glue I used held just fine by itself). Well, of course the paint and glue is going to seep through, that fabric is completely sheer and totally porous! So yeah, please be sure to protect the rest of your dress when you’re applying the rhinestones and snowflakes. What I did was I’d glue a few pieces on and then lift the fabric off the tissue paper to make sure it didn’t completely get glued to the tissue paper and then proceed to do a few more pieces, etc. It was a bit tedious but well worth the extra effort.
My overall impressions of this pattern? It’s a great one! I’m not an advanced seamstress by any means and while the dress itself was a lot of work, I had almost no trouble understanding the pattern. The project itself is one that I think any intermediate sewer can handle. I would definitely not approach this as a beginner, but if you’ve got a decent amount of experience under your belt, you should be good to go!
Are you excited for Halloween? I know I am!!! I am now hard at work on my own family’s costumes, and I can’t wait to share them with you! I’d love it if you’d share your projects with me, too! Leave a comment or tag me in an Instagram post and let me know what you’re working on!
Be sure to take a minute to enter my giveaway so you don’t miss your chance to earn the awesome prize! Have a great day!