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The Making of a Dress, Part 3: Samplemaking & Adjustments

by Emily DeLong

14 June 2016

This is the third part of our series on what goes on behind the scenes to turn an idea of a dress into a finished product. Take a look at parts one and two here and here.

We’re almost there. After dreaming up a beautiful dress design, finding the perfect fabric, and drafting a pattern in five different sizes, it’s time to finally do some sewing.

Rather than furiously begin to sew multiples of all the dresses in a collection (that comes later), I will make one of each style and test it out to see how it wears, a process known as samplemaking.

Before I made full-blown samples, however, and while I was still finalizing the patterns, I made a lot of muslins (test garments made out of preliminary fabric rather than the actual fabric) to check for fit.

That’s a muslin from the Daisy Dress. Notice that it’s made out of plain “muslin” fabric and was created just to check the pattern pieces for fit.

I also made a lot of muslins out of random fabric I had in my workroom. I struggle with convincing myself to make full-blown muslins out of muslin fabric since the final product isn’t wearable (I hate to see things go to waste!), so I often make wearable muslins to test out patterns in their early stages.

This is a super-early version of the Peony Dress that I made out of some beautiful Nani Iro fabric:

Here’s the first-ever rendition of the Balsam Dress, in a hand-dyed hemp/silk:

The color turned out really well, but I had originally intended for it to be navy rather than light blue. Oops.

I ended up making a bagillion prototypes of the Aster Dress/Honeysuckle Dress before I got it juuuust right. Here are a few in order of when they were made:

That’s a Liberty of London print, in case you were wondering.

That’s another Nani Iro double gauze. I may have a minor obsession with Nani Iro.

I remember the day I finished that coral double gauze shirtdress and wore it around the first time. I had an overwhelming feeling akin to: “Yep, this one is it!”

Muslins and prototypes aside, once I was pretty confident a pattern would work, I would then make a sample out of the final fabric I selected for the collection.

Some of the samples I made were perfect on the first try, such as the Honeysuckle Dress, probably because I made all those prototypes:

The Marigold Top was also basically perfect on the first try:

Others turned out almost perfect with only a small change needed, like the Daisy Dress:

If you look at the buttons on the top, you can see that the buttonholes are facing horizontally rather than vertically. That ended up NOT looking good (imagine a button-up shirt with all the buttonholes going horizontally and you will get the idea).

Some other samples looked good on the outside, but needed some additional help on the inside. For example, on the sample of the Balsam Dress, I had originally decided to make it fully lined:

See the cream-colored fabric in the inside? That’s the lining. But when I wore the lined sample around, I noticed that it did not have the drape I wanted due to the extra weight of the lining. So for the final version, I removed the lining. (Don’t worry, the fabric is opaque, so lining wasn’t actually necessary!)

The sample for the Dahlia Skirt turned out perfectly, except for the fact that I placed the pockets several inches too low:

Fortunately, that was an easy fix.

The only sample I made that really caused some serious trouble was the Cosmos Dress. I had originally planned to use the fabric in the Cosmos Dress to make a dress similar to the Peony Dress but a bit looser and with buttons down the back bodice. Once I sewed up the sample, however, I knew that wasn’t going to work.

I had underestimated the thickness of the fabric, and the finished product was way too bulky. The fabric was also so thick that I was having trouble sewing the buttonholes on the back like I wanted. I knew I had to scrap that design and come up with a use for the fabric that didn’t have so much volume. After some frantic, last-minute pattern drafting, I made a shift dress based on the pattern I had made for the Balsam Dress and ended up with what we today know as the Cosmos Dress. Problem solved!

Once I had finished the samplemaking process, I was ready to move on to the final step, which will be featured in Part 4 of this series: production! This part is where the magic happens and when everything finally comes together. And when I spend lots of time hanging out with my iron and sewing machine and end every day covered in little threads.