There’s a part at the beginning of Mulan where Shan Yu is like “the Emperor invited me when he built his wall” and that’s kind of how I feel about a $10+ PDF pattern constructed mostly of rectangles. Do I want to invade China? Not really. Do I wear many big gathered dresses? Also no. But when I became aware of this $14, two-size pattern, the ZW Gather Dress, I knew I wanted to test my mettle against it…by copying it.
That “ZW” stands for Zero Waste and its promise is that LITERALLY EVERY SCRAP will be used, but I read a handful of reviews of this pattern and while nobody said so, I still think the way some of the would-be scraps were applied was a little stupid. Basically, the two long triangle wedges that are trimmed from the left and right fronts to make the ‘v’ neck are shoved into the side seams as decorative elements, and the little piece cut away so the back neck can curve around the wearer’s body is re-attached as an extremely shrimpy non-functional facing. It’s like the “I’m-not-touching-you” defense. Technically true, but c’mon, guy. I decided I wouldn’t be dogmatic about my version – low-waste was good enough for me.
I told my sister about this project and sent her a link to the original pattern; her response was that it’s not zero waste if you never wear the dress, which is a fair point, but sometimes I get a little loopy around Halloween and I hoped this could double as a witch costume if needed. Or, cough ahem oops darn, a graduation robe. There’s a really good reason none of the samples are black. I actually went looking for something in the rust family but I’ve had poor luck finding my desired fabric lately, so I picked up this light semi-sheer black swiss dot cotton instead. It’s inexpensive and I assumed the gathers wouldn’t be too hard to handle in thin fabric.
One unexpected benefit is that it’s terrifically easy to rip, so my “cutting” process was actually just planning the proportions of the dress, snipping strategically, and tearing the yardage apart. My rough proportions, which fit neatly onto 3 yards of 54” wide fabric: the bodice fronts are each 1×1; the back is 2×1; the cuffs are 1x long; the sleeves are 1x long and little more than 2x wide; the skirt is the largest available remaining rectangle; and the button band (in multiple pieces) and pockets are squished into the remaining fabric.
A dress like this can be really easy to put together, even without instructions. My seams didn’t even need to match because I gathered to fit. I tried the gathering technique where you zig-zag stitch over a piece of twine or floss, but I’m not a fan. I managed to sew through my twine almost instantly, and afterwards switched to classic gathering stitches. It requires more sewing passes, but I don’t like to sew because I love to avoid sewing, y’know?
The only place where I really yucked up the sewing was the inside corner between the sleeve and the bodice. I attached the sleeves flat and serged that seam, then I used French seams on the underarm/side seam. If anyone has a neat trick for attaching right-angled pieces with a French seam, please let me know. Mine is functional but definitely strained-looking.
I used slash pockets instead of side-seam pockets both because I prefer them, and because it’s easy to sew French seams with lightweight slash pockets.
This necessitated trimming another couple shallow triangles from each pocket opening, but I’d rather generate a few scraps and actually like my pockets. A couple notes on the pocket: I confidently decided that I wanted the swiss dots on the outside of the pocket bag, which leaves the wrong side visible as the back pocket facing, geez and also duh; and if you’re adding a slash pocket to a gathered skirt, wait to attach the top edges of the pocket to the skirt until after gathering.
As is the case with the canon version of this dress, my button band pops up around the back collar because it’s cut on the straight grain.
I also omitted interfacing since all my interfacing is white and this black fabric is a little see-through. I’m not worried about stretching the buttonholes because I don’t need to use them.
Heck, I probably could have skipped sewing them and just attached the buttons through both fronts. These are more Fab Lab buttons; I got the laser settings a little wrong on these and the edges are rough, so I’m glad to use them on a project where I don’t actually need to push them in and out of buttonholes.
Here’s the pile of my “official” scraps, next to the nest of my serging/French seaming by-products + thread trimmings. I could have repressed my scraps inside my deep wide hem, called it zero, and nobody would have known the truth! But nah.
Do I look like a spectral governess accepting a diploma for her master’s degree in bad choices? Maybe. I can’t pretend not to be ridiculously comfortable, though. We’ve had exactly 1 beautiful day so far this fall and I wore this. I don’t know if I’ll make another one, but you know, I actually might! Given the continuing lack of sunshine and plummeting temperatures (that’s what my start bar weather dingle always says – TEMPS PLUMMET!!), that’s probably a decision for spring.
You know what I definitely didn’t waste, though? Fourteen old-fashioned American dollar bills. Heck yeah.
Pattern: based on ZW Gather Dress
Pattern cost: NA
Size: 58” approximate finished bust/waist
Supplies: 3 yards of black swiss dot cotton, $12.00, Sewfisticated; thread, buttons from stash
Total time: 5.75 hours
Total cost: $12.00