I’m not so shirr about this one

Back in April, when I was still new to the indie sewing scene, Sew Caroline released the Tank Dress pattern. It’s a basic sleeveless dress with shirring at the waist as its main detail. I bought the pattern the day it came out. Now, half a year after making it, I’m pretty meh about the finished dress.

The Purchase

I bought this pattern for essentially three reasons:

  1. I was in the middle of a pattern buying frenzy. The hype around indie patterns sucked me in, and I pretty much immediately bought every pattern that was released. I spent a lot of money on patterns that I will never use or have no interest in anymore.
  2. I liked the casual ease of the garment. It’s easy to wear and the style fits into my current wardrobe seamlessly. Whenever I wear a dress I get asked, “Why are you wearing a dress, what’s the special occasion, are you sick, who died?” as if I’ve never before stepped foot out of the house in anything but sweatpants. I’ll admit that I usually stick to jeans and a t-shirt, but this dress gives off the same casual vibe. As a novice dress-wearer, I also need a silhouette that minimizes the risk of wind…incidents… and this fit the bill perfectly.
  3. I can make it up in a graphic quilting cotton without sacrificing shape/drape/comfort/etc. I am really drawn to bright colors and prints, so I tend to horde geometric quilting cottons like a magpie.

The Aesthetic

I’m still really attracted to this silhouette. If I’m going to wear a dress at all, this is what I want it to look like. It’s the dress version of the Grainline Archer, one of my wardrobe staples: very casual, and as long as it’s been ironed, it makes me look like I put some effort into getting ready (spoiler alert: I put no effort into getting ready). Unlike some other strappy dresses that I lusted over all summer, this one balances the proportions of my man shoulders and doesn’t draw attention to my proclivity to slouch at all times.


This is my first major issue with Sew Caroline’s patterns: the PDFs suck. There are only borders on 3 sides of the page. Now I know some people only like to cut the minimum necessary amount before taping and blah blah blah, but it just seems stupid not to have a clearly-defined border on all 4 sides. Some people (like me) like to cut off all 4 sides of the paper so that my patterns fold easily and aren’t full of lumps. The PDF is 36 pages long including the 11-page instructions, which isn’t that bad compared to some other PDFs, like Colette. The instructions are geared towards beginners and have plenty of color pictures and detailed explanations; nothing bad there.

The Alterations and Fit

I lengthened the pattern a couple of inches because I’m tall, but otherwise made no adjustments to this dress.

Based on the recommended size chart, I should have cut a straight XL. However, after looking at the finished measurements chart I thought there would be far too much ease in the bust and hip for my liking, so I cut a size L. In retrospect I should have graded between a L and XL at the hip, especially since it’s definitely a hair too snug after I added the pockets. The bust fits fine, and as a C cup I can usually get away without doing a FBA.

The armpits are drafted so tightly that the dress cuts into my skin and makes me feel self-conscious that I have fat armpits (J Law, call me).

In many of the testing photos, you can clearly see how little armpit breathing room there is. In the second version I made, I shaved half an inch off the front and back armpit seam. While it fits better, it’s still tight and awkward, which leads me to believe that the whole arm-hole was drafted incorrectly.

The most glaring issue is the massive poof that lives in the back above the shirring. The first time I made the dress, I was very loosey-goosey with the shirring placement and chalked up the poof to low placement. However, when I made a second version I meticulously measured where I wanted the shirring to start and end and I still ended up with floof. On the bodice, the shirring also causes weird wings under the armpits and drag lines where there previously were none, shown below. When the B-cup model has drag lines like that, it’s a pattern drafting problem.

For a fun experiment, I lengthened the Grainline Studio Tiny Pocket Tank into a dress with the same shirt-tail hem (SC’s original inspiration for the Tank Dress). While my armpits could breathe blessedly fresh air, I still had the poofing. My takeaway from this experience is that both the Tiny Pocket Tank and the Tank Dress are not drafted for shirring: but it is a design element in Sew Caroline’s pattern and should have been properly accounted for. I also think there is some obvious volume that could be taken out of the upper back pattern piece.

The shirring provides the only shaping in the pattern, but I think the addition of a bust dart would help with those pesky drag lines. Not only were they present in almost every tester’s photos, they are quite obvious in her modeled shoots. Honestly, I think she lacks the pattern making and drafting skills to properly execute her ideas. The fact that these issues were not fixed during testing says that she does not have the technical background to realize that there were fundamental issues with her product or was only interested in “testing” for publicity reasons. Or possibly, as is so popular in the indie sewing community, her testers fed her reviews full of unicorn farts and rainbows and did not address the fitting issues.

I still wear the dress as I just can’t bring myself to retire the great fabric I used to make it. I prefer the one I made from the Grainline pattern, though, as blood circulation to my fingers is generally something I strive to maintain at all times. If I’m going to pay $15 for a pattern, it needs to be impeccably drafted by a professional. I haven’t bought another Sew Caroline pattern since this one and have no plans to do so in the future.


12 thoughts on “I’m not so shirr about this one

  1. The design is undecided between a tent shape and waist definition, result drag lines. Great fabric you picked though. If you get sick of the tourniquet armholes and random puff you could get a nice skirt from it, or find a companion fabric, cut a decent shaped bodice and stitch up a dress with waist seam.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wear the dress occaisionally, mostly because my friends think I’m a friggin genius for being able to sew anything and would never notice these things. But if I ever gain any more weight I might have to hack it apart like you suggested!


  2. I bought at a garage sale a tiny topper of a jacket with back shirring like this from side seam to side seam. That one gets around the front-to-back drag line problem of the shirring by having huge, deep batwing sleeves (that are long enough to reach almost to the hem, and hit me just above the elbow–I’m short). It’s no help on the FBA since I wear the topper open, over a long straight dress, and the back of course still poofs out.


  3. Thanks for the review. I’m a larger size, and while the concept of the dress looks really comfortable, it would look like absolute shit on me. That the only shaping is in that bit of shirring guarantees I’d look like a sack of potatoes. But I was reminded of the Lisette Continental tunic, which has back gathers. Liesl hacked/modified her own pattern and subbed in shirring. Because of the bust darts, and the 2 back side panels (all the gathering is in the center back panel), I think it has a much better chance of flattering my body type. It looks great on Liesl herself; kind of a business in the front/party in the back thing. Week, a modest party. Anyway, thanks a million for the review! Link to smocked continental tunic: http://www.sewlisette.com/blog/2013/06/smocked-continental-tunic/


  4. Proper late to the party but I just went through all my clothes and chucked so many me mades into the donate pile because either I’m a shitty seamstress or I buy crappy patterns..


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