Bubble Dress

Would you like to make girls’ clothes that are both “Wow” and understated?  If so, I recommend this book of Japanese sewing patterns by Akiko Mano.  The book hasn’t yet been published in English so I’ve had to resort to Googling to get an approximation of its title.  The French translation – Jolies Tenues pour Fillettes Coquettes – rings nicely but perhaps isn’t true to the original.  My favourite English title is provided by the blogger Japanese Sewing Books who in her review calls it: Fashionable Clothes Girls Like.    

A friend bought the book in Japanese and using the most skeletal translation made a beautiful Bubble Dress such as featured on the cover.  If you’re not familiar with the Bubble (or Balloon) dress – and I wasn’t – it’s made up of two layers.  The inner layer is, in this case, a simple A-line dress; the outer layer is longer and wider, like a mini tent.  Its hem is gathered and tucked under to be stitched to the inner layer.  This is the final step of making the dress, which in the instructions looks like this:

Using my friend’s notes and a tip on sewing the straps which I’ll pass on below, I managed to finish Bubble in about 4 hours, a chunk of which was spent on tracing the pattern (the patterns come in several sheets as with the Burda magazine though with seam allowances! and long after making this dress, I realised I was supposed to add seam allowances).  If it wasn’t for the instructions being so minimal, I’d recommend this pattern to an absolute beginner, as the structure is simple and with a little modification the results can be look very professional: all but one seam allowance are hidden!

Here are my notes if you wish to supplement the sparse Japanese (or French) instructions; also my modifications.

Sizing: I traced out the largest size (height: 130cm) and extended the length by the width of a ruler so that my 8-year-old wouldn’t grow out of the dress overnight.  There’s plenty of room for her to grow width-wise too: this pattern is cut more generously than I’d expected. 

Cutting: The dress pieces are cut on the crosswise grain.  I don’t know why: could it be so that the weight of the layers doesn’t pull down so much, i.e. to counteract the draping effect?

Here’s the cutting layout:

The side of the outer layer (the one that flares out dramatically) is on the bias.  This means that the outer side seams will stretch and stretch.  It’s therefore a good idea to leave the dress to hang for a day before hemming.  After I did this, I decided the sides were too droopy and the dress would look less like a bubble and more like a bubble letter  .  So, I trimmed 3cm off the sides but kept the length in the centre and this helped lift the sides a little.

Fabric: 2m of full-width linen at £6 a metre from Fabric World, 49c Goldhawk Road.  The linen creases terribly but as Straightgrain points out: the Bubble looks just as good wrinkled! 

For a pro touch, I recommend that you also get 130cm of 2cm bias binding tape with which to enclose the hem seam allowance (see Step 7). Or read Anne’s tip below (5th comment) about how to make with all-hidden seam allowances.

Seam allowances: 1cm.


Step 1 Button loop.  I made the loop slightly thicker so I’d have room to turn it with a safety pin.  In the finished article, the closure looks like this:

Step 2: The side seams.  Pretty straight-forward. As the dress is fully lined, the seam allowances won’t show on the inside of the garment though it’s still a good idea to finish them!

Step 3: Pockets. I didn’t follow the instructions here.  Being new to patch pockets, I turned to the ever-informative RDCGTS.  My pocket looks like this:

If you haven’t Reader’s Digest, here’s a good tutorial on “patch with flap pockets”.  Unlike with mine, the top of the flap is topstitched down which is probably an easier way of doing it.

Steps 4: .Shoulder and neck seams. Easy.

Step 5: The straps.  The quick way is to sew the lining and outer straps together with the seams finished together on the inside.  I recommend the more professional way, with which the seam allowances are tucked out of sight, like I did in Step 5 of Julie’s Dress.

Step 6: Topstitching the neckhole and armholes.

Step 7: Joining the outer and inner layers.  Once the two layers are joined together (as in the diagram I showed you earlier), you can encase the seam allowance with bias binding. Totally optional, of course, and probably no one would notice the extra effort, except you when the dress is kicked up during some fast running!

Here are some more pics. 

And how did Moonchild contribute to the sewing process?

Get Ninja’d

It needn’t take more than 5 minutes to make a Ninja mask.  Just cut an aperture into a square of opaque fabric.  You don’t even need a sewing machine.  But if you do decide to upgrade the mask with some stitching that makes it neater and more permanent, you can solve the eternal problem of what to sew for an almost teenage boy (you know: the one too old for dinosaur print, too young for Hawaiian shirts).

Worn with black at Halloween, the mask makes an instant Ninja costume.  Come winter, it’s an original stocking filler and if you make it from cotton jersey, it’ll keep the nose super-warm during long walks in the snow! 

You need: an 80cm x 80 cm square of a fabric that’s opaque but easy to breathe through.  Thread.  Bias binding  or ribbon for finishing the peephole (optional).

Making up:

1. Measure the size required for the peephole.  This tends not to vary much from person to person so measure your own if you’re making the mask as a surprise.  12cm x 3cm should suffice.

2. Turn your square so it’s on the bias and mark the peephole in the middle. 

3. Stitch along the marking.  Cut out the peephole, keeping as close to the stitching as possible.

4. If you wish to finish the peephole with a narrow strip of bias binding, then pin and stitch, trimming peephole close to the stitch line before flipping the binding to the right side.  

Alternatively, reinforce the peephole with a row of zigzag stitching.

5. Sew a narrow, hankie-style hem on all 4 sides, using the rolled hem foot.

Putting on the mask:

Place peephole over eyes and tie the “wings” at the back of the head, over the back flap.  The knot gives the mask its characteristic Ninja appearance.

And what if you’re dressed up as a Ninja with nowhere to go on a rainy day?  

Here a couple of ideas:

Learn how to make origami shuriken: “blades hidden in the hand“.

Watch as a hapless Ninja takes on John Goodman in Speed Racer.

P.S.  One of my readers suggested making the mask out of fleece.  This would be super-warm (possibly too much for summer) but it does have the advantage of not needing stitching. 

Drafting Pleats

The story so far:  in March, I made myself a top with a pleated neckline, drafted with lots of help from my pattern-cutting tutor.  Whilst far from perfect, Nicotine Surprise proved very wearable and since then, others have asked me if I’d show them how to draft something similar. 

And I said: “(Gulp) Yeah…?”

In preparation for the humbling feat, I redesigned the top and made Version 2 with 6 pleats instead of 8 and with facing instead of bias binding.  The pleats radiate outwards instead of heading towards the bust.  Also, I didn’t stitch them down as before, only forming them at the neckhole.  Once again, the process was quick and the result a much-worn wardrobe staple.

Having made Version 3, I’m still not an expert but I’ve laid out a how-I-done-it  for those who’re familiar with the bodice block and want to have a bit of an adventure adapting it into a top with some design interest and no closures.

This is by no means the definitive method of drafting neckline pleats – in fact, I’m already experimenting with another….


For drafting:

Your front and back bodice blocks with the shoulder darts moved out of the way (see here). 

Sleeve block and skirt block (not necessary for a vest top like Version 3)

Lots of paper and a little bit of tracing paper.  Numberprint Marker Paper has the virtue of being see-through in good light.  I often use salvaged packing paper from internet shopping (after a hot, non-steam press) whilst Greaseproof paper/Baking parchment is great for tracing.  See Sew Ruth for another paper tip.

Sellotape, preferrably the “frosty” Magic Tape that you can write on.

Pencil and a long ruler

Tracing wheel

For sewing

Approx 1m of fabric for a sleeveless version, 1.5m for a short-sleeved number.  Bias binding or, if making the facing, a small amount of interfacing. 

The process:

Tip on using the tracing wheel: if your tracing wheel is of the genteel variety like mine and not of the scary toothsome variety, place a couple of sheets of fabric, like a bedsheet, under your paper and your impressions will be more easily visible.

Nearly there…


When it comes to sewing the pleats, you can:

Top-stitch them.

Sew them on the inside, with the inner-most pleat the deepest.

Stitch them horizontally at the neckline and released below in Version 2 & 3 above.

Good luck and let me know how it went (it’s quicker than it looks…).

P.S. Check back here in a few weeks when I attempt to draft neckline pleats the Adele Margolis method!

Dart Manipulation

In my next post, I’ll be using my bodice block (or sloper) to draft a pleated neckline pattern such as the one I used to make Nicotine Surprise.  This won’t be a process of great complexity, but it does take quite a few steps (and then some paper).  Dart manipulation is the first of these steps and I thought it deserved a tutorial of its own since you can use the technique in other drafting projects.

But what is dart manipulation?  Is it as sinister as it sounds?

It means moving the darts around the block for a purpose.  Typically, the bodice blocks have waist and shoulder darts and look like this:

We’re going to move the shoulder darts out of the way.  Once the neck and shoulder areas are dart-free, we can add style lines here and create a design such as a pleated neckline.

You’ll need: your front and back bodice blocks, two pieces of paper slightly larger than the blocks and a pencil.  I’m using a bradawl for pivoting but the point of a pencil works just fine.

FRONT BODICE Moving the shoulder dart from the shoulder seam to the armscye using the pivot method.

a) Place the front bodice block on the target paper with a bit of space all round the block.

b) Mark the left leg of the shoulder dart on target paper.  Label Point 1.

c) Decide where on the armscye the dart will be repositioned to and mark this on the block. Label 2.  Exactly where you place the dart is up to you, but avoid putting it too close to the balance point (the sleeve attachment mark).

d) Moving anti-clockwise, draw around the block from 1 on target paper to 2 on the block.  On the way, mark the ends of the waist darts.  When you get to 2, mark it also on the target paper.

e) Prick a small hole in the bust point.  Poke your pencil into the point and pivot the block anti-clockwise until the right leg of the block dart is in line with 1 on target paper.  Moving clockwise, draw around the block from point 1 till point 2 on the block.  Remove block.

f) Mark the bust point on target paper.

g) Draw in the dart legs for armhole and waist darts.

BACK BODICE Same process as above but all movement is mirrored.

a) Place block on target paper with a bit of room all around to pivot.

b) Mark the right leg of the shoulder dart on target paper.  Label 1.

c) Decide where on the armscye the dart will be repositioned to and mark this on the block. Label 2.  Avoid putting it too close to the balance point.

d) Moving clockwise, draw around the block from 1 on target paper to 2 on the block.  Remember to mark the ends of the waist darts.  When you get to 2, mark it also on the target paper.

e) Poke a hole in the shoulder dart point.  Place pencil in the point and pivot the block clockwise till the left leg of the block dart is in line with 1 on target paper.  Going anti-clockwise, draw from 1 to point 2 on the block. Remove block.

f) Draw the dart point.  Do the same for the waist dart point.

g) Draw the legs for the armhole and waist darts.

BALANCE POINTS Draw these in by placing the original blocks on the new ones.