On finding the right fabrics for your Elisalex Dress

Ladies! We are so damn excited about the impending Elisalex Dress sewalong! Only a week to go! We wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about fabrics and share some piccies we took on a recent shopping jaunt to London's Goldhawk Road.

The type of fabric you choose for your Elisalex Dress will have a significant impact on the outcome of your dress. We have recommended medium-heavy weight fabrics on the pattern - why? - in order to showcase the exaggerated curves of the tulip skirt, you'll need a fairly stiff fabric to hold its shape. Anything too drapey will droop leaving you with a pretty sad and withered looking tulip!

Ok. Let's start at the beginning: Cottons. Perfect choice for a Spring Summer dress. We're pretty spoilt for choice here. The main thing to remember is to avoid quilting cottons and shirting like the plague. Would it make the perfect pretty little gathered apron? Don't buy it! We're looking for stiff and substantial. When fabric shopping, ask for the following:

Upholstery cottons - it's a good idea to have little rummage around places like car boot sales, eBay or Etsy for vintage curtains - the fabric used to make curtains is perfect, and you can get some seriously great prints and cheap deals if you go second hand. The 1940s upholstery fabric we used for the original short sleeved Elisalex Dress was an eBay find, and we'll be using a vintage curtain snaffled from Mama's house for our main dress in the sewalong! Ray Stitch in Islington also has a great range of upholstery fabrics.

elisalex dress - vintage upholstery cotton

Broderie Anglaise - this is a pretty lacework fabric with heavily embroidered cut-out eyelet patterns. All the extra stitching gives this fabric quite a sturdy consistency. We found some great Broderie Anglaise at A-One in classic black and white, and this edgy shade of lime green... that's dedication to reviving the 90s right thrrr!


Cotton jacquard - jacquard is a weaving technique that creates a slightly raised pattern. Most commonly applied to silk, but cotton jacquard is much cheaper, easier to work with and more suitable to summery, every day wearing. And look what we found - this black cotton jacquard for only £3.50 a metre from Classic Textiles! (Pssst - it's downstairs in the secret room!)


Moving swiftly onto the good stuff: Silks. For a really spesh dress, it has to be silk, amiright?? For our main sleeveless variation, we went for a classic black silk jacquard.

Elisalex dress - silk jacquard - by hand london

Stiff and silky is what we're after here. Hehe. Silk jacquard, silk brocade (we won't judge if you go down the polyester route) and shantung are all excellent choices. Definitely not cheap, which is why we went sleeveless! Stay well clear of silk crepe, chiffon, silk satin etc unless you've opted for an alternative skirt for your Elisalex Dress. Bear in mind also that silk is very warm, so long sleeves might not be the best idea if you want to avoid sweat patches...


Other not so obvious options include things like denim, leather (we dare you!), velveteen (someone please make one in an Anna Maria Horner Loulouthi velveteen), corduroy and tweed.

elisalex dress - bronze tweed - by hand london

The delicious bronze tweed we used for our long sleeved dress came from Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road (in fact, we can very often be found in there fondling the various rolls and bolts), and we're itching to make up a corduroy version in this fabric from The Village Haberdashery. If prints are not your thing, A-One Fabrics has an amazing range of plain corduroys:


If, however, you've decided to mix it up and team the Elisalex bodice with an alternative skirt, the world of fabrics really is your oyster. As Heather Lou so beautifully put it, "The bodice may be my go to when I am frankensteining dresses in the future....". You could go for a circle skirt in a drapey crepe; a gathered skirt in a pretty printed quilting cotton like Sarah Grey's; or have you thought of trying out Elisalex & Charlotte's lovechild, the Elisalotte! Matching the Charlotte skirt to the Elisalex Dress bodice makes for the perfect wiggle dress; delicious in a soft and cosy brushed cotton or wool for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere thinking about your Autumn sewing plans... The possibilities are truly endless. Oh, and have you seen Rachel Pinheiro's jersey Elisalotte??

We'll be making up the main tulip variation as well as a half circle skirt variation in crepe, and a gathered skirt variation in cotton, so whatever you decide, we'll be there to guide you through!

*Tip! As a general rule, directional prints, plaids/tartans and stripes are not really suitable for this dress - mainly because they're almost impossible to match at the princess seamed bodice. Fabrics with a border can be incorporated into the skirt very prettily, and contrasting the panels on the bodice looks awesome too (just make sure you contrast fabrics of the same type!)*

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Comments on this post ( 8 )

  • Jun 27, 2014

    I’m so stoked that you mention corduroy is a suitable option! I bought some fabulous corduroy fabric today for a bargain price from the op-shop (second hand shop in Australia :) – animal print for the bodice and beautiful dark brown for the skirt. I’m late to the Elisalex-dress party but super excited to make up my first one !!

    — Jessie

  • Mar 12, 2013

    Hey – I’m a little late to join the sew-a-long party, but I can’t stop thinking about this dress so I think I’m going to have to make it! I have a piece of stretch taffeta I might use – I think it would be suitable because it’s pretty stiff, but I thought I ask.

    — PoldaPop

  • Mar 12, 2013

    Welcome!! And taffeta sounds perfect! Depending on how much stretch it has, it might be worth going down a size…

    — byhandlondon

  • Mar 05, 2013

    Well now I absolutely HAVE to find vintage curatins for this dress, just so I can proclaim “I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist” a la Carol Burnett in her Went With the Wind episode!!

    — Kacie

  • Mar 05, 2013

    Thanks for checking out the fabric for me – that kind of personal service is just one reason why indie’s are the best! Roll on the 11th!

    — Kathryn

  • Mar 06, 2013

    I’m going to Mood in a few weeks to get fabric for this dress and I’m so excited!!!!

    — Miss Crayola Creepy

  • Mar 04, 2013

    Thanks so much for this really useful guide! I’m planning my Elisalex fabric shopping for Saturday so I’ll be writing some notes from this to guide me. I was thinking of a Liberty cotton twill I’d seen on the Shaukat website but am going to rethink this in the light of your advice.

    — Kathryn

  • Mar 04, 2013

    Glad to be of help!! Twill, generally speaking, should be fine – and I’ve just had a look at the Shaukat site and it says that their twill is suitable for furnishings, in which case you’re golden! x

    — byhandlondon

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