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Pattern hacking Zeena, or how to transform a dress pattern into a tunic top

No doubt we've already spoken at length about the joys of pattern hacking; the art of the mashup; the wonder of lovechildren, so without sounding too much like a broken record let's get straight to the point this time, shall we?

Today we bring you an almost unrecognisable pattern hack tutorial for our latest PDF babe, the Zeena Dress, showing you how to transform a kimono sleeve dress into a Mexican inspired peasant blouse (& I do believe I've also spoken at length about my current obsession with all things Mexicana...).

You will need:

  • The Zeena Dress pattern
  • Your fabric - 2m should be plenty
  • A ruler and pens
  • A patternmaster or French curve (optional)
  • Your usual dressmaking tools and supplies
  • Optional embellishments - embroidery floss, ricrac trim, mini pompom trim, appliqué etc

Step 1 - Altering the pattern

All we need from the Zeena Dress pattern for this hack are the bodice front and back, and neckline facing pieces. And it's entirely up to you which bodice variation you choose - either will work just fine. You could even amalgamate the two like we did - I had big plans to embroider the yoke, so I chose the higher neckline of Variation 1 for maximum embroidery space, but I traced the shorter sleeve and side seam from Variation 2 as I wanted something that could be worn comfortably throughout the Summer.

Start by taking your bodice front piece and figure out where you want the yoke to end and your gathered tunic to begin (shown as a red dot in the diagram below). To end up with a top like mine, where the seam line falls above the full bust, mark 5 3/4" down from the neckline at centre front (FYI this already factors in seam allowances at the neckline and yoke). You could always mark this point a bit lower down if you prefer more of an Empire-line style. 

Next, mark a second point approximately 2" down the side seam from the underarm curve. Mark this point in exactly the same place on your bodice back piece also (blue dots).

Using a French curve, or your best hand drawing skillz, connect up the two points to make your new seam line.

On your bodice back piece, simply draw a line horizontally across the width of the back from the point marked at the side seam to the centre back. You could curve this line a little too, or draw it straight across if you prefer. You'll also need to shave 5/8" or 15mm off the centre back, as this top has no centre back opening, but slips over the head instead.

Cut out your altered bodice pattern pieces (neckline facing pieces stay the same) and go ahead and cut your fabric, remembering that the bodice back piece is now cut on the fold just like the bodice front.

You'll also need to cut two rectangles measuring 30" wide and about 17" long - this will result in a gathered tunic panel that measures 15 1/2" in finished length, factoring in 5/8" for the bust seam and 1" for the hem.

Step 2 - Sewing it all together

Sew up your bodice as normal - stitch the shoulder seams, assemble and join the neckline facing, close the side seams and hem the sleeves.

With right sides together, sew the two rectangles together down the lengths to form a tube. Press the seams open and finish the excess.

We now need to gather the raw edge of the tunic part that will be seamed to the bodice at the bust. For help with this part, see this post on three ways to gather fabric, or this more recent post showing you another, super quick technique for gathering fabric (I used this last technique for this top).

Gather until your tunic matches the bodice at the bust seam line and make sure that your gathers are evenly distributed before securing.

With right sides together, pin the gathered raw edge to the bodice's raw edge and stitch with your usual 5/8" seam allowance. Finish your seam and gently press up into the bodice from the wrong side. Never press gathers from the right side!!

All that's left to do is to hem your top now by pressing the hemline in by 1/2" and again by the same amount (or by however much to achieve your desired length - always a good idea to try your top on before committing to the stitches!) and stitch into place.

Now, you could of course leave it at that and be done with it (and if you've chosen a pretty printed fabric, I'd probably suggest that you do indeed quit while you're ahead!). Not me though... 

My love of folk embroidery, and specifically Mexican folk embroidery right now, was really what inspired the idea for this hack in the first place - much like how one would curate an outfit to match a pair of shoes. 

I after practising on paper, and stitching up a quick little test swatch, I drew my design freehand directly onto the top, using a water erasable fabric pen. I was going for an imperfect yet still essentially symmetrical look. I kept my colours bright, and tried to keep my choice of stitch in tune with the general aesthetic of Mexican folk embroidery, namely a lot of satin stitch! I also finished off the hem with a blanket stitch border, which I'm actually not so crazy about in the end, but that's easy enough to remove :)

Looking at the pictures now, I'm thinking that I might want to add to the density of the embroidery as time goes by - a few more flowers scattered here and there, stems branching off and maybe even creeping over a shoulder and starting a whole new scene on the back... But that's the beauty of something borne from your own hands, isn't it? Subject to evolve just as slowly or suddenly as it was conceived.

Comments on this post (8)

  • Dec 13, 2015

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing this idea, the final blouse looks so cute

    — Alejandra

  • Aug 05, 2015

    Absolutely gorgeous! I love how making things like this really builds my appreciation for folk embroidery. It takes so much work! I love your version as well. X

    — Michelle

  • Aug 05, 2015

    I’ve just been blogging about embroidery. Your top is lovely, I’m thrilled to see a new generation taking up the craft so creatively.

    — Christine Stevenson

  • Aug 03, 2015

    This is gorgeous. It looks like a really expensive French Connection top, only a million times better.

    — Camilla

  • Aug 02, 2015

    Beautiful! I’ve been inspired lately by Hungarian Folk blouses of the 1930s. Love your Mexican inspired version.

    — Melissa

  • Jul 30, 2015

    I think you may have just inspired me to have a go at embroidery. Another fantastic pattern hack xxx

    — Karen J

  • Jul 27, 2015

    Hi Julia, thanks! I used a beautifully soft Kobayashi double gauze from the Village Haberdashery.

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jul 27, 2015

    This is lovely! may I ask what fabric did ypu use?

    — julia

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