The story behind my ‘Challenge’ dress and other dress pattern options

Rhonda recently asked me to do a guest post on her blog (Rhonda’s Creative Life) about my process behind designing this dress. I’m sure many of you already follow this inspiring woman, but for those that may have missed this post, I thought I’d do a summary here and include some additional pattern ideas at the end. Whilst I know this isn’t exactly a tutorial, pictures of flat pattern pieces always help me to get a better idea of how to attack a new design, so perhaps it may help you too.

I’m self-taught when it comes to sewing and design, so I am aware that some of my methods may be unconventional, but they seem to work for me (most of the time!). This time I started with a pattern that I created myself, nearly two years ago. The pattern was for this drop waist dress. I’ve made several dresses using this pattern, including some long sleeve variations, which you can easily find on my blog if you search ‘drop waist’. My love of the drop waist is a poorly kept secret.

I created the original drop waist dress pattern by draping, with the help of a favourite text book. I only have some very basic draping skills, but I do find it to be the best way for me to achieve a good bodice fit, as well as get my head around unusual or new-to-me designs.


So my starting point was a drop waist dress with long French darts and a front zipper (in those days I was breastfeeding on the hour!). This is how the flat pattern pieces of the bodice looked.


My first step was to redraft the side seam to incorporate a triangular side panel. To do this, I lined up the side seams with each other,and drew in new lines where I wanted the side panel seams to go. Here, I’ve pinned together the front and back bodice pieces.


Now you can see where I re-drew my side seams to make the panel. The overlay is the side panel piece from my Challenge dress. The purple line is the where the original side seam would be.


I also had to consider the dart size at this point. By adding the side panel, I was also reducing the size of the dart. I wasn’t too bothered by this because my bust is a little smaller (without the breastfeeding!) since I’d made the original pattern. However, I still found the dress a little snug across the chest (not bust volume) after my first muslin, so I ended up adding a tiny bit of extra width to the front side seam.

This is what the final pattern pieces of the challenge dress (bodice) looked like. The back piece, to the left, also shows the extra wedge that I added to the back to increase the A-line shape of the dress. My original muslin didn’t include this and I found that the dress looked to “flat” at the back.

In the picture below, my drop waist dress pattern is overlaying my Challenge dress pieces so you can see how I extended the length and modified the shape of the bottom.


When I finally had the bodice shape right, I went about drafting the flounce. I measured and traced the contour of the bottom of all the bodice pieces and drew up a skirt that extended along the natural A-line shape of the dress. To turn the skirt into a flounce, I slashed it in 2-3 places to give it a slight flare. There’s a great tutorial here, on how to create a flounce for a skirt.

The organza panel is simply a part of the skirt. I drew up that panel after I was happy with the skirt shape.

Hopefully, this explanation gives you a better insight into how I came up with my design. I, for one, always find it interesting how the flat pattern pieces look compared with the finished 3D garment. And if drafting a dress from scratch isn’t your jam, I’ve come across a few other patterns that have a similar silhouette to this dress, that you could quite easily modify to add a flounce or some sheer organza.

Pattern Fantastique: Celestial dress
*disclaimer* This pattern was given to me by Nita of Pattern Fantastique, but I wouldn’t have accepted it if it didn’t excite me. I haven’t used the pattern yet, but after seeing several great versions of it over the past few months (Thornberry, Sew Urbane, Artworker Projects ) I’m looking forward to trying it out in Summer.

McCall’s 6555: This dress has a pleat down the front and is much more voluminous than mine, but you could easily ditch some, or all of the pleats (carefully considering bust width) to create a more streamlined look.

Tessuti’s new Sopie dress: I’m in love with the higher neckline look of this dress. It has a similar easy shape that works beautifully with linen. Adding a sheer organza panel to the bottom would look amazing, with or without a flounce. I’d love to see the contrast of crinkly linen with the smooth, cloudy, sheerness of silk organza.



2 thoughts on “The story behind my ‘Challenge’ dress and other dress pattern options

  1. That is indeed interesting, seeing the flat pattern pieces, I always examine them in pattern instructions so I can get my head around whats going on. Nice post, thank you! And I’d love to see your take on the Celestial, its such a unique design & really lends itself to customisation; my latest is a sleeveless hack Nita sent me, excellent for some cool 70’s detailing. I’m keen to get into the Aeolian now, @bloglessanna has done some great ones.

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