Helena Wrap dress in linen on a dressform in front of a large mirror

Perfecting Your Helena Wrap Dress: Fitting Tips & Tricks for the Patternmaker

Dear readers,

Today, I'm back with a post I've been planning for a long time: a guide to ensure your Helena Wrap Dress fits like a dream.
As a disclaimer, my views on fitting are a little unconventional. I tend to favor the ability to move and respect the integrity of a pattern over eliminating every wrinkle. I developed my own block based on a combination of methods, so the changes you are used to making with patterns from other companies might not apply to mine. That is why I don't do many fitting posts, and I always suggest toiling before recommending adjustments.

Now, let's get started!

What you need

Before we dive into the fitting process, make sure you have your supplies ready:

  • The Helena Wrap Dress Pattern.
  • Toile fabric, preferably something that behaves similarly to your final fabric.
  • A measuring tape for body measurements.
  • A pencil, a ruler, tape, and paper to adjust the pattern. 

    How Helena is drafted

    For reference, the standard height I draft for is 5'5" (1m65), and my patterns are fitted on a B/C cup for the 34-46 size range and a DD cup for the 46-60. In the case of Helena it means this is how the pattern pieces differ:

    • The bodice is drafted differently, which changes the length of the armbands.
    • The waistband is less tall and has fewer curves in the centre front.
    • The skirt gathering ratio is a slightly smaller.
    • Details such as pockets are resized for scale and design integrity.

    This means that while it is not impossible to combine the bodice pieces from one size range with the waistband from the other, it is not ideal and might require some redrafting.

    First, let's look at the anatomy of the pattern and its intended fit, as this will inform the approach to fitting it.

    Helena is a proper wrap dress with no closure outside the waist tie. It has a relaxed fit with significant ease in the bust and hips. Shaping is achieved with pleats in the front and back bodice and gathers in the skirt. The bust pleats have been proven to accommodate different bra cups from the one on which each size range was fitted. In addition, while the waistband is fitted, the wrap style provides flexibility. All this means that the fit Helena is very forgiving, and you don't necessarily need to be an exact match to the body measurement chart to get a good fit.

    Grading Between Sizes



    The fitting approach I recommend takes advantage of the bodice, waist, and skirt being all independent units, so you can mix the sizes you are using and quickly put them together. All you have to do is pick the right pattern pieces you need based on your body measurement:

    • Use your full bust circumference and compare it to the size chart for the front bodice, back bodice, and sleeve band. (size range 34-46: pieces 1, 2, 3; size range 46-60: pieces 12, 13 and 14)
    • Use your natural waist circumference and compare it to the size chart for the front and back waistband and the tie (size range 34-46: pieces 4, 5, 6; size range 46-60: pieces 15, 16, 17)
    • Use your low hip circumference and compare it to the size chart for the front skirt and back skirt (size range 34-46: pieces 7, 8; size range 46-60: pieces 18, 19)
       


      For instance, you could wear a size 38 bodice with a size 42 waistband and skirt or a size 52 bodice with a size 50 waistband and size 48 skirt.

      However, I suggest not going across more than 2 sizes; otherwise, things might start to look wonky. Instead, rely on the pattern's significant ease. The waistband is the most critical part, as it needs to close fully to provide full coverage.

      Sew your toile

      It's time to sew your toile. You can follow a simplified version of the pattern instructions. You can omit seam finishes, french seams, pockets, sleeve bands, and the inner waistband, but I highly recommend not to skip the interfacing on the pattern pieces you are toiling.

      Sewing a toile is excellent to check the fit and practice some of Helena's unusual construction steps. If you need help with those, the resource page has the different blog posts I wrote on the challenging parts.

      If you selected different sizes for the bodice and waistband:

      • Start by assembling the bodice, as demonstrated in this post.
      • Stitch the short edges (aka the side seams) of the front and back waistbands together to make 1 long waistband, leaving a gap between notches on the right-hand side (when wearing the dress).
      • Pin the bodice to the waistband right sides together: start by aligning the folded edge of the neckband to the step in the front waistband seam allowance, then the side seams and the center back.
      • Use the notches as reference points for the placement of the two pleats in each front bodice and four pleats in the back. Adjust the depth of the pleats to absorb all the excess while maintaining symmetry. Pin the pleats in place.
      • Start stitching at the ends of the front waistbands with 1/4" / 0.6cm seam allowances. Continue with 3/8" / 1cm seam allowances until you reach the bodice/stepped seam allowance, and finish with 1/4" / 0.6cm seam allowances on the other side of the bodice.
      • Continue sewing as you usually would. 

      If you selected different sizes for the waistband and the skirt:

      • Start by assembling the bodice as demonstrated in this post.
      • Continue by assembling the outer waistband and sewing it to the bodice.
      • Press straight front skirt edges towards the wrong side twice, first by ⅜" / 1cm and then 1 ⅝" / 4cm. Edge stitch in place.
      • Stitch front skirts to back with total seam allowances of 1/2" / 1.2cm.
      • Gather the skirt. If you omit the in-seam pockets, you can gather the whole skirt in one go, making the first pass of gathering stitches ¼"/ 0.6cm from the edge and the second ½"/ 1.2cm. Remember to leave long thread tails at the start and end and use a long stitch length with reduced tension.
      • Pin or baste the skirt to the waistband. Start by aligning the center back, the side seams, and the folded front of the skirt with the step in the front waistband. Adjust the gathering to absorb all excess.
      • Stitch with 3/8" / 1cm seam allowances. Then, remove gathering threads and press seam allowances towards the waistband.

      You are now ready to try your toile!

      Altering the Bodice Height

      Based on your toile, you might need to alter the bodice height. Shortening it will help if you experience some gaping in the front neckline. Lengthening the will be helpful if the seam joining the bodice and the waistband does not sit comfortably below the bust. However, I do not recommend deciding on the bodice height without attaching the waistband and the skirt, as the weight of the fabric will pull the fabric down and might change your assessment. Once you have made your decision, follow these steps:

      • Start by determining how much you wish to alter the length of the bodice and whether you want to alter both the front and the back. If the shoulder seam sits well in your toile, you should alter the front and the back in the same way.
      • Prepare the Front Bodice, Back Bodice, and Sleeve Band. (size range 34-46: pieces 1, 2, 3; size range 46-60: pieces 12, 13 and 14)
      • If your adjustment is up to 3/8" (1cm) for the front and/or the back:
        • Draw a line perpendicular to the grainline on the Front and Back Bodice pieces halfway between the tip of the dart and the bottom of the sleeve opening.

          • Draw perpendicular lines to the grainline on the Sleeve Band at the same distance from the sleeve bottom.

          • Cut long your lines:
            • If shortening the pattern, overlap the pattern pieces by the amount you determined. 
            • If you are lengthening the pattern, separate the pattern pieces by the amount you determined and tape them on a piece of paper placed underneath.
          • In both cases, the amounts removed from the front piece should match the top of the sleeve band (red lines), and those removed from the back should match the bottom of the sleeve band (purple lines).
          • Smooth the armhole on the front and back bodices.
        • If your adjustment is more than 3/8" (1cm) for the front and/or the back:
          • Draw two lines perpendicular to the grainline on the Front and Back Bodice pieces. One is halfway between the dart's tip and the sleeve opening's bottom, and the second is halfway between the bodice side seam.
          • Draw perpendicular lines to the grainline on the Sleeve Band at the same distance from the sleeve bottom.

              • Cut long your lines:
                • If you are shortening the pattern, overlap the pattern pieces by the half of the amount determined for the upper bodice line and by half for the lower bodice line. 
                • If you are lengthening the pattern, separate the pattern pieces the half of the amount determined for the upper bodice line and by half for the lower bodice line. Tape them on a piece of paper placed underneath.
              • In both cases, the amounts removed from the front piece should match the top of the sleeve band (red lines), the amounts removed from the back should match the bottom of the sleeve band (purple lines), and the amounts removed at the side seam level (yellow lines) should also be identical.
              • Smooth the armhole and side seam on the front and back bodices.

           

          Congratulations! You've successfully navigated the fitting adjustments for your Helena Wrap Dress. Now, it's time to transfer all your alternations to the pattern pieces, use those to sew it all together, and enjoy wearing your beautifully fitting dress.
          Do you have any fitting tips or experiences with the Helena Wrap Dress? I would love to hear about your sewing adventures and any insights you have gained. Share them with me in the comments below!
          If you share on social media, remember to tag #HelenaWrapDress, I can't wait to see your gorgeous creations and hear about your fitting triumphs and trials.
          Happy sewing!

          Delphine

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