A zip-free Back Wrap Dress with a ruffle

Back in the Spring of 2022 I started working on sewing a dress I could wear on my upcoming holiday in Spain. So I set to work to create a dress pattern, and as usual, without fussy fasteners or zips. This blog post tells the story of how the dress came to be, what inspired it, and what pattern testers had to say about it. You can purchase the pattern as an instantly downloadable digital file from the Etsy store, to print at home or have printed via a copy shop.

The Inspiration

 I initially drew some inpsiration from my love of historical film costumes, and especially Edwardian gowns with their high necklines and gathers on the back skirt section whilst the front waist area of the skirt lays flat. I especially loved the costumes worn by Kate Winslet in the film Finding Neverland


Furthermore, I was drawn to the popular Prairie Dresses designed by Laura Ashely in the 1970s – especial the ruffles on the skirts and the frill lace edging!

The Construction

Although inspired by historical and vintage dresses, I needed to do a somewhat simple modern construction for a modern digital pattern. 

Firstly, I wanted to do both a long and short sleeve version, but I was inspired by a cut-in-one sleeves construction after spotting this absolutely 1950s Liberty of London cotton dress in the Honeykins Vintage store.  I’m lucky enough to know the wonderful owner, Katie, and she let me borrow the dress to study the underarm gusset construction (at current the time of writing this blog post, this adorable dress is still available for purchase! I would snap it up if it wasn’t a tad too small on me!). 

At some point (and I believe it was only after designing the back wrap element of the Tinctoria Dress) I also spotted this adorable 1970s powder blue cotton dress in Katie’s store. It was very coincidental to spot another back wrap dress – so perhaps I spotted it before and was subconsciously inspired by the unusual design element. Either way, once I tried this dress on (also still available on the website at the time of writing this blog) I knew the design would work and I started sewing up my first toile. 

The Dress on Holiday

In September 2022, my fiancee and myself headed over to Cádiz, Spain for a break (if you haven’t been, I highly recommend it!). The gardens of Cádiz, are absolutely beautiful and we loved the laid back vibe combined with the impressive history. 

But back to the dress – after finally digitally drafting a pattern I then decided to put it to the test by cutting and sewing a wearable toile using a vintage cotton duvet cover picked up from a charity store. The fabric is a creamy coloured cotton with an almost invisible pale gray floral print. It was a success! And the wearable toile became a very wearable holiday dress! Perfect to keep me cool but covered (I burn easily!). 

The Testing

Once back home, it took me another couple of months to write and illustrate the pattern instructions, and let’s not forget grading the pattern (It’s usually at this point I start questioning whether the effort of designing a pattern is worth it! lol). Once that was done it was time to sew my own final version, and this time I also needed to test and sew the long sleeve version with the underarm gusset. I found this gorgeous fluid viscose fabric in a Blue and ecru print at my local fabric store Sew Ab Fab. The fabric itself inspired me to choose the name of the pattern : Tinctoria (Latin) : Meaning ‘of or pertaining to dyeing’.  The true Indigo plant goes by the full name “Indigofera Tinctoria”. 

Once all sewn up, I was slightly hesitant about my choice of the dark ruffle trim, so I sent the photo of the dress on my mannequin to my mom and my niece (she’s a fashion design student), but they both said they really liked it. So all that was left to do was to photography the dresses, spell check the documents and get some pattern testers on board. 

I was lucky enough to have a whole bunch of applications for the Tinctoria Dress, and in the end I had 11 wonderfully talented makers help test the pattern for me. This group of amazing women took time to cut, sew and spell check the documents for me, and were brave enough to give me honest and constructive feedback. Based on feedback I added lines to help other makers lengthen or shorten certain parts of the garment, and I slightly changed the height of the armpit area for a better bust fit. I also added lots of additional measurements so that it is very clear which size to make and also where it may be necessary to make adjustments for a great fit. 

I have loved seeing all the variations of trims, fabric choices and finishes from the various pattern testers. Some of them only managed a toile, whilst others like Heidi even managed to finish and wear her dress to a party by the time the pattern was released. 

So a big THANK YOU shout out to pattern testers: 

Ann T, Janet L, Trisha J, Lucy P, Tracy B, Jules M, Leila S, Heidi C, Comfort S, Helena J and Shannon P

See some of their wonderful photos below. 

A finalised pattern at last

If you’re still reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey of the making of the Tinctoria Back Wrap Dress. The 22nd pattern in the Sewillow collection – the finalised pattern is available as an instant digital download from the Etsy store. The PDF pattern files come with a fully illustrated Instruction Document, an A4/US letter rint-at-home version, an A0/Copyshop version and also a papersaver option for this of you (like me) who like to print and trace like the old-fashioned magazine style patterns. 

Also remember that all the Sewillow PDF pattern files are layered, so that you can print YOUR SIZE ONLY. Pretty handy right!?

As always – I would love to see your version of the dress. If you to sew and make this dress, feel free to share a photo on an Etsy review, email me, or tag me on my Instgram account. It never ceases to warm the cockles of my heart when I know these patterns are out there being used. 


Happy Sewing!

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