My Helen's Closet Gilbert Top Dress Hack
I’ve been looking for the perfect casual shirt pattern for a while. My first foray into shirt-making was the Sew Over It Libby Shirt, but I wasn’t totally sold on the grown-on sleeves, chunky cuffs or the crescent collar stand. Next, I made a shirt hack of the Fabrics Store Paola Jacket. The proportions don’t totally work for a shirt, although I still love this and wear it loads. I’ve had the Grainline Studio Archer in my pattern stash for years, but have been avoiding it as the collar stand and cuffs look fiddly. I loved the look of the La Maison Victor Bruna, but frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to be available for purchase in the UK.
My Sew Over It Libby shirt - more deets in my blog post here
I was therefore DELIGHTED to see that the Helen’s Closet Gilbert Top looked like all of my shirt dreams come true! It’s been a smash hit in the sewing community too, with over 300 photos on #GilbertTop in the two months since its release!
I got serious lemon dress FOMO last summer as yellow has always made me look a bit ill, but something drew me to this lemon fabric from Like Sew Amazing! As well as the smaller scale and being broken up with navy blue, I think the yellow itself is cooler which works better with my skin tone. It’s also fantastic quality and lovely and soft to wear. I feel like there’s a bit of sewing community snobbery about sewing garments with quilting-weight cotton, but I’m all for it! It’s so nice to sew and has been a real life saver since I’ve reverted back to using my slightly worse-for-wear rickety basic machine. (Read why here).
I ordered 2.5m of these glorious lemons as I originally planned to make an Untitled Thoughts Amelie Dress, but I found the bodice almost impossible to fit by myself because of the back closure, so will be saving that pattern for a sewing day when someone can help me! I also toiled the Sew Over It Vintage Shirt Dress and the Nina London Kew Dress, but wasn’t having much luck with fitting and was getting impatient to use my lovely lemon fabric before summer was out. By the time I settled on a Gilbert dress hack, I was in no mood for another toile and thought I’d risk it. Due to its boxy shape and the fact that one of the samples seems to have a slightly dropped shoulder on Helen, I thought it would be very forgiving. Thankfully, it was, although I did make a couple of flat adjustments.
See? It looks pretty wide on her shoulders here!
My measurements put me as a UK size 12 in Helen’s Closet patterns, although my Ashton came up too large, and a lot of people said that the Gilbert was generous. After looking at the finished garment measurements, I decided to size down to a UK 10. I almost always have to make a 2-3cm narrow shoulder adjustment on top/dress patterns, but a yoke makes this a little fiddlier and I didn’t want to mess with it too much. I opted for grading to a size 8 at the shoulder, doing a 1.5cm narrow shoulder adjustment, and embracing the fact that it may be a little dropped on me.
I taped the back and yoke pieces together at the stitch line and treated the back as one piece to make the adjustment. There are a few different ways to do a narrow shoulder adjustment, and I usually use the one from the BHL Bodice Fitting Companion, but I didn’t want to alter the neckline or I’d have to adjust the collar. Helen recommends this method, but I’ve always found that my pieces end up a little too warped because of the amount I need to take off. I used this method by Guthrie and Ghani, which is actually intended to remove gaping from a neckline, but it also narrows the shoulder without altering the shape of the armhole or neckline.
From Guthrie and Ghani's tutorial
After I’d altered my pieces, I un-taped them and trued the lines to get my finished pattern pieces. I also measured the armhole (across the back and yoke pieces) before and after adjusting to ensure that this stayed the same length.
I’d seen a few gathered dress hacks, but fancied something a bit more streamlined and used the Nina Lee Carnaby Dress skirt as a guide:
I added the skirt pieces to the bottom of view B, aligning the outside edges and filled in the gap at the centre
I planned this make during the heatwave and was dreaming of a loose boxy cotton sundress. It had cooled down by the time I finished it, so I toyed with adding some darts/pleats around the waist for a more fitted look. I decided to leave it loose so I can enjoy that breezy freedom next Summer, and add a removable belt to cinch it in. I don’t love when dresses poof out over a belt, but due to the weight of the fabric and the semi-fitted top half, I think it works well with this dress. I ordered a vintage buckle but it hadn’t arrived by the time I wanted to wear it so I improvised with a tie belt as I had plenty of fabric left. It’ll be nice to have both options!
I was pretty chuffed that I remembered to add a label to my back yoke facing before I constructed the shirt. I couldn’t decide which to include, so I went with both my Pattern Hacker and Sewing is my Self Care designs:
Labels available here
I used Made By Rae's facing trick and French seams throughout and I love how neat it looks inside:
Did I take this after I'd worn it? Yes, yes I did.
I wasn’t sure if pattern matching the yoke seam would make it awkwardly disappear and/or look weird if it was slightly off, so I added a line of piping. I’ve never piped before and rather than interrupt my sew-flow by looking up how to do it, I just made it up as I went along and hoped for the best. I think it turned out pretty cute! I basted a folded strip of satin bias binding to the back yoke piece before attaching it to the back and yoke facing. I then used a tapestry needle to feed a piece of cotton yarn (all I had to hand!) through the little tube:
Beautiful dahlias courtesy of Anglesey Abbey
I added a little side seam split at the hem to make it easier to sit down, but I’ve just realised that they’re not visible in any of my photos so you’ll have to trust me on that! I used this tutorial to add them into a French seam.
The only other change I made was to shorten the sleeves. I took 5cm off the view A pattern piece and a little more when hemming.
Despite carefully measuring the front pieces with a view to pattern matching, it’s ended up slightly off at the top of the button placket, which is a shame. It’s much neater in the middle and at the bottom, where it’s less visible, whoops! My machine coughed and spluttered a little at the chunkier seams, so I decided not to tempt fate by sewing buttonholes. As I’ve been something a lifetime buttonhole avoider, I don't have any buttons in my stash and I was impatient to finish so I went with yellow snaps instead.
This was taken on a Wednesday, so I had to get some pink in SOMEWHERE!
“It’s a lovely Summer dress, but isn’t in Autumn now?” I hear you say! Fear not, Autumn lovers, this dress looks equally cute layered under a denim jacket or a jumper!
I'm very overexposed here, but you get the idea!
A few people have referred to this as being a “quick make” which I certainly didn’t find to be the case! Even without a toile, the pattern adjustments and finishing touches made this a pretty lengthy project for me. I’ve really enjoyed slowing down and taking more time over my projects in lockdown and I hope to carry this forward.
I’m really happy with how my Gilbert dress turned out, especially given how rare it is for me to skip a toile! I’d love to make a long-sleeved version in a more wintery fabric and I’ll definitely be making a shirt version or two.
Finally, I feel it would remiss of me not to plug the Instagram Reel I made of my Gilbert dress, as I'm rather proud of it!
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