Sewing Indie Month: An XYT maxi dress tutorial from Closet Case Files

As part of the wonderful Sewing Indie Month celebrations, each of us are collaborating and sharing tutorials throughout the month of May. During the planning phase of the month, I requested to partner with Heather from Closet Case Files as she’s also a fellow stretch fabrics fanatic plus I loved her Bombshell Swimsuit pattern (if only English summers ever got warm enough to swim, eh?).

Well, she’s since gone and released Nettie, a fantastic bodysuit and bodycon dress pattern, and it’s already on my To-Sew list for later this summer. I can never wear RTW ones as my torso is too long, so I’m excited to finally wear some! (That, and her dress looks SO much like Wolford’s £300+ dresses!)

As we were discussing which tutorials to do, Heather was really up for hacking my XYT Workout Top pattern and making it not only something suitable for casualwear, but also a dress! She’s gone and done it, so if you’d like to make your own, read on…

The tutorial

Hello everyone! Heather here from Closet Case Files. I’m on Fehr Trade today to share a tutorial for Sewing Indie Month.

One of the things I love most about the independent pattern community is the way that the unique taste and point of view of each designer shines through in their work. I was really excited to be paired with Melissa for Sewing Indie Month; I have tremendous respect for her skills and knowledge, and love her cool and modern take on active wear. It was a good pairing, since we both love designing for stretch fabrics. For my Fehr Trade tutorial, I thought it would be fun to put a Closet Case spin on the XYT Workout Top.

Since I’m not the jogging type of girl (more of a leisurely bike riding lass), I thought it would be fun to take the great design lines of the XYT and make a summer maxi dress. I loved the racerback option, and thought it could look sexy and sporty in a mix of lycra and powermesh.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-12

This pattern is brilliant! It’s been a while since I’ve broken a workout sweat but having a few of these in my wardrobe would certainly give me some incentive. It’s beautifully drafted and the unique built-in bra gives amazing support. My favourite element is definitely all the options for the back straps – I love patterns that give you the ability to personalize them and make them your own.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-16

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-14

Before I get into specifics, I’ll explain the basic modifications I made to the pattern. I graded from a small to a large at the waist, and extended a flared skirt down from the hip line. I ended up having to make it a little straighter due to fabric limitations, but I think this would look lovely with a fuller skirt as well! I had an old maxi dress I used to get the overall length, but you could also just measure your body from shoulder to ankle to get the length that’s right for you. I also took the scoop neck down about an inch and a half since I wanted a smidge more cleavage (in hindsight I got a smidge more than I wanted but the boyfriend wasn’t complaining).

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What You’ll Need

  • Approximately 3 yards of a medium weight lycra blend for the dress, and a quarter yard for the back piece if you’re using a different material
  • Tracing paper and a french curve to modify the pattern
  • Power mesh for a bra lining
  • Foam cups
  • Double needle

I cut the racerback pattern piece out of some powermesh from my stash, and the rest from some black cotton lycra. I basted it together to test the fit, and ended up taking in another inch and a half at the bust seam. Once you’re happy with the fit, serge your side and shoulder seams, but leave the bottom of the racerback free for now.

The built-in bra of the XYT top is terrific for working out as it compresses your breasts to prevent bouncing; however it may be too restrictive for a garment you’ll be wearing all day. I used the Fehr Trade lining pieces as a guide to cut out the powermesh bra, but made it the same width as the dress itself. Once you’ve cut out your bra, serge your side seams and try it on.

Looking in a mirror, insert the foam cups and play around until you locate the best spot for them. Pin them to the wrong side of the powermesh and carefully take it off (mind the pins!)

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You can now sew your cups down. This can be a little fiddly – I find it helps to flatten the cups down while you stretch the powermesh around the cup, sewing a medium zigzag stitch close to the edge. You’ll need to stretch the fabric as you go to prevent any ripples in the fabric. When you’re done, there should be slight indents in the powermesh where your breasts will go. Adding cups is optional, but gives a little shaping and will shield you on cold days!

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files
The cups pinned to the powermesh bra prior to being sewn down.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-2
The cups after being zigzagged to the powermesh. Please ignore deodorant dust.

With your bra assembled, baste it to your dress at the back, neck and armholes. I found that because the lycra I was using had quite a lot more stretch than the powermesh, I had to trim off a little lycra around the arm openings to prevent wrinkles from excess fabric. You’ll see when you’ve basted it whether or not you need to do the same.

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You see how the fabric is a little full around the shoulder straps after basting? I had to trim that excess off for a nice smooth finish.

Melissa provides instructions for finishing your arm and neck edges with elastic, but I’m going to explain how to use fabric binding. It’s my preferred finish for my Nettie pattern; super fun in a contrasting colour!

Cut two strips (1 1/2” or 4cm wide) along the cross grain of your stretch fabric. You want the most stretch to run along the length. For the outside of the racerback and the arm openings, I cut one strip roughly the length of that continuous line. It’s handy to cut these strips using a quilting ruler and a rotary cutter. Fold your strip in half and gently press.

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XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-5

There are two ways to sew stretch binding to openings and I’m going to explain both. Because the racerback hasn’t been sewn to the back of the dress yet, it’s easy to insert binding by feel. At the serger, align the raw edges of the binding and fabric, with the right side of the fabric facing up. Sew a few stitches. Once the binding is secured, gently stretch you binding as you sew. This is an intuitive process – stretch too tight and you’ll get ripples at the seam. Not enough and it won’t lay flat when you’re wearing it. You may want to test on a scrap of fabric to get the tension right. You can sew this whole seam in one continuous line.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-6

The second way to insert binding is a little more precise; I recommend it when you have a closed opening like your neckline. Measure the neck opening and multiply that number by 85% (through trial and error I have found this ratio gives a good tension but you may need to go tighter or looser depending on your fabric). Cut a binding strip that length, sew the short ends together to form a circle, and fold and iron it. Now divide this circle binding into 4 equal quarters. Do the same for your neckline opening. Pin your binding to your neckline, matching the notches.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-9

Serge the binding to the neckline, gently stretching the binding as you sew.

Now that you have your binding attached, it’s time to finish your seams! This is where a double needle comes in handy. Gently press all of your serged binding seams flat so that they lie against the fabric, not the binding. We are going to secure that seam by doublestitching it and securing it to the fabric on the outside of the binding.

Pin the racer back under the back pattern piece, and sew a row of stitches all around the back and arm holes. Do the same for the neckline.

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-7XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-8

To prevent your back binding from folding over, tack it down to the racerback, following the line of double stitching.

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Now all you have to do is hem your dress! I chose a simple 3/4” folded hem with a double needle finish. Annnnndddd… THAT’S IT! A sexy summer dress from a workout top – the beauty of pattern hacking at its finest! Thank you Melissa for designing such a lovely pattern. I love my XYT maxi and have been wearing it for 2 days straight. I may even sleep in it!

XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-17 XYT Workout top by Closet Case Files-18

Thanks, Heather! I love it! And if need more inspiration for an XYT dress, Kathy made one of her own recently, too! Remember you can enter your versions into the Sewing Indie Sew Along contests to win some massive prize packs…

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