Decades of Style ESP Dress Pattern

A Brave New World

It’s a brave new world – one where I tackle pattern grading in wovens!

My recent success with pattern grading and modifications on the Lady Skater dress spewed forth some new found confidence. Couple that with a good cause, and here I am.


The good cause is the Made Up Initiative. First, you donate any amount to the initiative. (Proceeds will benefit the UK National Literacy Trust). Then, you pledge to make something (anything!) by September 10, 2015. Then, make it! And, there will be prizes! What’s not to love?

I pledged to make my first Decades of Style ESP Dress. Tanya Maile (of Mrs. Hughes fame) has made so many gorgeous versions of the ESP dress, and her pattern grading requirements are similar to mine. I love that this pattern works so well with prints and quilting cottons, because I’m a sucker for wacky prints. The retro silhouette is great, and the fit-and-flare style looks flattering on lots of body types (particularly those heavier on the lower half).

Decades of Style ESP Dress Pattern

This was my first attempt at raglan sleeves, and I must admit, the pattern pieces looked wacky. I wanted to do a narrow shoulder adjustment, but I had no idea where to start. Same with the FBA. The dress looked like it had some ease in the bust, though, so I decided to skip the FBA and instead go up one size from my high bust measurement and hope that would cover it. I feared it would exasperate my narrow shoulder issue, but hoped that the unique boxy shaping of the neckline would make everything OK.

Here’s the size chart for the ESP dress:

ESP Dress Size Chart

And here’s what I sketched out to plan my pattern grading:

ESP Dress Grading Plans

Since the hip area would be a gathered skirt, I wasn’t worried about that measurement, but I definitely had to fit the waist. The sizes on this pattern are marked by the bust size, so I’ll refer to them that way.

The largest size on the pattern was 46, but I would need at least a size 50 to get into the ballpark of fitting my bust and waist. I decided to start with the 46 in the shoulders, and then grade out 2 sizes at the waist. Before cutting into my fabric, I made an actual muslin (!!!) of the front and back bodice pieces. I didn’t sew them together quite right, but it was good enough to know that the waist was going to be mighty snug. I went back to the cutting table and graded out one more size at the waist of the front and back bodice, to the equivalent of a size 52 (+3 sizes, or an exact match of the recommendation for my waist measurement). I did not bother to increase the waist of the skirt pieces, since the extra 1/2″ on each piece wouldn’t result in much change to the gathers of the skirt. Indeed, the skirt turned out plenty full. I am curious if I could get away with, say, the size 44 skirt pieces, if I happen to be cutting from a smaller width of fabric.

I sewed up my first version of this dress with some green cotton broadcloth I had gotten at Fabric Mart (no longer available). It was very lightweight and I feared I couldn’t do much else with it, so it would make a good trial run fabric.

Polly fabric

Polly helped with fabric cutting and interfacing.

Sewing this dress took 4 hours or so, as I was terribly out of practice with gathering and zippers. Oh, the zipper… even after spending a good hour refreshing my memory with youtube videos, I still managed to totally mess up the zipper installation, sewing into the zipper teeth in a couple spots. I didn’t line up my zipper foot correctly. Ce la vie. I unpicked the offending threads and really should have unpicked the whole zipper and started over, but the fabric was so thin that it showed even pin holes, and I didn’t think it would hold up to removing and re-inserting the zipper. So, the messy zipper would have to stay.

Before finishing the neck facings and hemming, I tried the dress on to make sure the waist fit, and it did! I was very excited, and the fabric looked nicer than I expected. I finished up the next day and tried the dress on again and was disappointed but not surprised: the dress was way too big in the shoulders, and was gaping at the back and front necklines. I mean, of course it was! Even when I choose a bodice shoulder size based on my high bust (44″) I still typically have to go one size down and do a narrow shoulder adjustment – and I sewed up a 46″ in this dress! Duh. Too big. The bust seemed fine, though.

To make the dress somewhat wearable, I took a 1/2″ dart out of the left and right back bodice near the zipper. That helped. I couldn’t figure out an elegant way to fix the front neckline, so I very un-elegantly took a 1/2″ wedge out of each side at the corner front seams. Oh my… it is jacked up! Being the non-fashionista that I am, I will probably still wear it (with a cardigan to hide the thread messes of the zipper).

Here’s the result, jacked up bodice and all:

ESP Green Cherries Front View

Let’s take a look at that neckline:

ESP Green Cherries Neckline View

Yep. It’s a mess. But it was so baggy that it was unwearable without some sort of fix. Maybe it’s still unwearable.

But, I learned a valuable lesson: start with shoulders no larger than a 44″ measurement – and likely, 42″ is better!

Here’s the back view, with added darts near the zipper:

ESP Green Cherries Back View

I went back to my pattern pieces and went down 2 sizes to the size 42 at the shoulders on the front and back bodice and on the sleeve caps, maintaining the grading to 50 at the underarm/bust and out to 52 at the waist. This seemed to work fine for the bust, so I have no plans to do an FBA. I’m hoping that the smaller shoulder size will fix the gaping in both the front and back necklines. We’ll see!

After I took the photos of this dress, I came into my office to upload them, and a giant bee-like thing flew out of my hair! It was a very slow moving critter, and I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It looked more like a bee than a wasp, but was big like a wasp. It seemed lethargic, though, and lucky for it, the cats couldn’t reach it up on the window sill where it flew. I grabbed a cup from the kitchen and the step stool and climbed up and caught the thing, then took it back outside and let it fly away. Eeeek. Gave me the heebeejeebees. I don’t like stinging things! But I definitely didn’t want to hurt a bee or a bee relative. I also got caught in a rain storm for this photo shoot, so it was an adventure all around!

I am confident that my next version will fit much better, but I think I will make one more before cutting into my uber-favorite fabric, just to make sure.

Join the conversation

  • tanyamaile - 4 years ago

    I love that fabric and it’s awesome that you enjoyed this pattern as well. Those raglan sleeves pattern pieces do look super strange, don’t they? It’s hard to figure out how to do adjustments with them. I recently made the ESP with a lowered neckline and love the pattern even more like that. I can’t wait to see more versions that you’ve made!

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