Tuesday, 3 November 2015

My Gothabilly Spider Dress

DIY Goth dress using McCall's 6838

One of the very first posts I made for this blog was a product review about Sourpuss dresses. As I mentioned in that article, I like many of the products Sourpuss has to offer but I take issue with the quality and cost of their dresses. After owning a few of them, I've become painfully aware that these dresses have a tendency to wrinkle, fit awkwardly and fall apart over time. The only real positive thing I can say about them is that they're cute and unusual. If you like the aesthetics of printed dresses from Sourpuss or Hell Bunny but you dislike the quality and price tag, you could make your own. It's a lot easier than it sounds.

Before I continue I have to note that this dress was finished prior to my operation (in April) and I'm posting about it now because it literally took that long to schedule some photo shoot time. Now, I didn't intend to do any alt or Goth related sewing in the beginning of April but I had a rough time sewing a retro blouse and eagerly desired something I knew I could sew more easily. I took to reorganising my sewing bin and found some materials I had completely forgotten about; a green spider print cotton by Robert Kaufman and a pure black cotton. Immediately my imagination took hold and I knew exactly what I wanted to sew! I've always had a soft spot for the rockabilly and psychobilly printed dresses that you see in Sourpuss and Hell Bunny collections. You know the ones I'm talking about; they have a sweetheart neckline and feature a circle or wiggle skirt.

My creative process almost always plays out the same way. To begin with, I doodle some variations of dress styles that I like. Once complete, I select the one that I like the best and I break that design down into components. You can see above three different dress designs that I roughly sketched out. The middle wiggle dress is the closest to my final design. That would be broken into two components, the first being a fitted sweetheart bodice, and the second being a pencil skirt (with piped pockets). Likewise, my final dress design has two components, a fitted sweetheart bodice with a full circle skirt. Once I've figured out what components makeup my design, I select patterns that feature those items. In this case I perused my pattern collection and selected the best pattern for my needs, which turned out to be McCall's 6838. At a glance it's just another formal wear pattern, but I saw the potential in it. For my circle skirt I used a vintage sewing pattern, Butterick 6858.

How I did it:

Obviously you could end up choosing whatever patterns you like to create a similar style dress. Like I said, for this design it consists of only two components, a bodice and a skirt. For vintage style dresses the bodice typically cuts at the waistline, so you could select any pattern that features that design element (another good example of this would be McCall's 6893).

Now most of the bodices you will want to use are designed with princess seams; these are constructed seams that are shaped to fit the body, in this case the bust. These seams can be a bit tricky for first timers but I'll give a brief explanation of how you can do them more easily.

You may choose to follow your pattern instructions, sometimes it's an intuitive process, do it the way you feel most comfortable.

          Assembling the bodice using princess seams:

  1. Although it's not shown here, you will want to run a basting stitch between the two notches on the bodice side piece. Notice that the bodice side and bodice front pieces don't match up exactly? This is because the side piece will feature a bust curve that the bodice front piece does not have. Don't panic!! This is a princess seam in the making.
  2. In order for you to successfully sew the bodice side and front pieces together, you will gently ease the fabric to fit. You can do this by using a basting stitch. You run a basting stitch on the bodice side piece between the notches where the bust curves (as described in the previous step). You then will pin the front and side pieces together, but leave between the notches open. After pinning, working with the side piece facing you, take up the fabric in the middle of the bust curve on both pieces and pin it. This ensures that the curve of your princess seam is in the proper place, otherwise it might slip around and sit unevenly. Notice that the side bodice has way more material between the notches than on the front? You want to shrink that down by taking your basting stitch and gathering it slightly. This eases the material of the side bodice to match the front piece. You may want to pin a little more in this area so that the material doesn't slip around too much.
  3. Before continuing, check to make sure the bust seam is pinned and aligned properly. When sewing this kind of seam, I like to have the side piece on top so that I can monitor how the fabric is fed into the machine. I find if I have the front piece on top I can't see the fabric catching underneath, this can create unsightly folds and it won't sit properly. When I sew it with the bodice side facing up, I can ease the material into the machine and make sure that the fabric lies flat. Repeat these steps with the other bodice side, and you'll have created the bodice front.

    Now finishing the bodice...
  4. At this point you may or may not choose to trim and finish your seams. Some sewists choose to do this during the assembly of the bodice, others wait until after it's complete. It's all a matter of personal preference.
  5. Pin and sew the back pieces to the bodice side pieces. After this step you should have a fully assembled bodice (you will later complete a duplicate of this which acts as the lining).
  6. Attach straps to the bodice at the peaks of the sweetheart and in the middle of each back piece. You will lay the straps pointing downward instead of upward (they will lay against the front of the bodice). Back-stitch and secure the straps in place inside the seam allowance on the right side of the bodice. Remember that when attaching the straps to the back pieces you will want to angle them slightly (a 60 degree angle); straps should not sit straight up and down, that will cause them to flare, there needs to be a slight angle to accommodate the curve of your shoulders (as magnified in the illustration). Remember to get a friend to help you fit and measure your straps! I cut my straps out of the skirt fabric and ran it through a bias tape maker. I strongly recommend this because it's super quick and easy. just remember to cut the fabric on the grain and not on the bias. Bias cut straps are a terrible idea.

    One detail you may notice that's different between my dress and the dress in this brief tutorial, is that mine features a bold black band across the top of the bodice. I created this by cutting out two long bias strips and seaming them together, then attaching them to the bodice on the right side. It was very effective but a bit tricky. You might like to give it a try!

    ***Repeat steps 1-5 to complete the bodice lining***
  7. Sew the lining to the outer bodice with right sides facing together along the top as shown. Remember to tuck the straps downward and out of the way so you don't stitch over them! Back-stitch when you get to where you attached the straps, and at the center of the neckline. Remember to pivot when sewing the angle of the sweetheart neckline. Clip a small notch in the center of the sweetheart in seam allowance when you're finished, this will help keep the shape of the sweetheart when turning it inside out. You may also choose to clip a few notches into the curves of the sweetheart, although my pattern didn't call for this.
  8. Open the garment and lay it flat (wrong side facing you) and press the inside seam toward the lining. Flip over to the right side of the garment and top stitch the lining to the seam (this will keep the lining from slipping up and showing when the dress is worn).
  9. Choose a circle skirt pattern, you may either use a full circle skirt or one in three pieces (I used three pieces). Just remember that when drafting the circle skirt that the waist measurement should be the same as the waist of the dress bodice (don't forget you will want to include the seam allowance of the center back). Sew the side seams if you've used a 3-piece circle skirt. You really ought to draft this out beforehand, circle skirts can be finicky and if your calculations are off in the slightest it could be disastrous! I speak from experience.
  10. Attach the circle skirt to the waist of the bodice, right sides together. Finish that seam.
  11. I chose to use an invisible zipper, which I recommend for all dresses, they're much easier to manage. You can install your zipper in whatever way you please, for this step I briefly go over what I did, which mimics what I've seen on most of my Goth dresses. You can use an invisible zipper foot if you choose but for this step I used my standard zipper foot and just sewed really close to the edge.

    I pinned each side of the zipper about 5/8" in from the seam allowance on the right side of the garment. The teeth face outward, this is because the seam allowance is then flipped back inside the dress, which means the zipper teeth will face inward like they're supposed to. I also flip the raw edge of the top of the zipper tape over top of the bodice, this way it's concealed in the seam allowance when the back seam is pressed inside the dress.
  12. Before I turn the back seam allowance to the inside of the dress, I sew the skirt portion of the seam together. I sew a 5/8" seam as normal. When I get up to the zipper area (which won't sit entirely flat, so do your best with what you can), I go a 1/4" above the zipper stop and then I back stitch. When I turn the garment right side out, I can see my skirt seam is a little puffy. What I do now is iron the seam flat from the right side. I make sure the zipper teeth aren't exposed when doing this. I will then baste stitch the zipper in place (this keeps the fabric from slipping when I'm top-stitching).
  13. Top-stitch the zipper, keeping an eye on the fabric so it doesn't slip open. Invisible zippers shouldn't show anyways, but in my experience if the fabric slips in the slightest it can show, so it's best to avoid that!

    Completing the garment:

  • Hand stitch a hook an eye above the zipper if preferred. I've left the hem finish on the circle skirt out of this tutorial because there are different ways and I figured I'd leave it up to you to determine which you like. I personally made about four or five meters of black bias tape using the same cotton in my skirt, I then sewed the bias tape to my hem, after steaming it into place. I found this very tasteful and successful but I really recommend (if you do it) to use home-made bias tape and none of that store bought stuff. 


That's how I made my dress. As mentioned above, I had also created a contrasting band out of bias strips and attached it to the front of the bodice. I also added some belt loops, although the belt rides up when I wear the dress, I guess because I didn't put it low enough. You may have noticed that my bodice features boning, I like to put boning in the front and side seams to give additional boob support. :)


Overall, I adore my dress. It fits a little awkward, somewhat large in the bust area, but it's been a learning experience. It looks stellar with my petticoat, and I certainly got some looks when I went out for the photo shoot. I can definitely see myself using the skirt portion of M6838 and making a wiggle dress in the future. I hope this post inspires someone to sew their own Gothabilly dress (and hopefully send me pictures too)!



  1. That dress is gorgeous and you look absolutely beutiful in it! ^^ And it's good to see you so enthusiastic and happy...;)

    1. Thank you for such kind words. :) I'm much happier with the change in home and I'm trying my best to look at the positive side of life.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I love that Iron Fist bag, I wear it everywhere. :D

  3. OMG - that is too cute. You look amazing. You are so talented!

    1. Thank you. I'm very proud of my dress, it turned out nicely and I plan on making another one someday!

  4. You look so beautiful and happy and that dress is so cute and delightful! :) Love the spider print!

    1. Thank you very much. :) You should check out the other Robert Kaufman Halloween fabrics, his designs are to die for!

  5. You look magical! This is such a great fabric, I have used it for my Halloween quilt! I wish I had more of it, then I could make a great dress like yours...

    1. I love this fabric! I saved a small piece for a clutch or crafting. It's very durable and easy to work with, unlike other cottons. I found more online but it was only the orange Spider print and I don't look good in orange lol. And thank you, I felt magical that day. :)

  6. How did I not see this post sooner! Shame on me.

    You're right, we could be twins! Great minds think alike and all that jazz, right?
    Love love love the green of your fabric, very adorable-- as are you in the dress!

    1. Thank you! Great minds do think alike. ; )

  7. looks perfect! and that fabric is to die for!


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