Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

March 27, 2012

DIY Dames: Miss Plumcake Needs Your Help

Filed under: Uncategorized — Miss Plumcake @ 3:52 pm

Unless you’ve lived in a developing nation –and having been here for almost four months I’m clearly an expert– it’s almost impossible to understand the depth and pervasiveness of poverty in a third world country. If you think the line between the haves and have-nots are drawn distinctly in America, they’re hacked apart with a machete here south of the border.

Work is hard to find here, especially for those who didn’t have access to a high school education, and doubly so for women, many (most?) of whom are responsible for raising at least one if not several children, not necessarily just their own.

Many women here learned how to sew out of necessity.

Farther south on the mainland the embroidery done by Oaxacan women is beautiful, intricate and justifiably spendy but almost any abuela will be able to whip up a simple dress in her kitchen using a treadle machine (they still sell those here).

It turns out a simple dress is exactly what I need.

Were I not completely hopeless when it comes to all needle vs thread endeavors, I bet I could draft the pattern with relative ease.

A fitted sweetheart bustier-style bodice with thick straps –adjustable to either tie as a halter or attach criss-cross at the back via hidden buttons– would give way to a wide set-in waist and blossom out to a very full skirt just below the knee.

Something like these from Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring 2012 rtw show, except you know, not see through or a two-piece. Okay, at least not a two-piece.

Yes, I realize I could get this made in China for practically no money.

Heck I could probably buy it off eBay for less than the materials might cost me, but there’s a wonderful woman I’ve come to know here and when it rains her whole family sleeps huddled together because it’s the only place where the corrugated tin ceiling doesn’t leak.


She has agreed to make me some dresses, I just have to provide her with the fabric.

I’m not sure whether she’ll want a pattern as well, I assume she does, which is why I’m coming to you.

Will someone, anyone, point me in the direction of a true plus-sized pattern that fits my specs? Heck, will someone point me in the direction of any plus size patterns at all that aren’t unendurably mumsy and frumped out? I know they’ve got to be out there. Vintage reproductions maybe?

Barring that, does anyone have a place they particularly like for apparel-quality fabric?
I’m particularly looking for retro or novelty prints. A girl’s got to have a sense of whimsy, right?

I’d be forever in your debt.


  1. I wouldn’t count on her actually ‘needing’ a pattern…seamstresses often have a knack of being able to cut & fit a dress freehand, just futzing with the fit to make it perfect later down the line.

    Be very very VERY careful about using true vintage sewing patterns…the sizing is not consistent with modern RTW (ready to wear) sizing and the ‘big 4’ (Vogue, McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity) pattern companies sizing isn’t too hot either-but they often reproduce vintage style patterns in modern fits, so have a look

    For fabrics, most retro/vintage prints tend to be quilting cottons (don’t do it, I beg of you). BUT you can try places like etsy & ebay, I always search for ‘vintage x fabric’…try rayon (falls like soft cotton), you can get lots of cool 30’s &40’s rayons on ebay.

    Also try,, and for higher-end fabrics,, and .

    Failing that, you can try -they print people’s fabric designs and sell them too, so you can just noodle around on their site until you find a pattern you like, then choose what fabric you’d like it printed on.

    Finally, if you’re still stuck, try posting a query on The peeps on there are very clued-up (watch out though, there are some very sensitive souls on there that will bite your head off for the slightest infraction) and they should have some good recommendations for you.

    In case you wonder, yes, I do sew. A lot.

    Comment by Madame Suggia — March 27, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  2. Take a look at Colette patterns – the Parfait dress has a similar bodice to the picture on the right. They go up to size 18 (46″ bust, 38″ waist, 48″ hip).
    I’ve never used any of their patterns, but Hot Patterns ( range from size 6 to 26.
    Burda produces some plus size patterns (up to Euro size 60, I think).
    Hope that helps!

    Comment by maryann — March 27, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  3. Here’s a Simplicity Pattern that might work . . .

    And also, you can’t go wrong with a cotton jersey, in fact, that’s what this dress calls for and mood has some great retro designs . . .

    Comment by Kat — March 27, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  4. I knew I had some fabric place bookmarked because they had fun stuff.

    Comment by Kelly Girl — March 27, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  5. Ms. Plumcake, I polled my vintage friends, and one told me to get you in touch with her. She’s a vintage seamstress in the LA area who has worked with various sizes and can help you with your pattern questions:
    She also recommends

    Comment by Monica — March 27, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

  6. I sew all my clothes and almost all of them are quilting cottons. The key to using quilting cottons in garment sewing is finding the right print and right quality. I buy most of my fabrics at or To start off with, look at Micheal Miller and Alexander Henry prints. Most of the retro reproduction dresses/rockabilly dresses that aren’t horrid polyester are made from Alexander Henry tattoo prints. Butterick has a wide selection of 40s/50s reproduction patterns, but they are more modest than the dresses you posted. Vogue also has some reproduction patterns, but they tend to be more difficult to sew and take a lot more fabric. has patterns that go up to a size 46bust but because they are more authentic than rockabilly, they’re also more modest. has some evening gown patterns that would make great sundresses, but your seamstress would have to know how to grade the patterns.

    Comment by Andrea — March 27, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

  7. Oh Miss Plumcake. I’m a costume designer and big fan of yours. A couple of my favorite online fabric sources are: (which has a whole silk novelties department!) and
    Both sell ends/ extra bolts of designer apparel fabrics at very nice prices.

    If you have your heart set on capital-N Novelty, which sometimes we all do, look at . Many (though not all– double check before you buy) are home dec weight, which means they have more substance than quilting cotton and hang/ wash more like apparel fabric.

    Comment by Rachel — March 27, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

  8. I too sew a lot. :)

    For fabric, some of my favorite online spots are, Vogue Fabrics, and Fabric Mart. If you are really wanting retro/novelty prints, you are going to find more options in quilting fabric, but the dress you end up with might not be quite what you like. The drape & quality of quilting fabrics is not like what most RTW clothes is made from.

    For a pattern, I second the repro vintage options from Butterick or Vogue, although your seamstress will need to know how to adjust for the fuller bust that is common in plus-size figures. All commercial patterns from the big companies are designed for a B-cup bust (i.e. if you pick the size that corresponds to your bust measurement, that pattern is designed for B-cup boobs and HUGE LINEBACKER SHOULDERS/RIBCAGE). Have you seen your seamstress’ work? Does she do a lot of fitted dresses for plus-size figures? One option you might consider, if you’re not sure how much of a fitting genius she is, is to start with having her make you a few skirts. These are a LOT easier to fit.

    Comment by Julia — March 27, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

  9. You can buy actual vintage sewing patterns on eBay, which may actually be a better bet for the plus sized than modern patterns.

    Comment by Jen Anderson — March 27, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  10. Erin at Dress a Day would be of help, here, too:

    You can search for pattern and fabric advice.

    It’s my understanding that most vintage patterns are designed for the kind of underwear that people tended to wear when they were made. I mean, imagine Joan on Mad Men in one of those dresses without a big ol’ bra, a girdle, and a full slip, right? Unless you’re willing to commit to the underwear, I’d avoid vintage patterns and go with retro/vintage style dresses but modern patterns, if that’s the look you’re going for.

    Comment by Jezebella — March 27, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

  11. Several vintage Vogue patterns have been upsized to reflect actual plus sizes. Would something like this work?

    Comment by M — March 28, 2012 @ 12:11 am

  12. I was going to chime in here too – I’m also a costume designer in the SJ Bay Area of California – you have got a lot of good ideas posted here and I’m not sure you can do better than these. You might check out a local fabric store or two – many times they have some cards of some local excellent dressmakers and seamstresses. That might be another way to go. In most any town, city, etc – there are some lovely local unsung experts that would make your day and theirs!

    Comment by Kathleen O'Brien — March 28, 2012 @ 2:46 am

  13. This isn’t exactly on point, but your description of the shape you are looking for seemed to match many of the dresses at Whirling Turban, which does beautiful vintage reproductions (I’ve been so tempted by them…) This might give you at least the images of the sort of shapes you are looking for, and the proprietor offers her dresses in up to a 3X in some of the patterns! I have nothing to do with the site, except loving to browse it, but hope it’s of use.

    Comment by RZS — March 28, 2012 @ 9:30 am

  14. I am just learning to sew myself, but I second the person who suggested you check out The other rec I have for you is I haven’t tried any of their fabric but I hear VERY good things, and you can design your own pattern, if you like.

    Comment by Gryph — March 28, 2012 @ 10:32 am

  15. Sewing from a pattern is a skill that your seamstress may not have. It would be much easier for her to copy a dress of yours that you like. Details like neckline and sleeves should be easy for her to change – but getting the bodice fitted is tricky.

    You want the first dress she makes for you to be a trial run, out of some not-too-expensive cloth. Don’t get out your fabulous cloth until you have seen her make a dress you like.

    You might find cloth of sufficient retro fabulosity at
    or at

    Good luck!

    Comment by Pamela — March 28, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

  16. I will second the recommendation to look at Colette patterns (more for the sake of anyone else reading this in the Future.) They go up to a solid 18 and unlike the big pattern companies they are drafted for a C cup, so some sewists will be able to avoid a full bust adjustment. The instructions are very clear and the patterns are rated for beginner/novice/intermediate/etc. The company also has a very, very good blog with fitting and detail tutorials.

    Comment by Rebekka — March 28, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  17. I have wanted to tell you about Burda Plus patterns for years!
    It’s a German magazine, but their instructions are available in multiple languages. I notice on the site, they also have download-able patterns as well. Their fashion is actually fashionable, not at all frumpy, and they do know their way around the plus-size figure.

    Comment by pamici — March 28, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

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