Lessons From Mary Poppins: The Good of A Sloper (or trusty pattern)

I had a blast making our Mary Poppins Halloween costumes for our family this year and thought that some of you might find the process I went through for each costume interesting and maybe potentially useful.

Let’s start with the Mary Costume.

The pieces: white sleeveless under dress, lacey white over dress, waist band, ribbon neck

The lesson that the Mary Poppins costume taught me was a good sloper or trusty pattern will save you lots of work. If you don’t know what a sloper is, it’s more or less a basic pattern that fits your own body that you can use to make many different patterns from. A while back I made one for my basic torso measurements and one for a bodice with a high waistline (since that’s mostly the kind of dress I make). Before I scare all you newbie sew-er or non sew-ers with my sloper craziness I wanted tell you what I did since a sloper is kind of an advance sewing thing. It sounds scary but really it’s not too bad and like many things with sewing trying it out will really teach you a lot. And even if you aren’t up to making your own custom pattern (or sloper) from scratch.

Here’s what I did in a nut shell for Mary.

  • Pulled out my sloper (aka basic trusty bodice pattern). I added a little more room to the side seams since I wanted to be able to slip it on and didn’t want to waste money on a zipper.
  • I cut the pattern out of the fabric I would use for the lining. And sewed it with a basting stitch.
  • After trying it on to make sure it fit I cut it out of the satin and pulled out the basting stitched. I sewed the bodice together.
  • I cut a basic skirt out and attached it to bodice. After trying it on I finished the hem on my serger with a simple rolled edge. The completed the under dress.
  • I used the same basic pattern for the over dress but I didn’t sew in the darts (I left them loose). Before closing up the back I added ruffles to the front.
  • For the ruffles I made some strips and serged the edge (on a rolled edge setting) in red.
  • I gathered up the strips by sewing a basting stitch and pulling then I just laid them on the front of the bodice and sewed them to the front.
  • Now with the sleeves and the neck it was kind of what I call guerrilla sewing. Just baste and cut and baste and sew. I should have just traced the sleeve off of one of my shirts but I freehanded a sleeve pattern that ended up being huge. I basted the top together including the sleeves and they were gigantic around so I basted a few times taking it in and when I was happy with how it fit I cut off the extra and resewed everything with a regular stitch. For the neck I just sewed a piece of fabric that I had serged the edge in red to the top of the neckline and luckily it worked.
  • I serged the edge of the sleeves in red too. They were too long which was fine, I ended up just folding them back instead of trying to make them the “right length”
  • I attached a basic skirt and the over layer was done.
  • Next I did the waist band. I basically made a simple belt with a little V in front. I used my 1/8 inch elastic gathering technique for the back. (I’ll show you how to do this when I talk about my niece’s Jane Banks dress). I didn’t want to by a separating zipper (not even sure if they make them that short) and I was never that velcro would just keep coming undone and not sure how buttons would work so this was easier enough just to make it stretchy and slip it on.
  • After cutting a piece of ribbon for the neck I was set.

This costume took me about 3 hours from beginning to end. It’s not perfect at all. In fact it’s VERY imperfect. the underskirt is longer than the over skirt in places, the band is too loose, and the neck is weird so I kept on having to adjust the ribbon. Could I have fixed those things? Sure but it was a costume I wore for a weekend and most of the time I was moving so no one was inspecting everything and it was great for that.

Okay that was kind of long so I’ll save my sloper making for later this week. But the lesson from Mary is that when you find a pattern for a basic shape that fits you well keep it close and use it and tweak it when you can.

UPDATE: read part II of The Good of a Sloper here.

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