Sewing, What I wear

A Miramar Gothic Dress

A Miramar Gothic Dress

Some of the most popular sewing classes I teach are focused on sewing with knits: lots of experienced sewers have never worked with knits, and knits are a great next step for beginner sewers.  I teach classes on T-shirts, knickers & leggings, but the first two can  be fairly fussy & stressful for beginners (bindings are tricky!), and they are all really pragmatic.   I wanted to be able to offer a REALLY easy class with no bindings or set-in sleeves, for a knit garment that could be  practical  or glamorous, and winter or summer appropriate.

So, playing around with this idea, and riffing off a couple of tops I’ve owned and loved over the years, I came up with the Miramar dress and top.  It’s got cut-on sleeves, a flattering V-neck, and can be as fun or elegant as you want, depending on fabric.  Plus, with just two pattern pieces, it goes together quickly.

Quickly is where this dress comes in.  Mr D & I were heading down to Nelson for his grandfather’s 90th birthday back in July, and I needed something to wear to the party, and the weather prediction was for COLD.  Cold and I are NOT  friends.  So I needed something dressy, glamorous, and WARM.

I’d just finalised the pattern for the Miramar dress, and I realised that a long version of the dress would be perfect.  I had a couple of meters of  merino-silk blend  knit in graphite (yum!), I could wear merino leggings and a merino undershirt underneath, my Capelet of Yay over it, and be elegant and snuggly.

When did I realise all of this?  At 11:30pm on Friday night.  With our flight leaving Wellington at 11am the next morning.

So…rush time!

I laid out the fabric & pattern pieces Friday night, traced out the alterations for a longer skirt, and went to bed.

On Saturday morning I popped up at 8:30, whizzed through all the seams, hemmed the dress (slightly shorter than I should have – sigh) tried it on, and had a little panic.  In my haste I’d nicked the seam allowances in the upper arm while cutting, so had to cut the sleeves slimmer, and since the knit didn’t have quite as much vertical stretch as the pattern was drafted for (it had none, in fact!) my upper arms were snug little immovable sausages.  Ergh.

Brainstorm!  Slice off the seam allowances to shoulder, grab length of black lace trim, insert lace along sleeve allowances (note to self: never attempt to insert lace into a closed sleeve again), re-hem sleeves, admire wider sleeves.

It worked!

And we made our flight in time and I wore the dress to the dinner and was almost warm enough.

As I’d been cutting and sewing the dress I thought to myself that the silhouette was quite medieval, as was the very simple construction.  In the black merino silk, with black lace insets, the dress felt like a lost garment from the gothic phase I never went through, so was instantly dubbed the Miramar Gothic dress.

And obviously, if I had a Miramar Gothic dress, I needed to do an American Gothic style photoshoot!

I thought about finding a house in Miramar in Gothic Revival, or at least bungalow-y style to shoot in front of, and posing with Mr D, but I would also need a photographer, a pitchfork (or whatever we decided was the appropriate Miramar equivalent), AND a cooperative Mr D, and it was all just too hard.

Plus, I’ve always agreed with the female model that the painting depicts a man and his daughter. Pity my Dad is in Hawaii and I can’t pose with him, because he’d be a great sport about it.

But wait….

My dad is in Hawaii, but there IS a statue of him in Miramar…

…Or at least, a statue that would be a dead ringer for him if he grew out his beard really long and wore robes and capes and carried a wizard’s staff!

Wait, what?

Yep.  My dad looks a LOT like Ian McKellan, and hence, my dad looks like Gandalf.  If we dressed him up and hung out in  front of Weta Cave and near the LotR filming spot in Mt Vic I bet we could get a bunch of tourists REALLY excited on a daily basis.  He’d have to keep his mouth shut though, because I think the American accent might give the game away.

But, without a dad to pose with, there is at least a Gandalf statue in front of the Roxy Cinema in Miramar, so after breakfast on Saturday Mr D & I headed down to try to recreate American Gothic.

Here’s how we did:

A Miramar Gothic Dress

I should really be looking slightly to my left, and Gandalf should be holding his staff between us, but not too bad!  He does look suitably stern.  And it’s certainly very Miramar!

We only had a few minutes to pose because 1) it was COLD (as as mentioned, I’m not good at cold), and 2) the queue of tourists started giving us dirty looks for hogging the statue, so I had to move off and let them get their photos with it.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

After a stint in the car with the heater blasting to take my hands back from purple to normal-ish human colours, we went a few blocks further up Park Road to where some awesome person has painted an electricity shed to look like a bookshelf.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

I posed in front of the shed for as long as I could stand, having fun reading the book titles (lots of classics, books relevant to the Miramar film industry, and other Miramar relevant books & documents, including The Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika Claims Settlement Act 2009, and a binder of power bills.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

I’ve made a couple of changes to the dress since Granbob’s dinner, which you can see in the photos.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

The lace looked gorgeous and worked, but was itchy, so I replaced it with a strip of the merino silk that runs from sleeve to sleeve, across my shoulders.  It twists across my arms in a really interesting way, which I quite like.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

Because the strip runs across my back, it created extra fullness at the back of the dress, so I took that in with a series of small tucks.

A Miramar Gothic Dress

I’ll tell you about the belt I’m wearing with my dress in my next post.

A Miramar Gothic Dress



  1. What a delightful post! Has everything. Really fetching and easy to wear dress. Good bit of last minute day-saving sewing – I do like the silk you put in later – the lace would look lovely, but this is more versatile. Interesting bit of family background – your father looks like Ian McKellen! Wow! Great NZ Gothic photo shoot! AND a really good mural of a bookcase with actual book titles instead of squiggles.

    Happy sigh.

  2. That dress really suits you! (I’d look horrid in it.) I love the first picture of you with the bookshelf. Well done.

    • Thank you! I bet we could make a version that suited you – it changes so much with the fabric. Every single student who has made a Miramar dress or top so far has looked smashing in it. 😀

  3. I got to wondering how many places have statues of fictional characters. I mean outside of mythology and legends. I do know of at least one in the Czech Republic, but it’s not that common…
    And I never would have thought of that (how could I?), but I do see a family resemblance now. 😀
    Anyway, back to the dress. 🙂 I really like the effect of the additional tucks (and strip). It’s just enough to make a super-simple dress special. I think, though, that I would now like to know what it looks like with the capelet. 😉

    • Yep. The more I look at Gandalf the more I look like Gandalf. Hilarious! I don’t know what the rules on wizards and women and progeny in Middle Earth are, except that Pratchett is clearly mocking them 😉

      Fictional character statues. That is an interesting question! I’m not sure I really consider the Gandalf one a ‘proper’ statue. It’s more of a prop – very commercially focused, kwim?

      Of course there is the Little Mermaid statue, and Napier has Pania of the Reef (coincidentally, I’m certain I have a photo of me in the Capelet of Yay with Pania from Art Deco Weekend – I’ll dig that up and post it on FB!)

      The first other thing that came to mind was Paul Bunyan, and yup, there are a number of those: There is a Peter Pan statue:,-fountains-and-statues/the-peter-pan-statue. And and Alice in Wonderland statue:

      And obviously, there are THOUSANDS of statues of gods & goddesses & allegorical figures around the world – I guess it’s whether you consider Kwan Yin, Apollo, Venus, Victory, Marianne and the lot as fictional or not 😉

      • No, I was thinking in terms of “not coming from oral tradition”. 😀
        The Czech example I was thinking of – it turns out there are several – is Jára Cimrman, a fictional Czech genius usually down on his luck from a series of humorist plays (and other media) that’s evolved into a sort of national hero (in the TV poll “Greatets Czech”, originally run by the BBC in Britain I believe, he was leading the polls before the finals and was disqualified on the basis of being fictional, to the disappointment of many Czechs). The running joke in all those statues seems to be that no one actually knows what he looked like.

        Wizards in Middle Earth are rather complicated and I’m not sure it’s what Pratchett is mocking – actually, I am reasonably sure that it’s something else he’s poking fun at, because his wizards are different? Going by the existence of Lúthien as a daughter of an elf and a Maia, I think technically it should be possible… whether Tolkien would have considered it at all is another question.

    • HoiLei says

      Was Molly Malone a fictional character? There’s a statue of her in Dublin, Ireland.

    • I believe that Minneapolis has statues of the Peanuts characters, because Schultz is from there. Albuquerque erected a Heisenberg statue sitting on a bench from the show Breaking Bad. Tourists love to pose.

      While not civic, many American McDonald’s locations have a Ronald McDonald statue sitting on a bench for kids to sit next to.

    • There is also a Pollyanna statue in the hometown of Eleanor H Porter. Eyes bright and arms outstretched with gladness, of course!

  4. I need this dress pattern! It sounds wonderful and you look wonderful in it! Are you coming out with the pattern at any point? 🙂

  5. Shucks, you missed out on doing Gothic stuff. (Although Hawaii is a bit hot for black. I always wondered how those immaculate Japanese tourists kept their makeup and clothes looking so glamourous!) It was fun, and one of the few permissible ways to dress creatively.

    • I don’t feel bad that I missed out on being a goth! I’ve dressed however I wanted all my life. I wasn’t worried about ‘permissible’ when it came to dressing creatively 😉

  6. Oh, and could you add a stripe of silk toward the bottom layer to get it the longer length you want?

    The stripe reminds me of a racing stripe, or a go-faster stripe. Almost like you’re wearing a fantasy track suit!

    • I’ve thought of the stripe of silk – I’ll see if I get motivated enough 🙂 I like the racing stripe aspect of the design as well!

  7. I love the dress! For those of us in the U.S., thus unable to attend your class, is there any way you can share your pattern?

  8. I like the way the extra strip of fabric moves around your arm too. There’s an opportunity for some fun colour blocking there. The tucks you put in are a nice little detail too.

    • Thank you! I have a love/hate relationships with the tucks. They are a nice detail, but on my body they are also a bit frumpy – it’s the sort of detail that looks great on someone with a lot of curves, but not me.

  9. For whatever it’s worth, the models in American Gothic weren’t related in any way. The man was (if I remember correctly) Grant Wood’s dentist. The woman was his sister. He felt so badly about doing such an unflattering portrait, that he made it up to her with Portrait of Nell.

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