The Merida Dirndl

Last spring I sort of started The Disney Dirndl Challenge, as a way to bring “the flair, cut, construction and finishing techniques of historical clothing, and the magic of Disney costumes, into real life”. Now, I suppose a dirndl is a far cry from what most people wear on a daily basis, but for me, only the apron is any real difference to my normal style. Snug bodiced and full skirted  jumper dresses are a staple in my wardrobe.

As I happened to have the perfect materials at home already, my first Disney dirndl is inspired by Merida from Brave. I confess she’s not one of my favourite characters – I never was the rebellious teenager, nor a tomboy. Still, her outfit is gorgeous, so I was happy to make a dirndl inspired by it.

The most difficult thing was not the sewing, though that did trip me up once or twice, but trying to channel Merida’s personality for the pictures, and to get her wild hair. As expected I failed spectacularly at the hair, and didn’t quite get he personality down, but I found the perfect location for the shoot: where better than at a gigantic target?

Nearly everything I used for this dirndl was repurposed or upcycled, and the few bits and bobs that weren’t were already in my stash:

  • The dress was originally a curtain from IKEA, picked up at a charity shop. They only had the one, so I had to piece the skirt to get the fullness I wanted, and there is a faded line or two from the folded hem of the curtain. I wouldn’t have minded the skirt a smidge longer, but this was the best I could do with the material available.
  • The blouse was one I got in the same charity shop and made new sleeves for. I totally cheated with this, as it’s a full length blouse, not a cropped one, but I needed an ordinary blouse and didn’t have the time right then to make a dirndl blouse from scratch.
  • The apron used to be a maternity dress that I made years ago from mystery fabric from another charity shop, probably a cotton blend. There’s a bit of the material left, so I’m planning on making a cropped dirndl blouse from the top of the butchered dress, and perhaps a headscarf from a piece of the fabric that never even got used in the original dress.
  • The lining of the dress bodice and facing on the skirt hem used to be this plaid dress, now worn out, but the fabric was still good enough to be used as lining. The hook-and-eye tape from this dress was also repurposed for the dirndl.
  • The buttons on the dress used to sit on an old winter coat I made long ago. Funny story: quite contrary to my normal habit I tossed the coat without first removing the buttons. I realised my mistake late at night but had to wait until morning to go and retrieve the coat. Luckily the bin man hadn’t been yet, so the buttons were saved.

I didn’t use a commercial dirndl pattern but used the bodice of the plaid dress mentioned above as a starting point, adjusting the neckline and waistline a little. I flatlined it for stability and put piping in many of the seams for sturdiness and visual interest. I love the look of piping but find it tellldious to sew. For this dress it was worth the effort. I also pushed he shoulder seams well back. I like how it looks, and find it more comfortable than having seams at the top of my shoulders.

I argued with myself about whether I should bone the bodice or not but decided against it in the end. It doesn’t sit as good without boning, but is more comfortable, and as I still curl up with my youngest to nurse several times a day, comfort is a good thing. Besides, Merida would not use boning if she could avoid it.

When procrastinating making buttonholes, I embroidered a tag and put it in the bodice lining. Turned out quite nice, not that anyone will see it.

I secured the shank buttons with a cord, inspired by historical practices. It makes them sit straighter and makes them less prone to fall off as well.

I made bound buttonholes for them, for the first time in my life I might add. I wonder why we never covered that in my sewing classes in high school? I hadn’t intended to do bound buttonholes at first, but when making a stitched buttonhole on a scrap piece for a trial, it turned out ghastly. Stitched buttonholes did not agree with this fabric, so I had to rethink. I like how it came out with the bound ones, though I can still improve.

As the bodice is very tight and I didn’t want to put too much strain on the buttons, I made a half lining that closed with hooks and eyes – I totally nicked that trick from historical dresses. The fact that it takes all the strain makes it a lot easier to close the buttons too. Buttons is a pain in tight clothing, and if you don’t think so you haven’t worn tight enough bodices 😉

The traditional way of constructing dirndl skirts is from straight panels, pleated or stroke gathered to the bodice, but this fabric was a bit on the stiff and heavy side for that to look nice. Instead I made it from four flared panels, with the top still wide enough to be pleated to the bodice, but with less bulk than would have been the case with straight panels.

I put a big pocket in each side seam – that is one of the best things about making your own clothes, providing them with decent sized pockets. Big pockets is also one of any reasons I like full skirts: if need be I can put so much stuff in them without it showing on the outside.

The hem was faced with a bias strip of the lining fabric, minimising bulk and loosing as little length as possible. I love faced hems and use them all the time.

The apron was stroke gathered using a strip of gingham backing as a guide. It also served as a “plumper”, making the gathers fuller, well needed as the fabric was so thin.

The apron ended up entirely hand sewn. I pieced the ties as the material I repurposed wasn’t quite long enough. I think I’ll have to cut one of the ties shorter though, as I tie them to one side the difference in length become too great to be aesthetically pleasing.

I’ll see how many looks I can get from this dress (both with and without the apron), and here’s the second one: same as above, but with neater boots, hair worn up and a cosy cardigan.

I think I prefer this look, to the one above, though it’s a close race. Which is your favourite? Would you make a dirndl inspired by a fandom character or phenomenon?

5 thoughts on “The Merida Dirndl

  1. Hi, thank you for showing all the pictures to the world. It helped me muster up the Courage to start sewing my first hand sewn dress.


  2. Sew Pretty. I wish I need more clothes


  3. your craftsmanship is impeccable!!


  4. I love dirndls and I think you did a great job on yours. I used to wear them all the time. I had a beautiful embroidered one when I was pregnant. I should make a new one, but I’m so unhappy with my weight right now it’s hard. I love the Disney dirndl challenge and I love seeing them made well.


  5. So pretty! Smart move to have the extra hidden closure.


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