Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.

The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.


This design focuses on bias strips appliquéd to the garment structure. In the book, Adams talks about the straight-up-and-down, shapeless dress styles of the 1920’s coming to an end when French designer Madeleine Vionnet introduced the bias-cut gown, a dress made to drape and accentuate a woman’s contours. Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo helped make the look famous. It was Adams’ discovery of bias tape that makes this design particularly unique. When she learned that the edges of bias-cut fabric will not fray or unravel, Adams began cutting strips of fabric on the bias (essentially making her own bias tape) and sewing them onto dresses as appliqué pieces. The result was a colorful, textural display of patterns and distinctive expression.


Our Party Skirt is similar to the Alabama Chanin Basic Wrap Skirt in the way it is made; however, constructed with significantly more fabric, so it’s much fuller and heavier. This version hits mid-calf instead of above the knee, like our Wrap Skirt. The appliqué strips Adams used are cut on the bias. Adams explains that bias-cut strips won’t unravel, but she also mentions that fabric cut on the bias will wrap around a garment more easily. Cotton jersey, by nature, does not fray or unravel, and when constructing a skirt from a circle pattern, strips that have been cut on the bias will work up more easily and give a more uniform final product.


The Party Dress Book
2 yards for the base layer of 100% organic cotton jersey
1 yard each of three colors for the appliqués of 100% organic cotton jersey
2 spools each for base layer and appliqués of Button Craft thread
Rotary cutter, embroidery scissors, tailors chalk, ruler, needles

Follow the pattern for the skirt portion of the dress provided by the author in the back of The Party Dress Book. Cut bias strips according to the author’s directions on page 133. Appliqué these strips to skirt base layer using a straight stitch. Finish construction of skirt by sewing the two appliquéd pieces together, using a straight stitch and inside knots.

To sew the jersey ties, you will need to attach one inside tie and three outside ties. For a size small, sew tie #1 eight inches to the left of the back seam. For larger sizes, judge tie placement by how the skirt fits your body. On the outside, place tie #2 eight inches to the right of the back seam. Place ties #3 and #4 to each end of the waistband. Be sure to attach the ties before you sew the facing along the inside edges of the skirt, and finally, the binding along the waistband. You can also reference Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for details on stitching techniques.



Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Base layer – Black
Appliqué strips – Black, Dark Grey, Steel
Button Craft thread – Slate #26 and Black #2
Embroidery technique – appliqué
Knots – inside
Binding Stitch – straight

15 comments on “THE PARTY DRESS BOOK

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  1. Lisa P.

    Isn’t this just the most inspiring book? I love it, and I love her story of how she came to fashion design. It makes me feel like I can achieve quality in the sewing arena (and other creative endeavors, too), even if I came to it in a round-about way. I just started my own blog, and my first post was about a dress inspired by that book and yours. I used her pattern and your techniques to make a dress for a wedding I went to. Here is a link, in case you’d like to look: Discovering your books revolutionized the way I look at sewing. They made it both exciting, and achievable, just like Mary Adams’ book did. I can’t say thanks enough.

  2. Chuleenan

    Wow. This skirt looks absolutely amazing! This combines two of my favorite things – bias cut and mid-calf skirts! This looks like a great project to start. I’ve made the tunic, bolero, mid-calf skirt, and embroidered wrap (though no where near any many sprials on mine as the one in the book!) from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design book. I’ve got to check out The Party Dress book. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Debbie Williams

    Just ordered this book…can’t wait to read it! I am in the middle of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. I never knew that punctuation could be so entertaining and the illustrations are wonderful. Thank you for your AC reading list……..Greek and Turkish history have been my books of choice for two years and these books are a very gentle and delightful way to move on (<:

  4. Claudia

    I wore a Mary Adams dress for my commitment ceremony 16 years ago, and the dress is still as beautiful as it was that day. This combination of Alabama Chanin and Mary Adams is akin to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups – two great tastes that go great together! I’m totally psyched!

  5. marci

    I love the combination of styles, I was lucky enough to take a workshop with Mary Adams a couple of years ago. I made the apron type dress. I have always loved the bias dress and it may be time to make one. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Moushka

    Stunning skirt – what a happy melding of styles. I love that the skirt would be suitable for northern winters, too. The beautiful cotton jersey + thread would keep one cozy. AC fabric is wonderful!

  7. Angela

    Wow! Just found this the other day and ordered the book. I am going to make the dress in AC style of course. So amazing. I cannot wait to finish it and wear it. It will be so much fun to show it off 😉

  8. Anita Polak

    I’m a little confused as to how there is enough skirt to create a wrap skirt from a pattern that fits your waist. Did you make a larger size to accommodate the overlap? If so how much larger? Or did you make an additional skirt piece for a total of three? I’m sure I’m missing something but after checking the patten and rereading the instructions and this post I still can’t figure it out. I’d really appreciate some advice as I’m really excited about this project.

    1. Alabama

      We simply made a larger skirt to allow for this over-wrap. If you will measure the place where the skirt will be worn and add 5-6 inches of an overlap, this should be plenty of additional width to turn this skirt into a wrap – you may also add an extra panel of fabric if necessary to accommodate fit.