Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Stitches in a Dress

I know this isn't a TiLT.  I will get back on that bus next week but I still have so much catching up to do after my own wedding it is still insane.

This is the Epic Blog post about me and the most recent wedding dress I completed for my brother's fiancee.  Before my wedding we had discussed her and they had sent me links for some things that they liked.  Then as we got closer the link for their favorite dress was no more.  In hindsight I should of just taken a screen shot and made a JPEG to keep in my Evernote files.

Anyways we found a J-crew one that she also keen on.  It took me about 18 hours of time to complete over a week and a lot more hand sewing then I had expected because she wanted some extra draping that wasn't part of the original dress.  The dress is a silk crinkle chiffon strapless sweetheart.  

A little background, we never had time between my wedding and theirs to meet in person for a fitting.  The only fitting we did was a muslin mockup of the bodice which I mailed to them and they tried it on over the Xbox 360 Kinect so I could see her full body and proportions. 

For a strapless dress of any kind you start with the interior structure.  You need to make sure that this puppy stays up and holds all your bits and pieces in as well.  I had an inner portion with boning sewn in for support.  If I was hardcore I would of used Steel boning with casing.  I think that would of been a little too heavy for the fabrics in this dress.  Rigilene boning is also convenient and sturdy.  The inner lining with the boning gets sandwiched between another outer lining, the silk and another layering of lining that goes on the the inside.  
A lot of times when doing corsets if you muslin was a good mockup they will sew the casing and boning to that as your insert for support.
These are the lining fabrics and the silk Chiffon that I ordered
Whenever I get silk in the mail I'm always confused because the packages are so small and I am always making such voluminous garments from them.

You should already know this but before cutting anything out you always want to iron your fabric to make sure you aren't unintentionally make it bigger by cutting the fabric out with wrinkles.  Personally when I am working on such an important piece for a client I want full perfection wherever I can.  I will iron out the entire yardage of fabric that I am cutting on.
Also do not just cut off the amount you need from the entire yardage.  That is wasteful.  you want to keep the yardage together because you never know when you may need to do some shifting and adjustments.  Cutting off the extra 2" just adds up when you could of have plenty of extra yardage left over for another project if you hadn't of sliced it off to begin with.

After the ironing and laying out of the fabric I put my patterns down with fabric weights.  My center front pattern on the fold. I do not like pinning my fabric to my patterns.
Firstly because my patterns are of heavier stock (butcher paper or painters paper) so it is not very easy to pin through them.  Secondly every time you pin up the fabric it changes the shape  and pulls more the fabric so that you actually cutting slightly bigger from the pin ups.

I also make my patterns with no seam allowances.  I find it annoying and yes it might be extra work but I just use my clear ruler to add in my seam allowance each time.  Also if I am using the same pattern but for different people I can make better on the spot decisions of where I might want to grade a seam up a bit.  I also do a lot of pattern mixing for new designs since I already have a good bodice or pant pattern why would I want to make another one from scratch?  Leaving them without seam allowance allows me to be able to draft with them whenever I want to make an entirely new pattern and without having to worry about adjusting for the seam allowance.

Just to show you how sheer the silk was that I was working with and delicate!

When I am not using a fabric immediately I hang them up to help keep them from getting wrinkled.  It also helps to "settle" the fabric much like the foundation of a house.  Hanging the fabric let's it get all the threads in order and that also helps to ensure a better more accurate fit for when you cut it out for the garment.  I know it is a rule for Bias to let things hang on the Bias for 24 hours but I do it with my fabrics on the straight grain as well after ironing or pressing them.

Perfect example of why I don't use seam allowances on my pattern.  Here I am drafting the draping to go over the bodice on the dress.  Since it will be asymmetrical I needed to have both sides of the bodice traced.

Then I drew out how I wanted the fabric to be draped in the shape.

Then I increased the amount to account for the shirring or gathering that she wanted to go across the bodice.  This is all just guesstimating at this point.  There is no real good way to see in flat pattern what it will be like on the body until the muslin.

Which is what I did next.  In all seriousness when you are doing a muslin of something that you know is going to be a much lighter or heavier fabric then the muslin then you should do that mock-up in the same fabric as the final or a cheap alternative that is approximate to the same weight, feel or type of fabric (knit, woven, felt etc.)

After cutting the muslin and trying it on it seems to fit well.  Oh man was I ever wrong!  I should of really heeded my own advice and used and similar fabric to the silk because there was so much that just wasn't working quite right that I couldn't see because the muslin was so stiff and not falling properly. 

I measured out the changes I wanted to make and increased using the slash and spread technique in drafting.

I didn't like how high the bodice drape went for the gathering so I decreased it back to bit the bodice and then extended the gathering at the bottom.

Here are the completed adjustments that I made hoping against all that it would work out.

This is the bodice before the gathering pieces were attached. 
The pieces that I drafted did not fit at all!  This is one of those instances where no matter the good intentions and effort you put into drafting a pattern when it comes to something with a draped look it is just better and easier to go ahead and drape that cuss. 

I hand basted the edges of the fabric I was draping so it wasn't a total shot in the dark with the gathers and pinning.  There was an abundant amount of hand basting and gathering for this dress.  The silk was so delicate and I have not (unfortunately) invested in walking foot attachment for my sewing machine yet.  A walking foot would of made sewing a light fabric against the slippery lining a simple task.

Starting over and with draping

More Hand basting of the draped pieces on the the plain bodice to keep it together when the final sewing on the machine.

All the Layers lined up and pinned ready to be sewn.  There were 5 layers to make the bodice and at the waist seam there are 8 layers of fabric sewn together.  Everything was doubled lined due to how thin the silk was.

The completed draping with the hand basted and gathered skirt attached.
After the pieces of the draping and the skirt were sewn together with all the layers of lining and boning insets.  I would of shown you pictures here of the Zipper being installed but it was a mess.  Not done badly but the swaths of fabric layered all over my desk you couldn't even see the zipper.  It was also fighting me to stay in place with the lining and silk together.  It was yet another place where to get perfection I had to hand baste it in before machine sewing it. 

Sewing in the last back seam before working on the hem!

Oh the Hem! How fun it was for me.  I have fortunately worked in crinkle silk chiffon before and it is no fun kids.  you can't do a normal narrow rolled hem on the machine because the crinkle will make it stretch for day and if you stretch it too much you will have this weird extra wide hem stitch that floats at the bottom like hoop skirt boning.  You would hand roll and hand stitch in the hem but that also takes a long time.  Actually I don't think there is any clean and professional hem you can do a wedding dress without it taking a long time.  People might be tempted to do a rolled narrow serge stitch with wooly nylon but I feel that is just cheap looking and a cop out especially for a wedding dress.

What I did was I made my seam allowance for the hem 3".  I do a machine basting stitch across the bottom 1.5" from the end of the fabric (I also tore the fabric so it would all be on the same grain line instead of cutting it, that way I knew i was getting the right and even measurement all the way around.  Tearing the fabric is something you need to plan out and put into your pattern before you ever first cut any yardage. 

After the basting stitch I carefully press (not iron, which would be doing a back and forth motion across the fabric) the fabric on the basting stitch.  The Basting stitch serves as a guide and foundation for the hem.

After the first pressing is done I press it again so that the basting stitch is on the inside facing upwards. I used the basting stitch as my foundation for the hand blind hem stitch that I sew in. 

This is how the final pressing looks before I started the sewing. Which I also regrettably do not have photos of since it was about 1am on Wednesday night and I had work at 8am the next morning.  Trying to get things done on a deadline especially when it is such a momentous dress in someone else life is killer.

I played around with some ideas for the back since I was attached a mid section sash.  I didn't like the gap between the draped bodice top and the skirt gathering.  It just looked strange so I add the sash to make it all more cohesive.

The Finished dress on the form.  I didn't send the little rose.  I thought about it and the personality of my brother's fiancee and she isn't into cute little accessories.  She is very practical likes things simple on her

Here is the finished dress when she tried it on at arrival in the mail.  Not a bad job for never doing a fitting in person, I need to adjust the draping a little on the front to lay better and it was slightly too big but easy for me to take in.  I patterned this dress in a way so that I could easily take it in more or let it out.

I head for the wedding tomorrow morning in Madison Wisconsin with my sewing machine and hand needles ready to make the adjustments as soon as we arrive.
Wish me luck!


  1. Wow.Good job!
    I'm thinking about tackling making myself a silk crinkle chiffon dress,and this post should help a little.

    1. Thank you! It's hard to believe it was so long ago now but it was a good experience. Best of luck on your own dress endeavors!