Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nicola: Construction

Before I get into the details of construction on this dress, I thought I'd tell you a cute little story about the fabric.

Almost exactly two years ago, my friend Erika out in New Jersey made a lovely top from this same fabric.  When she posted it on her blog, I left a comment telling her I'd been looking at this print for months at my local fabric store here in Chicago, but hadn't let myself buy it.  She had only been able to buy one yard, and said she'd love to have more, so I offered to go pick some up and send it to her - and got myself the last 2 5/8 yards from the bolt as well!

OK - now on to the construction :-)

Fitting this pattern was one hurdle I had to get over to make this dress.  Getting over my apprehension about sewing with silk was the other!  It's funny - when I first got back into sewing about 3 years ago, I made lots of things out of the inexpensive silks I found at my local shop - successfully too!  And then I read on several blogs how "sewing silk is so hard" and "it's too easy to mess it up" and I kind of choked.  I thought maybe I wasn't doing it right, so I quit sewing with silk altogether.

But I love silk, and one of my unstated goals this year was to get over that fear and use some of the lovely pieces I've acquired over the last few years.  So I enrolled in the Sewing with Silks Craftsy class and started watching.

It's a good class and I'm glad I watched it.  There are lots of great tips given to help make sewing with silk a successful enterprise.  As I got ready to make this dress, I went back over my notes, and decided that these points were the most important:

1.  Cut all pieces single layer.
2.  Make sure the fabric is perfectly square and true, and then measure to ensure that the pattern piece grainline is exactly matched to the selvedge. 
3.  Use a smaller gauge needle for lighter weight silks.
4.  Use silk thread if you can get it, and mercerized cotton thread if you can't.
5.  Use a short stitch length.

dress front - flat

For me, here's how those 5 points played out.

1.  In order to make cutting single layer easier, I made full-sized pattern pieces for all the pieces meant to be cut on the fold.

2.  I was lucky that this fabric tears cleanly across the grain, and I had started out with a torn edge.  For each piece I cut, I placed my fabric on my gridded cutting mat and held down the edges along two perpendicular lines with pattern weights.  Then I placed my pattern piece on the fabric and measured to make sure the grainline was parallel to the selvedge, and cut the piece out with my rotary cutter.  Before cutting the next piece, I tore the edge again to make a new straight angle, and re-trued the fabric on my cutting mat.  So it took me almost 3 hours to cut out and mark my pieces for this dress (including the lining and facings) - but it was worth it because having all the pieces perfectly on grain not only makes the dress hang well, but it was easier to sew.

3 & 4.  I was able to pick up Gutermann silk thread and universal needles in sizes 60, 65 and 70 at JoAnn's.  I use size 70 needles all the time for sewing cotton voile, so I thought I might want to use the 60 for this fabric.  But I couldn't get the silk thread through the eye!  So I used the size 65, and it worked just fine.  Also:  silk thread - mmmmmmm!  I wish it were appropriate to use it for everything!  It's so silky!

5.  I used a 2.2 stitch length throughout on this project, except for basting.

dress back - flat

This pattern is rated as beginner, and if you don't have to do any fitting adjustments or use a finicky fabric, it is quite easy to sew.  Of course, I changed a few things which made it more difficult for me. 

The pattern includes a piece for bias binding the sleeve hem, but for this fabric I felt I wanted a narrow rolled hem.  Now, I'm not great at doing these on straight hems.  Having to sew a narrow rolled hem on a curved edge like this sleeve meant that I spent a fair bit of time practicing before I moved on to the real sleeves!  They're still not perfect, but good enough in this busy print.

narrow rolled sleeve hem

As written, only the skirt of this dress is lined - and in quite an ingenious way, so that you don't have to sew the hem!  You sew the lining and outer skirts together at the side seams, and then sew the two pieces together all along the hem edge, right sides together.  Turn it out and understitch the lining to the seam allowance and you're done!

understitched hem

Once I had my bodice and lined skirt made, I started to feel that the weight of the skirt would be too much for the unlined bodice to bear.  The pattern only includes facings for the bodice, which I'd cut out in black.  I put the question out on instagram, and everyone who commented said "line the bodice."  I knew they were right, but I also knew that I couldn't get to the fabric store to buy more black silk for another 3 days, and I wanted to finish my dress!


But after I thought about it for a while, I remembered that I had some of the outer fabric left - I'd used quite a bit less than the recommended 3 yards, less even than the 2 5/8 yards I had.  I checked and realized that minus the facings, I had enough of my outer fabric to make up the lining.  So I used my facing and bodice pieces to draft linings - the bodice pieces minus the facings plus 1/2" for seam allowances of 1/4".  And I was back in business!


I constructed my bodice lining in the same way as the outer bodice, then sewed the facings to the neck edge all the way around as instructed in the pattern.  The pattern does not say to understitch the facing down, but of course I did because I didn't want the black to peek out at all.  Once I had the bodice attached to the skirt, I sewed the lining's sleeve openings and waist to their respective seam allowances by hand for a clean finish.




The pattern recommends using a buttonhole and button as closures at either side, but I decided that since there's a fair chance I'd be wearing this dress with a belt, I didn't want any buttons to be in the way.  Instead, I chose to use plain old metal snaps, sewing them on with this couture technique presented by Susan Khalje that I'd come across some time ago.


Those snaps are on there to stay, and I find it incredible that although the dress is only two thin layers of silk held together with two small metal snaps, I don't feel in any way exposed when I wear it!


24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this lovely post about the construction of this dress, you've done a beautiful job with it.

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    1. Thank you, Sam. Since I did a few things differently from the pattern, I wanted to make sure to describe what I did.

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  2. So lovely . . . and thanks for the sewing on snaps tutorial. I haven't been happy with the security of my snaps / fasteners!

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    1. Thank you! Isn't it great? When I first saw the video, I thought, "Of course! Makes perfect sense!" This was my first time using that method, and I will be doing it this way from now on.

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  3. It's so cool how you can make yourself custom sized dresses. It's so discouraging for me to try something on at the store and not having it fit. Me and my mum are gonna work on some skirts for moi. I wanted some with more structure. Maxis show too many lumps and bumps.

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    1. It is cool! It took me a few years to get here, but I'm so glad I don't have to be content with the ill-fitting RTW clothes any more if I don't want to be!

      And not all the maxis show the lumps and bumps - you can make them so they flatter YOU! I think you would totally rock the maxi!

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  4. The insides of your dress are so tidy. You could almost wear it inside out! And I'm going to use that snap sewing technique from now on - I had a hook fall off last month that I thought I'd sewn really securely - time to fix it.

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    1. Thank you! Actually, if it were sleeveless, I probably could! It would be a whole different look with the black facings and lining!

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  5. You did an amazing job, well worth the wait! I love my fabric so much I'm still debating what to make lol

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    1. Thanks, Erika! I love this fabric too, as you know! I dreamed about this dress for so long, it took a while for it to sink in that I actually had made it! I know that whatever you decide to make, it will be gorgeous.

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  6. this is such a beautifully constructed dress! good call to make full size pattern pieces for cutting, it makes it all so much easier!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! The full-sized pieces really do make it easier. I often flip my half-pieces from one side to the other when I cut knits single layer, but for a dress this special, I didn't want to take any chances on the fabric shifting!

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  7. Loved reading this. It was very useful, full of things that are new to me.I like to know how to make the inside of the dress better.

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    1. Thank you, Erin! That's why I write such lengthy posts - some of it is always bound to be helpful to somebody!

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  8. Gail I tip my hat to your beautiful craftsmanship and dedication to such a beautifully finished garment! I found by accident that a shorter stitch length is nice for silk-cotton too - less puckery!

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    1. Thank you! You know, my machine is pre-set at a 2.2 stitch length, so when I turn it on that's what I get. It was really nice to not have to change it for once!

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  9. This looks so beautiful inside and out ( and your rolled hems look perfect to me)!

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    1. Thank you! Of course, I chose to photograph the perfect parts of the hem ;-) Luckily for me, all the imperfect parts fell on the very curved part, which is under the arm and less visible.

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  10. Your dress is beautiful. I love the shapes of the sleeves and the skirt. It's so flattering, and the fabric is gorgeous. It's interesting to read about the construction too.

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    1. Thanks, Lynne! I think this is such a fantastic design!

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  11. I love this thorough post! Thanks for sharing your tips! The skirt lining construction is so interesting- I'll have to try that on a future dress sometime!

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  12. My goodness, this dress really is lovely. I have been sewing with silk a bit recently, for the first time, and except for hemming find it to be relatively easy. I feel like I'm missing something...

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! I feel so pretty when I wear it! You're right - it's really not too hard to sew with silk if you take your time and know a few tricks.

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