Monday, 30 July 2012

Fit for purpose

One of the benefits of making your own clothes (other than an excuse to buy fabric and do some sewing, of course) is that you can have clothes which fit you properly.

I am not a standard dress size. I have long arms and legs, but a short torso. As a result, ordinary dresses have several centimetres of excess bodice bunching on the top of my hips.

Bodice too long

Petite ranges help a bit, but there a still problems. Some are still too long. The range tends to be very limited, and the garment you loved in the shop window is never available in petite. Worst of all, because the entire garment is resized to petite, the sleeves are always far too short on me, giving a shrunk-in-the-wash look.

Sleeves too short

Making your own clothes means that you only need to alter the pattern pieces which need altering. However even then, a little caution is needed. Dress pattern pieces often have a horizontal line marked on them, to show where the piece can be shortened or lengthened. On bodice pieces this tends to be just above the waistline, as this is the simplest place to make the alteration. However I need to shorten pieces between the bustline and the shoulder. This is trickier as it frequently involves altering the armscye, and of course the sleeve if there is one.

Unfortunately I had a few dressmaking mishaps before I figured this out. Armholes on sleeveless tops were far too big, and some necklines ended up alarmingly low cut. In one case I had to add a pleated ribbon trim to the neckline of a dress, when I realised that it really wasn't suitable for wearing to the office!

My version did not look like the demure illustration!

If you are working with commercially available patterns, once you have worked out the alterations needed on one pattern you can usually just apply the same changes to other patterns of the same brand. This is because all the patterns, however different the finished garment, will have started from the same basic pattern, called a sloper. However different brands will use different slopers, and so may require different alterations to get the same fit.

For example, both the "if it can go wrong" dress and the purple dress are made from the same New Look pattern. They use completely different pieces for the bodice front, but the adjustment was the same for both of them. I could make the adjustment between the bust dart and the armhole, so I didn't need to alter the sleeves.

The 'tarantella' dress is being made from a Style pattern. To work out what alterations were needed, I first made a toile, or test version, of the upper part of the dress with a single sleeve. I then marked the waistline and bustline on the toile. The waistline was marked on the pattern pieces, but the bustline was not, so I had to guess where it was. Then it was a case of trying on the toile,looking to see where the waist and bust lines fell on me, and shortening the toile where necessary. Although the pattern was a little too long between the bustline and the waist, again most of the shortening was required between the bustline and the shoulder. This time however I made the adjustment higher up, partly to keep the neckline in the right place and partly because the toile just hung better that way. It also needed taking in a little at the waist and on the shoulders.

The toile, with alterations made

I redrew the pattern pieces with these adjustments in place, and redrafted the sleeve head in line with the reduced armhole. Now I'm ready to cut the dress out.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Why you should never hold a pin between your teeth

Click here to be instantly cured of a sewing bad habit.

The purple dress

After the trauma that was the "If It Can Go Wrong" dress, this one came together easily. Possibly the fact that I had plenty of both time and fabric helped!

I used New Look pattern 6000 again, but this time view C. I knew that I wanted some sort of contrast for the collar and cuffs, but I didn't want anything too pronounced. I considered some sort of overlay, but the solution was far more straightforward. The fabric I had bought was a lovely marrocaine crepe in a deep berry purple, with one side shiny and smooth and the other matt and textured. I simply used the fabric matt side out for the dress, and shiny side out for the collar and cuffs. Of course, using the same fabric meant that there were no issues with colour matching.

Matt dress with contast collar and cuffs

The pattern illustration showed the dress with buttons sewn on to collar and cuffs. Because the fabric was plain, and the lines of the dress quite simple, I decided to liven it up a bit by making hand-embellished buttons decorated with beading and embroidery. Unfortunately such details don't tend to launder well, so the solution was to make them removable.

The cuffs were easy. I made buttonholes on the front and back of the cuff, and cufflinks from self-cover buttons. These consisted of the embellished button at the front, and a slightly smaller button covered in plain fabric, matt side out, at the back. The two were fastened together with shirring elastic.

For the collar I made buttonholes at either end, and also in the dress itself, but not in the neck facing. This time the 'cufflink' was made from a large embellished button, and a flat, two-hole button at the back. This enables the fasten to lie smoothly on the dress, and the neck facing prevents the back button from rubbing against my skin.

Collar unfastened, showing the three buttonholes

I was so pleased with the buttons/cufflinks that I made a second set, this time plain. There is a picture of the dress with the plain buttons here.

Button 'cufflinks' - plain and embellished, double and flat

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The "If it can go wrong" dress

There are some projects which just don't want to work. More often than not, it's when there is a shortage of time or materials involved, and in this case I was short of both.

Along with some of the Ya Raqs girls I was going to a dance show where some of my costumes would be on display, and I decided that I really ought to wear a dress I'd made myself. I decided to use New Look pattern 6000. Unfortunately other projects got in the way, so I started rather later than planned. Things started to go awry when I pre-washed the material, as I always do. This was how I discovered that my idea of 'hand hot' water is hotter than the 30 degree wash recommended for the fabric. The black dye ran, badly. It was worse in some places than others; in some areas it was barely noticeable, whereas other parts were unusable. Unfortunately nowhere was there an unmarked stretch long enough for the main dress pieces.

Dye run disaster

There was however nearly enough, so I considered how and where to join the usable parts together. The plan I came up with was for a separate yoke, the width of the shoulder seams, edged with black piping. So that this wasn't the only place on the dress with piping, I decided  to add it to the bottom of the sleeves as well. I drew new pattern pieces and tried laying them out on the material. Bizarrely, given the state of the fabric, I was able to cut all the pieces so that the pattern matched perfectly along the piped join. There were a few areas where the colour run was apparent, but only if you looked closely.

I had never made and used my own piping before, and there were a few false starts and a lot of time wasted before I got this right. However I eventually got the yoke joined to the dress front and backs, and the sleeve ends piped and faced.

The next challenge was attaching the sleeves. This was where I began to regret making the yoke the full width of the shoulder seam. Setting in sleeves is always a bit tricky, and having the piping to negotiate as well would make it even worse. Fortunately, in a rare moment of things going well, I thought about this before I sewed the dress side seams up. Instead of setting the sleeves the usual way, I attached the flat sleeve pieces to the flat dress piece first, and then sewed the sleeve and side together in a single seam.

Because the fabric was such a bold pattern, I didn't want to detract from it with contrast stitching showing. This meant that the sleeve facings, hem and zip all had to be sewn in several different colours. Black, white, red and maroon threads were all used - not the best thing to be doing when you're short of time. However miraculously, the dress was finished in time, and I wasn't even sewing it in the hotel before the show!

The completed dress

When I got home I tried washing the remaining, stained bits of fabric in a 'colour run fix' product. It worked like a charm,  so I washed dress as well, and it came out sparkling. Obviously if I'd been thinking straight, I would have done this before I started cutting the dress out, but I don't think that the end result would have looked nearly as good. So despite everything that went wrong, the end result was right.

With the girls before the show

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Altering C's wedding dress

It is over eight years since Mr Tulip and I got married, and for various reasons I didn't wear a conventional wedding dress. As a result wedding dress fashions have passed me by, in particular the popularity of strapless dresses.

I only became aware of this when my friend A asked me if I would alter her daughter's wedding dress. C was getting married in an Edwardian country house and was planning a vintage, English tea party, theme for her wedding. In keeping with this she had wanted a wedding dress with sleeves, but couldn't find anything suitable. Instead she had bought a sleeveless dress from Mori Lee, and had A Plan.

The sleeveless dress had a train and was made from a very pale ivory satin, with the top part of the bodice made of tulle, and lace covering the entire dress. The lace formed a separate overskirt and was edged with a scalloped lace trim, and there was beading around the neckline and armholes. The dress needed shortening, and as well as the usual fitting alterations C asked if I could shorten the train a little and use the spare lace to make sleeves.

The original dress

Close-up of the bodice

As the dress required few fitting alterations, I started with the shortening of the dress and train. This was made more complicated by the fact that the scalloped edge of the lace overskirt had to be unpicked all the way round, and then reapplied.

The lace overskirt, and scalloped trim

The satin skirt of the dress was slightly shorter than the lace at the front, which showed off the lace edge and also showed the shoes.

When C brought the dress for the first fitting, I asked her to bring the shoes she would be wearing with it. She had not found any wedding shoes that she liked, so instead had bought a pair of metallic leather evening shoes. They were lovely, but there was nothing to link them to the dress, so I suggested altering the beaded trim to include some beads the same shade as the shoes. C liked the idea, and felt that it also added to the vintage feel of the dress.

C's shoes

For the sleeves I bought some tulle which matched that on the dress bodice, and used this and the lace from the shortened train to make cap sleeves. The sleeves were shaped so that the lower edge was in line with the top of the satin part of the bodice. Finally, I removed the beading from the upper part of the armhole, and reapplied it around the edge of the cap sleeve instead.

The completed sleeve

C was delighted with the changes when she came to collect the dress, but felt that the bodice needed a bit more detail to catch the eye. She had bought some jewellery from a vintage fair, but none of the pieces gave quite the effect she wanted. Instead I made an oval 'brooch' using leftover scraps of satin and lace, along with pearls from my bead collection and a few more of the metallic taupe beads I'd added to the neckline beading. I attached this to the bodice, and the end result was just the finishing touch she had wanted.

The 'brooch'

The completed bodice

C has promised to send me some photos from her big day, so hopefully I will be able to post these soon.