Sunday, 2 December 2012

Gertie to the rescue

It’s all very well being able to draft pattern pieces with a gusset, but you have to be able to sew them too. The bodice/sleeve piece is split up the centre of the gusset marking, and the gusset set into the gap, raw edge to raw edge. It’s tricky.

Inserting the gusset

So tricky in fact, that my first attempt was a complete disaster. The second attempt was better, but only because I machined the straight parts, and hand-sewed round the curve. This a) was time consuming, and b) did not give much strength at the point of the gusset which is under the most strain.

Fortunately Gertie’s Blog For Better Sewing has an excellent tutorial on how to tackle this particular vintage detail. Gertie sews the gusset into a much narrower area on the main piece, but I decided to stick to Hilary Campbell’s method of drafting and sewing the gusset.

For the dress I’ll use silk organza as the tutorial recommends, but for my test piece I used the frost fleece which I use for making toiles. I cut a rectangle of fleece, marked the gusset sewing line on it, laid it on the right side of the test fabric, and sewed round the cutting line.

'Organza' sewn on

Then I cut up the centre line, and clipped the curve.

Cutting up the gusset line, and clipping the curves

Next I pulled the fleece and seam allowance through to the wrong side of the fabric and pressed it, making sure that the seam didn’t show on the right side.

The facing pulled through to the wrong side

I pinned the gusset under the main piece, matching the raw edges, and top stitched close to the edge of the main piece.

The gusset inserted

The result: a neat gusset, with an extra line of stitching and an organza/fleece facing reinforcing the edge.

The gusset opened out

Once I had this sorted, I could make up a toile from the kimono blocks I had drafted previously.Although the dress will have a zip at the back, I drafted the toile with a single back piece and a front opening, so that I could try it on easily.

The result fitted really well (why am I always surprised that a pattern drafted from my own measurements actually fits?), so I could then start on the alterations needed to make the dress I have in mind.

The first toile, with possible neckline drawn on

Much as I like the fabric, even I have to admit that it’s a bit busy.


To tone it down a bit, and to echo the very fitted waists of my inspiration pieces, I have decided to have a tightly fitting section from the waist to directly under the bust in plain black satin. The line marking where the main bodice should end is just visible on the toile above.

I want the dress to have short sleeves, partly in line with the inspiration dresses and partly for a balanced overall shape. I have a small bust and wide hips, and anything sleeveless, especially with a full skirt, just makes me look more cone-shaped than ever. Just how short I could make the sleeves was limited by the upper edge of the gusset, but I was happy to go with that.

The final consideration was the darts on the bodice front. The two dresses have strongly slanting, almost horizontal darts, but I don’t really like them. For inspiration I turned to my copy of The Golden Age of Couture, and found just what I was looking for: a 1952 Dior day dress where the bust darts are replaced with inverted pleats.

I drafted new pattern pieces, and made a second toile. There was a lot about it that I liked. The high waistband piece only needs a few darts at the bottom edge to make it fit perfectly. The sleeve length is perfect; when my arms are lowered the sleeves end in line with the plain black waistband, which will extend and emphasise the strong horizontal line at that point.

The second toile

The only problem was the bust darts. I had changed them to pleats, but left them in the same place on the bodice. They were too central, and this caused the fabric to pull, creating a third pleat.

Problem area on the bust pleat

Fortunately unpicking the waistband seam and moving the pleats further towards the side seams fixed this.

Although I’m happy that I’ve now got a bodice pattern I can work from, today was a challenging day. In July I hurt my right knee quite badly, and although it has been getting very slowly better, yesterday I stupidly managed to set it back by some way. To my horror I discovered that I couldn’t operate the pedal of my sewing machine with my right foot. In theory this shouldn’t be a problem. I could use my left foot instead, how hard could it be? This was when I discovered that after almost four decades of operating a sewing machine right-footed, I just didn’t have the same motor (no pun intended) skills in my left foot. This led to some ‘interesting’ stitching, and a certain amount of unpicking. It’s 12 days to the big night; this could be a close-run thing. Wonder if the girls fancy helping me sew the hem in the taxi on the way to the venue?

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