I have had a crazy time sewing the last week or so – 3 garments sewn to deadlines within 8 days, but I’m now done and I can recover a bit, and think about other things, like actually getting ready for Christmas!
Having said that, the deadlines were all self imposed, and I actually work very well to deadlines in general, so it did at least make me productive! The first of the three garments was pattern testing the men’s version of Fehr Trade’s new Surf to Summit top. I’ve hadn’t yet sewn anything for Marcus, as he doesn’t wear shirts a lot, which would be the most obvious thing to sew for him. When I saw that Melissa was looking for pattern testers for a men’s sports top, I realised that would be the ideal thing to sew for him. I’ll share my version at a later date but for now, if you want to purchase the pattern, you can use the code 10OVER20 to get 10% off any order over $20.
The surf to summit top was sewn up last Saturday afternoon, I then moved on and made up my Bonnie on Sunday afternoon, in time for the sewalong deadline on Tuesday. Thank you to all of you who voted for me in the contest – I found out today that I came first, so thanks! After that it was onto Francoise, which I’d been planning to sew up since Tilly released the pattern, but just hadn’t had time to start. I figured that if I was going to make it anyway, I might as well make it in time to enter the sewalong competition, so the pressure was on with that! I made up a toile on Saturday and made the actual dress on Sunday. My dress didn’t get shortlisted to win the contest, but you should definitely go and check out all the amazing dresses that did.
I wanted to do something a bit special with Francoise – the sewalong competition was a chance to really challenge myself and try something different. The great thing with the pattern is that it is so lovely and simple that it makes a perfect canvas for playing around with interesting fabrics and new techniques. I warn you now, this is a bit of a lengthy post, but I figure some of you might be interested in how I put the dress together. I won’t be offended if you skip through just looking at the pictures though :)
I originally had plans to use guipure lace for my Francoise, removing the lace from the darts so that the folds couldn’t be seen, and stitching it back together where the darts were. But despite shopping trips in London and Paris and a bit of searching online, I didn’t come across any lace that seemed quite right.
I still wanted to do something with lace, and was browsing the White Tree Fabrics website when I came across this lovely blue lace, and decided to try and do something with that. It looked so nice on the black they had it photographed on the site, that I decided to use black as my base colour. I wanted the skirt to hold its lovely shape, so wanted something with a bit of body, and I also wanted long sleeves, so needed something with a bit of stretch. After a bit of searching, I came across this black stretch brocade from Minerva (I actually bought it from their ebay store as the postage was cheaper).
It’s a bit hard to see from the photos, but the fabric has a texture a bit like bark on a tree. It’s also quite a bit stretchier than I anticipated, and, unusually, the stretch runs along the grain, rather than being across the cross-grain. I wanted the stretch going across the garment rather than down it, so I cut the front and back of the dress on the cross-grain. Luckily the dress is short enough that that wasn’t an issue. I cut the sleeves on grain, as I figured having the stretch going down the length of the sleeve would be more beneficial for movement. The lace didn’t have any stretch in it, so I cut the lace sleeve on the bias so that it wouldn’t be quite so restrictive.
I decided to roughly model this dress on this RTW dress that I own, having the lace as a partial overlay. My dilemma was how to attach the lace to the dress in a fashion that wasn’t going to look a complete mess. Because the RTW one has a different fabric under the lace panel, the lace is just encased in the seam between the two different fabrics.
I had a few rough ideas in my head of ways I might be able to do it, could find absolutely no information on the interwebs as guidance, and so basically just made it up as I went along and hoped for the best!
My plan was essentially to cut out all the pattern pieces in the lace, put in the darts as necessary, then probably baste them to the base fabric pattern pieces, maybe baste the dress together, decide where I wanted the overlay to end, probably zigzag that on, and then trim away the excess lace. That was kind of what I did, but after discussions with my friend Clare, I decided to change things around a little. I am so pleased with how the lace bits worked out :)
For those of you who are interested, these are basically the steps I took
- Make toile (I didn’t want to go to all that work and then find out it didn’t fit!)
- Cut pattern pieces from main fabric (and forget to mark darts before I’d taken the pattern pieces off, so had to go back and do that later – I suggest you skip that bit)
- Cut all pieces (in full) that would be required for lace overlay – front, back, and one sleeve.
- Mark darts in lace – it hadn’t occurred to me before this point that I couldn’t just draw them on with chalk/dressmakers’ carbon like I normally do, so I did a bit of google and decided to thread trace them. This then left me with the problem of how to detach the pattern piece from the lace (I wanted to have a running stitch marking my darts rather than tailor’s tacks). But due to the tracing of the darts with my tracing wheel, they had kind of become a bit perforated (even though it was a blunt wheel!), so I just popped them out in the end! Definitely glad I traced the pattern! I also only traced half the darts in the lace – because the overlay was going to be asymmetrical, I knew I wouldn’t need the darts on both sides, so I didn’t bother tracing them all out.
- Sew darts in main fabric as normal
- Sew darts in lace fabric along my stitching, and then remove the thread I used for tracing. Sewing the darts in the lace actually worked out better/less fiddly than I thought it was going to.
- Remove the bulk of the darts from the lace – I didn’t want the dart showing behind the lace, and wasn’t sure if there was a ‘proper’ way to do it. I just ended up trimming them off really close to the stitching line, using my thread snips which were the best tool I could find for the job. Hopefully the stitching will hold up, time will tell I guess!
- Baste lace pieces to backing fabric pieces. I debated basting by hand, but at this point I was really running short of time, so I did it by machine (it worked fine). I basically basted every edge where they were going to be together in the final dress – i.e. for the left hand back piece, I basted all the edges (except the bottom), but for the right hand one, I just basted along all the neckline/raglan seam lines, and partway down the centre back seam. I left the side seam unattached. Similarly for the right hand side of the front. Because I hadn’t put in the darts in the lace that I wasn’t going to use, it wouldn’t have been easy to line it up well enough to baste those other edges (and would have involved removing it later, which I really didn’t have time for! I was pleasantly surprised as how well all the darts etc lined up in the two fabrics.
- On the wrong of the fabric, drew a line where lace overlay to end. I did this on the back piece first, as it was a simpler piece. I made sure that the overlay wouldn’t cover any of the back dart on that side, because I hadn’t sewn the dart into the lace. I only did this on one of the two back pieces at this point, for reasons that will become clear in a minute…
- Make sure the two layers of fabric are lined up. Because I hadn’t basted all the edges, I put a number of pins just inside where I was going to sew, to make sure the lace stayed flat to the black fabric.
- Sew a line of basting stitches along the line I drew so the two layers of fabric were now attached along where I wanted the lace overlay to end. The lace that’s staying on the dress should now be basted to the backing all around.
- Cut away the excess lace along the line of basting stitches. Again, I used my thread snips and cut as close as I could to the stitching line.
- Use a short zigzag stitch to essentially applique the lace onto the backing. I use the line of basting stitches as a guide, aiming to get that in the middle of the zigzag. I used a zigzag width of 4 (out of 5), and a length of about 0.5. This was the bit that I was really hoping wouldn’t go wrong, as I didn’t want to have to unpick any of the dense zigzagging!
- Breathe a sigh of relief when I finish the section and it actually looks really cool!
- I then put my two back pieces side by side, and drew the line onto my other back piece – I wanted it to basically be one continuous line across the dress, hence waiting to do the second one until after I’d sewn the first. I could have done it just based on the line I drew, but I figured it would be more accurate once I’d sewn.
- Realise that you have drawn a perfectly continuous line but haven’t taken into account seam allowances, so go back and re-draw. As it was, my pieces have ended up perfectly lined up (no idea how!), but it doesn’t matter, but only because of the way they worked out – the one on the right finishes higher than the one on the left, so it kind of looks continuous down the zip, if that makes sense. It wouldn’t look so good if the right hand one ended lower than the left hand one started.
- I then repeated the above steps for the other back piece. I did accidentally get the lace folded up and caught in the basting stitches, so I just unpicked a small section and re-did – another reason to baste it first, so that that doesn’t happen on the zigzagging.
- I then did the same on the front piece. I basically held it up against me (inside out), pinned it to my t-shirt at the top and tried to draw the line on where I wanted it to go. Again, I made sure to avoid the lace overlay covering either of the darts.
Once I’d done all of this, I could finally start actually sewing the dress together! That was at 8pm… I was so happy when I could finally sew the sleeves onto the front and back of the dress. Short break for a roast dinner that Marcus had very kindly cooked while I was sewing, and I was back at the sewing machine at 9pm, with only side seams, hem and photos to do…oh, and the neck facing…and the zip…and all those other little fiddly bits I’d forgotten about.
I was going to finish the seams I’d already done at this point, and rethreaded my overlocker with black thread, but it would not play ball. The looper threads were really, well, loopy. I had a quick attempt at fixing it, but still no joy (thinking about it now, I think it’s probably that the thread wasn’t sitting between the tension discs properly), so I aborted (due to time constraints!) and my seams are as yet unfinished…
I sewed the side seams with the standard 1.5cm seam allowance, but when I tried it on, the dress was a little loose. I could have just taken it in at the centre back seam, but I didn’t want to lose lace detail there (or mess up my carefully lined up continuous lace pattern), so I took an extra 1cm off each side seam. I think the loose fit came from the amount of stretch in my black fabric. I made a size 3, and didn’t need to make any other adjustments. I could possibly lose a little more from the side seams around the waist, but it’s also fine as it is.
The black fabric I used is also quite ‘bouncy’, so the seams didn’t lie very flat, but I trimmed them down and gave them all a good steam, and they started behaving much better.
The facing went without too much drama, although I did also topstitch it to stop it peeking out (bouncy fabric). This seems to have given the neckline a slightly odd shape though – above the topstitching it doesn’t lay flat, but stands up a bit. Almost like a teeny tiny funnel neck. I’m not sure there’s much I can do to remedy this now, I think it’s due to my fabric being quit thick. I’m going to call it a design feature. Luckily the zip when in with no issues which I was VERY relieved about given what happened last time I tried to put in a zip when working to a deadline. When hemming, I did a line of basting stitches all the way round, to hold the lace and the base fabric together. I also used that line as a fold line to turn the hem up.
And with that…I was done! That was 23:20. Quick application of make up (I did not look my best after spending almost all day at my sewing machine), clear enough space in my sewing room so that I had a bit of wall space to take photos in front of…take photos at 23:30…not very good ones to be honest – it was (obviously) dark by this point, and the light in my sewing room is shocking. Annoyingly, if I want to use the remote control with my camera, it only works on auto mode so there’s nothing I can play around with! I was going to ask Marcus to take some photos, but he’d given up on me and gone to bed half an hour earlier! Finally got photos done, but my laptop then went on strike and took about 20 minutes to download them! Anyway, I finally got my pics off to Tilly at exactly midnight. Talk about cutting it fine! I took some more photos before work on Monday, but I’m a little underwhelmed by them as well to be honest – it looks much better in real life!
But I’m really pleased that I actually managed to pull this off and get it done in time – it was no small task, and I did at more than one point, wonder whether I was totally crazy, and think there was no way I was ever going to get it done. I’m also really pleased I decided to challenge myself with this dress. When people find out that I sew, they often say ‘oh you’re so creative’, and I’m really not. I’m good at following instructions, which is basically what a sewing pattern is. I am not good at thinking creatively and making up my own stuff. Pretty much the hardest part of this dress was deciding what shape to make the wiggly line for the lace overlay. I’m pretty happy with it, although I wish I’d made the back one slightly more wavy! I’m just glad I decided to think outside the box a bit, rather than just sewing it up exactly as per the instructions like I usually do. I also really enjoyed the process of working out how I ought to put it all together (I probably wouldn’t be saying that if it hadn’t worked out so well!).
Phew, right, that was a long one! Well done if you made it this far, have a cookie (or a mince pie)! After all that deadline sewing, I’m looking forward to having nothing pressing that I need to do tonight and having a bit more of a relaxed week to prepare for Christmas!