Category Archives: Sewing

Ballgown Construction, part 1

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m determined to keep up with my New Year’s resolution. If you’ve followed me on Facebook, you might have seen that my Dove top (from Megan Nielsen designs) was featured on the Sewing Pattern Review blog. It made my day when to receive an email saying my top had been featured!

I spent quite a bit of last month knitting. I can’t share any pics yet, but the pattern should be published soon, and I’ll post once the pictures are up.

Moving on to the day’s topic, back in February I was persuaded to join a “Red Carpet Worthy Dress” sew-along group on Facebook. The pattern in question is Vogue 1533.


It has a 2-layered “foundation,” which consists of a “foundation lining” (inner layer with boning), and an outer layer that closes with hook and eye tape. It extends from the neckline to just below the waist. In addition, the dress is fully lined. If you are inspired to give the pattern a try, note that many things are called “lining” in the instructions. All fabrics that are NOT the outermost “fashion” fabric are called “lining.” The full lining of the dress is called “lining,” and both layers of the foundation are made of “lining,” of which one layer is the “foundation lining.” Clear as mud, right?

I began by making a muslin of the foundation, which is a basic princess-seamed bodice that closes in the right side seam, and has a hanging thing on the left side. The princess seams had a little too much fabric over the full bust area, so I pinched it out with pins (left picture), and restitched the seam line (right).

I started dreaming of what my ideal fabric would be. I told my mom and husband (I have 2 witnesses here!) that I imagined a black fabric with white or silver flowers as the main dress fabric, and the front contrast panel in black. A week or so later, when browsing the Mood fabrics website, I found the fabric of my dreams. It was even reversible, so I could waffle at the last minute to decide if I want black with white/ silver flowers, or silver/ white with black flowers. Needless to say, I made the purchase.

I then purchased “lining” fabric for the foundation. It is a thin polyester satin, just a bit lighter than a crepe-backed satin (but thicker than the polyester stuff marketed as “lining”). I found a heavier satin for the front contrast panel. Here they are, left and right, respectively.

I started by constructing the foundation. The pattern calls for interfacing both layers. I used a lightweight interfacing for the “foundation” (left), and a much stiffer shirt-weight interfacing for the “foundation lining” (right), which eventually will receive boning. The wrong (gluey) side of each interfacing is shown in the left side of each picture.

I transferred the pattern adjustments to the pattern pieces, and cut and stitched the foundation. The right and wrong sides are shown below.

For the “foundation lining,” I cut the interfacing out of the princess seam allowances for the center and side-front panels. From past experience, I knew the interfacing would be too stiff to ease the curved pieces. I did have to additionally clip the princess seam allowances in a couple of places to keep the fabric lying flat, but otherwise this attempt went smoothly.

The shiny satin displays all flaws in the sewing in their full glory, as well as flaws that don’t exist. The princess seams really don’t have any tucks, despite appearances. After constructing the foundation layers, I was glad that I did not choose a shiny satin for the main fabric.

Here’s the foundation lining pinned into place. I ended up taking a ¼” out of the side seams of both layers near the top.


Up next is ordering and installing the hook and eye tape (I have white tape on hand, but want black for this job). I will also order boning. The foundation calls for something like 13 pieces of boning, which is nearly double of my “usual” amount (not that I’m “usually” making strapless dresses). I’ve decided to use steel spiral boning rather than the featherlight plastic boning I have on hand. The steel spiral boning affords more flexibility than the plastic stuff, and I’ve already found the plastic boning too constricting when used in only half the quantity called for here. Once that’s done, I’ll take a long sewing break to  trace and transfer adjustments onto all the other pattern pieces.

Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any upcoming balls, please send along an invitation. I will soon have a ballgown, with no ball to attend. I’m also happy to lend this to a Cinderella with the opposite problem, though she’d have to be exactly my size for the dress to fit. Any and all Cinderella/ ball pairing recommendations are most welcome.

Adventures with rayon

The McCall’s company had a sale on out of print patterns recently, and I picked up 3 at the time. Vogue 8961 was not one that I would have ordinarily paid much attention to, but it seemed like the perfect pattern for a rayon challis that my mom gave me for my birthday in January. The pattern was marked “very easy,” so I decided to give it a try, and to live dangerously and skip making a muslin. I did note that the V neck was quite deep, so I raised the point of the V by 1.5” to make it sit about 6.5” below the shoulder line, which is my preferred neck depth. This meant having to re-draft the neck facing as well.


Because the fabric frayed like crazy (I seem to have forgotten my experience with rayon challis while making my  Garden Party Dress), I French-seamed from the outset. Usually I prefer to do mock French seams after all the construction is complete and I’ve tried on the garment for fit, since I like to have the seam allowances available for adjustments. But this garment was so large that I was sure I wouldn’t have to let it out anywhere. So that was Part 2 of living dangerously. Here’s a French seam—could be narrower, but it doesn’t matter so much since the top is roomy, and it does the trick of encasing the raw edges.


Although the construction was straightforward, as advertised, the rayon made it a challenge. The directions for the waist casing for the elastic were simply to stitch the edges of the seam allowances together. However, the fabric frayed so much that the stitches ripped right out as I tried to insert the elastic. So I unpicked the stitches, opened up the seam allowances, and fused a strip of very lightweight interfacing. Inspired by a recent Craftsy class on corsetry, I stitched a ribbon on top of the seam allowance to form the elastic casing. The ribbon came with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond wedding gift 5 years ago!


Once that problem was solved, it was time to hem the piece. This is what the sleeve hem looked like after doing a tiny double-fold hem and hand-stitching. I commented that it looked like a parsley leaf.


One redeeming feature of this fabric is that it presses well. Here’s the sleeve after a careful pressing. It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over the original. I’d decided not to be too fussy about this piece, so the sleeve hems did not receive any further adjustments.


I cut this tunic a bit shorter than called for, which is unusual for me since I usually lengthen tops (for personal preference, not because I’m uncommonly tall). I also stitched the entire shoulder seam, instead of leaving a gap as instructed. Overall, this was a great pattern to learn the joys and pitfalls of working with rayon. The next rayon project I have in mind will require a lot more precision in sewing, so I’m glad I had a “dress rehearsal” with this pattern.


All that being said, I’m not sure this style is my thing. I’m not thrilled with the excess fabric in the back, though it may not hang properly without it. The tunic may grow on me, though, as the high-waisted skirt from a few weeks ago did after I wore it for a full day. Now I’m just waiting for spring weather to wear this one!

Polar vortex antidote

We had a bit of a teaser with 70 degree days in February, but winter wasn’t going to be usurped so easily, and it returned in full force earlier this month. The theme for this year seems to be that there will be a polar vortex whenever I have theater tickets. The first instance occurred in December, at which point I decided to invest in a long, heavy skirt that I could wear with tights and boots, which would keep me warm and still be appropriate for the theater. I chose the Burda 105 pattern, and a velvet fabric I picked up at Mood Fabrics in NYC (a gift from my husband). My second polar vortex encounter occurred at the beginning of the month, which strengthened my resolve to get this skirt done.

The velvet turned out to be heavy, slithery, and unstable—but so beautiful! Every seam of this skirt was arduous. Instead of chronicling the whole process, I’ll share one of the more brain-teasing aspects of it—putting in the invisible zipper. Here I’ve hand-basted the zipper line:


However, the velvet was far too unstable to support a zipper. I stitched twill tape to the zipper seam allowance to stabilize it:


I then opened and stitched the invisible zipper to one side of the skirt back:


At this stage, most tutorials instruct you to keep the zipper open, and pin the other side of the zipper to the opposite side of the back. Here’s how it looks:


I then tried to close the zipper, and realized I’d gotten it twisted:


I attempted it again, with the same result. I decided to march to the beat of my own drummer, and pin the zipper in the closed position. Here it is aligned to the zipper line, and then pinned in place:

The key to pinning is to insert the pin as far away from the zipper teeth as possible in the zipper tape, while still being able to bring the tip of the pin up through the same zipper tape. This makes it possible to open the zipper after it has been pinned in place. I just move the pin head away from the fabric as far as possible, and slide the zipper pull behind it. Sometimes the pins can also rotate to be nearly parallel to the zipper teeth.


I then stitched the second side of the zipper—here it is all closed up and invisible:


Here’s the almost-complete skirt:

I have to attach a hook and eye to the waistband, and hem the lower edge. Marking the hem took forever, because the bottom of the skirt is cut like a circle skirt, which means it stretched on the bias. The hem line is currently marked with a line of basting (hard to see in these pictures). I’m still debating the best way to hem it. I’m considering following advice from Threads Magazine to hand-stitch a strip of bias fabric at the hem line, turn up the raw edge of the skirt, and catch-stitch to the bias fabric. This will be hours of hand sewing, as the bottom circumference is quite large (due to it being a circle skirt), but the stability might be worth it in the end. Hopefully by next week this skirt will be ready to make its debut.


The proof of the garment…

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating;” or in my case, the proof of the garment is in the wearing (in neither case is the proof in the pudding, which many would have you believe). I seized the one semi-warm day last week to try wearing my Vogue 8781 high-waisted skirt out and about. Since winter has made a reappearance around here, I wore the skirt with black knit tights and my Burda blazer. It also prompted a coworker (who’s not very aware of fashion) to ask if I was dressed for a special event– which means that I really need to get going on making (and wearing) a more professional wardrobe. Here it is with a different sweater on top.


The proof of the skirt was to see whether it would cling to my tights. I line almost all of my garments, but had skipped this step a) because the pattern didn’t call for it, and b) mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to draft a lining that would attach to the facing, and didn’t want to use the lining in lieu of the facing (since the facing seemed to magically improve the shape of the waist line). I had asked my mom whether the skirt was likely to cling to tights/ nylons, and if I should figure out a way to line it. My mom is staunchly in the anti-lining camp, and assured me the skirt would be fine as it was a fairly thick, stiff fabric. It clung. Within a few steps it was hiked up to mid-thigh and firmly entangled around my legs. I decided to line it.

I used a cream-colored poly lining fabric left over from my Garden Party Dress. I cut out the skirt front and backs (using only pattern weights to hold the pattern pieces down), transferred the dart markings with a tracing wheel and wax paper, and stitched up the darts, side seams, and center back seam. I pushed myself to work quickly (pretending I was on the Great British Sewing Bee, which sadly may be canceled this year), and finished this in about an hour. I then flipped the facing up, shoved the lining in there, and stitched in the ditch of the skirt-facing seam to secure the lining in place. I used a black spool thread and white bobbin thread—you can see that the tension isn’t quite right, but it’ll do to keep the lining in place. Fortunately this seam doesn’t show on the outside.

I then turned under and stitched the lining’s center back seam allowance to the zipper tape at the upper edge, and at the lower edge stitched it to the slit hem. I also stitched the lining hem to the skirt hem (the latter with help from my mom—I think this is partly why she’s anti-lining, since I usually recruit her to help with the hemming!).


I tried the skirt on with the tights again, and it skimmed right over the them without any clinging whatsoever. Part I of my professional wardrobe is ready to go! Next is contemplating a good color for the coordinating blazer included in the V8781 pattern. Post in the comments if you have any suggestions for a blazer color/ print to go with this black pencil skirt.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making good (but slow) progress on my Burda velvet skirt, and will have lots of pictures to share next week. Til then!

Mid-winter knitting and sewing

I’m very excited about my next knitting design for the year, for which I’m thrilled and honored to be collaborating once again with A Hundred Ravens yarns. I’m using this beautiful fingering weight yarn, Llyr (a plied wool/ silk blend), in colorway “Rose Tyler.”


It is lovely to knit with, and the colors produce a gorgeous, subtle shading. (My Peony Shrug seems to have gotten me hooked on pink, after not wearing it for years). This design will be published by a 3rd-party publisher, so I can’t share any more details until it’s in print. But it will feature lots of lace, in many forms.

I’ve continued my diligent efforts to use up stash fabrics (my efforts not to add to stash have been less diligent). This skirt is from an out-of-print Vogue pattern, 8781, which I loved enough to purchase via Etsy (the seller—chajucreations– was kind enough to include a small crocheted doily in the package!).


I purchased this fabric when Grey’s Fabric went out of business (before being reincarnated as Mercer’s Fabric). I had just under 1 yard of this 60” wide cotton/ spandex stretch gabardine-like remnant. I was able to fit the skirt front and back pieces, but did not plan my layout well and didn’t have enough for the waistband facing. Fortunately, I had a bit of stretch satin left over from a previous project to use as the facing. I was highly skeptical of the skirt before attaching the facings, but the facings were magic, and the shape of the waist dramatically improved once they were sewn on. I’m glad I went with the facings, rather than trying to turn under the waist seam allowance and stitch it down with a grosgrain ribbon.

Holidays always seem to sidetrack my crafting plans, usually because I embark on last-minute gifts for loved ones. But my birthday in January had the same effect, since my mom gifted me two lovely cuts of fabric. I couldn’t resist turning this cotton flannel into my tried-and-true pyjamas from McCall’s 4320. The pyjamas are meant to complement the set I made my husband for Christmas. Here we are in our new PJs!


My next epic project is this Burda godet skirt.


(c) BurdaStyle

I was good and made a muslin of the top half to check waist and hip fitting, which revealed that I needed to take about 2” out of the waist circumference. Since this skirt has 4 seams (2 side seams, a center front, and a center back zipper), I simply curved each seam line ¼” inwards. I obtained a stretch lining fabric from Mercer’s Fabric during their Valentine’s day sale, and decided to make a partial lining (and not extend it all the way down to the flowy part of the skirt). Here’s the lining, a bit wrinkly, but otherwise fitting well.


I’m using a beautiful, but slinky, burnout velvet, grey with purple undertones undertones (gifted by my husband when we visited Mood Fabrics in NYC in December). Whereas cutting the muslin took less than an hour, cutting and marking the velvet ended up being a day-long production. All the tips I read online recommended:

  1. Cutting out in a single layer of fabric.
  2. Using a rotary cutter and pattern weights to hold the pattern pieces down.
  3. Not using a tracing wheel to mark up the fabric.
  4. Hand-basting everything before sewing on the machine.

I obeyed all of these guidelines, and immediately saw why they were necessary. The fabric is so slinky that two layers will never stay put, and even slipping a scissor blade underneath will distort the fabric. I did manage to pin the pattern successfully to a single layer of fabric. For transferring pattern markings, I folded back the tissue paper along the mark, and used chalk to draw a line (or dots) adjacent to the fold. I then thread basted. I’ve hand-basted the darts, visible here from the wrong side and right side.

The proof of the pudding will be when I put it on the machine. If all goes well, I’ll have a finished skirt to show off next week!



Welt pockets, take 2

Holidays always put a wrench in my best thought-out sewing plans, and Valentine’s day was no exception. While in the fabric store searching for a pink lace fabric (more on that in a later post), I came across wool suiting remnants for $2.99/ yard. Thinking that I know a deal when I see one, I picked up a 3.25 yard piece, with the intent to make my husband a pair of pants for Valentine’s day with one week to spare. Here’s the fabric— it’s actually navy blue (as is evident in subsequent pictures), but showed up grey under the flash:


After the Vogue 8890 fiasco, I chose the Burda Jochen pant, which I had purchased some time ago (together with their sew-along class when it was on sale, since I’d been sufficiently traumatized by Vogue 8890).

Red flag #1— I got home and promptly washed the fabric by hand in cold water (after basting a 4×4” square in one corner, to monitor shrinkage). The fabric lacked the characteristic sheepy smell of wool. Even my wool blends smell sheepier than this did. The fabric submerged quickly (unlike wool), and when I pulled it out, it went drip-drip-drip like an umbrella. I concluded the fabric was polyester, but I proceeded undeterred.

Red flag #2— the smallest size for the pant pattern was for a 30.75” waist. My husband is closer to 28”. I took out 1” by shifting the dart legs over by 1/8” plus tapering the side seam at the waist by 1/8”. That would bring me to 29.75”. However, I had no idea if the pattern was drafted correctly, nor how much ease there should be at the waist (2” is standard for women, I have no idea for men).

On to the topic for the day, I started off making the welt pockets. The sew-along instructions don’t always follow the written directions, and I decided that the written directions made more sense in this case. As far as welt pockets go, these are conceptually more straightforward (though perhaps less elegant/ clever) than many others (certainly more so than Vogue 8890). This is not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial on making welt pockets (there are many available online), but my goal is to show some highlights and/ or things that caught be by surprise even after reading tutorials.

I thread-traced the pocket markings. This was important because there later came times when it was necessary to see the marks from both sides of the fabric. The center horizontal line, along with the two Y-shaped ends, is the cut line. The upper and lower long edges are where the welts will be sewn. The short sides are largely irrelevant.


I interfaced the back of the pocket on the pant piece. I used a woven fusible shirt-weight interfacing throughout. This was nice and stable, and I think was the key to success.


Because I don’t have x-ray vision, I stuck pins through the pocket markings on the right side, then drew the markings between pins on the WS. In retrospect, it would have been easier to transfer them with tracing paper and a tracing wheel.


I cut and interfaced the welt pieces (called “piping” in the directions), folded in half lengthwise (WRONG sides together), and basted very close to the long raw edges.piping1047

I pinned one welt to each top and bottom pocket marking line. The key here is to have the raw edges of the welt pieces meet in the center. Here’s the top welt pinned in place.


I stitched along the pocket stitching line from the WS (since I don’t have x-ray vision to see through the welt piece to the stitch line underneath). Here are the two welt pieces stitched in place on the right side. The key here is to start and stop each stitching line right at the corner of each stitching line.


By pushing the welts apart, I could see the cut lines underneath.


I cut along these lines,


folded in the overhanging welt bits


and shoved the welt pieces to the inside:. Here they are before pressing:

Here is a triangle generated by the Y-shaped cuts, and shoved to the inside:


I stitched this triangle to the overhanging welt bits, in the orientation shown above.

Here are the welts looking tidy after a good pressing. There’s a little pucker in the upper left corner, where I overshot the corner of the welt stitching line by one stitch. I undid that stitch later, and eliminated the pucker.


Next up, the pocket lining was attached to the welt. The lining was first aligned to the lower welt upside down


and the lower welt stitched in the ditch from the RS. I placed several pins like this to make the ditch more easily visible/ accessible:


Then the lining was turned down over the stitching line.


At this point, Burda did the sensible thing and instructed you to sew a buttonhole through the pant piece and pocket lining, right below the end of the dart tip.

The pocket bag was then overlayed on top of the pocket lining from the wrong side, and the pocket lining and pocket edges were stitched together, catching the welt overhangs and triangle in the stitching. Here’s the pocket from the wrong side in the finished pant:


and here’s the bit where the triangle was stitched to the welt overhangs and then to the pocket.


And here’s the finished pant, not yet pressed


After finishing the whole thing (other skills required are inserting a fly front zipper, and side slant pockets), the pant was about 2-3” too large all around. I managed to take about 1.5” out of the center back seam, the only place I could make adjustments after the waistband was attached. Because the fabric was not a true wool suiting, it has stretched a bit all around over the course of many fittings.

Overall, though, the construction and fit is much better than for the Vogue 8890 pattern, and I plan to try again with the remaining fabric, this time reducing the width of the front pieces as well. My husband is looking forward to wearing the pants this week.

Blazer rehabilitation

The last of my January TBD (To Be Done) pile was completed today— the infamous blazer. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t take any pictures before the alterations, but here’s the finished result (shown with the skirt I altered earlier in an effort to clear the TBD pile):


And here it is after giving the sleeves a good press:


Here’s what I did to rehabilitate this blazer:

  1. Unpicked and restitched the sleeve caps. One sleeve required multiple attempts. The secret to that one was pinning and then hand-sewing directly on the seam line.

  2. I undid the attachment of the sleeve hem to the lining, and restitched it. I used a stitch that the Colette Guide to Sewing Hems calls a “slip stitch.” Basically it makes tiny stitches anchoring the lining to the fabric, with large intervals between stitches where the thread travels through the folded edge of the lining.

  3. I undid the lining attachment to the bottom hem. This one had me stumped for a while, because it results in a quarter to half inch being left raw on the side of the facing (potential raw edge indicated with arrow– the bottom edge of the facing really is flush with the bottom of the jacket!):


I couldn’t find any tutorials that addressed the issue, even in a Craftsy class on blazer-making. Finally I found this tutorial from  Threads Magazine, which instructs you to slip-stitch the raw edge closed (which would have been my default option in the absence of any better solutions).

I slip-stitched the lining in the same way as for the sleeves. Here’s how the pleat looks when pushed up.


And when folded down:


In knitting news, I revisited an epic stole project that I began last year. It’s in a beautiful cobweb silk yarn. I’m about 1/8 of the way through, hopefully it doesn’t take me 8 years to finish it!


I think I’ll finally move on next week to starting a shiny new project with tempting new yarn and/ or fabric, of which I have plenty.