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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A summer's dress tutorial

Dress Tute 01I am in the process of sewing a nine-piece wardrobe for another contest!  After taking a sewing break for a number of years, this time around I'm trying to incorporate a lot of little extras I mostly didn't mess with in my sewing heyday when rearing an active family and trying to keep customers happy. 

I thought I would explain some of those techniques used on the dress of this pattern, Butterick 5619.  I've already made the jacket and the skirt, so now it's time to do something with the dress pattern, too.

This is not a tutorial on teaching sewing in general.  There are plenty of books and detailed websites for that.  This is just some specific info I've learned over the years that newer sewers may not have picked up anywhere.

Dress Tute 02
Altering the pattern piece

A fairly new technique (to me) is one I could have use eons ago and that has so far worked wonders for me every time I've tried it.  If you tend to suffer from gaping necklines on a regular basis, you may need the same fix. 

Take something you already have that gapes on you and pinch it flat.  That will give you a starting point for altering your pattern.  I take a 1/4" pinch in the pattern neckline that is level with somewhere around the middle of the armscye, tapering to nothing at the armscye. 

The thing to remember is to modify every pattern piece the same way.  In this case, I only had the dress and the facing.  But there may be a collar or lapel, as was the case in my next project.

Dress Tute 03
Whatever it takes to get it all on there!

Although this pattern didn't call for lining the skirt, I decided to add one anyway.  I just used the skirt pattern and shortened it an inch.  As I was trying to use up as much stash as possible, I found a remnant I thought would work (from a nice top I made back in the '80s) for the skirt lining and bodice facing.  But I really had to play around with it to fit everything on. 

Just because a pattern might call for a certain amount of fabric, keep in mind that you might be able to use a lot less or really crazy already cut-out pieces by being a bit creative.

I don't know how most people put in darts these days.  I've gone through various stages of how I do them.  I started off doing the carbon paper thing.  That didn't always show up on the fabric of the day (probably a lot of double knit), the tracing wheel tore up my patterns, and I just didn't like that system.  I never learned how to do tailor's tacks, although I tried to follow directions, and I just never got comfortable with those, either.

Dress Tute 04
Marking a dart
Dress Tute 05
Pinning the markings

What I've done for years is to put a pin in the pattern dots after snipping the seam allowance.  Then I mark with chalk where the pin is.  After removing the pattern, I just stick more pins into the dots, pull the fabric together, and repin the dart. 

I was taught to never just leave the pin in the marking but to take the pin out after putting the dots together and repin.  Otherwise, you could end up shifting where the dart is stitched, especially on thick fabric.  I hope these pictures make it clear, although you do have to look hard for the little blue marks.

If I have a really long dart, I may actually draw lines to follow when stitching.  But over the years I've learned to just eyeball where I'm headed, like a farmer plowing those incredibly straight rows in his fields.

Dress Tute 06
Stretching the curve
Somewhere recently I read about another trick I could have found useful in the past.  Generally, when you have a curve in your fabric, they tell you to snip the seam allowance so that the curve can lay flatter.  But if it's not too deep of a curve, such as at a waist indentation, you may not want snips.  So before you press your seam open, try to press the seam allowance the opposite direction, really stretching the raw edge, then carefully press open the seam trying not to undo the stretching.  So far this has worked for me the few times I've tried it.  If it doesn't, then you just have to snip it anyway.  No harm done.

Dress Tute 07
Queen Romea on her new throne

Continuing to earn my Sewing with Cats badge, this time it's Romea who wanted to help out.  I think she's the culprit leaving all the long hair all over fabric I've laid out and then left overnight.  And there wasn't even any food on the table this time!

Of course, everything was helter skelter as I was also trying to work on other things besides sewing at the same time.

Something I'm trying to use a whole lot more than I ever did before is decorative piping.  I thought this dress really lent itself to some.  Of course, that increased the sewing time by a whole lot, but hopefully the end result is worth it.  In case you don't have much experience, this is how I do it.  It's a technique worth perfecting, as it can really change an average garment into something noteworthy.

First, I made my own piping.  I just happened to have a remnant in the right color.  I can't find sewing cording here, so I ended up buying a ball of cording at the local DIY store that looked about the right size, hoping it wouldn't be too stiff.  Because I hate piping that shrinks up when something is washed, I took this ball, put it in the little mesh bag laundry soap pellets are supposed to go in, threw it in the washer and then the dryer (with a load of laundry, of course, not all by itself!), and now hope it will wash and wear with no problems.  (I'd prefer softer sewing cord, but when there's a will, there's a way, and it's worth searching for solutions outside of the norms.)

Dress Tute 08
Making piping

There are a number of websites that explain how to make your own piping.  I just doubled the seam allowance (5/8"), then added 1/4" for the cord thickness. 

Thus, I cut bias strips 1 1/2" wide.  I used my ancient zipper foot (I got a different style newer one years ago) to encase the cording in the bias tape.  I wasn't especially careful with the straightness of the sewing, as this stitching isn't supposed to be seen later!

Dress Tute 09
First stage of attaching piping
I ended up piping the neckline, both armholes, and both the top and bottom of the midriff piece, which I was making in a contrasting color anyway, and I thought the piping would set it off nicely.

This is how it looks when basted on.  For this particular dress, the facing is a one-piece shape that covers both the neck and arm openings, which I then stitched on after applying the piping.  The midriff is supposed to be stitched to the bodice before the side seams are sewed up, but as I didn't want to piece the piping, I had to finish the bodice itself and then sew it to the midriff.  It turns out the midriff is shaped at the sides, which made it a lot harder keeping that that shape doing it in a different order, but I just paid a lot of attention to keeping everything lined up.  Not much chance for waist alteration by this point! 

I have recently found that using my blind hem foot works a lot better than my zipper foot for stitching it really close for the final stitching.  New sewing machines may have more needle manipulation than mine does.  But if you just have a really basic machine, you can still achieve the same results as the fancier machines; you just have to work a little harder.  Never hurts to know the basics.

Dress Tute 10
Creating a sausage roll to attach the second side of the midriff and facing
I absolutely detest hand sewing for some reason.  I will do anything to avoid it, even if fiddling around ends up taking a lot longer!  For this dress, I needed to stitch the midriff facing to both the top and bottom.  Because I lined the skirt, I could actually stitch it to the lining, but I thought maybe it should be attached anyway.  Because the midriff was wide enough, I was able to sausage roll the whole dress to the inside and machine stitch.  While you may never make a faced midriff, it's still a technique for other situations requiring all the edges to be enclosed, such as vests and lined jackets and probably a few other situations I can't think of at the moment.  It's always a good idea to know something is possible for those times you realize you can use it.

Dress Tute 11
Matching up the zipper
As I was using a contrast fabric in the zipper area, I did bother to change my thread.  I don't know if I've ever done that before!  I also trimmed out the cording from the bias tape at the seam to make the turn of the fabric lay flatter.  Here's how the piping and midriff contrast all lined up at the zipper.

Dress Tute 12
A magical invention

My sister sent me some fun sewing aids that didn't exist back in the day so are nothing I have experience with or knowledge of.  One of them was this stitch tape I see being used on various websites, especially for putting in zippers.  Since I never had such a thing, I scoffed and wondered what was wrong with pins!  There are so many gimmicks out there today.

Well, I thought this zipper was a perfect trial to see how it works.  After all, if I have it, I might as well use it.  Let me tell you, I am an absolute believer!  I just stuck down the one side of the back to the zipper tape and stitched it up without having to fiddle with anything.  Then I just stuck the other side down, lining up all the critical points, added a few pins there for security, and stitched up the other side.  Magic!  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to exist on this side of the Pond, but it's definitely worth getting if you have access. 

So here is the finished result.  The bodice has a dotted Swiss overlay, the midriff has a facing, so I added a lining to the skirt to keep a similar structure.  I piped the edges to add some brighter contrast to the muted bodice.

Dress Tute 13
Right side front
Dress Tute 16
Inside back
Dress Tute 14
Right side back
Dress Tute 15
Inside front

Dress Tute 17
Zipper and piping
Dress Tute 18
Armscye and piping
Here's a little detailing of all the finished piping.  It's a bit tricky to get nice at the  junctions and involves pulling the edges into the seam allowance before stitching.

In the end, I think the midriff and the facing, both cut on the bias, are fighting each other or something, as I'm not really pleased with the overall effect.  As the skirt lining can support the midriff facing, I'm thinking I'm going to have to get in there (requiring unstitching something at this point in time) and pull out that sausage stitching and just let the two hang separately.  Such are the joys of sewing sometimes.  Ugh.

Dress Tute 19
Front view
Dress Tute 20
Back view

And now here is a little bit of modeling of the actual dress on a real person.  Hopefully a little more interesting than just hanging on a hanger. 

It's a bit shorter than I intended, forgetting that I wasn't lengthening the back.  The pattern called for it to be lengthened in the midriff, and I thought there was already too much contrast, so I just lowered the waist at the side seam shaping. Oh, well, it is a summer dress after all.

Next I'll be sharing some tips on making the jacket that goes with this dress.  Meanwhile, you can check out my review of this pattern.


  1. Lovely dress and the piping helps define the piecing.

  2. I am a huge fan of piping and I love yours. I can't decide about the middle section. I'm thinking about it.

  3. Cute, although perhaps I would have used a lighter color for the midriff.

    1. Yes, the midriff is a bit dark, but it was part of an ensemble with a jacket. I added the piping as a complement for brightening up the overall effect. I think the biggest problem is how large the midriff piece is. There's just too much of it.

  4. You and the dress look great! Not sure I'm wild about the middle part, either...probably because my middle is not at all the middle I'd like to have and on me it would be a bad idea! :)


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