This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.
I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.
This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.
The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.
I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.
I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.
I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.
The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.
So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.
So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…
I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.
Two years ago one of my early makes as a Simple Sew blogger was the Kaftan pattern made in a tropical print cotton lawn kindly given by Doughty’s online fabric store. It was very much a ‘holiday’ garment but, even so, I didn’t wear it as much as I’d hoped because whilst the fabric was quite lightweight there was too much of it around my legs, it was probably a size too large and the whole thing just looked quite bulky. It would have been better in something like a very lightweight cotton voile or Batiste, or a printed chiffon or georgette as a swimsuit cover-up.
Anyway, rather than make another new garment for my next Simple Sew post I’ve decided to refashion the Kaftan into pyjamas instead, retaining the top section and cutting shorts from the remainder using the Lapwing trouser pattern.
I studied myself in the mirror wearing the Kaftan and decided to reduce it to approximately 25cms long from the original waist seam at the side-I would make it level all the way around although the waist seam rises up at the centre front. With the remaining fabric of the skirt I would make the shorts
I took the cord out of the waist and initially decided I would replace it with elastic instead although eventually I changed that plan. I felt the sleeves were a bit long and restrictive to sleep in so I shortened those too by about 5-6cms. I removed the pompom trim first although I didn’t reuse that in the end because I opted to create a curved opening on the shoulder seam instead, to soften the lines.
I partly unpicked the shoulder seam and overlocking sufficiently far that I could re-overlock the edges singly and then roll hem finish them so that the overlock stitches were enclosed.
I also took quite a bit of fullness out of the bust section at the underarm so that it would fit closer to my ribcage, I didn’t remove any corresponding fullness from the newly-shortened skirt though, I simply pleated it up to fit the top part and rejoined them together at the waist seam.
I neatened the new hem using the overlocked rolled hem method again and finally trimmed the waist seam with co-ordinating pink rick-rack from Backstitch. I decided against putting elastic in the original casing because I felt it would ride up while I slept and become annoying around my ribcage. This has proven to be the right choice because the top is comfortably loose without being huge.
Moving on to the shorts, I used a RTW pair I’ve had for years to compare measurements and also to compare against the size chart for the Lapwing trousers. I traced off the pattern in a size 14 because I wanted to create a hem similarly-shaped to my RTW ones for the shorts, they have a slight upward curve at the side seams (I dithered about adding side pockets as per the pattern but in the end I left them out, I thought about adding a patch pocket on the back instead but I didn’t do that either!)
I was able to fold the original front skirt section down the centre front line and cut a pair of front shorts pieces from that. I placed the piece as near to the top as possible so that I had the maximum amount of fabric left to cut the bias strips from.
As is very often the case the back section of trousers was bigger than the front so this meant I couldn’t cut it out of folded fabric. I laid the fabric out flat instead and cut them singly using the centre fold as my guide for the grain and making sure to flip one so that I had a pair, not two the same!
In order to hem the curve I made a wide bias band pattern piece which, ideally, I would have cut one for each leg but the remaining pieces of fabric from the front skirt didn’t allow me to do that so I cut several shorter pieces which I joined to make a long enough strip.
I joined each side seam first, neatened it and pressed towards the back. Having joined the bias strips I pressed over one long edge by 1cm. In order the self-neaten the hem I placed each strip RIGHT side to the WRONG side of the shorts (see photo) and stitched it in position.
Then the strip flips up to the right side, thus also being right side out and enclosing the raw edges. You could simply top stitch this in place along the folded pressed edge or add a trim, I put more rick rack on here to match the top. Now sew up and neaten the inseams.
The rest of the shorts were very straightforward, I placed one leg inside the other so that the crotch seam was right sides together then stitched it twice a couple of millimetres apart before neatening.
I pressed over the top edge by 3.5cms then made two round-ended buttonholes for the ribbon to come through at the centre front. Next I top stitched close to the top fold, then sewed another row of stitching 3cms from the fold to create the elastic channel. I measured my elastic for a comfortable fit and added a short piece of dusky pink ribbon (which probably came off a gift bag or something) to each end of the elastic. I slotted this through the buttonholes and then secured it so that the elastic was just out of sight with only the ribbon showing through the button holes. Job done!
I’m pretty pleased with how my new pyjamas have turned out, I reckon I’ve already worn them more times than as a kaftan so that’s got to be a good thing, right? At least this pretty fabric isn’t languishing in the wardrobe waiting for a warm sunny holiday which is nowhere on the horizon any time soon!
I’m a bit uncomfortable about sharing photos in my PJ’s but it’s in a good cause I guess.
Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.
Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.
I’m beginning here with a faced hem…
The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.
If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.
The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.
If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.
I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.
For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.
If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.
I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.
The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.
Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.
Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.
If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.
This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.
I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…
To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.
This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.
I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!