A few hem finish suggestions-a Sew Over 50 topic

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…

This was the hem of the first Refashioners project I attempted. It was a jacket made from two pairs of my husband’s old jeans and because I wanted to use as much of the reclaimed fabric as possible I cut shaped facings for the lower edge. As you can see I also finished the edge with bias binding I made from offcuts of dress fabric.
The inside of the finished jacket looked like this. I understitched the lower edge of the facing to help it roll better and also slip-stitched it in various places including the seams and pocket bags to secure the facing without the stitching showing on the front.
This is also a much more shaped facing on the hem of Tilly and the Buttons Orla blouse. This can be a beautifully neat finish on a curve, it gives some ‘weight’ and crispness to the hem too and makes it less likely to curl upwards on blouses for example.
This Orla blouse was from 4 years ago, I like the exposed zip in the back too (the instructions for putting it in were excellent if I remember correctly)

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.

Helpfully, my fabric had horizontal stripes, some opaque and some sheer so I started by placing the crin on the front of the fabric and lining it up with the bottom edge of an opaque stripe. It is stitched on very close to the edge being careful not to stretch the crin as I sew, it’s important it lies flat. By sewing the crin onto the right side of the fabric when you flip it to the inside the raw edge of your fabric is enclosed underneath. To be honest I was making up the method as I went along because my experience of this technique previously came from altering wedding dresses which used it so this isn’t foolproof. I would strongly advise you to try a few samples first so that you have the version which looks best for your particular garment. [the eagle eyed amongst you might notice in my photo that I’ve sewn the crin to the wrong side of the fabric! I obviously did it and photographed it before realising what I’d done. As this was four years ago I don’t have any other photo!]
Once the crin is turned up to the inside I slip-hemmed it by hand, it looks a bit messy on the inside because the black shows up but it’s absolutely fine on the right side.
the finished dress, it’s one of my favourites I’ve ever made, and it’s a partial-refashion too because the velvet bodice used to be a skirt!

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.

Sew the binding on very close to the raw edge, this was a Simple Sew Lizzie dress
Here I made my own binding which is first sewn on with a 5mm seam allowance and then understitched which is what you see here. I made this Grainline Farrow dress for a magazine review
The hem is turned up and I’ve slipstitched it in place by hand.
This is the same technique with ready-made bias binding.
the finished skirt.
My final example is the little christening gown I made from a wedding dress.

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.

This is one of my variations on the Camber Set
I roll-hemmed a straight strip of fabric here which I then pleated onto the sleeve using a fork!
I roll-hemmed a straight strip top and bottom and gathered it onto the sleeve here.
An extended length sleeve on the River pattern from Megan Nielsen, roll-hemmed and elasticated

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.

Using strips of iron-on interfacing to stabilise the area where the cuffs fold up
This is felted-type woollen fabric where hand stitching is unlikely to show through but if you have a finer fabric I would make the interfacing strip wider so that I then caught the inter with my stitches and not the fabric itself. See the next photo to explain this better.
You can see the interfacing is above the hem line here and I’ve herringbone stitched it by hand. You can also see how I’ve created a chain link to anchor the lining to vent opening on the back of the skirt.
the hemming stitches aren’t visible from the outside using this technique.

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.

Personally I always think the stitches show a bit too much no matter how hard I try to get them really tiny. It’s very easy to catch a bit too much fabric, or none at all! In truth I probably don’t practice enough!!
This Regatta dress from Alice & Co was an ideal application because the skirt has a straight, unshaped 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.

the binding is sewn on the inside first
the binding then flips to the outside to become visible.
This dress was made for the Simplicity pattern hacking challenge last year
Instead of the usual hem on this dress I created a casing which I threaded elastic through.

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 hem from the inside
the finished hem from the outside.
the finished dress, I was off to a wedding!

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.

Inside the hem the corners are mitred.

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.

turn stitch and trim
make another narrow hem, stitch a second time on top of the first line. Press. There will only be one row of stitching visible on the outside.

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.

attaching a band to the hem.
The finished dress (worn with walking shoes during lockdown!)

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 put a piece of Stitch and Tear behind the fabric as I sewed.
It looked like this after I finished
It will look like this on the reverse.
gently pull away the backing and then carefully snip off the excess fabric up to the stitching line.
Eventually the hem looked like this, the sleeves are trimmed with Broderie Anglaise

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…

I had some narrow strips of white cotton lawn lying around so I joined them to make a piece long enough to go around the whole hem.
I folded the strip lengthwise.
attach the strip to the hem, raw edges together.
I understitched it, plus there’s a band on the front which is what you can see folded over in order to enclose the facing eventually.
The band folds back to enclose the hem facing.
There’s a little bit of puckering on the reverse here but this is invisible from the front, a good press will sort that out.

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.

Stitching the hem with the overlocked edge rolled to the inside.

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.

the bias strips were applied right side to wrong side on the shorts hems.
the bias strip is on the inside at the moment
It is then turned up to the outside where I trimmed and stitched it with ricrac braid.

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!

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

Sewing puffballs in the 80s!

If you’ve ever read the ‘a bit about me’ page here on the blog you’ll see that in the mid 1980s I worked for a bridal and evening wear company in London called David Fielden. I left the London College of Fashion in the summer of 1985 and started working there on my 23rd birthday. Originally I’d wanted to be a costume designer but during my college course I realised that going into bridal or evening wear was a very good alternative. In those days you just sent letters and CVs out to companies you were interested in working for in the hope that they might like the sound of you and be desperate to add you to their payroll! As it happened my letter was passed to Caroline who was the production manager for David in the evening wear workroom and she had done the same course as me a year earlier so she had a fair idea of what I was potentially capable of.

‘trying on’ one of the dresses back in the day…that was fabulous gold-printed panne velvet but it shed everywhere and bits of gold fibre stuck to you! I’ve written on the back that it’s style 668D (the D denoted a dress) in April 1986

They took me on and I was going to be cutting samples rather than sewing which initially I was disappointed about. I soon learned that cutting was a huge responsibility in its own right. I was used to making my own clothes with inexpensive fabrics which I bought in my local market or fabric shops, now I was working with fabulous silk taffeta, dupion, Duchesse and slipper satins, velvet, beaded and embellished brocades, even the lining was always silk habutai, it was all a bit dazzling and quite scary to start with! I was provided with a massive pair of shears which soon gave me a callous on my finger joint, I still have a mark there to this day. We had two huge waist-high cutting tables with all the fabrics stored underneath. The pattern cutter would pass me the initial pattern to cut as a toile so that she and the designer could assess the shape and fit on the stand. When they were happy I would be given the pattern along with all the fabrics and instructions for the new sample. It was part of my job to get everything out of the fabric as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible so I always spent time working this out like pattern Tetris before going near it with the scissors! I kept sketches of the layplan for future reference too. No piece was ever cut on a fold, we always used a whole front or a whole back, sleeves, bodice pieces or skirt panels could be ‘flipped’ though to fit them in. The pattern cutter would make the pieces in card from the paper version and I would draw around them in chalk or marking pencil, the pattern pieces would be held down on the fabric with long heavy weights, this means the pattern lasts much much longer than a paper one would. The card patterns would be grouped in style number order onto large hooks a bit like safety pins, each size was on a different hook. Some styles got informal names which is what we identified them by in the workroom, for example there was the ‘Doris Day’ which was a pretty 50s-style gown with silk satin boned bodice and clouds of diamante-studded ankle length tulle skirts, it came in soft pastel colours, and the ‘Carmen Miranda’ which was a longer length figure-hugging silk bodice overlaid with sequin-embellished lace and extravagantly ruffled silk organza mermaid skirts. This was one of the best selling designs and came in a variety of colours including black and scarlet, or could be ordered in other colours and fabric combinations by special order. Just one outworker made this style because she became so skilled at it, every ruffle was edged using a rolled-hem foot and it was then sandwiched between diagonal skirt panels. Oh and there were net petticoats under all of that too! It was very popular for magazine shoots because of it’s ‘film star’ quality and we were regularly squashing dresses unceremoniously into boxes or into dress bags to be couriered on the back of motor bikes to Fleet Street! Some of those poor dresses really suffered and looked quite tired in the end.

Actress Stephanie Beacham wearing a gown similar to the Carmen Miranda in a women’s magazine
another version of the dress in an ad for a car (?)
Anita Dobson was a huge star in Eastenders on TV at this time
Actress Koo Stark, I remember this being an Ottoman jacket (a type of fabric with heavy ribbing) and separate spotted tulle skirt. The edge of the ruffles were finished with the plastic ‘wire’ stripped out of Rigilene boning and zigzagged onto the edge to make them stand out like this!
This is Kathy, who is Sir Ian Botham’s wife, modelling one of the most popular designs. It’s a pity you can’t see the back as it’s cut away to reveal the small of your back and shoulder blades. There’s a scrap of the fabrics pinned to the picture, it was silk chiffon covered in paillettes over a layer of silk satin and lining, all the edges were finished with bias binding so that the sequins didn’t cut the wearer to ribbons! The skirt is silk organza with a net underskirt.
the same dress worn by Bridget Nielsen, Sylvester Stallone’s then-wife
Same dress again, I think this was editorial in a magazine

Whilst the showroom was in the King’s Road, Chelsea at that time the evening wear workroom was set up across town in Farringdon around the corner from now-trendy Exmouth Market, it was definitely not glamorous and the Woolworth’s pick-n-mix counter was the only interesting eatery back then!!

As well as Caroline, who is still a friend all these years later, there was a designer (David didn’t design, he had no drawing or making skills, he employed others to do it for him) a highly-skilled pattern cutter, a sample machinist and a sample cutter (me) When I wasn’t cutting and costing samples and special orders, Caroline and I would cut production too which was all sewn by out-workers who came in regularly to drop off the garments they had made and to collect the next batch, they were paid an agreed piece rate per garment. Each one was a highly skilled, and fast, machinist who would make the whole garment from start to finish. They all had different capabilities so some would stick to simpler garments like skirts or bodices whilst others made the fantastic evening gowns and ball dresses which David Fielden had become known for. Some of them worked in their own homes and didn’t make a massive quantity of garments, and a couple had set up their own workrooms where they then employed a few extra machinists so they could make larger quantities, we are still only talking about several dozen garments per week though, not hundreds or thousands.

Twice a year the designer, Charlotte, would go with David and his business partner Walter to various fabric shows such as Premier Vision to select beautiful fabrics for the next collection. A lot of the fabrics such as silk taffeta, dupion or Duchesse satins would come from local London suppliers in very quick time, often the same day if the colour was in stock, but the premium fabrics from France or Italy would be ordered in sample lengths ranging from as little as 3 metres up to 10 or 20 metres in the new seasons colours. If those styles then went into production then larger orders would be placed at a later date.

Each new collection was often an evolution of the previous one with a few of the most popular styles being developed in new colours and fabrics, plus some completely new styles. It was always exciting to have the new fabrics starting to arrive from overseas, there were some exquisitely beautiful embellished laces and tulles, occasionally further down the line one or two would prove problematic because the supplier couldn’t produce them quickly enough, or in the quantities required. Each ‘piece’ of lace often came in a 5m length which didn’t go very far. My least favourite fabrics to cut were slipper satin or chiffon, they moved about like the very devil and often it was best to sandwich them between two sheets of spot and cross paper.

Short dress with a velvet bodice and ‘rolls’ of velvet on the shoulders, hip and hem (I wish I could remember what went inside the rolls, it could have been wadding)
It may not look it but this was the most expensive fabric I ever worked on costing around £125 per metre back then! It was a base fabric of lace which was embellished with sequins. THEN it was covered in another more open lace fabric and over-sprayed with gold so that it left a stencil-type design. It came in just 3m pieces if I remember rightly.

I would cut everything for each garment as required and then make a ‘bundle’ including all trims (covered buttons, zip, piping cord etc) and labels. All the cut pieces were folded neatly and layered up and then the whole bundle was carefully folded in several layers of tissue paper and tied up along with identifying sticky labels for the outworker to use when they returned it to us in plastic cover.

Once the new collection was underway Caroline would sew samples as well to speed the process up. Models would come in periodically for fittings and to assess a design on the body. As well as cutting the new samples I also cut one-offs and special orders which could be interesting. For example, we made the gown that Sarah Brightman wore to the party after the world premier of Phantom of the Opera [we memorably made another dress for her to wear for a Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, she had a fitting at the showroom and declared it should be taken in which we duly did at the workroom. It was delivered back to her but with only hours to spare she realised she now couldn’t inflate her lungs to actually sing in it!! Back to the workroom it came to be let out again!] I cut gowns for Daryl Hannah (star of Splash with Tom Hanks) allegedly for the Oscars but I never saw her in it, and I cut a dress for Aretha Franklin too but I never saw that one photographed either. Sadly we never got to meet any of the celebrity clientele, we would just get a set of measurements and fittings would usually take place at the shop. Some stars would borrow gowns for swish parties and premiers so nothing much changes does it? Vogue magazine especially commissioned a version of one dress for a shoot, it was a black taffeta column gown with a wide pale pink sash as I recall. When it returned to the workroom afterwards the hem was water-marked and full of sand! It had been photographed on a beach!!

Dame Joan Collins with her then-partner Bill Wiggins. The dress was a beautiful rose pink colour, I think it was the teensiest bit snug on her.
Dame Shirley Bassey, that ruched bodice and skirt took so much fabric!
a black and white studio shot of the same style that Joan Collins was wearing, this sample was made in beautiful French printed silk taffeta, there was a large puffed bow on the back.
and another version in shot silk taffeta
I remember cutting this little dress, it was made especially for the photo
I think style was being made when I first went to work at David Fielden.

There were times of stress and all-hands-on-deck but lots of laughs too. I have very positive memories of my 3 years at David Fielden, we were a good team and I learnt so much from my colleagues, they were all brilliant at their jobs with so much experience under their belts already. The company was growing fast during those three years and David took on catwalk shows at London Fashion Week (that was very stressful for everyone because of the workload and short lead times involved!) David and Walter travelled to many overseas shows to exhibit which garnered orders from prestige stores in the US such as Neimann Marcus and Bloomingdales among others, stores in Europe, and Harrods in London. [we could have cried though to see these beautiful dresses being crammed into boxes for despatch]

In the end I left after three years because I got fed up with commuting into London every day, I went to work in the dress fabrics department of our local John Lewis branch so that was more textiles and cloth knowledge to store away in my brain to come in handy another day. I’m sorry the quality of the pictures isn’t great, the cuttings were all torn from magazines and newspapers at the time so they are a little tatty in places.

David Fielden is still in business I believe although the premises have moved to Fulham now, I think they specialise entirely in bridal wear but I’m not sure. The website isn’t particularly up to date but you get an flavour.

This turned into quite a long post (I hope you had a coffee in hand?!) but there’s a few pictures to look at too!! I’ve really enjoyed thinking back to my early working days to tell you all about them and I guess I was very fortunate to work with such a variety of very beautiful fabrics, maybe now you can see why I’m always SO particular about cutting out at the start of any project! So until next time,

Sue

Roses-the latest Alexander McQueen exhibit in London

This isn’t so much a blog as a photo album. I know lots of you appreciate seeing images from the beautiful exhibitions that I often go to so I thought I’d share the pictures I took when I visited the Alexander McQueen shop in Old Bond St, London recently.

If you go up to the second floor of the flagship store you will find a stunning collection of brand new as well as archive garments on display. Whilst you’re not allowed to touch, nothing is behind glass and you are free to take your time, wander around between the clothes and see everything close up and great detail.

The overarching theme this time is ‘roses’ and as well as items from the new collection there are several gowns from past ones including the Sarabande collection from 2007, and The Girl Who lived in the Tree from 2008. McQueen used many natural forms and ‘textiles’ within his collections including shells and bones as well as wood and metal, he never shied away from experimentation.

I adored seeing this dress fairly close up in Savage Beauty but I really wanted to see what happened at the back (I always do when I go to exhibitions!)
Fortunately now I can see exactly what’s happening, it’s beautiful voluptuous folds of rich duchesse satin.

Close by are the most gorgeous, extravagant gowns made from metres and metres of Italian silk taffeta, constructed to specifications which will enhance its qualities of stiffness and pliability. We were told that each gown contains none of the usual stiffeners or interfacings such as crin or horsehair, a small amount of boning is used in the Elizabethan-style collar of the red dress but that’s it.

You can see all the teeny tiny pleats which are so precisely worked in order to flow over the torso.
There is a short video to watch nearby which shows in fascinating detail how these shapes were arrived at, they are carefully built up onto supporting boned bodices and underskirts to carry the weight. The red ‘Elizabethan’ collar dress took approximately 3 weeks to construct.
The skill of manipulating the fabric into cohesive, recognisable forms is breathtaking.
On the walls nearby are photos of the gowns at various stages of construction and trying out lots of ideas, also accessorising them in different ways too.

These photos are well worth taking the time to look at because it gives you some idea of the working process as well as the starting point for ideas. There are images, for example, from Vita Sackville West’s beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Sussex (well worth a visit too!)

What appears at first sight to be feathers is in fact finely pleated and shredded silk organza.

What I find so memorable about the show space is the sheer amount of visual information and it’s there for all to see, there’s nothing secretive or precious about the process. Although it’s aimed at students primarily anyone with an interest is welcome too, and the assistants are happy to tell you everything they know, and to point out things which may be of interest. I wonder if other designers would be as happy to open up in this way? The Sarabande Foundation was set up by Lee Alexander McQueen as a way of promoting and supporting visionary creative talent which still continues.

So, what loves a rose possibly most of all? Bees of course! Just take a look at this beautiful gown, it’s so simple in its silhouette and yet the details are stunning.

We didn’t notice the honeycomb design within the fabric initially, and it’s only as I’ve looked again at this photo that I realised there are bees woven into it too!
Can you see the bees in the weave? And some of the hexagons are in a different weave too! So much attention to detail.
Nearby are the test samples for various forms of the embroidery.
…and by complete chance I’m wearing my bee dress!
the two dresses side by side put me in mind of Swan Lake and Odette/Odile, what do you think?
This is the Queen Bee dress which had extraordinary embroidery, it’s all enclosed within a hooped ‘hive’

Just a few more photos! There are also examples of dresses nearby made from beautiful needlepoint, and one riffing on a similar theme of deconstructed corsets similar to the previous exhibition.

I couldn’t resist another selfie with those beautiful dresses (do you like my McQueen-esque boots?)
This is from our visit to the previous show earlier in the summer
McQueeeeeen! I always have great visits with Claire, Kara and Camilla

So to sum up, if you are in London in the Mayfair area I’d urge you to take a visit to the second floor of the McQueen shop. Even if you only have 30 minutes it’s a good way to spend the time and don’t worry, the doorman is friendly, tell him I sent you!!

Until next time,

Sue

Sewing with a sheer fabric

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months…six months to be exact, because that’s when I wore the dress at my dear friend Jenny’s wedding in April! I know it’s a spring/summer dress but I thought the way I’ve used the fabric might be of interest if you’re thinking of tackling a tricky fabric. I’ve used a couple of techniques which could be helpful.

I bought the fabric in Fancy Silks in Birmingham last autumn with the intention of making an Asymmetric Dress TPC2 by Trend Patterns for our cruise but eventually I made that in something else and, as Jenny had set the date for a spring wedding, I decided to use it for that event instead. It’s a challenging fabric which I would describe as being a satin-striped organza which has been overprinted with flowers. It’s exactly the same type of fabric that I used for my Dior-inspired evening gown three years ago. Part of the challenge is that it’s sheer so it needs to have some kind of lining, this could be a loose lining, or an alternative is to mount it onto another fabric first like I did and then make it up into the dress.

By an amazing piece of good fortune I had some very soft satin left from a pair of bridesmaid dresses I made about five years ago and it was a PERFECT match-unbelievable! Better still, I ordered some lining from Minerva based purely on the colour image on my screen and it was also a perfect match-it was obviously meant to be.

Clearly though I had to decide on a pattern, I didn’t want anything too flouncy and there was going to be some serious stripe-matching going on so it couldn’t be in a million pieces. I rummaged amongst my patterns and came upon Butterick 6244 by Lisette which must have been free with a magazine at some point. A couple of the lovely ladies who come to my class have made the coat with great success but, looking at reviews, I think the dress has been largely passed over. It appealed to me because the skirt was a very straightforward A-line and the bodice was Princess seams with a ‘Dior’ dart [this is where a short dart extends to the bust point from a Princess seam] There is also a small shoulder yoke at the front so that was perfect for rotating the stripe.

With the exception of the sleeves I had to cut all the pieces in three different fabrics, the satin and the lining I could cut together but the organza had to be cut separately to ensure the stripes matched properly. I altered the sleeve to make them longer and then I decided to add a pointed cuff to finish them off.

Once everything was cut out it’s a fairly slow process of ‘mounting’ each organza piece onto its satin backing. I began by laying each satin piece shiny side up flat on the table, placing the organza on top and pin the two together around the edges. Then, moving it as little as possible, I tacked each piece together within the seam allowances. This was another reason for keeping the number of pieces to a minimum because this process takes a fair amount of time. Once all the pieces have been mounted you simply construct the garment as normal. This has various advantages, it makes the see-through fabric opaque, it makes a flimsy fabric more stable and in this case it means the hem of the skirt will be invisible when sewn.

I used narrow piping on the neck edge and the waistband to give them some finesse, I had to cover the piping cord with both organza and lining because the cord showed through the organza alone. You can use a regular zip foot to sew on the piping, I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff which is brilliant because it sews so close and holds it all firmly in position whilst sewing.

piping cord around the neckline.

So that’s pretty much it really because aside from matching lots of stripes it’s a normal dress. The beauty of the skirt meant that I could use self-made satin binding on the hem and then the hand-stitching won’t show on the right side, a truly invisible hem!

satin bias-binding on the hem, understitched and slip-hemmed in position.
the hem is then totally invisible on the outside.

The only sheer parts are the sleeves which I added pointy cuffs to and finished them off with pretty sparkly buttons. I mounted each cuff part onto plain organza before construction to give them more stability.

I cut the cuffs with the stripes running at right-angles to the sleeves.

I hope you might find some of these techniques helpful if you’re tackling trickier fabrics. Mounting one onto another is useful to add interest-you could have a contrast colour underneath lace for example, it gives opacity to flimsier fabrics, stability and support to fabrics like panne velvet and can enable seams and hems to ‘disappear’ with ease. I used french seams in the sleeves but otherwise they are all regular seams. I only overlocked those inside the skirt as there is a separate skirt lining, the bodice is fully lined and enclosed so there’s no need to overlock any of those seams. If you’re using chiffon or georgette which are more fluid fabrics than organza you you should back them or interface them with a similar weight of fabric, preferably plain in colour so as not to show through or deepen the colour of the top fabric too much. Plain chiffon or organza are frequently used in couture techniques for this purpose.

It turned out that April 22nd was a very warm day so maybe I should have dropped the neckline slightly but that’s British weather for you-somewhat unpredictable! It was a gorgeous, happy wedding…

did I mention it has pockets?

So as we head towards winter here in the UK I bring you a post featuring a summery dress! Anyway, you might find parts of it helpful.

Happy sewing

Sue

Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A

The last few weeks on the blog have been very much about Sew Over 50 which has all been very exciting but that has meant that I haven’t had as much time to write about the other things which interest me a lot.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m really interested in the history of fashion and so visiting exhibitions of clothing from across the decades, or even centuries, is something I love to do. Living where I do I’m fortunate to be well placed to get into central London in less than an hour making most galleries and museums very accessible.

London’s blockbuster fashion exhibition this spring is Dior: Designer of Dreams which opened at the beginning of February in the V&A in South Kensington and it is such a beautiful show with literally hundreds of outfits on display. It’s being staged in their newest space, the Sainsbury Wing, which is underground but doesn’t feel remotely subterranean when you’re in it. Each room is different and begins with the single most famous outfit of all, the Bar suit from the first ‘New Look’ collection of February 1947. Nearby are other interpretations of it by the designers who followed Dior himself as head of the house which he created.

Bar suit February 1947

The show is thematic rather than chronological which personally I think makes it more coherent, not less. Whilst each designer has brought their own aesthetic to the label there is an element of timelessness about many of the creations. [It’s quite a fun game to see if you can work out which era a gown comes from, I was wrong a number of times, sometimes I went modern and they were from the 50’s and other times the opposite was true] The show takes you through a series of rooms which contain gowns of every shape and hue. Early on you come across the gown created for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday ball in 1951. She and her mother continued to be Dior fans even after Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she herself has only ever worn British designers since.

The rooms are cleverly arranged because you move from one to the next and they all feel quite spacious and different to the previous one, some have dark backgrounds whilst others are light and airy. Some gowns are behind glass but many are not so you can get a good view of the exquisite workmanship and skills that have gone into each of them.

When he was alive Christian Dior made full use of the allure of Hollywood film stars to promote his collections and he dressed many leading ladies including Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell, their shapely figures were perfect for showing off his womanly designs. In fact Coco Chanel was very critical of his New Look because she saw it as a step backwards for women in terms of having to wear restrictive garments like corsets again, this coming after the relative freedom she had created with her boyish shapes in the pre-war years.

The pastel colours in the next room are beautifully lit and there are gowns by many of the designers who have come after Christian himself including the 21 year old prodigy Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. I loved this room…

Moving on from this room to the next there is a marked contrast with the gowns or ensembles being influenced by or referencing travel around the world. Several of John Galliano’s most fantastical creations are here alongside more wearable dresses by the other designers.

At various points there are also smaller cabinets and display cases containing other items of interest including beautiful perfume bottles, and photographs from Christian Dior’s beloved garden.

It might not look like it but this is dress is only about 30cms high
a perfect miniature dress embellished with flowers
A Raf Simons gown in front of a Christian Dior original
the setting in this room is stunning with thousands of papercut flowers and petals cascading from the ceiling
Lily of the Valley were one of Christian Dior’s favourite flowers and they featured regularly in his collections.

I actually wish that perfume had been wafted into this room to enhance the beautiful ambience…a hint of Miss Dior perhaps (named for his sister Catherine) or the scent of lily of the valley from Diorissimo?

The talents of all the Creative Directors are show-cased in the next room starting with Yves Saint Laurent’s brief tenure (he left to do his National Service in the army) Marc Bohan who served for the longest time and is still alive at the age of 93. After him came Italian Gianfranco Ferre followed by the notorious and flamboyant Gibraltarian John Galliano. When his reign ended abruptly under a cloud he was eventually followed by Belgian Raf Simons, and finally the first woman to hold the role, Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Raf Simons
I love this pleated skirt by Raf Simons
This could only be John Galliano in his pomp
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ‘Tarot’ coat looks as if it has been made from pieces of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery

The next room is of particular interest to keen dressmakers because it is entirely filled with toiles of gowns, jackets and ensembles. It’s snowy whiteness is a stark contrast to all the bright colours and embellishment in the previous rooms and it heightens the drama of the superlative cutting and construction skills of the all-too-often unsung atelier staff or ‘petit mains’ as they are usually known. These are where the ideas are tried out, where the unusual cut of a sleeve is experimented with, or a dart on a collar attempted. It doesn’t waste costly and precious fabric and it helps visualise unusual proportions or new concepts. These toiles are about way more than just checking the fit on a garment.

Moving next through a narrow space displaying hundreds of magazine covers over the decades featuring Dior fashions old and new on one side, and a glass cabinet on the other side containing many shoes, bags, scarves, jewellery and other accessories and miniature versions of gowns and ensembles perfect in every detail like the full-size originals.

And finally you arrive at the best room of all. I had no idea what was coming so to round the corner and emerge into a huge ballroom space with lighting, music and special effects was breathtaking to say the least. There are literally dozens of gowns to look at, including three iterations of the J’Adore gowns worn by Charlize Theron in the perfume adverts.

J’Adore gowns
gowns worn by Lupito Nyong’o and Nicole Kidman.

You need to spend as long as you can in this room to fully experience it, there are places to sit too so you can rest and take it all in.

There’s only one more gown to see before you leave and it’s set between mirrors so you get the sense that there are many dresses, not just one.

The final gown was created by Maria Grazia Chiuri and it harks back to Christian Dior right at the beginning. It is soft and feminine and it references the New Look with its full pleated skirt and elegant lines. It could be from 1947 but it is very much of the now.

I absolutely love this exhibition! I’ve been able to go twice so far, as well as attend a talk between exhibition curator Oriale Cullen and Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie. As I keep mentioning in other posts, I’ve had such good value from my Membership of the V&A and this year will be no different. In April a retrospective of the work of Mary Quant also opens too. I purchased my own membership and all views expressed here are entirely my own.

You have until July 14th to see this exhibition and if you have any chance of being in London I urge you to try and get a ticket. I believe there are 500 additional tickets available every day but they sell out very quickly, check the website for updates would be my suggestion. I hope I’ve been able to give those of you who can’t get to London a small taste of the show, and for those of you who hope to get here my photos in no way do it justice and you’ve definitely got a lot to look forward to!

Until next time,

Sue

a vintage-inspired posh party frock

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So party frocks are a thing I like to make but, like most people, I’m not a red-carpet celebrity and I don’t often get a chance to wear them.

This time though I had a reason because back in the spring we set the date of November 5th for a dinner-dance to celebrate Mr Y’s year in the Chair at his Lodge (don’t ask, I’m not going to try to explain) It’s an excuse to get gussied up and put on your best bib and tucker and as I am the President’s Lady (like Michelle but not as cooool) I have to look pretty darn good.

I didn’t have any clear idea at that time of what I might want to make but on a trip to Brighton in May which inevitably included a visit to Ditto I spotted the most gorgeous striped and printed organza. It was love at first sight! I like to think I know my fabrics and I honestly expected it would cost in the region of £20-£25 per metre. When Gill told me it was just £8 per metre I was astonished!! The thing is, the first roll of fabric I saw was pale orange flowers on a black background. I would happily have bought this if Gill hadn’t then said she’d got it with pink flowers! so now a dilemma…which to choose? It looked for a while as if there wasn’t going to be a choice to be made because the pink version couldn’t be found. This didn’t put Gill off (despite it being a busy Saturday in the shop) so while we tootled off to spend time in town she searched for, and eventually located, the pink. What a star she is!!

I’d formulated an idea in my head by now which was basically the skirt shape of Dior’s 1947 New Look. The stiffness of the fabric lent itself to it so I fancied a straightforward dirndl pleated into the waistline ought to look good. DiorDior New LookIMG_0003
I bought 2.5 metres which was roughly 2 skirt ‘drops’ and a bit extra. Happy days!!

The next part of the jigsaw was to decide what form the bodice should take, and what colour, because the background for the pink colour-way was an olive green not black. I didn’t mind this because I don’t wear much black anyway. As I’ve said on more than one occasion I rarely throw a decent bit of fabric away and amongst my pile of ‘things that might be useful one day’ was a panne velvet skirt which I’d never worn much but loved the fabric. Guess what? it was a perfect match!! would it be enough though? IMG_0026fullsizeoutput_119

The answer, thankfully, was yes, although I couldn’t be sure about sleeves at that stage…cross that bridge when I get to it!

So I motored on now with constructing the bodice using one from Simplicity Project Runway K2444 [originally free with Sew magazine] which I’d snapped up from the swaps table at The Sewing Weekender in August and had used once already for my waxed cotton dress.

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Wearing the waxed-cotton dress with my first refashions jacket (outside Buckingham Palace in 2016)

Another reason for using it was because it had darts and not separate panels thereby saving valuable fabric.

Panne velvet is very slippery and unstable so I mounted the pieces first onto a more stable fabric, in this case some ordinary black poly/cotton that I had. If you’re going really ‘high-end’ you’d use something like silk organza. You do this by laying everything carefully together matching the cut edges but taking care not to have the velvet misshapen and then, keeping it all flat on the table, tack around the edges by hand. On a fabric like this it just isn’t enough to pin and hope for the best. I did this for the darts too before machining them. By tacking carefully it helps to stop the velvet creeping in different directions under the machine foot. I don’t possess a walking foot but I found I’d got a roller foot so I used that satisfactorily instead. To help prevent the side seams wrinkling too much in wear I put in some boning, directly onto the seam allowances.

Alongside this I had to decide what to line the skirt with as it’s a sheer fabric. I mocked up a couple of colours on Doris to see the different effects.

I settled for dark but with pale pink net under that to echo the roses. While I was at the Knitting and Stitching show in early October I found a lovely quality Italian lining at just £2 per metre in a ‘shot’ red/green colour. I wasn’t totally sure if it would be right and, as I said to the guy on the stall “it will either be a triumph or a total disaster!” At £4 for 2 metres it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway.

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I mocked up the whole thing from time to time on Doris just to make sure it would become a unified whole and not lots of segments that didn’t really work.

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trying out the pleats

Getting the pleats to fit the waist was a bit of a trial but with some patience and lots of tacking I got it to the right length to fit. I’ve made many dresses like these over the years (although rarely for me) and it’s best to keep all the parts separate for as long as practical so you can work on each of them more easily and then join them together at the last possible moment-that way you’re not wrestling with a huge amount of fabric/net etc for any longer than necessary.

Amazingly I managed to getting a pair of short sleeves out of the remaining fabric which I was delighted by.

I cut the bias-cut collar in organza twice as wide as the original so that it would roll over prettily.

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On the hem of the skirt I decide to use crin (just like in Strictly Come Dancing!) to finish the edge neatly and invisibly and to give it some ‘bounce’. After machining it on along one edge I turned it and stitched by hand.

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The under-lining was a straightforward flared skirt although I cut it on the bias to allow the waist to have some ‘give’ if it needed it. I’d decided on rose-pink net underneath that so that the overall effect of the dress wasn’t too dark, I used two different shades together in the end. Again, I’ve made masses of these in the past and they aren’t difficult (when you know how)

For example, you can get a pretty decent amount of zjoosh (is that even a word?!) from just 3 metres of dress net (140cms wide)

  • keeping the net folded in half lengthways, cut one piece your desired finished length e.g.. 70cms [If you want a fuller petticoat you can cut two of these and join them at the narrow ends to form a longer strip, you’ll more net for the next part though]
  • now cut 2 or 3 widths of net that are the same or slightly shorter than the first one, e.g. 60-70cms. These need to be joined at their narrow edges to form a long strip. Fold this in half LENGTHWAYS. It will now be a strip that is half as wide as the first piece, and very long. Now stitch close to the cut edges with the longest gathering stitches your machine will sew [if you have a gathering foot or your overlocker gathers effectively you can use those to do the gathering for you] Pull up the threads until the long strip fits onto the original single cut length. Matching the folded edge of the ruffle against the bottom edge of the single piece, pin and stitch in position. This part can be a bit tricky because of all the fabric involved but be patient.
  • Now cut another 2 or 3 widths of net approximately 50cms each (or evenly divide into 2-3 whatever you’ve got left) Repeat the step above, you’ll have another even narrower strip which you’ll sew in position UNDER the first one but again with all the hems level at the bottom. It should be looking like a net petticoat by this stage.
  • The fuller you want it to be the more layers you can add although there comes a point where it will just collapse in too much again your legs without something like a hoop or a very firm lining under it.
  • You’ll need to join the two narrow ends together so that it now forms a tube-shape. This is your basic petticoat which you can put a lining inside to stop it being itchy, you can either insert it straight into the dress or, a better method, attach it to a narrow strip of lining or ‘basque’ and join that to the garment, it’s less bulky.

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I didn’t want there to be a seam in the back of the organza to spoil the stripes so I made a small slit-opening and then carefully bound the edge with a bias-strip of lining. Once I’d joined the bodice and skirt together I sewed the zip through to the lining. Putting the zip in was a bit tricky and even though I tacked it, didn’t go right first time. I had to take one side back out and try again-the zip moved because of the pile of the velvet causing it to shift as I sewed.

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Once the dress was all together (I hadn’t needed to refit anything as I went which was very good news-all I’d done was narrow the shoulders slightly when I cut it out because I knew they were too wide for me from the waxed cotton version) I wanted something to finish off the waist seam. I had a slightly sparkly belt which looked nice except the buckle wasn’t right. I hit upon the idea of making a temporary bow in organza, on elastic, that would sit over the top of it.IMG_0242

I’d decided a while ago that rose-gold shoes were what I wanted to finish the ensemble off but of course I couldn’t find any that were right! In the end dear Mr Y found a perfect unworn pair of L.K.Bennett courts on Ebay! Result!!

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So there it is, that’s how simple it is to make a New Look-inspired fancy party frock!

Actually I really enjoyed making it because I only had myself to please and I didn’t have to make fitting appointments or worry about weight loss or gain (much) changes of mind etc etc. Because I started in plenty of time I was never in too much of a rush and I have the advantage of knowing what I’m doing. I LOVED wearing it on the night and I had so many lovely comments about it. I’ve been both touched and staggered by the response on Instagram and Facebook too.

I’d love to think I might have inspired some of you to have a go at something like this if you get the opportunity, or the right occasion.

When Amy Thomas invited me to write my pattern review for Love Sewing last year she suggested I brought along my dress so that we could get some nice photos, this is one of the results.

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With Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas in September

For some strange reason, since I originally wrote this blog, lots of the photos disappeared from it. I had a problem with my laptop a couple of times so it may have happened then. I’ve recently replaced most of them although I’m not sure they are all the same as the originals. Never mind, you’ll get the gist of it.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue xx