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

My Simplicity pattern hack for The Eve Appeal.

How often do you alter or adapt a pattern when you’re making it? By that I don’t mean the usual things like adjusting the fit to suit your height or bust measurement, I mean really alter it significantly with things like changing the sleeves or completely changing the length. 

I’ve always enjoyed doing exactly this because it’s a way of making a garment completely original and all your own even if loads of other dressmakers are sewing and sharing their versions of a particular pattern. These days this process even has it’s own name-pattern hacking. You can read a couple of my previous blog posts where I’ve hacked patterns to give you some other ideas, here and here.

When I was invited by The Fold Line to take part in the Simplicity Patterns/Eve Appeal campaign this year I knew it would be something I’d enjoy and could really get my teeth into. There are a range of patterns you can choose from and for every one sold Simplicity will make a donation to the Eve Appeal. I picked a blouse pattern #8658 to use because I could see its potential for changes, not least because it’s shown in stripes on the envelope and I knew there was fun to be had playing with the directions of them. I chose a really lovely blue striped shirting with a little bit of stretch generously provided by Minerva and while I waited for it to arrive I did some sketching of ideas. The raglan sleeve is in two parts running down the top of the arm to the wrist so my first idea was to have the stripes running in different directions, which led on to having the lower, bell-shaped part of the sleeve cut on the bias. 

I thought the back needed to be a bit more interesting than just a centre back seam with a button and loop closure so I altered it to include buttons and buttonholes. The blouse is over-the-head anyway so I don’t need to be able to open the buttons to get it on. The neckline is finished with bias binding but why put it on the inside when you can make a feature of it on the outside? 

Strangely I never saw it as staying just a blouse, it was always going to become a dress but how to do that? I like long floaty skirts so I sketched out quite a few variations of gathered, pleated and flounced skirts, all with pockets in the seams somewhere. I had decided that the bodice should be higher at the front than the back which obviously would affect the skirt levels but I eventually left that decision until the bodice was made up and I could see it more clearly on the stand.

I thought I’d do some of my initial adaptations and make it up as a blouse first to check the fit. The back is easy to change because it already has a CB seam so I merely added 5cms to the edge to allow for a grown-on button-stand. The original stitching line will remain as the CB and that is where the buttons and buttonholes will get positioned. I traced all the pattern pieces I needed onto spot-and-cross paper although the envelope does include a large sheet of squared tissue paper for you to use to make your own changes if you don’t have spot-and-cross. [You could use cheap wide greaseproof paper if you have it, I used to use broadsheet newspaper taped together when I was a student but that’s getting harder to find!]

Having traced the two parts of the sleeve once I then retraced them again (I didn’t want to cut up the first ones, I may want the sleeve full-length at some point) just the top parts to a length a bit above my elbow, around bicep level, not forgetting to add seam allowance to the new lower edge. Next I pinned the FULL-LENGTH sleeve pieces together along the stitching lines vertically so that I could trace off a new single piece for the lower sleeve. As well as the regular straight grain I added a bias grainline too because I’d be using that with the stripes. You could add extra fullness to this part by cutting and spreading if you wish, it would make a very voluminous bell-shaped sleeve.

I cut a size ‘medium’ according to both my body measurements and by referring to the finished garment measurements printed on the pattern. Using some lovely printed poplin from Stitch and Knit, a new fabric and yarn shop near me, I made up the blouse. Part of my plan on the dress was to highlight the seaming with topstitching so I did this on the blouse too although I used a fun ‘circles’ stitch in a contrast colour which echoed the design on the fabric. I didn’t cut the lower sleeve on the bias though because it wouldn’t make any obvious difference to the look of the print. I tried out my idea of French binding on the outside of the neck edge and that looked good too. 

Overall I was very happy with the fit of the medium so I didn’t need to make any changes to sizing. This meant I could retrace the front and back bodices to my chosen length which was approximately Empire-line or a few centimetres below my under-bust line. To decide where this was first I pinned the front and back parts together at the side seam on the stitching line and then attached it all to the stand. You can then see more clearly where you might want to draw the horizontal style lines from front to back, especially if you want a sloping line. With these lines drawn on you can trace off the new, shorter parts and check them on the stand and on yourself too. This is important because I thought I’d made the line a little too high so I added some more length to the bottom, 5cms in all I think. 

This might all seem like a lot of tracing off and you could just indicate on the pieces where your various cutting lines are (or wing it!) then transfer your markings direct to the fabric. As I planned to rotate the back so that the stripes were horizontal I wanted accurate pattern pieces. 

The bodice parts cut on the various grains to utilise the stripes.

After cutting the bodice section in striped fabric I first reinforced the buttonstands with iron-on interfacing up to the fold line. Next I attached the appropriate sleeve parts and top stitched the seams, then joined the shoulder seams so that I could bind the neckline. I’d cut a long bias strip of fabric 5cms wide which I folded lengthwise wrong sides together and pressed to get a crisp edge. Next place the bias on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric with its folded edges to the cut neck edge, this is because you will flip the binding to the outside eventually where it will be visible. Once you have pinned the binding in place you will know exactly how long it needs to be so then you’ll need to neaten the ends by turning them RS together and stitching. Fold them back out and pin in place, it should be level with edges of the buttonstands. Stitch the binding in place using a 1cm seam allowance, trim and snip as required then flip it to the right side and topstitch in position around the neck. The photos of the blouse version should make this clearer.

Once you’re certain of the length stitch the end of the bias like so.
It’s clearer in this image that the RIGHT SIDE of the bias is first attached to the WRONG side of the fabric, and that the end is neatened to finish level with the fold.
It should look like this when it’s finished.

You can sew the buttonholes at this stage too if you like or leave them until the end. I’d bought the most gorgeous metal buttons from Duttons for Buttons in Harrogate, Yorkshire, the only problem was that the loop on the reverse of them isn’t central which is why the top button looks a bit off kilter, it had to be sewn like that so that the top band remained level.

I attached the lower bias-cut sleeve parts next, sewed up the side seams and elasticated the cuffs., as per the instructions (yes I did use them occasionally!)

I still couldn’t decide what to do with the skirt so I tried a couple of ideas out with fabric scraps to mock-up various looks. The shirting is quite fine so it gathers really nicely without a lot of bulk, if I’d used pleats I would have had the complicated task of working out the pattern pieces to fit accurately onto a curved and dipping lower bodice edge and that was a challenge too far-especially as the stripes would have had to match too!  

flat all the way around-too much stripe matching for this one!
gathers all the way around.
Smooth front with side gathers, which is what I finally settled on.

Eventually I settled on a bit of a technical cop-out by using two simple rectangles which gathered onto the lower edge of the bodice instead of making shaped skirt pieces, apart from the central areas where they would be flat. This meant that the hem followed the same line as the bodice, higher at the front than the back, but the side seams will pitch slightly forwards as a result. It isn’t the end of the world but rather that than make the dress too complicated for you to try copying for yourself. And of course I put pockets into the side seams, with the stripes running on the opposite grain. I have a cardboard template for the pockets which I made ages ago and I just draw around it directly onto the fabric as required. (Basically I drew around my hand onto card, plus a bit of extra space, plus a seam allowance and a straight edge on one side to sew to seams) 

I placed the pocket bags 10cms down from the top edge on each of the side seams.

One final twist I added at the end was to insert elastic around the hem to give it an unusual silhouette. I turned up the hem 5mm and pressed it in position then I pressed it up again by 2.5cms. I topstitched top and bottom leaving a small gap through which I inserted 2cm wide elastic about 1 metre long. The casing could double as the hem if I choose to take the elastic out in the future. 

Mr Y and I went to Kew Gardens on a beautiful day in September and I took the opportunity to pop into the ‘Ladies’ and change into my dress for a photoshoot with more interesting backdrops than my back garden!

I hope this has given you a few ideas that you could try for yourself, this pattern is an ideal blank canvas and it has a few suggestions included which you could try first of all. There are so many possibilities you could attempt, and some of the other bloggers involved may have used this pattern too so it will be interesting to compare their own takes on it. I wanted to mess about with stripe direction, this would also work if your fabric has a strong one-way design. You could highlight the seams using piping, ribbon or other trims, what about an exposed zip down the back? you could leave the seam on the top of the sleeves open and secure it at intervals with little buttons? Obviously you don’t have to turn it into a dress but you could play with the length or put straight horizontal seams across, maybe at different levels to each other? It could potentially be a scrap-buster too…so many possibilities! If you’re going to add style lines which aren’t already there don’t forget to add seam allowance to the edges of them, include a notch or two if necessary so that you know which pieces you’re matching together.

You might have tried and trusted patterns at home which would be ideal springboards to new ideas, or by buying this pattern you will be helping raise valuable funds for research and support of those suffering with female gynaecological cancers.

Whatever you decide to try, enjoy the exploring the possibilities, don’t use expensive fabric to start with if you’re not sure you’ll like the result, look in your workbox to see what trims and embellishments you could use, contrast top stitching is one of my favourite, and most simple, ways of making something unique. There’s a whole series of other bloggers who will be taking part in this challenge in the coming weeks and months so why not take a look at what winner of the Great British Sewing Bee 2018, and pattern-hacking queen, Juliet has done for starters, or Abi of @whatabimakes and Rachel @thefoldline have added their spin to patterns in the range now too.

You can find further information about the patterns used here too

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and for more information about The Eve Appeal try here

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Think outside the box, what’s the worst that can happen? you’ll ‘waste’ a bit of fabric, or you could discover hidden designing talents, just have fun and do your bit for charity at the same time.

Happy Sewing!

Sue