Replicating a favourite shirred sundress for a client

I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.

Of course, said I.

It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.

Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.

As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.

I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]

Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.

Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.

These were the important lines for the fitted section of the bodice.
Make sure your piece of calico is perfectly on grain and quite a bit bigger than the section you’re working on. Start by pinning the grainline of the fabric to the CF line and then gradually smooth the fabric over the mannequin. push any creases and wrinkles away to the edges. Push pins through in various places to keep it like this, when you’re happy with it then you can draw the style lines (which should be visible through the fabric) onto the calico. Cut away some but not all of the excess fabric, you need this to be able to draw on seam allowances. I left this piece in position and started on the gathered under-bust piece. I smoothed the fabric across from the CF in a similar way but this time I added quite a bit of fullness under the bust before smoothing the rest of the fabric to the side seam. Again I drew on the lines and cut away some of the excess fabric. Draw on balance marks and notches as required before you remove the pieces from the mannequin-make certain you have the CF marked-from these pieces of fabric you will create paper patterns.
After I had made paper templates from the ‘modelled’ fabric I was able to sew this bodice together in fresh calico. The under-bust strip was the original which was OK.

I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!

The finished dress modelled by Indoor Doris, she’s not quite as voluptuous as Outdoor Doris!
The original dress featured beaded embellishment over the bust which there wasn’t time for me to replicate but my client might add this herself in the future.

I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!

This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?

My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

“Night & Day: 1930’s fashion and photographs” at the Fashion & Textiles Museum, London.

 

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seems appropriate as the sun was going down… 

The Fashion & Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London is hosting a new exhibition of gorgeous vintage frocks from the 1930’s so I thought I’d tell you a little about it to whet your appetite if you’re looking for an exhibition to go to.

It’s called “Night and Day: 1930s fashion and photographs” and is on now until January 20th, 2019 so you’ve got a little while in which to see it. I know a few people are a bit sniffy about the FTM, I’m not really sure why as I think they put on small but interesting fashion and textile (!) related shows which are very varied in their content and unlike most other shows they aren’t expensive. One of the things I like best is that you can get so close to the exhibits without glass getting in the way so you can really see, in many cases, exactly what you’re looking at. There is always labelling in the vicinity for the exhibits but you also get a purpose-designed booklet, always in keeping with the theme, to accompany it as well. I generally keep this to have a read through later on because in this case there’s a wealth of background information of the social upheaval that was going on at the time to give you some context. I’ve found if I try to read the booklet I don’t look at the clothes and vice versa.

This show is divided into linked groups of gowns, dresses and ensembles, including some menswear. There are stunning evening gowns in a myriad of beautiful shades and fabrics, day dresses, floaty summer gowns complete with gorgeous straw hats and practical but elegant daywear, always with hats!

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I noticed a lot of the bias-cut gowns used what appear to be flat fell seams (although it could just be top-stitching, it’s difficult to tell) This is possibly a way to stop them stretching too much but I’m just speculating.

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Look at the use of stripes in this simple but stunning silk satin bias-cut evening gown. The bias cut had been popularised by French designer Madeleine Vionnet in the 1920’s and was an integral part of women’s fashions by the 1930s. 

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all the pretty summer dresses…

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look at this shoulder detail!

 

 

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adore this sleeve! It’s so on trend right now

 

I’d gone on this particular day because fashion historian Amber Butchart was giving a talk about her new book, “The Fashion Chronicles: the style stories of history’s best dressed” which was absolutely fascinating, she’s an excellent speaker and really knows her subject. I bought a copy of her book afterwards and took the chance to ask her if there will be another series of “a Stitch in Time” on BBC4. Sadly she doesn’t think there will be at present unless we campaign for it. I found it such an interesting series and I know a lot of others who don’t have an interest in fashion or textiles per se found it fascinating too. Shame…

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I got myself into the front row haha

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This show isn’t only clothes and as is often the case there are also some lovely photographs on display as well, including a gallery full of those by Cecil Beaton.

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This photo made me laugh, it shows that retouching was used (too excess) then as now. This is “from char lady to Duchess” 

It might be worth mentioning that if you go along late on a Friday afternoons there’s usually a complimentary glass of bubbly available as you go in so if that doesn’t enhance the experience and get your weekend off to a good start I don’t know what would!!

I definitely recommend making the trip to Bermondsey, it isn’t far on foot from other attractions like the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, and about a 15 minute walk from Tate Modern, or Southwark and Borough Market as well so you could easily combine visits to more than one [ok, maybe not the Tower as well!]

Until next time,

Sue 

 

 

 

Isca dress by Marilla Walker

You’ll know if you’ve read my recent blog about pattern companies that I have a ‘mixed’ opinion shall we say of indie patterns. Some of them are great with interesting, original and well-drafted patterns, others are too simplistic, lacking in instructions and poorly drafted. I happen to think that Marilla’s patterns definitely fall into the first category.

I first met Marilla nearly 3 years ago when she organised, via Instagram, a meet up at Walthamstow market in London. It was my first sewing meet up and I was more than a little nervous because it was such an alien idea in principle-turning up in a part of London I’d never visited before to meet a bunch of people I’d never met before! It was like a sewing blind date but I needn’t have worried because everyone (of course) was lovely. I’m slightly embarrassed now that I think about it that it’s actually taken me this long to try one of Marilla’s patterns out, anyway, I’ve broken my duck and I want to tell you all about the Isca dress.

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You actually get two quite different dresses for the price of one with just a few similarities. I got mine as a PDF but you can also buy them as paper patterns which Marilla hand-prints and packs herself-what a lovely touch.

I was particularly intrigued by the draped wrap-over front so this was the one I printed off and happily the PDF all went together well. I’m getting better at them now I think because I found them quite tricky to start with. I don’t always print off the making instructions because they can be quite lengthy but I did print these in ‘booklet’ format so now I don’t need to lug the laptop out to the workroom. Although I didn’t encounter any problems Marilla does give lots of useful advice in the instruction booklet about all sorts of details so if this is all new to you either read them first on a screen or print off the booklet before you do anything else.

The pattern has been out for a little while now so there are quite a few to look at for fabric inspiration but I think this striped version by Takaka is particularly lovely, if you search with the hashtag ‘iscashirtdress’ on Instagram you’ll find more for both styles.

I’d found a lovely soft chambray at Hitchin market which was perfect because it had sufficient structure but with drapiness. You could also choose a washed linen, a printed medium-weight crepe could look nice too, nothing with a lot of stretch though because of the neck-band feature-it could be a nightmare of stretchiness to sew then.

Because my fabric was plain it’s a breeze to cut out, yay, no matching!

The sizing isn’t the traditional 10/12/14 etc, take your body measurements and compare them to the chart [in inches or centimetres] and then pick the size nearest your measurements. There’s also a chart of finished garment measurements which will help you decide the sort of final fit you want. I’m really happy with the fit personally, it’s a close fit to the bust and shoulders becoming looser over the waist. One really useful thing Marilla has included, although I personally don’t have to use it, is instructions for a full or small bust adjustment. This would be particularly helpful because the strange shapes of the front bodice pieces could make this a bit of a head-scratcher otherwise.

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FBA and SBA instructions

Although I’m a very experienced dressmaker there is some very helpful guidance if this a more advanced construction to you. Marilla is very thorough about where to trim seams, which direction to press them and how to make lapped or French seams if you want to use them. I didn’t top stitch any of the seams but you could do this if you wanted faux lapped seams for example.

I found topstitching the narrow band at the neck the trickiest part to sew, it had a tendency to twist and I had to unpick and re-sew a couple of sections. It would be well worth tacking this whole area if you’re in any doubt at all, it might save you time and frustration in the long run.

I really like the unusual details in this dress such as the raglan shoulder seam at the back, and of course the draping front section with it’s narrow band.

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The raglan shoulder seam at the back. It has a small yoke piece on the inside too, to stabilise the shoulder which is another construction detail I like.

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The back has darts and a waist seam which give it a very smooth, fitted shape in contrast to the front.

The pattern pieces for the front may look slightly curious shapes initially but the reason will become clear when they are joined together. There is bust shaping which results in the dress sitting smoothly over the bust and armhole area. This is a very well drafted pattern and a lot of time, care and attention has gone into it. This is the sort of indie pattern worth investing in! A single designer has put so much into this pattern for it to be the best it can be and I really respect that.

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I love the way it ties across to the side seam.

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Indoor Doris is a bit skinnier than me so the dress looks a bit droopy on her. Also, it’s crumpled because I took these photos after I’d worn it for the day!

When I finished the dress all it needed was a button-fortunately Marilla points out that unless you need the dress to open up for nursing then this can be purely decorative. I had a rummage and found a single beautiful vintage button so I used that, it would have been too big otherwise. IMG_8012I finished the dress in time to wear at the Sewing Weekender in Cambridge and it got lots of very nice compliments which is down to the pattern not me being model material!

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pockets on a slant!

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The other pocket is under the ‘flap’

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The hem dips at the front and isn’t intended to be level all the way round.

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I’ll definitely make another version of this style of Isca before too long but the shirt-dress version won’t be very far down my autumn sewing list either. Plain or patterned, this is a stylish and unusual dress, in many ways it sums up why I love to sew my own clothes than a more ‘conventional’ style pattern might. You’d be very hard-pushed to find a dress like this in the shops and even if you did it would almost certainly come with a designer price tag! It could be sleeveless for summer in a cotton, or a really soft babycord with a sweater under for cooler weather. There’s room to eat a big lunch as well!!

Marilla has created a number of other patterns, including the Roberts collection dungarees which have been incredibly popular so check out her website to see them all. She’s an amazingly crafty and creative woman and if you want to hear her talking more about her background you can listen to her on the Stitcher’s Brew podcast here. Oh, and she makes her own shoes too…and bras…and soap…in fact I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t have a go at making!!

So normal blog service has been resumed and I’ve returned to writing about dressmaking and not just getting uppity about sewing stuff that bothers me….although judging by all the responses I’ve had, much of it bothers you too.

Until next time,

Happy sewing,

Sue

 

Simple Sew Lizzie dress

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I originally chose the Lizzie pattern because I wanted to make it for a wedding at the end of July but then, because I had to change my fabric choice, I opted to make it as a smart summer dress instead in a lovely cotton lawn from Doughtys Online fabrics. It’s a classic shaped sleeveless dress with Princess seams, a pretty notched neckline  and box pleats in the skirt which means it’s an ideal blank canvas for showing off lovely fabrics or adding embellishments too.

I decided to make a toile of the bodice first because I wanted to get a nice fit of the Princess seams. I’m glad I did because I was slightly surprised to find the bodice came up quite short. I’m a very average 5’5” tall and not long-waisted but I needed to add 3.5cms to bring it to my natural waistline. I traced off the bodice pattern on spot and cross paper between 2 sizes according to my own body measurements and the ‘finished garment’ measurements on the packet and then I marked horizontal lines across all 4 pattern pieces, all at a similar level to each other. [These lines must be at a right angle to the grainline too]

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The horizontal lines are where I need to add the extra.

You’ll need some spare spot and cross because then, one at a time or you’ll lose track of which piece is which, cut the horizontal line straight across the pattern [many big brand patterns have these lines already marked with ’lengthen or shorten here’] Stick the spare s&c paper behind one part and draw a parallel line on it that’s the amount you need to add-I added 3.5cms. Keeping the original grainline in vertical alignment, place the other part of the original pattern on the new line.

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Extra s&c added behind and then each piece is moved down keeping the grain in alignment.

Make sure you do this for all the pattern pieces and that it’s the same amount added into each-unless you have a sway back  when you’ll need to decree the amount as you get nearer your spine. Draw on the new seams but don’t cut them out until you’ve done them all. Check them against one another to make sure they line up properly particularly the side seams-pin these together and then cut them out.

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I pin the side panels together so that the new side seam is identical when I cut them.

Cotton lawn is quite a fine fabric so I chose to line the dress rather than use the facing pattern. It’s easy to line simple styles like this because you just cut the same pieces again, I used a plain cotton lawn I had in my stash.

The fabric allowance for the pattern is quite generous so I lengthened the skirt by 12cms for a change. I didn’t need to stick spare paper on for this as there’s plenty of excess on the actual sheet so I drew it straight on to the bottom of both pieces. I didn’t shape the hem turn-up though, I continued the side seams straight down by 12cms and then, making sure it’s a right angle (V important) drew the new hem level on.

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Make sure the new corner at the bottom of the side seam is a right angle, you’ll get a strange point where your seams join if not.

One other detail I wanted to try out was using my new piping foot attachment for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 so I cut a few bias strips of fabric for that. This works by folding a slim piping cord sandwiched inside the bias strips and then it runs in the groove under the foot so that you can stitch really close to the cord. Once you’ve sandwiched the cord in this way you place it wherever you want on the garment (or soft furnishings) and sew it on still using the foot. [You can achieve this without a special foot just by using your zipper foot but sometimes you can’t get the stitching quite as close] From the toile I felt the armhole was going to be a little snug for me so I made it a tiny bit bigger at the underarm area, not much.

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I just used the enclosed piping cord around the armholes to give them a nice crisp and professional finish.IMG_7101

I added some pockets into the side seams too (of course!) I made a new pattern piece for this, it’s just a fairly standard curved piece that’s roughly hand-shaped.

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One other thing I did differently to the instructions was I didn’t make the pleats in the skirt before attaching it to the bodice. Because I’d altered the waist size for me, and to save lots of fiddly measuring, I just snipped the centre notch on each pleat then, matching the side seams and centre back skirt to bodice first, I put the pleat marking against the bodice seam and then folded the fabric into a box pleat until they were correct. This ensures the pleats are all in perfect alignment with the bodice. It still takes a little while so be patient. After careful pinning I machine basted them in position first so that they didn’t move about and then re-stitched to secure.

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box pleats sewn down.

After I inserted the zip and joined the CB seam I made a simple A-line skirt lining because there’s no need to make a whole pleated lining, it’s a waste of fabric and can add unflattering bulk at the waist too.

Finally, I chose to finish the hem with bias binding which I made in the plain cotton lawn. I pressed over one edge then attached the un-pressed edge to the hem. Stitch in position then understitch close to the join through all seam allowances. This gives a lovely crisp finish to the hem, if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I do this quite often. Finally, I hand-stitched the binding up in position, it took a while but it’s very satisfying!

 

So it wasn’t the wedding guest dress I had in mind but I’m really pleased with how my Lizzie has turned out-you’ll never know what great plans I had for it in the other fabric. Aside from the points I’ve mentioned the Lizzie is a nice basic dress which would be pretty quick to knock up, the first version of any new pattern always takes a bit longer because you’re not sure what you’re doing and I lined it which also took longer for example. I like the narrower shoulder seam and the fit at the neckline is very good, I’m glad I made it longer too, it makes a change amongst my mostly knee-length dresses. It’s one of those styles where it can be more about the fabric, if you’ve got something with a fun print for example, I’d intended to make it in a floaty georgette with a pretty coloured lining but that wasn’t to be this time. Thank you Doughty’s for coming to the rescue with this lovely fabric, it was so nice to work with.

Lizzie would also look lovely in a brocade or duchess satin for a special occasion dress too, or a velvet or sequinned bodice and a contrast skirt perhaps.

 

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Happy Sewing

Sue