As the Fabric Ravels

I started off the year promising myself I would sew wardrobe-building pieces from patterns I’ve already developed. For some variety, I’d change one or two design details and not attempt any quantum leaps. So in January I took a fabulous cotton tweed (yes, cotton tweed!) fabric that I bought from Sawyer Brook a few years ago and a dress pattern I’ve used before.  It’s the pattern I developed for my ASG Neighborhood Group’s Spoonflower fabric challenge.


I also used the pattern for last year’s bias challenge.


Those two dresses are sleeveless and the first one has a collar, so the only changes I made to this dress were to add ¾ length sleeves and omit the collar. I planned to make it an easy, casual dress with no lining. What could go wrong?

Two months, later, I can give you an answer to that question.


This fabric raveled so much the serging fell off in places and threatened to fall off everywhere else. And, the problem might not have been quite so bad if it weren’t for the fact that I use ⅜” seam allowances. The lesson for future projects: test the fabric before cutting and if it looks like raveling might be a problem, add wider seam allowances to the pattern and clean finish all edges immediately after cutting the pattern pieces.

So, what to do for this dress? (Besides abandon it, which I seriously considered doing, along with abandoning sewing altogether and taking photography lessons.) I turned to fusible bias tape to literally glue the cut edges.


I then serged and, in some places, serged for a second time.


Then I decided that the seam allowances might hold up through a few more wearings if I cut down on the friction by installing a lining. So, I cut Bemberg Ambiance and my quick and easy dress became a bigger deal than I had anticipated.

I also had to deal with the fact that the worst fraying was in the Empire seam in the back, which meant that my hemline was way off. I’d lost so much length in the back that I had to opt for a hem faced with stretch lace and trimmed the excess in the front and at the sides. The overall length is ¾” shorter than I usually wear my skirts and dresses, but I figured with opaque tights it would be fine.


I really like the shape of the dress and the the way the fabric looks and feels when I’m wearing it. I’m glad I finished it. I’m just hoping my next project is less of a challenge.



A Layering Piece for My Bias Dress

Both my Spoonflower dress and my bias challenge dress are sleeveless, so an extra layer to extend them into 3-season wear is nice to have. I filled this wish list item with a black rayon knit cardi that follows the curve of the Empire seam on the dress.

For the pattern, I used my no-closure topper. I thought I would use the pattern I had made for the white piqué jacket as a guide for the hemline, but I quickly learned that translating the princess seams pieces to a pattern that gets its shaping from pleats and darts is not a straightforward process. Then again, it wasn’t rocket science either. A little draping on my dress form got the job done.

As I said, the pattern uses pleats at the shoulders, along with darts for shaping.  It also has pleats at center back where I rotated out the princess seams. So, getting pleats into the knit was my first construction challenge.

It occurred to me that I could hold the shoulder pleats in place and stabilize the shoulder seam in one fell swoop if I used fusible stay tape. (What did we do before all these fabulous fusible products came on the market?) My favorite brand is Design Plus. I used the straight version for the shoulder seams, then sewed the seams together. This had the added benefit of stabilizing the shoulder seams, which I probably should do all the time in knits but don’t. For the pleats in the center back at the neck, I used the bias version of the same product.


I used this project as an opportunity to get comfortable with the cover hem function of my new-to-me Babylock Evolution. I practiced on multiple samples, following tips from Gail Yellen’s Craftsy Class and Pamela Leggett’s Threads video and book.

I snipped the seam allowance at the point where the hem would turn under so I could have the hem allowance seam allowance face the opposite way from the garment seam allowance, thus reducing the number of layers the machine had to deal with when it crossed a seam. It also made the finished product look and feel nice and flat.


To stabilize the hem, I used Ultra Soft fusible web at the cut edge, first pressing what Gail Yellen calls a “memory crease” with the backing paper still on. The curves required lots of snips, pins and patience as I worked my way around the entire periphery of the garment.

The next steps were to remove the paper backing, pin where needed and press to glue the layers together. This ensured that I wouldn’t get any fabric creeping and bunching or twisting as I sewed the cover hem.

I’m glad I prepped multiple samples for the coverstitching because I found that things went great on the first sample and the left needle came unthreaded on the second. After rethreading the machine a few times and having the same issue, I found a more detailed threading diagram in the machine manual and discovered that I was missing one piece of the needle thread path. Problem solved.

Except that wasn’t my only problem. I made what all the serger teachers say is the most common mistake made on serger/coverstitch machines multiple times, which is stitching when the presser foot is in the up position. I kept forgetting that lifting up the presser foot to its highest position so I could position the fabric under the needles and then letting go still leaves it in the up position. The lever has to be lowered to get the foot all the way down. I got to the point where I said out loud “remember to put the presser foot all the way down” whenever I had to start a new line of stitching.   My cat didn’t get annoyed and I got the job done on the entire body of the garment as well as the two sleeve hems.

So, now I’m not intimidated by the coverstitch function of my serger, plus I have a nice new layering piece to wear.



Lace Inset Blouse

I had planned to complete three new garments by early this month, a black wool skirt and two festive silk blouses to wear to an annual luncheon and brunch with two different sewing organizations.  I finished the skirt in time for the luncheon and never started the second blouse. The first blouse, which has lace insets, is one I designed, made the pattern for and cut out months ago. It was completed in time to wear to a Christmas Eve brunch.

When I was preparing for a presentation on using lace in garments for my ASG neighborhood group, Sew Chicago, I decided to try out an idea for a lace inset sleeve that I had seen in a catalogue.


My original idea was to use fabric for the full length of the outer panels and just have the one panel of lace. This required converting my master sleeve pattern, which is two pieces, into a three-piece pattern. The conversion wasn’t quite as straightforward as I had anticipated, but I started the process and Sarah Veblen got me the rest of the way there.


Unfortunately, I ran into a problem when I was cutting the fabric. I wanted to use this nice hammered silk that I had originally planned to make into a sleeveless shell to wear under a suit jacket. It was the end of the bolt, but enough for that project. When I got the idea to use the silk on this project, I laid out my patten and had just enough to make the blouse according to my original design. But, when I refolded the fabric to cut out the very last pattern piece, the second outer panel of the sleeves, I didn’t realize that the fabric under the fold had a piece missing from it. Of course I didn’t discover the problem until after I cut out the pattern piece, and I didn’t have a large enough piece of fabric left to cut out a new panel. The solution I came up with was to cut the other panel pieces shorter than I had intended and fill in with lace going all the way around.

I used a narrow rolled hem on my serger to finish the seams attaching lace to lace and silk to lace.


I also wanted to have a little bit of lace set into the neckline.


I had it in my head that I could sandwich the lace in between the fashion fabric and the facing, attaching it the way a collar would be attached. I was wrong. It took me several failed attempts and a quick muslin mock-up to figure that out. In the end, I attached the lace to the facing by hand.

I was concerned about over-pressing the hammered silk, so just about all the pressing was done by hovering the iron over the fabric and using lots of steam.

I decided to hem by attaching ⅜” fusible web at the cut edge, pressing it up before removing the paper, then fusing it and folding it again for a total hem of ¾” with the raw edge concealed. After pinning the second fold in place, I steamed the hem by hovering the iron and using a press cloth, a process I repeated after sewing in the hem. The great thing about the texture of the fabric is that the pick stitches are almost undetectable.


This blouse is a joy to wear and a nice addition to my wardrobe.

In The Sketchbook – December 2017

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

This month, I’ve been trying to work out a plan for some stunning guipure lace I found last winter. My dear friend Steph and I have challenged ourselves to making guipure lace dresses for the final opera in our season subscription in February. The first task, finding just the right color of silk charmeuse to use as a foundation for the dress, took over 8 months. I did manage to find the winning combination at the end of an action-packed business trip to New York in the fall.


When I bought the lace, I had in mind a simple sheath dress, or maybe a sheath with cap sleeves. But earlier this month when I was on the El, I saw a young woman wearing a pretty embroidered lace dress with a full skirt and it made me reconsider the silhouette.

My sketching skills absolutely do not do these fabrics any justice, but here goes.


Then I wondered whether a high boat neck in the front and a dip in the back might be appealing.

Then I thought about the weight of the lace and decided it would be better to reign in the fullness of the skirt. Something like this.


The next thought that popped into my head was managing the zipper. That will require a review of Susan Khaljie’s Craftsy class on the guipure lace skirt. Then it will be time to get to work on the pattern and mock-up!

Be sure to check out what fabulous designs my dear friend Stephanie King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is showing at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. We’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching, so  please leave a comment.

The Bias Challenge

For this year’s ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show, my neighborhood group, Sew Chicago, challenged ourselves to create a garment that has at least 50% of the visible area sewn on the bias.

Show Your Bias
Four members of Sew Chicago met the challenge to “Show Your Bias” on the runway

Before embarking on this challenge, my experience with bias had been limited to bias bindings for necklines and armholes and using a single bias panel in the Decades of Style Stardust Skirt.   So, of course I did a ton of research on the subject and shared what I had learned with the Sew Chicago Neighborhood Group.

My plan for the challenge project had been simple, or so I thought. I copied my master skirt pattern, which is for a slightly pegged pencil skirt with princess seams. I used the slash and spread method to swing out the seams at the side, side front and side back, kept the center back seam as it was in the original and added a center front seam. I then converted the grainline on each piece to bias.

I decided to test first with a wearable muslin, which turned out to be a very good call. I was planning to make the skirt in rayon challis so I tested in a less expensive rayon challis I had bought on sale. The skirt sewed like a dream and I was very excited about having a wearable muslin I actually wanted to wear. When I tried on the skirt I really liked the way it looked and moved. I then put the skirt on my dress form so the bias could relax overnight. When I put the skirt on to show Sarah Veblen in a mentoring session I discovered that the seams had developed waves just below the waistband and those wavy seams made the fabric in between pooch out. Sarah had me try various methods to address the problem, but it just got worse and later showed up at center back. I didn’t keep any of the pictures because I was so fed up with the whole project.

In thinking through what had happened, I came to the conclusion that the problem was showing up in the curved sections of the seams. My master pattern follows my curves and I had preserved those curves in the bias pattern, whereas most bias skirt patterns only have side seams and they tend to be straight. The message I thought the fabric might be sending me was “I like to curve when I’m on the bias, but I want to do it on my own terms, not in a way that’s dictated by a pattern.” It’s not any different from the messages my cat gives me, which is that whatever she does, she wants it to be her idea, not mine. I know I overthink everything, but this made sense to me. Cats and bias are both pretty finicky.

Having identified what I thought might be the problem, the next thought that popped into my head was a possible solution. The dress I had developed for the Sew Chicago Spoonflower Fabric Challenge has a fitted bodice, a curved Empire seam and a skirt portion with a relaxed fit. What if I took those skirt pattern pieces, eliminated all of the curves from the vertical seamlines and flared out the pieces straight from where they attach to the Empire seam?

I could cut the bodice on straight of grain and, for some extra insurance, place a zipper at center back but stop it at the Empire seam so there would be no zipper in any part of a bias seam. Sarah thought this might work, so that’s what I did.

I ordered 5 yards of rayon challis from Stone Mountain & Daughter so I would have plenty to work with for the bias pieces. As it turned out, I have 1¾ yards left over.

The print made me glad I’m not prone to vertigo!


Construction went smoothly and the method I used for setting the invisible zipper was so easy I worried that I had done something wrong. One fun thing I was able to do in constructing this dress was use the method of attaching the all-in-one facing that makes me feel like I’m doing a magic trick. I’ve gone through the details of the other cool method for attaching an all-in-one facing entirely by machine, which involves sewing in a tunnel. The method I used for this dress can only be used if you have an opening at center front or center back. I had planned to use a center back zipper for the bodice of this dress, so this was my chance to use the method in something other than a half-scale sample.

This has to be done before that center back (or center front) seam and side seams have been sewn.


After the bodice and the facing pieces are connected at the shoulders and the shoulder seams are pressed open, you attach the facing at the neck, press as sewn, clip the curves press the seam open and then turn the facing to the inside of the bodice and press the seam, favoring it so the seam is visible only from the inside of the bodice. The next step is to understitch, which goes very easily because the garment is still flat. I have a new machine and I found that using the stitch in the ditch foot with the needle position moved away from the seam worked very well.


The next step is to sew the armscye seams, following the same steps used for the neck seam. The only difference is that the understitching cannot be done all the way to the shoulder unless you do the tunnel stitching, but on this dress I got pretty close. The thing is, as long as you cut your facing pattern pieces ¼” shy of the fashion fabric pieces at the shoulder on the armscye side and taper out to the original bodice pattern piece about mid-way down, the seam will naturally roll toward the facing in the area that’s difficult to reach for understitching so you are okay.


Now we’ve come to the fun part. Other sewists have included videos in their tutorials and you might want to watch them if this sounds confusing. What I’ve found is that it sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. Just follow the steps and once you’ve done it, you will be able to use the technique from memory.

What you want to do is reach into the space between the fashion fabric and the facing from the side that doesn’t have an opening with two fingers extending past the shoulder seam. In the case of this dress, I reached from the front toward the back.

You then use your other hand to pass one half of the back of the bodice and facing unit to those waiting fingers. Then you simply pull the fabric through until it is right side out.

Repeat on the other side and you’re done.


After construction was completed, I put the dress on Dottie (my dress form), marveled at the way the skirt seems to be in motion even when it’s perfectly still and hoped there would be none of those unpleasant surprises I encountered with the skirt.


When disaster didn’t strike after three days on Dottie (two would have been sufficient), I tried on the dress and the only issue that needed to be dealt with was the hem. The back was considerably shorter than the front. At first I thought this was due to the bias, but in taking the pictures of the pattern pieces I see it was a mistake in patternmaking. I don’t understand how that happened when I walked all the seamlines, but it did. With help from my dear friend Stephanie King I was able to sort out the hem length and finish the dress in time for the runway show.

One issue I noticed is some crumpling above the princess seams in the front. I thought it was a pressing issue, but pressing didn’t resolve it. And it’s not a question of posture.


I sent a picture and asked Sarah Veblen about it in a mentoring session. She thinks the bodice is too snug around the apex, at least for a fabric with the qualities of this rayon challis. That would explain why I haven’t encountered this problem when using my master pattern with more stable fabrics. I think this theory is probably correct. It doesn’t help that I’ve regained the weight I’ve lost repeatedly and regained again over the past couple of years. I’ll work on tweaking the fit before I try a version of this dress again.

Overall, I think this was a successful experiment. I’m happy that I found a solution to my bias problem in time to join in on the group challenge and I’m very happy that I have this dress.

In The Sketchbook – September 2017

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

I’ve been remiss in blogging in general and it’s been a few months since I’ve posted what is in my sketchbook, so here I am trying to get back in the swing of things.

I’ve decided it’s time I tried making a coat and a warm raincoat for late fall/early spring is what I’m aiming for in my first attempt. The thing is, I’m having a lot of difficulty figuring out the neckline and collar. I prefer open necklines and with a coat that is supposed to keep you warm or dry or both that just isn’t practical. The thing is, every time I tried to sketch something with a higher neck, it seemed out of proportion to me. I’m still trying to find a good balance on this and it will take some more work before I’ve settled on something I’m happy with. Here is what I have so far.


If this one were made up, you wouldn’t see the collar stand underneath. I was just playing with an idea. The coat would have a single statement button and hidden placket and maybe French darts and curved welt pockets.


This may or may not be the back of the first sketch. I thought a Swing pleat with a yoke   might add some interest.


Here’s an attempt at a wrap-over collar with princess seams, vertical welt pockets in the princess seams and button tab detail on the sleeves. This is a knock-off of a Vogue pattern I’ve seen and I think I’d like it better in a wool melton.


Another attempt at a wrap collar, princess seams, curved welt pockets. This time with buttons showing.

As I said, I’m still not there on a coat, but at least I have a start.

The very rough sketch of the jacket and skirt below came to me in a flash one day. I’d like to take that 60’s rolled collar that I’ve used in two-piece dresses and my LBD, turn it around so it opens in the front and maybe anchor it with a button on either side.


Finally, I’ve been noodling about partial rolled collars (this time, the ones that look almost like tailored shirt collars. I’m mocking up some tests, but this is the general idea  of where that’s going.


That’s what I have for this month.  I think my friend Stephanie King of 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger is taking a break from In the Sketchbook this month. Check back with both of us next month. Meanwhile, we’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching, so  please leave a comment.


I’ve really missed blogging, but I’ve learned I have to accept that there are just so many things I can stuff into a day and sometimes work and Life simply demand all of my time and energy. It’s not that I haven’t been sewing at all recently, but I have had some misadventures in sewing. More about that in a minute.

For now, I’d like to share my latest completed project.


It’s the tucked linen top that was inspired by the workshop with Mary Ray that I took through ASG Chicago in January. You may remember this fabric combination from my post about my complicated relationship with color.

This top is almost what I had planned.

The bodice came out just as I had envisioned. I put the top two ¼” tucks in my fabric before cutting out the center front panel. Here is a picture of how this was done when I was using the fabric that I encountered problems with:

I sprayed a bit of Mary Ellen’s Best Press on the linen and pressed in a crease, then stitched at ¼” using my blind hem foot.

It’s had to tell on from these pictures, but the tuck that goes all the way across the front panel just below the neckline is drawn in the pattern and trued at the princess seams.

I was all set to make a neck facing, but Sarah Veblen suggested I line the top in washed China silk, which I did. I also made faced hems for the bodice and sleeves, because I’ve had a problem with linen blouses “cracking” at the hem. It’s this curling thing that happens and no matter how many times you press the darn thing it rolls up again like a window shade. Very annoying! Faced hems are the way to avoid that problem.

For the sleeves, I wanted to convert my usual two-piece sleeve to a one-piece sleeve so I could have a tuck that is not interrupted by a seam (and the problem of getting it to match). Here is the sketch of the design, which I posted several months ago.


On me, a one-piece sleeve that’s not a knit requires the tucks you see in the picture because of all the excess fabric in the sleeve cap.


I was in a tizzy when I got to the sleeves and didn’t pay attention to lining up the sleeve tucks with the blouse tucks, even though that’s the way Sarah draped the sleeve muslin on me. As you can see, I got one side right. Dumb luck!

In the course of this project, I tried to avoid this whole tucks in the sleeve cap issue by developing a sleeve with a crescent-shaped inset at the top, using Sarah’s instructions in Threads Magazine (Vo.192, Sep. 2017 pp.44-45). The mock-up showed me this is a design that does not work on me. Sigh.

But that’s not the only reason I was in a tizzy when I set in the sleeves. The other reason is that I completely forgot to put the tuck in the fabric before I cut out the sleeve.  That’s why there is no tuck across the sleeve in the pictures. Another sigh. And a head shake.

After I finished the blouse, I got another idea for a sleeve that might work. Actually, two ideas. They’re variations on the second inset sleeve design in Sarah’s Threads article:


One of these just might work.

I’m crazy about the skirt. It’s rayon challis from Stone Mountain & Daughter Fabrics. I took my master pattern for a pencil skirt, which is a six-panel princess and extended each of the seams to make the skirt swishy.

Originally, this skirt was going to be cut on the bias. That was another misadventure I had this summer. The wearable mock-up I made out of another rayon challis was absolutely not wearable. It looked adorable when I tried it on right after I sewed it, but when I left it hanging on my dress form so I could let it relax before hemming, it developed some nasty waves and pouched out in all the wrong places. The lesson from this is that bias does not play well with seams shaped to fit my curves. So, I went back to the drawing board for bias. I have to come up with something for the ASG Chicago Chapter Fashion Show next month, because the Sew Chicago Neighborhood Group Challenge is “Show Your Bias.” I’m working on Plan B this week.

Meanwhile, I have a fun new swishy skirt on the straight of grain and at least another week of warm weather to wear it with my linen top.

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