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.
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.