My Little Black Dress

IMG_0230I needed a dress for an evening wedding in New York this month and, for once, I started early.  I brought a muslin, the fabric I wanted to use and the embellishment I was thinking of using to the You Choose Your Focus workshop Sarah Veblen taught here in Chicago in February.  The details of that workshop and the design of the dress are here.

With the pattern work done, the next step was to cut and then hand baste the silk organza underlining to the black silk and wool matelassé fashion fabric. This step seemed to take forever. The fashion fabric was pretty wiggly and underlining was still a new process for me. I found myself pulling out stitches and repinning organza to fashion fabric until I thought I’d lose my mind. It didn’t help that the clock was ticking on the fashion show I was co-chairing and work got really crazy. What I now know can be a relaxing, almost meditative part of sewing was none of the above for this project.

In addition to the underlining, the bias collar is supported by soft stretch fusible interfacing, which I fused to the silk organza before basting it to the fashion fabric. The dress is lined to the edge in silk charmeuse, so I also fused interfacing to the  the area around the neck and armscyes in the shape of what would have been a facing.

Once the fabric was underlined, I loved the hand of the combination and the way it behaved. The princess seams in the bodice went together beautifully. Once those were done, I was sure the skirt seams would be a breeze. I was wrong. More about that in a bit.

The collar/neckline seam always requires directional stitching and on this dress I was concerned about getting the point at center back right. This was a bit more challenging than usual because there is no center back seam in the dress. I followed Sarah’s instructions that included careful marking of the point and machine basting then checking the placement. Once I was satisfied that things were where they needed to be, I went back over the machine basting with a normal 2.5 stitch length. After checking it again to be sure it was right, the final step was to sew at 1.1 stitch length from about an inch away from the point, stop with the needle down and pivot and then continue for about an inch on the other side.


With the part I was worried about behind me, I proceeded to sew the skirt pieces together. That’s when the trouble began. The first seam was off by more than 1/4″ by the time I got to the end, so I unstitched, steamed the pieces and made sure they matched when I repinned them. I stitched again after adjusting the tension on my machine and the same thing happened. I knew that if I couldn’t get the vertical seams to match there was no way I was going to be able to get the four-way intersections of vertical seams and Empire seams to come together. I was in a panic. All I could think to do was hand baste the seams before sewing them on the machine. I did this with one seam, saw that it worked and called it a night.

A couple of people suggested using a walking foot and Sarah confirmed that that should solve the problem. I’ve used a walking foot before and I don’t know why I resisted at first. Turns out that was the perfect solution. The walking foot is my new best friend. Here is how those four-way intersecting seams turned out.


This made me think about those new machines that have built-in even feed and I had to push those thoughts out of my head! This is not the year for a new machine

The next dilemma was the zipper. You can’t install an invisible zipper with a walking foot. That’s where hand basting was necessary. I sewed the first side of the zipper into the side seam as usual with the invisible zipper foot. I then hand basted the second side and made sure the Empire seam was aligned before sewing that side on the machine.  Here is the result.



The next step was to attach the lovely trim from Soutache. Sarah had demonstrated how to clip the net backing until it fit the shape of the neckline seam. I clipped the rest of the netting and pinned the embellishment on the dress form so the placement would conform to the dress with a body inside instead of a flat surface.


There are a LOT of beads and buttons in this trim!  I tried to sew each one before the fashion show, but I ran out of time. That’s why I needed my friends to rescue me with hemming and temporary stitching of the lining at the neck seam. After the show, I finished stitching every bead and every button to the dress and trimmed away the last of the stray netting at the edges. I then reattached the lining at the neck edge and understitched.

The dress is now ready to wear to the wedding. I’m also going to get another chance to model it in the ASG National Conference fashion show. This will be my first time in a fashion show at Conference. It should be fun.

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Homage Jacket Remake


As I mentioned in my last post, one of the garments I showed in the Haute Couture Club of Chicago Fashion Show was a jacket inspired by Le Bar Suit, which was part of Christian Dior’s debut collection in 1947. The fashion show segment was based on a sewing challenge we called “My Homage To…” Setting aside the ribbing and corseting of the original, I really like the idea of dressing in a suit that has feminine contours and sends the message that you don’t have to dress like a man to be dressed for business.

I call this My Homage 2.0, a reference to the admonition we used to hear from tech gurus to never buy the 1.0 version of software. They told us it’s better to wait until the major bugs are worked out and the 2.0 version is released. For those of you who are not of “a certain age,” that’s from the pre-app days when software was an investment and loading it onto your computer took forever.

I chronicled some of the frustration I had with the first version of this jacket here. For version 2.0, I made a new muslin mock-up and brought it to one of Sarah Veblen’s You Choose Your Focus Workshop last November. I made the mock-up with 1″ seam allowances (not easy to do with princess seams and muslin that doesn’t drape). My weight had been creeping up (again!) and I felt that I needed a bit more room in the bust. I also mocked up my master jacket pattern for fine tuning at the same workshop. And, just to be on the safe side, I mocked up both my 3-piece sleeve for the Homage jacket and my 2-piece sleeve for the master jacket pattern. I was leaving nothing to chance.

The fabric choice for Homage 2.0 is the lovely navy and black check wool that I had bought from Sawyer Brook back when I first started to plan this jacket. That was probably two-ish years ago.


This was the first garment that I underlined with silk organza. It was daunting hand basting the organza to all those pieces, but when it was done I was so glad I took the time to do it. The wool took on more body without being stiff and was a dream to work with.


Those tiny rows of checks required careful alignment of adjoining pieces at the hem, a full pattern and cutting from a single layer of fabric.


The jacket gets its shaping from armscye princess seams and two vertical darts in the side front panels. Additional structure comes from silk taffeta facings at the flared hem and at the neckline that are interfaced with soft stretch fusible.

The undercollar is also made of silk taffeta and has fusible interfacing.  In preparing to make this jacket I was able to clear up some confusion I had about undercollars. I knew the undercollar pattern is supposed to be smaller than the collar pattern so that the outer edge of the collar can be “favored” when pressed, as it is in the following picture.


I also knew that the undercollar typically is cut on the bias. What I didn’t realize is that only the outer edge of the pattern is trimmed 1/8 inch, not the neck edge or the short ends. The undercollar is interfaced, but if it happens to stretch during pressing because it is on the bias, it can be trimmed at the neck edge before basting the edges together and attaching to the garment.

There were two issues with this jacket that were disappointing. I used three-piece sleeves, but forgot that they had really long vents. I only had six of the smaller buttons for the jacket and three for each sleeve was not enough for the long vent. I tried to make adjustments after the fact but ran into problems and ended up making sleeves that have no vents and no buttons.

The other disappointment was that I forgot to take shoulder pads into account when developing the pattern. When I attached the shoulder pads, there wasn’t enough room even though they are very thin. So, I had to sacrifice the nice crisp shoulder line they would have given me in the jacket.

Even though I had used tailor tacks to mark where the buttons and buttonholes would be placed, the markings seemed off to me when the jacket was constructed. I re-measured and pin marked the buttonhole placement and, fortunately, all went well with those. When it came to marking the placement of the buttons, it occurred to me that instead of measuring, I might get accurate results more quickly by pinning the two front pieces together and inserting a pin in the center of the keyhole of the buttonhole, exactly where the center of the button should be.

IMG_0217I used that pin as a guide for sewing on the corresponding button. It worked like a charm.


Even with the sleeve and shoulder pad glitches, I’m really happy with the way the jacket turned out. I feel great wearing it.

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PTPE.Haute Couture Fashion Show.2016-119