It Started With The Collar

You know how one detail can make an outfit? My latest completed project isn’t something that required great leaps from what I’ve done before. It started with a collar I saw on a red dress worn by a minor character in an episode of Father Brown Murder Mysteries. I love the 1950s fashions in that show and I often rewind to take a picture or sketch something one of the characters is wearing.

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I filed this image in my inspiration album and forgot about it until one day last spring when I was looking through my fabric collection for something else entirely and I came across this fabulous wool and linen blend that I had bought from A Fabric Place in Baltimore. The next thing that occurred to me is that I could make this as a two-piece dress, using my master patterns for bodice and skirt. Suddenly, I could see myself in this dress at court, at a luncheon, at anything that calls for business dress.

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I found the absolutely perfect buttons in my button collection, but I only had the size that was right for the sleeves. I was really bummed, but the buttons were a recent purchase from my favorite source, Soutache Buttons & Trims here in Chicago, so I emailed the proprietor, Maili Powell, a picture of the buttons and asked whether she still had the larger ones. “How many do you need? I’ll set them said for you” was the prompt response. Yay! I mean, are these buttons not meant for this fabric?

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In thinking about the collar, I realized I could work from the collar on my Spoonflower dress pattern and use the neckline for that dress so there would be little or no futzing around to get the collar and neckline to work with one another. The collar I ended up with is narrower than the inspiration one, but I think it works.

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The Spoonflower dress collar is a Peter Pan collar that overlaps and is shifted about a quarter turn around the body so the overlap happens at the shoulder.

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Sarah Veblen walked me through the process of converting that collar pattern so I didn’t have to redraft the pattern from scratch.

I started out by tracing the Spoonflower collar pattern and marking Center Front, Center Back and the shoulder seams. Once it was cut out, I joined the ends, eliminating the overlap and underlap. Because the collar is drafted to have a slight lift (stand), it won’t lay flat when connected.

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The next step was to cut the pattern where the overlap would happen and add the underlap and overlap. Then it was on to the dress form to refine the shape of the overlap and get that curve-into-a-point bit to look proportional and achieve the effect I was going for.

Once it looked right to me in paper on the dress form, I cleaned up the pattern, added seam allowances and was ready to cut it in fashion fabric. Whenever I make anything asymmetrical, I have to go to great lengths to make sure the finished product is going to be placed on the side I intended for it to end up on. Layer on top of that the fact that I tend to get lost when doing collars because they are sewn wrong side/undercollar to the right side of the bodice and I end up rechecking what I’m doing several times before fusing the interfacing.

I’ve started a notebook with machine settings and presser feet that I use for different tasks on my new machine. I had been experimenting with different approaches for understitching, and for this project the third presser foot I tried was the skinny zipper foot. Instead of sewing with the needle off to the side the way you do when you insert a zipper, I sewed with the needle in the center hole. Because my seam allowances are ⅜” it worked out very well.

Once I got the collar attached, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have turned-back cuffs that echo the collar shape. So, I traced the turned-back cuff pattern from my shirtdress and to achieve the curved pointy detail I took a wild guess and made a photocopy of the overlap portion of the collar reduced to 70%. I had expected to need to try different percentages, but that guess was spot on.

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My intention had been to try something new with the skirt, but I ran into an obstacle and so the skirt variation had to be put on hold. The skirt ended up being another pencil skirt from my master pattern. Both pieces are lined in China silk.

I absolutely love wearing this dress.

 

A Summer Jacket that Means Business

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on this blog and it seems like forever since I’ve finished a garment to blog about. So, let’s get down to business with the jacket that I was going to wear on a trip to Brazil that has since been cancelled.

Houndstooth Linen Jacket

Except for the wrinkles, you would never know that this is linen. It has the look and texture of wool. The fabric is Armani (it says so in the selvage), which I bought from Marcy Titlon’s web site possibly two years ago. The pattern is one of those things that’s hard for cameras to capture accurately. It’s tiny houndstooth checks in black, taupe and beige. The buttons are from Soutache Ribbons and Trim and it is lined in Bemberg Ambiance.

I started with my basic armscye princess bodice and ¾ length two-piece sleeves. I knew I wanted to do a Mandarin collar and at first I thought I might want the jacket to be asymmetrical, similar to this sketch I had made earlier (the one on the left).

 

After looking at circles of paper the size of my buttons arranged on my dress form, I decided to drop the idea of asymmetry. Having the buttons at center front looked just fine. I also decided I didn’t need the curve in the front overlap/underlap and cuffs or buttons on the sleeves could be eliminated as well. Work had been getting increasingly busy and I needed to get this project done.

 In a mentoring session, Sarah Veblen told me I could just mock up the collar once I got the body of the jacket constructed, but I was unsure about the neckline so I did a muslin of  a part of the front, the back and the collar. Sarah made minor adjustments to the mockup during a You Choose Your Focus workshop here in Chicago in March. Her advice was to make the collar slightly shorter in the front, which I did.

The next issue I thought through was the button in the collar. I knew that trying for a functional buttonhole and button in that location was asking for trouble, particularly with the diminished amount of real estate that resulted from making the front of the collar dipping a bit lower than the rest of the collar. I knew a plastic snap behind a button would work, but that still meant taking a risk of running into all sorts of headaches with the buttonhole. My solution was to make the top buttonhole before assembling and attaching the collar. That gave the automatic buttonhole foot an unobstructed path to work with. The stitching is on the upper collar only and I never cut it open. I made several practice buttonholes, both before making the non-functioning one and before making the rest of them, just to make sure that nothing had shifted when I set the buttonhole foot aside to sew the rest of the jacket and to account for the differences between a single layer of fabric and a fashion fabric/interfaced facing sandwich with a seam connecting them. Except for some skipped stitches that had to be resewn by hand, that part of the process worked fine.

For this project, I made a complete checklist of all the construction steps in advance in an attempt to keep myself on track and help with time estimates. This is one of the suggestions Sarah has made to help me be more realistic about my expectations and chart my progress. Checklists, like shopping lists, are extremely helpful, but only if you read them! I was working merrily along without referring to my checklist when I realized that I worked the collar construction the way I do a rolled collar, assembling it before attaching it to the body, whereas I had wanted to use the method you use for a collar band on a tailored shirt. I caught my mistake too late and complained to Sarah that I was going to have to make a new collar. She pointed out that there is more than one way to approach this construction and, in fact, she never uses the tailored shirt method. I followed her advice and concluded that, for a lined jacket, both methods work just fine.

I did lose my momentum when my travel plans were changed and work got crazier. And, as you can see, I didn’t take a lot of pictures to document this project. My enthusiasm for this project dropped even more when I saw this bubble thing on one side:

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The other side was perfectly smooth. Sarah tried to diagnose the problem by looking at pictures of what was going on inside.

After repeated pressings, extra clipping of the curve and general futzing, I remembered that I had needed to resort to spot steaming and some easing when sewing the neck seam. In all likelihood, one side got stretched out of shape in that process. Probably nobody would have noticed had I not pointed it out here, but I think it’s important to go over the pitfalls so we all can learn from them. Anyway, that close-up does show you my nice fake buttonhole.

The jacket is finally in my closet, and I might actually wear it if (1) I get the black linen skirt that goes with it sewn (right now all the pieces are cut out and only the back darts are sewn); and (2) I have a meeting that does not involve a video conference component (there is a reason nobody wears houndstooth prints on TV) on a day when the dew point isn’t in the stratosphere. Is that asking too much?

 

The Peplum Blouse

A while back a friend wore a peplum blouse she had made from Simplicity pattern 1666 and it looked fabulous on her. I remembered really liking the way peplums looked on a much younger me when I had the body I wish I had appreciated more. For reasons I can’t explain, no warning buzzers went off in my head telling me that maybe this wasn’t going to be the best option for my current body.

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As the pattern envelope clearly shows, peplum = flounce. Putting a flounce on my curves is not a good idea, as I discovered when I made my first mock-up. That mock-up was dated January 2015 and there are no pictures of me in it. That said, this project wasn’t a total waste of time. I learned some interesting things I want to share with you now and I developed a neckline and collar that I’m looking forward to tweaking and using again.

I made the pattern for the first mock-up by starting out with my master bodice pattern for the shoulders, armscyes and princess seams and I tapered the pattern pieces at the bottom to conform with the corresponding area in the commercial pattern. Then I adjusted the peplum from the commercial pattern to fit to the top pieces. The peplum doesn’t go all the way around the body in this pattern. The center front panel extends to the hem and the peplum is attached at the front princess seams. I used the neckline from the Simplicity pattern and I think it’s a keeper, but I eliminated the cap sleeves.

When I showed the mock-up to Sarah Veblen, she suggested we try using inverted box pleats extending down from each of the vertical seams (princess seams, side seams and center back).  The second mock-up seemed like an improvement so I made a wearable mockup in a cotton print. I wasn’t happy with it. Sarah admitted it wasn’t a great look for me.

Peplum Wearable Mockup

One thing she suggested was eliminating the box pleats at the front princess seams. I was only too happy to do that, because getting those puppies attached with the pleats intact was nerve-racking. That was an improvement, and I’ve worn the wearable mockup with that change. I asked Sarah whether things might improve if I added a collar and she thought that might balance it out better. So, I mocked up a rolled collar, tweaked it in consultation with Sarah and set out to make a final version of the blouse.

The first thing I did was make a clean copy of the peplum pattern with the pleats clearly marked. I used color-coding and arrows to make sure I understood how they got folded.

The straight of grain is at the front princess seams and so center back is the area with the most bias. Pleats and bias don’t necessarily play well together, but I had chosen a stable cotton shirting, which helped.

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I’m pretty sure the side on the right is the “right” side of the fabric, but I like the side on the left better and so that’s what I used as the right side.

When making a pattern with pleats, it’s important to true the seamlines and then add the seam allowance. To do this, you pin or use temporary tape to hold the pleats closed, then cut away any ragged places on the line or curve at the hemline and the top seamline. If you don’t do this, you can end up with the hidden part of the pleat hanging below the rest of the hem or some other unevenness.

I thread-traced all the pleat markings so they would be exact and visible from both sides.

Another thing I learned is that pleats tend to behave better if you hem before pressing in the pleats, so I did that. I used the method Janet Pray of Islander Sewing Systems teaches in her shirtmaking class for the narrow machine hem. This consists of pressing the hem up at the hemline (this one was ⅝” from the edge) with the tip of the iron, then crimping by machine at ¼” and using the stitching line and the pressed fold line as the guides for double-folding the hem.

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Pressing Peplum at ⅝”

I then used Wonder Clips (Janet Pray does not use pins or anything else) to keep it all in place and sewed from the right side. I find it helpful to use the blind hem foot on my machine helped me to keep the stitching at the same distance from the edge.

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I finished all seam allowances with a three-thread serge finish and made an all-in-one facing for the neck and the armholes.

The part of construction that I thought would be tricky was attaching the peplum to the front at the princess seams. This is similar to an inset corner, so I pulled out all my sewing reference books and articles I’ve collected on inset corners and cut some scrap fabric to make samples. Almost all the techniques I’ve read about involve snipping into the inside corner and opening it up to almost a straight line, a method that’s given me mixed results. Louis Cutting’s method uses double-sided fusible web and topstitching, which works very well, but this garment wasn’t one I wanted to topstitch.  The technique I was most interested in using is one I’ve made samples of before that I learned from a class taught by Susan Khaljie.  It’s her technique for sewing a basque waist. After reviewing all my other resources, I decided this method is the hands-down winner. (Yes, I did use an Islander industrial shortcut and a couture technique in the same garment.)

You can find the technique on page 95 of Susan’s book, Bridal Couture. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever sew a wedding gown, if you have any interest in sewing with lace and making beautiful evening wear, this book should be in your library. (Hard copy is out of print, but the e-book version is excellent.) Essentially, what you do is sew two straight seams perpendicular to one another. Here are the front and back of the sample I made for this garment.

The couture method has you reinforce the inside corner with a patch of organza and for less elaborate garments you can use fusible interfacing. I had trouble getting such a small amount of fusible interfacing to stay put on this textured fabric so I ended up skipping this step. The next step in preparing the corners is to stay stitch along the stitching lines of both pieces, shortening the stitch length so that you have tiny stitches right at the corner. I used a 1.1 stitch length at the corners. That allows you to clip the inside corner, getting right up to the stitching. It also provides a guide for final stitching.

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Stay stitching the corner

The next step is to pin so that the corners match on both pieces.

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Then finish pinning one of the seams. When you stitch, part of the time you will only have one piece under the machine. That’s where my finger is in the picture below.

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After sewing both seams, this is what it looks like.

And this is what it looks like when completed. Whew!

img_2241So, here’s the finished blouse.

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In the Sketchbook – November 2016

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’m pretty sure everyone who undertakes creative projects hits a wall or goes through a dry patch from time to time. I’m painfully familiar with writer’s block, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that something similar has been happening with my sewing and personal design efforts.

While working my way out of this slump with a project that should be completed in a few days, I’ve been giving some thought about the French jacket that I started in a workshop more than three years ago. When something has been sitting untouched for that long and the only emotion it evokes is guilt, you have to wonder what’s going on. The fabric is very nice, the fit is great. So what’s the problem?

One thing may be that these jackets are all about the embellishments and I’m not much of an embellisher. Another possibility is that I’ve come to see that collars are an important element of garments for me and French jackets are usually collarless. Usually. Not always. When I mentioned this to Sarah Veblen, she immediately started playing around with the spare fabric I have and suggested a collar for my unfinished jacket. I’m not convinced about putting a collar on this one, partly because I’m not sure it will hold up well when the jacket itself has so little structure and it’s progressed beyond the point where I could build something supportive into it. But that did get me thinking about adding a collar to a future French jacket made from some fabric in my collection that I absolutely adore.

It also got me to thinking about the skirt I’d make to go with the unfinished jacket. The designs I sketched earlier have a lot of pleats and seem to be too heavy or too bulky, but a small pleat inset lower down might be just what I need. Here is that skirt with some possibilities for collared French jackets.

 

I haven’t decided whether I like them better with self-fabric or contrasting fabric.

6Then there’s the possibility of using lace as a collar.

None of these ideas have embellishments yet, but they might be a start.

Be sure to check out what my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is up to at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. And, we’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching too.

The Campish Shirt

Every summer for the past I’ve-lost-count-of-the-number of years, I’ve wanted to make a camp shirt out of this lovely lightweight linen. This year, as summer was drawing to a close, the stars aligned for me to tackle this project.

Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.
Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.

So why “campish” and not camp shirt? Because I decided that I didn’t want to use a convertible collar that is found in camp shirts. I also didn’t want a patch pocket over the breast. I mean, it’s not as if women are going to put anything in that pocket and I don’t think it really adds anything to the look.

The finished product is not everything I hoped it would be, but I learned some things in making it and now I can share those with you.

First, I learned that the name for the weave of this fabric with the extra texture scattered about is dobby. This particular fabric is pretty loosely woven, which presented some challenges in getting it on grain for cutting and then surprised me by stretching out of shape in one tiny segment of the neckline. More about the headache that created later.

For the pattern, I started out with my no-close topper. I drew a new neckline, added an extension for the button closure, shortened the pattern and added a curved shirt tail hem. When it was finished, I discovered I had shortened it a little too much. This version is wearable, but I’m going to lengthen the pattern before using it again.

I drafted new front and back facing pattern pieces and used the rolled collar and short sleeves with split hem and button detail from the linen version of my shirtdress.

The shirt went together without a hitch, which should have alerted me that there was a problem lurking somewhere. I didn’t mark where the collar was supposed to end in the front. The center back and shoulders were marked and that segment fit perfectly. When I held the collar-to-extension seam sections together they matched after both pinning and sewing, so I thought all was well. I was wrong.

When I put the finished shirt on I wasn’t happy with the way the front neckline looked. Something seemed off about the bit between the end of the collar and center front. I showed it to Sarah Veblen during our next mentoring session and she agreed something was wrong. She compared the pattern piece, which had the end of the collar marked, to the finished shirt and discovered that that little segment of the neckline had stretch more than half an inch. Surprisingly, the interfaced facing had stretched the same amount.

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Sarah’s advice was to unstitch, steam both the fashion fabric and facing into their proper shape and restitch. That included unstitching understitching, removing the top snap and sewing the very last bit at the extension by hand. Can I tell you how much I didn’t want to do that after thinking I was done with the project?

The unstitching wasn’t terribly painful once I got started. It was helped by the fact that I did it with my feline sewing assistant in my lap. The steaming was more of a project than I’d anticipated. It took several rounds of pinning to match the pattern, transferring the pins to hold the fabric to the ironing board cover without the pattern, steaming and leaving it to cool and dry. Little by little, the fullness came out. Then the entire process  had to be repeated for a total of four segments – both sides of the fashion fabric then both front facings.

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One thing I did for the first time with this project was make horizontal buttonholes. I know the “rule” is that you use vertical buttonholes on blouses and shirts and horizontal ones on jackets and coats, but Sarah Veblen encourages her students to ignore that rule. I think she’s right from both a practical and an esthetic point of view. These buttonholes won’t splay open when I move and the buttons won’t come out the way they sometimes do with vertical buttonholes on a fitted blouse. The bonus is that I really like the way they look. I’m sold on using them.

Using the horizontal orientation also meant that I could use keyhole buttonholes for my buttons, which have shanks.

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In looking at the finished product critically, Sarah and I decided on some changes to the pattern before using it again. Besides lengthening it, I’d like to move the tucks out toward the shoulders so they are away from the collar. Sarah also suggested bringing the front armscye seam in just a smudge, which I’ve done. I’m also going to change the shape of the front neckline slightly and widen the collar a bit at the ends so I can get more of the graceful curved shape in front.

Sarah also advised that I modify the way I interface the front facing when using a fabric that might need some extra control. She suggested piecing the interfacing at this line so that this area can be on grain.

Interfacing Diagram

These imperfections aren’t going to stop me from wearing this campish shirt. It’s light, cool, casual and the color is very me.

The Belated Spoonflower Challenge Dress

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The latest addition to my self-designed wardrobe is a dress made from organic cotton sateen in the print called Entangled, which was designed by Heather Dutton of Hang Tight Studio and sold on Spoonflower.com. I intended to wear it in the ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show last October as part of a group challenge with other members of my neighborhood group, Sew Chicago. We had voted on the print and we could choose to make any garment using any of the fabrications and colors that were offered in this particular print. I really like the print and  I wanted to be part of the group on the runway, but I was the co-coordinator of that show and the dress didn’t get finished in time.

I tried it on for Sarah Veblen later that fall and she pinned out some of the fullness in the side seams and contoured them toward the hem. Nice improvement, but when I realized that making that change meant resetting the invisible zipper on one of the seams, it remained unfinished for months. I rationalized that this is a summer dress and there was no point in finishing it in the fall or winter. Then came the crunch for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show and the next thing I knew there was just barely enough time to get it done so I could wear it at the ASG National Conference in Indianapolis.

As you can see, the dress has a curved Empire seam. It dips quite a bit in the back.

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When I used this design again for my Little Black Dress, which is more fitted in the skirt, I modified the curve so that it didn’t dip as much.

I was really excited about the way this print worked on the collar. I had seen a striped cotton dress on a mannequin in a store last summer that had a collar like this one. The stripes were vertical in the body of the dress and horizontal across the front of the collar. I knew this print would give a similar effect and that it would be a piece of cake to draft the pattern.

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It’s basically a Peter Pan Collar without a break in the back with the front edges extended to overlap a bit and shifted over to the side to go over one shoulder.

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I used small release pleats and tiny darts to control the fullness from the relaxed silhouette I was going for.

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I lined the dress in light blue Imperial cotton batiste. The overall effect is a dress that’s amazingly comfortable to wear.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Whew!

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.

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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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