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.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been three months (!) since my last blog post, but that would accomplish nothing. The real reason I’ve been hiding – yes, hiding – is that I made a series of avoidable mistakes in a jacket that made me lose confidence in my abilities. Simply put, I was too embarrassed to post anything.

This episode has taught me that it is absolutely essential to check all assumptions and reinforce the basics no matter how far I think my skills have progressed. With a lot of encouragement from Sarah Veblen, I overcame the urge to allow the jacket to become yet another UFO and then worked with Sarah to correct the pattern mistakes I had made for a new version of the jacket. We also revised the collar pattern because the design needed some fine-tuning. The final step in this learning process will be to make the 2.0 version of the jacket. Before going on to that step, I want to share the experience to reinforce the lessons learned so that I don’t make the same mistakes again and, I hope, you will be able to avoid making them in the first place.

Back to Basics

First and foremost, test all assumptions. I made two muslins, so all the adjacent seamlines on the pattern pieces had been walked, right? Then how did I end up with a back piece that had a much longer shoulder seam than the one on the front piece? Obviously, I made an adjustment somewhere and didn’t recheck to make sure the adjacent seams matched before cutting out the fashion fabric. The thing that really got me is that the mistake wasn’t buried in a princess seam or something that took some time to check. The difference in the shoulder seams is something that hits you in the face when you lap the pieces over one another at the shoulder.

Lesson learned: keep track of all steps. The simple solution is to use a checklist before cutting the fashion fabric. I’m not doing this just when I’ve made changes to the pattern, but also when I pull different pieces from different garments. I might have made tweaks in a garment that I’ve forgotten about, so I can’t assume that the side front piece from one blouse will fit together with the front piece from another project. In this project, I started out intending to make three-piece sleeves, using the pattern from my still unfinished French jacket, but changed my mind and used the two-piece sleeves I’ve used for other jackets. It was only after I found myself struggling to ease in the sleeves that I realized the armscye for my French jacket is smaller than the armscye for my jacket sloper.

My new routine is to make a checklist with all the garment pieces and all the adjacent seams that need to walk. It looks something like this:

  • Front to Side Front
  • Side Front to Side Back
  • Side Back to Back
  • Front to back at shoulder
  • Sleeve to armscye

When everything is checked off, I’m ready to cut.

Resist the Temptation to Combine Steps

When teaching patternmaking in her fit and design workshops, Sarah carefully lays out each step that her students should follow, which includes cutting the pattern on the cut line before walking adjacent pattern pieces. I thought this was a step I could skip and simply cut away excess paper when I used the pattern to cut fabric. I was wrong.

After I had kvetched to Sarah Veblen about all the mistakes I made with this jacket, I worked on fixing each of the problems in a workshop that she calls “You Choose Your Focus,” where each participant works on whatever she needs to accomplish with Sarah’s supervision. As Sarah watched me walk two pattern pieces, she noticed that I had veered off from the seamline on one piece and was walking one seamline onto a cut line. She assured me that this is not an uncommon mistake, especially when changes have been made to the pattern and there are extra lines and markings that have been crossed out. She then said in her gentle, patient and non-accusatory manner that the best way to avoid this mistake or at least minimize the number of times you make it is to trim away the excess pattern paper before walking the pattern pieces.

Lesson learned: If a step seems unnecessary, ask the instructor why she advises taking that step before skipping it.

Don’t Forget to Think Seamline

This is another place where the number of lines on a pattern piece can cause confusion. Some lined garments are lined to the edge, whereas others have linings that hang from a facing at the neckline and other really ambitious garments have both a neck facing and a faced hem with a lining in between. Here is what that looks like on this particular jacket:

IMG_0564 (1)

The facings are made of a beautiful black silk taffeta that has a tone-on-tone embossed rose pattern. Sigh. The silk lining is from A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore and I managed to buy more when I was there in November. Yea.

So, on my first attempt to make the lining pattern I marked the depth of the facings on the garment pattern pieces, plus cut lines above and below each of those seamlines, which meant I had three sets of lines at the top (seamline, then cut line for lining and another cut line for the facing), plus two at the bottom, since the lining and hem facing don’t get attached as a seam but have a jump hem instead. I also got mired in math trying to figure out the depth of the jump hem, which is why you see that seam at the bottom of the lining in the picture above. That’s where I attached a bias strip to add length.

Sarah’s advise is to only draw the seamlines, or if you must draw multiple lines, color code them. She draws her seamlines in blue pencil.

Here is a visual for the neck facing/lining segment of that convoluted explanation:


The reduced scale pattern piece for the garment back is on white paper. I’ve marked only the seamline where the lining (purple tissue paper) attached to the facing (yellow tissue paper). As you can see, the lining’s seam allowance extends up like it’s supposed to and the facing seam allowance extends down. The process was to mark only the seamline, then draw the facing piece, add the seam allowance and cut, then draw the lining piece, add the seam allowance and cut.

Lesson learned: Pattern pieces that get too cluttered are confusing and it’s a mistake to think I will always be able to remember which piece goes up and which goes down.

The whole jump hem thing is a little more involved, so it gets its own section.

Map Out Jump Hems Visually

You don’t have to be math-challenged for math to trip you up, at least I don’t. And there’s something about jump hems that have had me confused for a long time. Sarah walked me through the process visually with strips of paper and I think I finally get it.

When a jacket is lined to the edge (no neck facing) and the hem is turned up (no hem facing), the lining pattern pieces are the same length as the fashion fabric pattern pieces. To get a nice jump hem that covers the hem stitches and ensures that the fashion fabric isn’t pulled up by a too-short lining, we build in a jump hem, which simply means that the fabric hangs down part way over the hem allowance, has a soft fold, comes back up to the hem stitching line and is hand stitched in place. Sarah advises to turn the raw edge of the lining under by ¼” and pin that fold to the hem stitching line and then stitch. Everything works out just fine.

Here is an attempt at a visual representation of how that works:


The blue paper simulates a back lining for a jacket that is lined to the neck edge. It is the same length as the back jacket piece. The only difference is that it has a little extra width to allow for a pleat at center back and it is marked in approximately the places where the stitching ends to allow for arm movement. The white paper represents the fashion fabric pattern piece, which is turned up at the hem with cross-hatching to represent the right side of the fabric in the hem allowance.


The picture above shows the fashion fabric piece with the hem turned up overlaying the lining piece, which has ¼” turned up at the hem edge.

The rest of the pictures show mock-ups of a jump hem with a lining, neck facing and faced hem. The principles are the same. The only difference with the faced hem is that you want a bit more of the facing to not be covered up by the lining.

IMG_0568 (1)

Here we have the lavender tissue paper as the lining (it worked much better than the stiff blue paper I used earlier), plus the yellow tracing paper showing the facings at the neck and hem. I’ve turned the lining under ¼” and pinned it to the top edge of the hem facing. Notice the fullness above the area that’s pinned.

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Here it is with the lining tissue smoothed down. Try to ignore that hemline that I drew in.  Obviously, I misjudged where this would end up, which is why this method is better than doing the math.

IMG_0570 (1)

Here is a view that tries to show everything that’s going on in the area under the jump hem that is hidden when you see a sewn sample.

Lesson learned: Visual mock-ups can avoid a whole bunch of stress and can sometimes clarify things that were once a mystery.

Resewing Has Its Limits

Not all of the problems I encountered were in the pattern. I made some plain, vanilla sewing mistakes that gave me quality time with my seam ripper. There was a snowball effect to this, which I encounter quite a bit. Once I make one dumb mistake I seem to make a whole slew of them. One example was that I set the collar with right sides together. Very dumb. Ordinarily, sewing mistakes are easy to fix, assuming you haven’t trimmed or clipped anything yet. But the lovely silk and wool blend fabric I used for the jacket raveled an unbelievable amount when handled. No matter how careful I was in removing stitches, I was left with very little seam allowance in many areas. It makes me worry about the jacket falling apart when I wear it.

Lesson learned: check the big picture before sewing a seam. Just because the pieces went together nicely when pinning doesn’t guarantee that they are oriented correctly.

There’s More, But It Can Wait

I also learned that my understanding of collars and undercollars had some gaps. We can walk through that in a later post once I’ve gotten comfortable employing my new knowledge on the subject. Besides, I’m more than ready to stop dwelling on my disappointment and move on to some successes.

Here is what the jacket looks like. I finished it in time for the Sew Chicago holiday brunch. Everyone was very supportive and had nice things to say about it and I know that if I hadn’t blabbed about all the mistakes I made most people would never have noticed. I’m looking forward to getting the 2.0 version of it done and feeling really good about the work.

Homage Jkt 1 Modeled