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.

 

A Big, Bold Departure from My Norm

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This is a dress that really surprised me. After the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I still had another huge project ahead of me. I had taken on the task of designing and editing a cookbook for a bride-to-be and co-hosting her bridal shower, which was six days after the show in New York. I was feeling good about the fact that my dress for the wedding was pretty much done and really looking forward to sewing without a deadline for a while when I learned I was going to be invited to the rehearsal dinner. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but the only thing I could think of was that I had no idea what to sew and was fresh out of inspiration.

Not that it matters, but I didn’t want to wear the same silhouette to both events. Then there was the question of fabric. I didn’t really want to do black again, although I have a very nice black eyelet that would have been perfectly fine for a summer evening dinner party on the patio of a hip Brooklyn bistro. With all those negatives floating around in my head, is it any wonder I was uninspired?

The one thought that did develop was that I wanted a print in silk or linen, but I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me.  Clearly, I needed a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen to get me on track. Over FaceTime, I went through a pile of fabrics I have in my collection that could work, and we discussed each one. Most of the fabrics I have that could be made into cocktail or evening wear would work in any season other than summer. Other fabrics failed to spark any enthusiasm.

In discussing other possibilities I mentioned how much I liked this blue and green leaf print from Sawyer Brook and then quickly explained that I’d dismissed it because it was a large scale print with bold colors which brought it outside my comfort zone and the fabrication was wrong  —cotton sateen with stretch. Cotton can be a perfectly lovely fabric for a summer dress that’s a little bit dressy, but I’m not a fan of Lycra in woven fabrics. It interferes with the drape and makes the fabric overly heavy. It also makes the fabric uncomfortably warm, destroying its ability to breathe.

Once Sarah saw the print, she insisted that I order the fabric. Her answer to the fabrication objections was that I should underline the dress in cotton batiste and not line it.

With the fabric selected, it was time to develop a pattern. I wanted a full skirt, which was achieved by slashing and spreading copies of my basic armscye princess dress pattern pieces. Instead of a waist seam that would cut me in half and add bulk where I’m plenty bulky enough, I wanted to achieve the transition from a fitted bodice to the full skirt with fairly generous release pleats. I also wanted a wide, gently curved neckline and a rolled collar that had overlapping ends on one shoulder.

I was scheduled to share a day with my friend Steph King from Siouxigirl Designs working privately with Sarah Veblen before attending her class Exploring Fashion Design—Design I in mid-May. Steph brought several muslins and I had planned to do the same when we originally scheduled the session. But, with the leaf print dress project that needed to be completed before June 10, that became the only thing I was going to have time to work on that day. Grouse, grouse grouse!

Before flying to Baltimore, I drafted the pattern and mocked it up in muslin. I left the release pleats for Sarah to place and drape on me. We decided the dress needed a third pleat on each side at the front princess seam. That required angling the princess seam outward from above the waist to the hem. It also required some working out of the construction process, which ended up to be sewing the princess seam first and then pressing and clean finishing the seam allowances. The next step was to sew the release pleat, which started at the seam and branched out below.

We took a critical look at the collar and ultimately decided to eliminate the overlap at the shoulder. Instead, I connected it at center back. Sarah suggested a silk dupioni undercollar, which I interfaced with soft stretch fusible. The upper collar is underlined like the rest of the dress.

Sarah had told me to bring the fabric with me so she could help me lay out the pattern. Because of the scale and complexity of the print, I ordered lots of extra fabric. Ordinarily, I order three yards of fabric for a dress and I have plenty left over. I ordered five yards and don’t have much of anything usable left over. I knew that strategic placement of the pattern would require full pattern pieces for the front and back as well as the collar, because each piece had to be laid out on a single layer of fabric.

Sarah walked me through her thought process in placing pattern pieces. One of the primary goals was to break up the white areas. Next, it was important to avoid having the print march across the dress. This is not a print where we wanted to match motifs at seamlines, but we wanted transitions that weren’t jarring. If I had been left to my own devices on this step, I would have spent a lot of time wondering and questioning my decisions. Instead, Sarah guided me in placing each piece. She left me to pin and cut and then come up with an idea of where the adjacent piece should be placed while she worked with Steph or did something else.  I’m pretty sure all the placements I suggested were changed, but each time the reason for the adjustment made sense.

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The last decision to make was where to place the collar. We rejected having black at center front and knew we wanted to avoid white there. We opted for that pretty blue and found an orientation that worked. It took hours to get this thing placed and cut!

After hand basting the batiste to the fashion fabric, construction was fairly straightforward. I mentioned the process we worked out for the princess seam release pleat earlier. The other four release pleats (two on each side front panel) start and stop in the middle of the fabric with the starting points staggered. For these, I started with a locking stitch, then sewed for about an inch with very short stitches (1.1 on my machine). I then switched to a regular stitch length, returning to the short stitches an inch before the end. At the end, I used a locking stitch, stopped with needle down, raised the presser foot and pivoted then stitched over the last inch with the same short stitches.

The cotton batiste underlining really makes this dress work. It controls the stretch in the fashion fabric, which was the primary reason for adding it, but it also makes the skirt in the area below the release pleats fall in nice soft folds.

This is the first garment I’ve made in a long time that isn’t lined. Because it’s a summer dress and it already has that extra layer of underlining, Sarah advised me to not line it. The seam allowances are serge-finished. The side seams are pressed open and were serged before stitching. The princess seams were serged together after stitching, pressing and clipping the curves where necessary. Those seam allowances are pressed toward the center.

When working on the design, Sarah advised me to make a facing with the cotton batiste I used for underlining. I drafted an all-in-one facing for the neck and armholes and interfaced the batiste with soft stretch fusible. In drafting the facing, I was overly timid about its depth. For next time, I’ll draft a facing pattern that is more generous. In this one, I made sure I anchored the bottom edges by hand sewing them to the underlining. I also anchored the pleat intake the same way.

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I was able to attach the facing to the neck seam and armscyes completely by machine. I first attached the facing at the neck on the outside of the dress, with the collar sandwiched in between. With the underlined fashion fabric, interfaced undercollar and interfaced facing, there was a pretty hefty stack of layers to deal with and even more when sewing over the shoulder seams.

After stitching, pressing and clipping the curves where needed, I understitched all around. The key to understitching is to make sure the seam allowance and facing (or lining) are flat on the bed of the sewing machine and any clips to allow for curves are spread out so they can do their job. And it’s really important to make sure that the only things under the presser foot are the seam allowances and facing. In another project, I kept catching bits of the collar and decided I needed to take a break.

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To attach the collar, attach the facing and understitch, I used directional stitching. That is, I started at the shoulder seam and sewed to the center front, then sewed from the opposite shoulder to center front and repeated the process in the back.

The facings are drafted with ¼ inch subtracted at the armscye from the shoulder, tapering back to the original seamline at the princess seams. This encourages the facing to stay hidden. To attach the facing at the armscyes, the facing is already turned to the inside of the dress, but by doing this step before the side seams were sewn, I was able to attach the lower part of the facing to the lower parts of the arsmscyes without any fancy gymnastics.

 

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Things get pretty weird looking when you get toward the shoulder seams. You have to reach in between the fashion fabric and facing and pull the work down through the opening at the bottom of the facing to pin and sew the rest of the seam. The way to avoid having to redo this step is to make sure that anything that isn’t supposed to be sewn stays tucked into the tube and the only layers under the presser foot are the underlined fashion fabric and the interfaced facing. Frequent stops with the needle down to feel for that ridge of excess fabric and readjust as needed prevents having to spend quality time with the seam ripper.

The way to make this process go smoothly is to pin and sew one side (front or back) to the shoulder seam, then pin and sew the opposite side. When pinning the second side, the work can slide out easily and because it’s sewn in place it stays where it belongs and creates a path that shows where the new stitching is supposed to end up.

When done, it looks like a fabric sausage.

After turning it out, it had to be pressed with favoring so the facing remains hidden. I understitched as far as possible and pressed again.

Every sewing project gives me grief at one point or another and this time it was the zipper. It’s an invisible zipper at the side seam, which I’ve done before and shouldn’t have been a big deal.

As much as I love the print and enjoy wearing the finished product, I’m still not a fan of stretch wovens. When the fabric arrived, it had some stubborn creases that resisted steaming and pressing and could only be removed with a vinegar and water solution and additional thorough pressing. The finished dress also developed quite a few creases in my suitcase and required thorough pressing before I could wear it. It’s pretty difficult to avoid woven fabrics with stretch these days, so I may just have to learn to live with these annoyances.

In the end, I think that overcoming the lack of inspiration, lack of enthusiasm for the fabrication and hesitation about wearing a big, bold print turned out to be worthwhile. I love the swishiness of the skirt and will keep this silhouette in my repertoire.

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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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In The Sketchbook

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.

If you had told me two weeks ago that I would look forward to sketching, I would have been convinced you were delusional. That was before I participated in Sarah Veblen’s six-day class, Exploring Fashion Design – Design 1. A review of that class will be the subject of a blog post coming up soon, but Steph King and I couldn’t wait to start sharing what we have in our sketchbooks.

One of my class assignments was to find a length for a cropped jacket to wear with a coordinating or matching dress. I started with my basic armscye princess seamed sheath dress on the personal croquis developed in class.

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After trying out different lengths, I decided this one has the most pleasing proportions.

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Next, I sketched out a few different jacket designs I might try.

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Since returning from class, I’ve decided I’d really like to develop a pattern for a linen jacket dress in two shades of blue that I’ve been thinking about for years. I know I want to incorporate both fabrics in the jacket by making a double collar and contrasting cuffs on short sleeves. I’d like the collar to be a rolled collar that stops well short of center front and frames the buttons, which may or may not be covered. Here is what I’ve come up with.

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I like the shape of the collar on the left better than the one on the right. If you look closely at the sketch, you can see that I’m playing with an Empire waist for the dress so I can make that two-toned as well with the lighter color on top. I haven’t come to a final decision on the shape of the dress neckline. That will take some more sketching to work out.

Getting this down on paper is so much better than trying to work it all out in my head. This is a very exciting step for me.

We would love to have this monthly feature grow into a link-up with other sewing bloggers. If you’re interested in joining in this creative adventure, please leave a comment to this post.

The Art of Fashion

IMG_0232For the past year, I have had the privilege of co-chairing the annual fashion show and luncheon presented by The Haute Couture Club of Chicago. This organization was founded in 1964 by a group of women who had taken tailoring classes from Helen Barker. In its early days, the club had an entrance requirement, which was the completion of a tailored jacket or coat that included a traditional notched collar. That requirement has since been eliminated and members are drawn together by their love of garment sewing. I worked on the club’s 50th anniversary show  and on last year’s show, and so I felt I was familiar enough with the process of putting a show together to partner with Susan Gerbosi in this adventure.

We began last spring, planning our theme, searching for a venue, brainstorming possible show segments tied to the theme, selecting a photographer and mapping out the countless details involved in bringing a show to the runway. The club has monthly meetings with educational programs from September to May and presents challenges to members tied to the fashion show. The club’s shows also involve garment reviews with sewing educators that help members with any tweaks needed in their garments and give styling suggestions for the runway.

We were ecstatic when the board approved our first choice of venue, the historic Burnham Ballroom at the JW Marriott Chicago.

 

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The setting provided the perfect showcase for our members’ work and elevated the experience for everyone. I cannot say enough good things about the professionalism of the staff and the level of service they provide. Everything on the day of the event went off without a hitch and they made me feel as if ours was the most important event they had ever hosted.

Whenever I volunteer to work on a fashion show, things get really busy at my office and this year was no exception. Juggling that, plus all the things that needed to be done for the show meant that my sewing schedule became more and more compressed. And there was absolutely no time for blogging. I was determined to show all four garments we had included in the program, but that meant having to accept the offer of help from two dear friends.

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Those are the loving hands of my friend Stephanie King, who took over from our emcee for the show, Sarah Veblen.

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Here is Sarah, briefing the models before the show. Sarah volunteered to provide commentary for the show last spring. She wanted to look at the garments up close on the morning of the show and talk to the members who made them so she could add her own personal comments when they were on the runway. When I developed a new garment submission form to use in this year’s show, Sarah added questions of her own so we could have more to draw on when Susan and I prepared the program and when the commentary was drafted. What Sarah didn’t count on was that I hadn’t been able to draft any of the commentary before she arrived in Chicago and she had to spend two very full days working on it.

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Here I am helping our fabulous photographer, Peter Thompson, prepare to take the runway photos. The dress I had hoped to make for the luncheon never even got cut out, so I wore navy linen on a day with rain and snow. Who cares, right? I did change into heels when our guests began arriving.

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The first show segment was “My Homage To…” This was also the first of the sewing challenges this year, in which members were asked to pay tribute to a designer, artist or art movement. The jacket you see here is my homage to Le Bar Suit, which was part of Christian Dior’s debut collection in 1947. If the lines look familiar, it is because this is the second version I made in the space of a year. I documented my frustrations with the first version here. I will give you the details of this version in an upcoming post.

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Another segment was “My Signature Style.” I was inspired by the book Lessons From Madam Chic to think about what defines personal style. I chose to make this two-piece dress with a bias rolled collar that evokes the early ’60s, not just because I feel great in the first version that I made, but also because I’ve been told that it suits me perfectly. The color of the first version wasn’t quite right. I’m much happier with this navy and black birds-eye weave wool.

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My third trip down the runway was in this cotton lawn shirt dress. I hadn’t planned to put this dress in the show, but we created a segment we called Day Dress Renaissance when we were preparing the lineup and decided this dress fit right in.

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Susan insisted on giving me the honor of closing the show. We appeared on the runway together in the final segment, which we called Gallery Opening. This Little Black dress is the one that made it to the runway with the help of friends and needs to be finished on the inside before I wear it to a wedding in June.

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Here is my dear friend Stephanie King walking in the finale with a radiant smile.

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And here I am with Sarah Veblen and Susan Gerbosi, happy that we produced a lovely fashion show that everyone enjoyed.

 

 

Princess Seams – A Curvy Body’s Best Friend

There’s no getting around the fact that princess seams are the key to garments that flatter a curvy figure. Darts and tucks and gathers are fine, but they have their limitations. Even in combination, the silhouette they produce is boxy in comparison to the silhouette that princess seams can achieve. 

Okay, so there are shaping darts in addition to princess seams in the bodice on the right, but you get the idea.

The reason for these differences is easy to see in the patterns. Here is a standard darted bodice. The one on the right has the dart intakes cut out and the one on the left has the dart legs meeting the way they would in fabric. 

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As you can see, there is only one place the darts can create three-dimensional shaping. Darts point to the fullness they allow the fabric to make room for, and that one place in most bodices is the bust. That’s fine if your body only curves in that one place and everything else is pretty straight, but how many women are built like that? I never was. 

Here is what the front and side front pieces of the jacket I’m working on look like when they’re flat.

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The negative space between the two pieces runs from the armscye almost all the way to the hem and the side front piece makes quite a number of turns as it is joined to the front. That allows for a fair amount of contouring in very specific areas. 

Here is an edge view of what the pieces look like when pinned together.  It’s impossible for them to lay flat on the table for almost the entire length of the seam. 

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Now that you’re convinced that princess seams are the best option for a flattering fit (I hope), let’s talk about construction. I know a lot of sewists shy away from princess seams because they seem intimidating. But now that I’ve had a lot of practice sewing them, I don’t think they’re difficult to deal with.

There are a lot of methods out there for sewing princess seams and there really is no wrong way to do it. If it works and it feels comfortable, then it’s the “right” way to go about it.

First, a word about patterns. My patterns were developed under the guidance of Sarah Veblen, who doesn’t build ease into her princess seams. Commercial patterns almost always have ease and so if you are using one that does, you need to allow for that. The part of the seam that has ease is usually marked with dots and so it’s easy to figure out where the seamline is supposed to match up.

I don’t usually use many pins in my sewing, but I’ve discovered that having a fair number of pins in a princess seam is very helpful. How does it help? It helps me avoid spending quality time with my seam ripper. Whatever adjustments need to be made can be made by moving pins, not unstitching. I think of it as sort of a dress rehearsal. By the time I get to the machine, it’s smooth sailing.

I start the pinning at both ends. At the cut edge of the hem, the cut edges go together just like a front and back go together at a side seam. No big deal.

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At the top of an armscye princess seam, things are more interesting.

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The picture above shows how the front and side front fit together at the top when the side front has been trued. You know exactly where to place the pieces at this end. Below are two side front pattern pieces, one for the fashion fabric (on the right) and one for the lining. Notice that I had forgotten to true the lining piece. 

IMG_0844Commercial patterns leave that point on the pattern piece, so when you pin your fabric together a little tail of the side panel sticks out and you never know how much of a tail is supposed to be left hanging. There are two ways to deal with this issue.

My preferred fix is to correct the pattern. Sarah taught me that to do this, you simply pin the pieces together as sewn and cut off the tail.

The first step is to mark the seamlines if that hasn’t been done already.

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  Here are the pieces laid out on top of one another. Notice that the pin goes into the intersection of the princess seam and the armscye seam. This is the end result we’re going for. 

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Here are the pieces pinned as they will be sewn. Notice the tail where the point of the side front is folded at the seamline. 

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When the tail is cut off, the pieces go together as they should. No guesswork needed.

 

If you’d rather not change your pattern, there is another solution. It’s one that has to be used every time you use the pattern, but it works fine.

Mark the intersection of the princess seam and armscye seam on both adjoining pieces. I’ve used a Chalkoner to do that here. 

Insert a pin at that intersecting point on both pieces. Now the pieces are positioned correctly at the top. 

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Once I’ve established the proper placement of the top and bottom of the seam and have pinned the pieces together there, I work my way into the middle.

If I’m left with places that are going to pucker, I take out one or two pins and pat the fabric into place to see where it needs to go. The curvy areas are on the bias and so the fabric has a tendency to shift. A little extra handling is usually all that’s needed to find how the two pieces fit together. I know they will fit together because I walked the seams in the pattern and I cut as accurately as possible. 

If the fabric still doesn’t settle into the right spots, I check the edges to make sure they are aligned exactly. Small corrections in alignment will often help the fabric find its place. If nothing is working and it looks like I have a ton of extra fabric in one piece, I double check to make sure I’m not trying to attach a side front to a back piece or a side back to a front. That would explain the problem. 

Once the pins are in and I’m satisfied that the pieces are where they need to be, it’s off to the sewing machine. I like sewing with a 3/8″ seam allowance most of the time and I find it especially helpful when I’m sewing curvy princess seams. I can tell you that sewing princess seams in stiff muslin with 1″ seam allowances is no fun at all, but after a little practice, sewing natural fiber fashion fabric that has some drape in it with 3/8″ seam allowances is a piece of cake. I just sew slowly and keep my eye on the guideline directly across from the needle, not ahead of it. I sew with the machine set to stop with the needle down so if I need to stop to readjust, the needle is anchoring the fabric. 

I also like to sew from the hem up. That means on one side the curvy side panel will be against the feed dogs and on the other side they will be on top. That doesn’t matter as long as I have the pins in place and I’m using my hands to guide the fabric. 

After pressing the princess seams as sewn (but only with the tip of the iron not going much beyond the stitching line), my favorite way of setting in the shaping is to use a June Tailor Board along with an iron that gives plenty of steam.

The seam allowances on this wool fashion fabric, which I’ve underlined with silk organza, pressed open and stayed that way without requiring any clipping. When the seam is on the curved part of the tailor board, if I see ruffles in the seam allowance after pressing, I use that as a guide for clipping.

After the seam allowances are pressed open, I press on the right side over a ham and use a silk organza press cloth.

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With the princess seams done, my project is transformed from flat fabric to a three-dimensional object that holds the promise of becoming a garment I will love wearing.