read more posts by

Emily

final grade: the cocktail dress

Don’t ever let anyone tell you sewing is a mindless craft. Those of us who endeavor to create and make know better. The mental acrobatics required to properly execute the tedious and challenging projects is one of the things that keeps me engaged and inspired to continue sewing. Because to settle for the easy projects all the time does nothing for growth and learning, and why bother if you’re not doing much of value or quality. This dress is one of those garments that required a little extra determination and planning and, just like every other project like it that has tested my patience, it was more than worth the time and effort. (Expect a few of those “easy” projects in the future, just to balance things out!)

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Ty and I were headed to Florida this month, and I was excited to make most of my clothes for our little weekend getaway. On Wednesday, I’ll tell you how successful I was in bringing my ideas to life, but today I’m thrilled to show you the cocktail dress I made for the awards reception. It came together beautifully, I felt like a million bucks in it, and I was comfortable all night (the ultimate trifecta!). I lost track of all the sweet compliments I received on this dress, which was just icing on the cake for me. (I think a lot of the compliments had to do with the fabric. It’s just so stunning!)

For more details about how I decided on the design and the sewing techniques I used on this dress, see the progress report from a few weeks ago.

The bodice is my own design I drafted using my slopers, to which I attached the skirt from Butterick 6129 (see the other skirt from that pattern here). The skirt on my cocktail dress is about 2.5″ shorter than the white damask skirt from January, and I like it a little better. I used the wrong side of the fabric on the hem band again, because it adds a lot of visual interest to the skirt and it’s a fun way to showcase both sides of the brocade.

There is 6″ wide horsehair braid in the hem facing, and I closed the hem band with a catchstitch. I did this for a couple of reasons: there is flexibility in a catchstitch that allows for movement while still being strong, plus I think it’s pretty. The skirt/hem band seam allowance is serged and pressed up towards the skirt to keep the hem facing from getting too bulky. Normally I would press all the seam allowances down into the hem facing and close it all up, concealing all of the seams.

I used Bemberg rayon to line the bodice and pink cotton to line the skirt. I wanted a more substantial lining for the skirt, which is why I went with cotton there. (Cutting and sewing rayon lining for the bodice was about all I could handle with that material for a while. It’s not a fabric I enjoy working with at all, I must tell you.) I sewed coral grosgrain ribbon around the waist of the lining, because it bugs me when the bodice and skirt linings are different colors. The ribbon makes it all look intentional.

And here we are at the awards reception. (The wind was so terrible that night, which made it impossible to get a good picture of the dress!)

I’m so proud of Ty and all of his hard work. He is the ultimate professional, and I’m so delighted his achievements were recognized. We had a wonderful time!

how to: get a perfect fitting bust

I designed a dress a few years ago for a fall collection, and it was the most simple dress you can imagine. It wasn’t trendy or fussy, and other than two well placed pockets, there were no bells and whistles, because I’m a big believer that the bells and whistles aren’t always necessary. Sometimes, simple is enough.

The Millie dress was always popular, and it was in every collection I designed up until the very end. Like many other things I designed and sold at one point, I never managed to keep a Millie dress for myself. I wish I had, but the beauty of sewing is that nothing is ever really gone forever. And now, I finally have one of my own.

The Millie dress, over the years:

I actually made this dress last summer, but it’s only now making its debut. I was reminded of it recently when I used the remaining two yards of the fabric on a spring blouse, which you saw me wearing in Florida and in this post from last Friday. I got the fabric (cotton sateen) in early 2016 from Fashion Fabrics Club and, not surprisingly, it sold out pretty quickly. Fingers crossed they restock their sateen inventory soon!

Because the design is so simple, it’s important to get the fit just right. The bodice has front princess seams and a back dart, and there’s a very simple trick I use to get a closer, more flattering fit around the bust. (A lot of you commented on the fit of this dress, so here we go!)

You can apply this technique to self drafted patterns as well as commercial patterns, and you can also use this method to shape front bodice waist darts for a closer fit. For this tutorial, I’m using my own sloper to draft a front bodice with princess seams.

Essentially, what we’re doing here is taking out some fabric from under the bust and contouring that area to fit more closely to the body.

I’ve traced the front bodice and drafted a princess seam. Then, I mark on my dart legs 3″ up from the waistline, which is where I want the bodice to fit me better. Now, this is important: you will want to measure yourself because this particular measurement is different on everyone. For instance, if you’re short waisted, you may only need to measure about 2″ up from the waist and vice versa for you taller gals. When I first started doing this to my patterns, I tested it on a muslin to make sure I was taking in the right amount in the right place.

Next to the marks on the dart legs, I measure about 3/16″ into my bodice. Those of you with a bigger cup size may need to take more in here, and the reverse is true of smaller cups. Cup size aside, if there isn’t much difference in the bust measurement and directly below the bust, this adjustment may not be necessary at all.

Using a French curve, connect the waistline, marks under the bust we just drew, and princess seam lines. Your pattern will look something like this:

For reference, this is what a princess seam looks like just following the original dart leg, and one that has been shaped. You can see the difference that 3/16″ makes!

If you have any questions, let me know. I hope this helps you get a closer, more tailored looking fit on your spring projects. Happy Sewing!

sewing room essentials

Happy First Day of Spring! I don’t know about you, but I love it when things become official, and the first official day of spring is one of my favorite days. We’re having gorgeous weather here today too, which is fantastic. You know I love sunny skies!

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw some photos from our trip to Florida over the weekend. What a trip it was! We truly had a wonderful time. It’s been a long time (two years, I think? maybe three?) since Ty and I really got to get away for a few days, and I know we both desperately needed a break. I’ll post a few snapshots from the trip next week, but today I’m happy to be home and excited to get back to work.

I spent some time in the studio last night cleaning and getting organized for a new batch of projects, and I finally invested some time into pattern organization and storage, an important part of today’s subject: sewing room essentials. I get a lot of questions about various things in my studio and where to find them, so what better way to kick off a new season of creating and sewing than by sharing a few tips about what you need in a sewing studio and where to find them.

My pattern collection was quite small when I closed my business a couple years ago (everything fit into one shoe box), but it has since grown quite a bit. I blame pattern sales! (Don’t we all?!) The pattern situation was getting so out of hand that I was forced into a solution. I had outgrown the boxes I was putting everything into, and it was such a pain to find what I was looking for. I decided the best thing to for me to do was to group all of my patterns into categories (dresses, skirts, pants, etc.), and then file them in storage drawers I already had. And, just like that, I have a solution that actually works and makes finding what I’m looking for a snap.

So, sewing essentials #1: pattern organization and storage. All of my patterns fit neatly into two storage drawers, and each one is filed in its own category. Makes it a breeze to find what I’m looking for. I don’t really need to file them in categories more specific than this, but I might put some neon sticky tabs on the top corner of my favorite patterns, so those stick out when I open the drawer. For now, I’m just glad everything is organized!

Sewing essential #2: a dress form. If you’re going to invest your time and energy into sewing apparel for yourself or others, I really think a dress form is a must-have tool. I use mine daily for draping, to analyze print placement, to look at a muslin and make adjustments, and for photos, among other things. My form is industry grade with legs and collapsible shoulders and is from PGM, which is also a great resource for a lot of sewing and patternmaking supplies. Brand new forms like this are a little pricey, but used ones can be found online and at estate sales every now and then. I’d love to have another one at some point, so I’m always on the hunt for a bargain dress form.

I know a lot of folks like the adjustable dress forms sold at JoAnn, so that’s another option as well.

Sewing room essential #3: thread storage. When I was first getting settled in this space, my dad built a table for me, as well as this thread storage solution and a wall mount for big bolts of fabric. The wall mount for fabric is gone now that I don’t need it, but the table and thread storage remains. Similar storage can be found at places like JoAnn, or you can make it yourself with some scrap wood and dowel rods. That’s what my daddy did, and every time I pick a thread off one of the rods, I’m reminded of how handy and awesome he is!

I did buy the serger thread rack when my thread collection overran the wall rack.

Sewing essential #4: garment labels. Without fail, I always get asked about labels, and any seamstress worth her salt should include them in every garment. If you’re interested in having custom labels printed and care labels, there’s lots of info in my post from last fall. McCall Company labels can be found on their website.

Sewing room essential #5: a good quality iron. You want a dependable iron that will last a long time. My Rowenta has been chugging along for years, and I don’t know what I would do without it. I love it. I use it dry, and keep a spray bottle at the ironing station, which is my preferred method of pressing. Works like a charm. I also have a Rowenta steamer, which is another good tool to have.

Sewing room essential #6: pattern hangers and racks. I often trace commercial patterns onto sturdier pattern paper, especially when I make adjustments to it or use it multiple times. These patterns don’t fold well, so they get hung up. You can find inexpensive racks like this at TJ Maxx or Ross, and the hangers can be found at PGM. For more information on supplies specific to patternmaking, see this post from last summer.

Sewing room essential #7: interfacing. I know this is more specific to sewing itself, but I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about what interfacing I use. Interfacing is important and you never want to settle for a cheap stabilizer. I use Pellon White Shape-Flex® Fusible on almost all of my projects. It’s the best. It never bubbles or falls apart, and it gives waistbands, collars, facings and the like just enough body without being too stiff. JoAnn sells it, and I’ll wait for a mega sale or coupon to stock up.

Sewing room essential #8: a bias tape maker. I’m a big believer in utilizing tools that make our lives easier, and this is one of them. I don’t use this daily but I use it regularly enough that it makes a difference. With spring and summer finally upon us, all those unlined tops we’ll be making will need neatly finished necklines, so this little guy will come in handy. All you have to do is cut your strips, and then send them through the iron where the edges get pressed down in a matter of seconds, saving precious time at the iron doing it yourself. I got mine at JoAnn a long time ago, and I have two or three different attachments for it based on the size and type of bias tape I need.

(I can’t seem to find this particular model on the JoAnn website, but I believe they’re sold at Hobby Lobby as well.)

Sewing room essential #9: a rolling rack. Before I bought a sturdy, reliable rolling rack, it was comedy of errors trying to put anything anywhere. Half finished projects, finished garments, and fabric were all over the place. It’s crazy how something as simple as a rolling rack can make such a big difference. You can find this rolling rack at Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s particularly great because it folds down for easy transport. We used these all the time for pop up shops and at various events. Plus, they’re on wheels so I can move it easily on picture day when I need that wall space.

Sewing room essentials #10: storage carts. I love these little things. I have two, both from Target, and they are not only great for storage, but they’re like little station carts for the different parts of the process that go on here. I like having one next to my iron with a few tools that I can easily grab, and I have another one set up next to my pattern rack with patternmaking tools on it. I can move them around when I need to. They’re just the best.

Sewing room essentials #11: a big workspace/table. When I first started college, I didn’t have a big table to work on, so I cut out a lot of projects in the dining room on the floor. Then I graduated up to one of those folding sewing tables you can get at JoAnn and used that thing until it was all but falling apart. Then my dad built a table for me, and it’s been the best thing ever. He customized it to my height so my back never hurts, and I have plenty of storage space underneath. It’s wonderful.

Sewing room essentials #12: fabric storage. For me, I like storing my fabric stash in clear drawers. I usually organize it all by type of fabric, but right now it’s a free for all in each drawer. The key for me is being able to see everything. I used storage totes for a while, but those are a bit big for my liking. Things get buried in there, and if they aren’t clear you have no idea what’s in them. I also like to keep my fabric away from direct sunlight. It’s the same theory as not having a window in a closet. Over time, the sun will fade whatever side of your clothes is in its path. Protect your fabric, folks!

Sewing room essentials #13: quality sewing machines. This goes without saying, but you’ll get nowhere fast on a cheap, unreliable machine that doesn’t have all the capabilities you need it to have. Soon, I’ll be telling you all about a fantastic machine from my favorite brand, HUSQVARNA VIKING®, but here’s a peek of my machines. I have two sewing machines, and a serger (also essential).

I hope this answers some questions about where to find sewing tools and other supplies you need for a functioning sewing room. Also, because it’s fresh on my mind, I’d love to know how you store your patterns. I’m all ears!

Happy Sewing!