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Category: sewing

the gingham dress

I really can’t say it enough: I love gingham. For whatever reason, I didn’t use it very much until this year, but after discovering the fabric for this Butterick dress I made in March I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s such a happy print, and nothing else reminds me more of summertime and America and classic, timeless style than gingham. Today I’m finishing a red gingham dress, and then I’ll have a fun little trio of gingham dresses. So maybe a matching skirt and blouse set will round out the collection for this year? Yes, I like that idea.

The dress in today’s post came to me one afternoon, after I finally found the perfect navy blue gingham. I found it at fabric.com, and it’s not a poly/cotton blend, which I especially like, and I also like the size of the checks. I like prints that aren’t so small that they essentially look like a solid color and not so large that they’re overwhelming. This 1″ gingham was the perfect size for this project. I can’t quite remember what sparked the idea for this dress, but it’s possible I saw something somewhere that inspired it. All I know is that once I had the idea, I couldn’t get it out of my head. And, I can say this with complete confidence, this dress will make the “hits” list at the end of the year. It is exactly the vision I had in mind, it’s easily one of the most comfortable dresses I’ve ever made. It also felt good to use my slopers and execute my own design. I love the convenience of commercial patterns and I’ll never stop using them, but every once in a while I need to design something on my own. It’s what I know, and I enjoy it.

I wanted something that tied in front, but anything remotely skimpy or revealing was out of the question. I also needed a dress with full back coverage so anything strapless or spaghetti straps wasn’t an option either. Sometimes you’ll find a dress or top with a tie element, but it’s pieces of fabric sewn into a seam that ties over another part of the garment. For example, in my research I saw a button front top with ties that came from the side seams and tied on top of the button placket. I didn’t want that. I wanted the tie element to be functional, not decorative.

To achieve the bodice I had in mind, I drafted a fitted bodice with a midriff and shaped pieces that tie in front. When I have an idea like this, I often start my search in a commercial pattern catalog, in case there’s something similar that I can adjust to save time. I never did find anything that would have worked, so I made the pattern myself. This was the best way to go for this project because it let me control every design detail without having to test too much or worry about the fit.

I outlined my idea on the dress form and used that as a guide for the pattern. This step just gives me a nice visual for style lines, seams, and specific measurements like width of the ties or shoulder seam.

After drafting the first pattern, I made a muslin on which I noticed only two fitting adjustments that needed to be made. I pinched out a little excess fabric under the bust, and made a slight swayback adjustment. Here you can see the midriff and bodice pinned where the fullness needs to be taken out. (And, gah, my apologies for such an icky picture!)

The muslin on the form:

My pattern pieces looked like this: 

Lining the entire top bodice piece would have made the ties a bit bulky and difficult to tie, so I had to get creative with the lining. The ties could have been lined in rayon, for example, but I didn’t want the lining to show anywhere. That would have been distracting. So, the lining extends far enough into the ties so that cups can be sandwiched in between, but it ends in a spot that keeps the ties free from an extra layer (and you also never see the lining from the right side of the dress).

Here you can see the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern that shows where it ends.

And here’s how that looks in the dress itself.

I had a pair of cups hanging around in the studio for ages, so I just used what I had on hand. You can find these at JoAnn. I just tacked the cups into place underneath the lining.

Once I decided that the ties wouldn’t be lined I had to figure out how to finish the edges, but I knew I didn’t want a narrow hem. So, I frayed the edges. Just having frayed edges on the ties didn’t make sense to the continuity of the garment, so I cut the selvage off of my fabric and continued that detail around the entire neckline and the armholes. I’m particularly crazy about this part of the dress. It’s so darling!

The skirt is a simple full circle skirt pattern, and there are side seam pockets. The skirt lining is a half circle pattern (no need for a full circle lining), and I used bemberg rayon to line the skirt. This gingham fabric is very “cotton-y”, and a cotton lining would have gotten bunched up under the skirt and not allowed it to move and flow like it should.

I let the dress hang on my dress form for a day to let the bias settle. Then I leveled the hem so that everything would be nice and even. For more information on leveling a hem, see this post from last fall.

I wore this dress in Nashville last week on the day my mom and I went fabric shopping and had lunch. I got lots of comments on this dress, and the ladies at the fabric store especially liked it. They also appreciated the sewing and time it took to make it. Every once in a while if someone compliments something I’m wearing I’ll respond by saying, “Thank you, I made it!” Then, I get the enjoyment of seeing their reactions, because sewing your own clothes is still one of those things that most people don’t think about. Usually, they’re so shocked they have no idea what to say. Isn’t it funny when that happens?

I cut the midriff pieces on the bias, because I liked the visual of the print going in a different direction around the wait. It interrupts the placement of the gingham in a way that isn’t distracting or overwhelming.

There’s this cute little flower truck that parks in spots all around Nashville, and it happened to be close to where we were that day so we had to check it out. Adorable, right?

My parents and my brother live in Nashville, so I like to go visit them a couple times a year. We had the best week together! The fabric store I mentioned is Textile Fabrics Nashville, and I would encourage you to go there if you’re ever in Nashville. They carry the most beautiful things, and I stocked up on some delicious linen for some summer projects and a plaid shirting that I think will make a pretty shirtdress.

I’m happy to home and back at work. I missed my studio, and it felt really good to crank up the sewing machine on Monday. Have a great week! 

how to: add a vent in a straight skirt

I’ve never been one for mini skirts. I don’t really have the legs for a skirt that short, and I’ve always wondered about the whole sitting-down-and-actually-doing-things-in-a short-skirt dilemma. But I do have the height to pull off a skirt that falls below my knees. Good thing too, since my preferred skirt length falls somewhere between right below the knee and mid calf. I add length to my skirts on just about every project.

Any skirt with adequate sweep in the hem is a no-brainer to lengthen, but the closer fitting pencil and straight skirts require an extra step or two to make them wearable. Enter, the back vent. Today, I’m going to show you how add a classic back vent to straight skirt patterns, and then we’ll go over how to sew it. Just like everything else, there’s more than one way to go about this, and it’s up to each seamstress to determine what’s best for her project. A pleat in the center front seam can be a fun alternative to a basic back vent. Or, a flared gore in the center back seam elevates the back vent to an intentional design detail. I’ve seen pleats in the back princess seams too, which is also another interesting option.

Adding a back vent to a skirt is as easy as adding length and width to the center back seam. The length of the vent itself depends on how long the skirt is. For some context, my skirt is 27″ from my waist, and I made my vent about 8″ long. You don’t want a vent that comes up too close to your backside, but you also want a vent long enough to allow for your normal stride.

So, to the center back seam of my pattern I added a piece measuring 2″ wide by about 8″ tall.

I like to curve the top of the vent, to make serging the center back seam easier.

And that’s it for the pattern! The back skirt pieces are both cut the same.

To create the back vent, the back seam is sewn together from the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the vent. Here, my center back seams have been sewn together, and I’ve turned the skirt right sides out and placed it on my ironing board. I have turned under the serged edges of the vent, and I will sew those before sewing the vent together.

Once the edges of the vent are sewn:

Now the vent gets pressed in place. It doesn’t matter to what side the vent gets pressed, just use a hem gauge to make sure what you’re pressing is accurate. Remember that that vent is 2″ wide, and I just pressed under 1/4″, so now it’s 1 3/4″.

After the vent has been pressed, carefully pin it in place. Now, here’s the trick I learned in college: use a piece of tape as a sewing guide. Place it at the top of the vent, making sure that your sewing line will go through all the layers of both sides of the vent at the top. It’s also a good idea to go just beyond the center back seam and either backstitch or bartack this spot to make it as strong as possible.

Tape in place:

Sew alongside one side of the tape guide.

One thing you sometimes see on a back vent is a sewing line from the top of the vent to the hem, which keeps the top side of the vent in place. I opted not to do that on the orange striped skirt to keep distracting topstitching to a minimum. I also knew I would go back in and tack the vent down on the inside, which is a totally acceptable option. If you sew the vent along one side, it will look like this (I know the bright green thread is hard to see clearly):

Once the vent is sewn in place, hem the skirt. This particular skirt has a 2″ hem, which I hemmed using the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine.

Hem completed:

And that’s it!

There are other ways to add the vent to the lining, but this method is my favorite. It’s simple and straightforward. So, if your skirt is lined, follow the same steps to add a back vent to the lining.

Back vents are one of those things that may seem intimidating at first, but after doing it once it clicks. Then, you’ll feel like you can do them with your eyes closed!

Happy sewing!

how to: the striped skirt

There are a few things you can always count on me to make on a regular basis: full skirts, fit and flare dresses, pretty blouses, and anything striped. Stripes are so charming and fun to work with, and the striped garments I make are some of my most worn items. (Which reminds me, I need to source some pretty striped shirting fabric. Ah, the endless fabric hunt!)

I designed a skirt a few years ago when I was in business out of sheer necessity. I had long envisioned a pleated, flared skirt with even, balanced stripes, but it’s no easy task bringing that idea to life without getting a little creative. Now, to be clear, there are easier ways to make something similar to the skirt in this post. You can use a printed stripe fabric, cut a rectangle out of it, and pleat it into a waistband or bodice. In fact, that’s an easy project for beginners, so that might be a great place to start. For me, I wanted a designed skirt with built in flare so that it didn’t fall flat from the waist, which is exactly what just cutting a rectangle will do. I also wanted to call the shots in terms of skirt length, stripe width, and overall design. So I made my own stripes, and today I’m showing you how to do the same thing. And the beauty of this concept is that it can be applied to any garment. So, in addition to my design, I will also be showing you a Butterick pattern I adjusted to make a striped pencil skirt.

Let’s go over a few things before we get started on the pattern:

  • I used cotton sateen to make these skirts. Another good option would be poplin or lightweight twill. I also lined the skirt using the half circle skirt pattern.
  • There are side seam pockets in this skirt, but you can go with another pocket option or omit them entirely.
  • Because this skirt becomes quite wide with the addition of the pleats, it is cut on the crossgrain.
  • I made the pattern for this skirt using my skirt slopers, to which I added flare and the inverted box pleats. Then I adjusted the length and determined the width of the stripes. The same result can be achieved by starting with a half circle skirt, which is what we’re going to do today. For instructions on how to draft a half circle skirt pattern, see this post.
  • There is no tutorial for the waistband, zipper, pockets, lining or hem in this post. I’m assuming you know these things. The focus here is on making the pattern and sewing the stripes together. I’m also assuming basic pattern making concepts are understood (just in the interest of time here, folks), so if you have questions about the terms I use or any part of this process, please let me know. I’m happy to help! In the coming weeks, I will dedicate a post to basic pattern making concepts.
  • My skirt is 27″ from the waist with six stripes that measure 4.5″. I am 5’7″ so 27″ from the waist is a flattering midi length on me, but you may want to adjust the length to suit your height. The pleats are 6″ deep, and you may adjust these as well to be bigger or smaller or omit them altogether. If you don’t want the fullness of the pleats, you can always just separate the half circle skirt pattern into stripes and go from there.
  • When determining the length of the skirt and the width of the stripes, just keep proportion in mind. We don’t want stripes that are too narrow or too wide.
  • I lined my skirts using the half circle skirt pattern, not the pleated skirt pattern.

So, here’s the front half circle skirt pattern. Remember that this is cut on the fold which is why we’re only looking at half of it.

Because the half circle is already pretty flared, we can jump right into adding the pleats. This skirt has three inverted box pleats in the front and two in the back, along with a knife or “side” pleat on either side of the zipper in center back. 6″ has been added to create the pleats, so you only need to add 3″ at center front (because it’s cut on the fold), and 6″ for the second pleat. The placement for the second pleat is roughly halfway between center front and the side seam.

You can see the gray paper I added to center front for the first pleat and the line I’ve drawn to mark the placement for the second pleat.

Cut the pattern along the line, completely separating it. Then, add 6″ for the pleat.

On the gray paper we just added, mark down the middle at 3″. This is where the pleat will meet after we’ve folded it. Remember that center front is cut on the fold, so we’ve only added 3″ there instead of 6″. So when you fold your paper it will only be half of the pleat. For reference, here’s a visual from my pattern making book that illustrates inverted box pleats very well:

Here you can see that I’ve folded the pleats in place and trued the waistline. Cut off the excess paper. Determine the length of your skirt and cut off excess paper at the hem.

After the pleats are added and folded and the waistline trued, your pattern will look something like this.

Now, we need to determine the width of the stripes. Once you know how wide you want the stripes, measure from the waistline down that amount. There’s your top stripe! Then, measure down the same amount from the line we just drew to create the second stripe and so on.

I’m pointing to the first stripe here:

Once you’ve drawn all of your stripes, cut each one and add seam allowance. This part takes paper, lots of tape, and an upbeat playlist to help get you through it! When each stripe has been separated and seam allowance added, the skirt will look like this, and remember to label each piece along with whether it’s a color stripe or white or print or what have you.

 Repeat this process for the back skirt, putting the pleat roughly halfway between center back and the side seam. The original version of this skirt had a full box pleat at center back, but over time I decided it was a bit bulky, so now it’s just a knife pleat. You may add this or just have the one inverted box pleat in the back.

Cut the skirt on the crossgrain, and make sure to double notch at center back. This skirt is easy to make, but there are parts that are quite tedious, and cutting it out is definitely one of them. Remember that playlist I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you’ll want it again.

Navy stripes being cut:

White stripes being cut:

I like to line up my pieces in order and sew them together starting with the bottom piece. That way, when I get to the last stripe, it’s the shortest. I’m always happy to get to that last piece!

And here’s a trick to make sewing the front stripes together easier: start at center front instead of one side and sewing the length of the seam at once. I’ve found that starting at center front is much easier, and there’s never an issue lining the seams up. So, when you cut your front skirt stripes, notch at center front of each stripe piece so you can match it to the next stripe and so forth.

Here you can see the notches at center front I made when I cut out the front stripes. Starting from the top or bottom–wherever you want–match the stripe pieces at center front and sew together from center front to the side seam. Then, turn the pieces over and, starting at center front again, sew to the opposite side seam. This step isn’t necessary, it just makes things easier.

The next tip is important: serge the seams and press them as you go, not once the entire front or back piece is assembled. I press the seam allowances towards the color stripe, which goes against pressing rules, but I don’t like seeing the seam allowance through the white stripe.

Insert the pockets. 

Be careful to match the stripe when you sew the side seams, but the rest of the skirt construction is easy and just like any other skirt. Attach the waistband, insert the zipper, drop in the lining, hem. Then, you’re done!

Once you’ve got the concept down, have a ball applying it to whatever you want. Tops, jackets, accessories, you name it. I’ve always wanted a striped pencil skirt, and I had an idea for an orange one because I knew it would pair beautifully with a blouse I made a couple months ago. And it does!

I used Butterick 5466 to make this skirt. You can see the other version I made in this post.

I added about 4″ to the length of this skirt, as well as a back vent and I widened the waistband and lined the skirt in Bemberg rayon. Tutorial for adding the back vent and how to sew it coming next week!

You know I like my makes to be as versatile as possible. You may not think that an orange stripe pencil skirt can be translated into a lot of different looks–the ceiling of versatility isn’t quite as high with this one as it is the others–but there’s still a number of things you can do with it. Go cute and casual:

Or, dress it up. More about this top here.

Lately, I’ve been putting bias tape or ribbon along the waistline seam of my skirts. It serves no practical purpose, but it sure does look pretty. I love navy and gold together, so I used gold bias tape in this skirt:

And I used an orange floral print quilting cotton to make bias tape for the orange skirt:

If you’re at all intimidated by this skirt, don’t be. It’s not complicated or difficult, just a little time consuming and tedious. But the result is so worth it!

As always, let me know if you need clarification on anything in this post. Have a wonderful weekend, and send me pictures of your striped projects!

Happy Sewing!