Sewing the strappy dress: finishing touches.

Today we finish sewing your Strappy dress! If you’ve missed some of the previous posts on this subject, here are the links to all of them:

A word about bias
Front pleats
Bust darts and french seams
Neckline and straps

We are about to put some finishing touches to your dress: finish the straps, centre front and sew the hem.

Straps

The ends of the straps need to be finished for the View B only. I usually just fold the end of the strap twice (about 0.5-0.6 cm each fold) and sew the fold to the strap as close to the edge of the fold as possible.

Sometimes it helps to press the folds using a piece of cardboard (for a sharper crease) and a clapper (to make the fold thinner). But you can achieve a decent result without any tools whatsoever.

finished straps

The next step is optional. When I wear a garment with tie straps, the biggest annoyance for me is having to tie the straps (funny that). I just can never guess where the knot should be and how long the straps have to be.

To take the guesswork out of it, I now simply stitch the straps together at the correct length and then tie them up. Just a short seam across both straps will do the trick.

Cross straps

Decorative straps need some love too. To make them stay flat, I stitch them down to the bias as shown on the photo. Neat and quick, this step will ensure your garment looks properly finished.

finished decorative straps

Neckline

The centre front can be left as is, if you prefer, but I like it with a small angle – it flares the pleats out nicely and creates a neckline accent. To do this, I pinch the neckline bias at the centre front and stitch on an angle, catching bias only.

Hem

And finally, the hem. On the Strappy dress the hem is narrow and neat. To sew it, I first fold 0.5 cm up and sew close to the fold. Then I trim seam allowance to 0.3 cm and fold 0.5 cm again.

After this I sew the second fold down, trying to aim for the previous row of stitches. this way you can control the fullness of the hem and avoid roping. If you like, you can also sew this hem using a rolled hem foot.

And voila! You are finished. Give your work a good press and enjoy your brand new dress.

Sewing the strappy dress: neckline and straps

Today we’ll do the most time consuming part of the whole Strappy dress, which is bias binding the neckline and sewing the straps.

To make the binding this thin look good requires some seriously precise sewing, so don’t start it if you are tired. Executed correctly, it will add elegance and lightness to your dress, so don’t rush it.

View A and View B

The Strappy dress has two straps options – the simple loop (view A) and the ties (view B).
The loop straps are sewn using one continuous piece of bias, while ties have back bias and front bias lengths. These bias lengths can be found in the Measurements table under “Bias length front/back View B”. But first, I’ll explain how to sew View A straps (the loops).

Sewing view A straps

And so we begin our binding at notch A on the back of the dress.

Place opened prepared bias face down onto the right side of the back, aligning the raw edges. We are starting at his point because our joining seam will be the least noticeable here. Leave 1.5-2 cm (9/16”-13/16”) of the bias free and start sewing it on.

begin sewing the bias to the neckline

Sew up to the end of the back neckline, measure the length of the strap for your size (“Strap length View A” in the Measurements table) and mark the spot with a pin. Then, align your marked spot with the beginning of the front neckline and continue sewing, until the front neckline is finished.
At this point repeat the measuring of the strap again and continue sewing the back of the neckline, until you have finished.

Once you are at the spot where you started, join the short ends of your bias with a short seam, trim and open the seam allowances.

After this first step the bias is carefully pressed up, then over to the wrong side of the garment.
As a second step, the bias needs to be sewn on again precisely, so baste it if you need to.

press the bias up

But before this, the decorative cross straps must be prepared and attached.

Decorative cross straps and finishing the neckline

The decorative straps provide a focal point to the back of this dress and also stop the dress from slipping off your shoulders due to the low cut back neckline.

We have prepared these straps already, read this post to see how.

And so, place the straps onto the back of the dress, according to the marks on the pattern. Insert the edges under the bias as shown, then baste down securely and press carefully.

Now we are ready to finish the neckline.

The bias is pressed to the wrong side and basted, if necessary. Now sew it on, trying to make sure that your seam is even on both sides of the bias.
You’ll be finishing the neckline, straps and securing the cross straps at the same time.

View B straps sewing (the ties).

Select the length of bias according to the size you are sewing. You will find it in the Measurements table under “Bias length front/back View B”.

To finish the back of the dress, take your back bias and measure the length of the back strap (listed in the Measurements table), then mark the spot. Place the bias onto the back of the dress at the beginning of the neckline and sew it on, finishing at the end of the back neckline. Repeat for the front neckline with the new piece of bias.

After this, prepare the decorative straps as described above and finish the neckline (and straps) by sewing the bias the second time.

close the bias

Press your work and admire. You are almost finished sewing your dress!
In my next (and the last) post we’ll add some finishing touches and hem it. In a meantime, you can purchase the pattern here.

Sewing the strappy dress: bust darts and french seams.

So far we have prepared the bias and decorative straps, pressed and secured the front pleats and stay stitched the front neckline. Today we are going to sew the bust darts and side seams.

Bust darts

Sew the bust dart the usual way and press it down, then stay stitch the armholes 3 mm (1/8”) from the cut edge. While you are at it, stay stitch back neckline and back armholes.

Now you are ready to sew the side seams.

I know, you must be tempted to quickly run them under machine and forget about them, but slow down: it’s the boring seams that make a lot of difference to the longevity and general aesthetic of the garment. Make the seams pretty by using french seams instead of overlocking.

A few words about the width of seams.

I find that anything over 5 mm (3/16″) finished width looks home made on fine fabrics, and I’m very sensitive to this kind of thing. Plus, this little thing called turn of the cloth must be taken into consideration, no matter how fine your fabric is. With this in mind, I sew the first seam at 6 mm (1/4”) and the second at 5 mm (3/16″). I know, it is only 1 mm (1/16″) difference, but this is how I roll.

Since this dress is flared and the side seams are on the bias, it is easier to start sewing them from the hem up. This way the fabric will behave much better.

And so, place the back and the front of the dress wrong sides together and sew your first half of your french seam, from the hem up.

sew the first seam of the french seam

Then trim half of the seam allowances’ width and press.

trim seam allowances of the first seam

I like my edges sharp, so I press the seam allowances to one side with them facing up, then turn the work over and make sure the seam is open all the way, with no “lip” on either side.

Next, place your back and front right sides together and sew 5 mm (3/16″) away from the fold of the previous seam. Now press your work to form a sharp edge and then press seam allowances towards the back. You are done.

sewing the second seam of the french seam

Next time we are going to sew the most time consuming part of this dress – neck binding and straps. In a meantime, you can get your copy of this pattern here.

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Sewing the strappy dress: front pleats.

Pleats are attractive  and functional. Pleats add fullness and movement without bulk.

When I made the first version of the Strappy dress, the front was flat and looked unfinished and lacking. Then idea of pleats occurred to me and it all changed in an instant. Light, airy fabrics need some volume to truly shine, it’s undeniable.

Finished pleats on the front neckline
Today we’ll sew the pleats on the Strappy dress.

As with any garment, I prefer to start with small and “fiddly” operations, something that will be much easier to execute with less fabric under the machine. For example, I sew bound buttonholes in unattached jacket fronts, and fly fronts into two fronts, before any other seams are sewn. In case of this dress, pleats are a decorative element, and as anything decorative, they have to be absolutely perfect.

Pleats and their location

So here we have front pleats consisting of one box pleat at the centre front and two knife pleats on each side of the box pleat. The direction of the pleats is marked on the pattern.

Direction of the pleats on the pattern

A reminder: fold your pleats with the fabric facing up.

Sewing the pleats

I found it easier and cleaner to fold the box pleat first, then fold the knife pleats on top of it.
This way they look nice and tidy inside and outside.

When I first started sewing, I used to baste or pin my pleats, which then would slide sideways and open under the pressing foot. I didn’t put up with this nonsense for long, though, so here is my tip:

If you want your pleats to be very sharp and precise, temporarily stitch (not baste!) them shut. Do not backstitch these seams and use slightly longer machine stitch, so you can easily remove this thread later on.

If you are working with silk, test it first: some silks do not “heal” and the needle puncture marks will stay. In this case, basting is the best option.

pleats temporarily stitched

Once you have your pleats stitched and pressed, stay stitch the neckline, securing the pleats even further. Place your stitch 0.3 cm (1/8”) from the cut edge and pay attention to direction of your pleats while you are stitching – they have an amazing ability to flip to a wrong side.

 

Stay stitched neckline and secured pleats
Now you are all set for the next step – we will be sewing bust darts and side seams, using french seams for the latter. To buy this pattern, click the picture below.

 

Sewing the strappy dress: a word about bias.

head image

Whether you are sewing my new pattern or not, you will come across bias finish at some stage. I personally think bias finished edges are great – they are clean, durable, professional and oh so pretty.

However, this skill needs some time to master. One of the most important things about this type of finish is precision. The tape has to be of even width, it has to be correctly prepared and pressed. If you are lucky enough to have access to a decent selection of ready made bias bindings, then you are a lucky one. For those who are not quite so blessed, me included, there is a skill to be learned.

And so, bias. Preparing your own bias is a bit of a task.

When I sew a garment that required bias finish, this is where I start (after cutting out all the pieces, of course). I don’t hesitate to spend several hours on carefully measuring, cutting, stretching and pressing it, because I know it will pay off in the end.

And this is exactly what I did while sewing the Strappy dress, which uses bias two ways – for an inside bind on armscyes and as a plain bind for the neckline. Both of these techniques I am going to describe in this post.

Cutting and preparing bias

The steps included in bias preparation are:

  • cutting
  • joining
  • removing excess stretch
  • trimming to required width, and then
  • pressing into a final shape

The tools I use for this are a ruler, a square ruler and a bias tape maker, which I own in 3 sizes (an excellent investment, I must say!).

bias tape maker
Image source: clover_usa.com

But I’ll start with a simpler finish, the inside bind.

Inside bind is awesome. It is clean and invisible, it can be used on stretch fabrics and wovens and it replaces facings in many cases.

inside bind

With this finish what you have to pay attention to is the final width of your bind, and to be absolutely sure it is what you want and need, you need to sew a couple of samples.

I start with a simple bias strip, which I stretch to get rid of “play”. Have you heard this term before, play? Play is this jiggly, unpredictable movement of the fabric, and bias cut fabric has a lot of it. Of course, flexibility is exactly why we need bias in the first place, but when there is too much of it, you might end up with “roping” – this is when bias forms diagonal folds after it was stitched on, and a wobbly looking edge. I like my edges razor sharp.

To do the stretching, hold the bias in place with your fingers or pin it to the board and gently stretch it lengthwise, while pressing it with steam. A couple of goes will remove enough stretch for bias to start behaving, and will also make it narrower. But this is why we trim it to the required width later, remember? We did cut it wider for exactly this reason.

When bias behaves, trim it and then press it lengthwise to end up with a strip suitable for inside bind. In case of Strappy dress the final width is 1.5 cm (9/16”)

 

Old fashioned bias binding

An all time favourite, for sure, but requires a few more steps and a bit of precision stitching.
We begin with raw bias strips, which we need to join first.

“HA!- you say,- I  know how to do that!” – and sew it together vertically. Well, no. Although sometimes sewing bias together with a simple vertical seam is the only option, when you can, please sew it on diagonally. The reason for this is very simple – you avoid thickness of the seam, quadrupled, after you have attached your bias to the edge you are finishing.

And so, for this dress we cut the strip 4 cm (1 9/16”) wide and join it correctly (see the picture below). Then we steam stretch it (gently!) and trim it to 3 cm (1 3/16”) wide. After this, we use our fab bias bind maker #12 to fold and press the tape. Voila! It is ready to use.

Bias binding the edge

There are two ways to do it. One is to sew bias to the wrong side first and then finish it on the right side. This way your second row of stitching (the most visible one) will be sewn on the face of the garment and odd seam wobbles are less likely. It will also create a slight “lip”, which sometimes lowers the tone of the garment, in my opinion. It is great for aprons, for example, where the tone is low enough for you not to care.

The second way is to start sewing it from the face and then fold it to the wrong side of the garment. Then you use your graduated eyeball (and years of practice or just blind luck) and sew the “lip” barely covering the previous seam, which will create the finest, cleanest finish on the right side.

After finishing the neckline on the Strappy dress, you’ll end up with 0.6 cm (1/4”) wide bias edge and straps – narrow and elegant, just the way we like it.

 

One more thing the Strappy dress has is the decorative straps at the back.

Apart from stopping your dress from falling off your shoulders, they look pretty. And all pretty details must be executed perfectly, or whats the point, right?

To prepare these straps, we need prepared bias bind as for the bias bound neckline. We fold this bias lengthwise and sew it along the edge, joining it into a strap. Make sure you sew nice and close to the edge.

bias straps

After this, press the strap and use your decorative strap template provided with the pattern to trim it and then fold the edges as shown below. I use a piece of hard cardboard to achieve a nice firm edge – an old business card would do just fine. This folding will help you a lot while sewing the straps in place afterwards, believe me.

One last reminder – don’t forget that your second strap is a mirror image of the first one, ok?

That’s about all I wanted to say about bias this time. In my next post we start sewing the dress, in a meantime you can buy your copy of the pattern here.

 

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Cape blazer sewing pattern

There’s simply no denying it – cape blazers are a hot trend.

They are everywhere – celebrities are wearing them, stores are stocking them, and you we see more and more of them on the streets.

Once I noticed a cape blazer on Pinterest, it immediately caught my eye. It seemed to be a very natural progression from wearing a blazer thrown over the shoulders that seemed to be all the rage for a short time. Now you can actually wear it AND look casual and unintentionally chic at the same time!

Pinterest board

I can also tell you this – cape jacket is cozy. I hate cold, and at first the sleeve slits seemed like a chilly idea to say the least, but once I had that jacket on it felt like wearing a blanket over your shoulders.
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Developing a custom pattern. Part two: the lining.

I’m sure you’ve been hanging out to see how I develop a lining pattern for the modified Simplicity dress, right? :) Well, here it is.

Last time I showed you a personal block modifications to develop a pattern design similar to Simplicity 2550.

Today I’ll show you how I developed a lining pattern for this garment.

The dress I need to line is sleeveless, has a centre back zip, back skirt vent and no facings.
The plan is to make the lining as seam free as possible.
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Developing a custom pattern. Part one.

In my line of work it’s pretty normal – a client brings me a sewing pattern with the design she is after, but because she wants some heavy modifications done (or the pattern can not accommodate her figure) the pattern itself can not be used.

To be honest, even if the pattern was usable, I’d still prefer drafting my own. I like having the full control of the ease and, ultimately, the fit of the garment. I also like taking the full credit when the fit is awesome (hehe).

So I thought, why not share my process? Maybe It might be of some interest to you?

And so, this time I have to work with Simplicity 2550 design.

Simplicity 2550

My objective is to make a dress like the red one, but with a scoop neckline, sleeveless and fully lined. This is how I make this happen.
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The Melbourne Frocktails Bolero

I’ve always been a bolero fan.

I like the drama, the embroidery, the length. It is also very flattering on my type of figure – the rectangle. The bolero can dress up many outfits, even the most boring tee shirt and jeans.

When I was planning my Melbourne Frocktails outfit, there were a few things I knew I didn’t want. First of all, I didn’t want a frock. For some reason, I never feel comfortable enough in dresses, and an elaborate cocktail dress would make me feel like a fraud. I just feel more myself wearing trousers.
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The one and only.

From my previous posts you know that my man is very particular about his clothes. If he could, he’d never go clothes shopping. He hates choosing, trying on, and is very suspicious of the brands he has never worn before (that would be pretty much every brand out there). He approaches new clothes like a wild animal – circling and eyeing them suspiciously. Many clothes never make it to the first wear, most others will get worn only once.
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Taming the waist

In my previous post I talked about fit – the difference between correct and perfect fit and why most of us will not like the clothes fit to perfection.

I also showed you the bodice pattern I was working on – it fitted me perfectly and I hated it.

Let me tell you more about this bodice.

This is one of only a few boned bodices I’ve sewn in my entire life. It is also a muslin, and by sewing it I’ve learned a massive lot about my preferred fit, and look of this type of garments. I am almost happy with the way it turned out, the next one should be even better.

boned bodice

To develop this pattern I started with my personal block with 0 cm ease. I adjusted the front princess seam from my sad convex to a much better looking concave shape.

I do admit, this made me nervous: “Oh my god, it wont fit. It will cut in, my zip will split, I won’t be able to breathe, how can it possibly work?”

On a plus size, this adjustment alone took 2 cm off my waist measurement.

Then I sewed 16 bones into the bodice and had my first  fitting.

To my surprise, it was very comfortable, maybe a bit too comfortable. I even had to check several times if it was actually zipped.

boned bodice side view

I wanted more. I wanted that snug, hugging feeling only this kind of bodices can give you.
After a couple of adjustments I finally got it.

My perfect block has -1 cm ease at the bust and -4.4 cm at the waist.

It’s hard to believe that a garment that is 4 cm smaller than you need could be comfortable, but somehow it is. I don’t feel tortured, breathless or sausaged in – only “controlled”. I even started wondering if I could bring it in at the waist even more! If I take it in right here (diggs thumbs into her sides) it will look even more fab!

boned bodice 2

But this, of course, will be a completely different story. This story will be called “Lena sews a corset” and I imagine it will happen eventually. I have already done some research into modern corsetry, it took me places I’ve never been before.

To my surprise, corsetry and tight lacing are still alive and well, with quite huge demand (and an adequate supply) for all sorts of daily corrective wear for both women and men.

Have you heard of waist training? There are before and after pictures of people who significantly reduce their waists by wearing special corsets day and night. There is no way I’d do that, I treasure my comfort far too much, but after I saw what just 4 cm off my waist feels and looks like, I find the idea of corrective undergarments under special occasion clothes very attractive.

The websites for waist trainers advise to start slow – reduction of 3 to 5 inches for your first corset should do just fine.

Wait, what? 5 inches??

That’s 3 times more than my attempt I am so proud of! I will not be striving to achieve that, but this information gave me the range to work with.

And so, I call this experiment a success. A few pattern adjustments and some bones here and there do wonders for one’s self esteem, bringing our figures closer to that ideal image we all have in our heads. I’ll do more of it.

A little more perfect.

I bring up the topic of fit once in awhile, as it is one of my favourites.

We all say we love clothes that fit, but what do we mean by that? Do you like clothes following every curve of your body? I think not, and let me explain.

The reason I started thinking about it again was the trip to bridal salons a week ago. My friend is getting married and I volunteered to tag along and have a good look and feel of the wedding dresses.

My friend is not a standard size, just like most of us, but the dresses were. It was even more interesting to see her try those dresses because I’ve sewn for her before and I made her a custom block. Theoretically, none of those dresses would be even close to perfect fit for her body.
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