Sew for Victory: Construction

I know it’s been ages and ages. That’s what happens when you take a month off to have wedding brain.

This one’s for the people who like to look at garment guts and other details.

I’m not usually great at showing all my stellar adequate alleged finishing techniques. Generally, they’re nothing to brag about (except maybe for my French seamed set-in sleeves. I was pretty pleased with those!), but I began to wonder if perhaps I was setting my own bar too low. So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be better about showing the parts that are hidden from the civilians. You see–and this is leading into a whole other post–I’m no longer okay with just okay. 

Unfortunately, my Sew for Victory dress still falls into the “okay” category.

So, why, after all that work, did it not even breach the perimeter of “awesome”?

Fabric choice. And fit.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the fabric. It’s a cotton voile, a lightweight fabric perfect for southern summers. I love the colors and the print; they are just exactly what I wanted. But voile was not a great choice for this particular dress because it doesn’t drape, it floats. This is particularly problematic with the pleating on the skirt. The pleats are a little too crisp–not quite the look I imagined. A much better fabric choice would have been a challis or a crepe de chine.

There are two major fitting issues to mention. I think that the bodice-midriff seam is sitting about 3/4-1″ too high. This is due to my fuller-than-average bust. It’s causing the tip of the midriff piece to not lie flat, which would be far more attractive than what’s currently happening:

SFV bodice front

What I should have done is lengthen the bodice below the bust point tapering to nothing at the side seams and then shorten the midriff pieces accordingly.

There is a minor issue I should mention–I’m not even sure what’s causing it or how to fix it. I’m afraid it may be a continuation of my battle with sleeves and armholes. What’s happening is some pulling at the front of the armhole. I scooped the armhole a little to help with the gaping issue I always get (this is where I usually put in a dart, but praise be to Maddie for pointing out that I could just rotate the fullness elsewhere!) and I added some fullness to the front of the sleeve cap to compensate. Perhaps I didn’t add quite enough?

The other major issue is the collar. It gapes at the back or the sides (it depends on how the dress is sitting) which is obviously due to a too-large neckline on the back bodice and around the shoulders and probably the back being too broad as well.

SFV bodice back

Actually, looking at this picture, I’m thinking that just the very upper back is too big. It seems to fit just fine over my shoulder blades (upper middle back?). Maybe some neck darts would have been helpful. But, the neck is still too low.

Maybe these all seem like minor issues. But when I wear the dress, I feel like I have to constantly fiddle with it, adjusting the neckline or pulling on the sleeves or smoothing the pleats, in order for it to look right. It’s the sort of thing that I always had to do with RTW: necklines were never smooth, waists were too low, shoulders were too tight, buttons gaped–you probably know a little bit what I mean, right? And that’s one reason I started making my own clothes, so I wouldn’t have to fiddle anymore!

Right now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. It would be absolutely heart-breaking to get rid of the dress. Even dismantling it gives me the chills. But, I’m not sure I can wear it comfortably. . . We’ll see. Maybe after some time has passed, I’ll gain some clarity.

Update: Time has passed since I first wrote this. I gained clarity. Stay tuned.

But, let’s switch gears and celebrate some accomplishments for a bit!

I am very pleased with my pattern matching attempts, though they are far from perfect. On the front, I decided to match the front bodice seam independently of the front midriff seam. If I’d thought ahead, I may have matched all four points. But, once I’d cut the bodice pieces, I realized that was putting the midriff pieces in an awkward point in the pattern on the fabric (does that make sense?).

This is the CF bodice seam. . .

This is the CF bodice seam. . .

. . . and the CF midriff seam.

. . . and the CF midriff seam.

And here's the bodice from a bit of distance.

And here’s the bodice from a bit of distance.

The back turned out somewhat better. I matched the back bodice with both midriff pieces. It’s not just right, but from a distance, you really can’t tell!

Back midriff seams up close. . .

Back midriff seams up close. . .

. . . and far away.

. . . and far away.

And there is no pattern matching at any of the side seams because I am not a magician. It would have been impossible and you have to choose your battles.

My CF, CB, and side seams all match from bodice to skirt, hurray! I came up with a new (to me) technique to help accomplish this.

A pointless picture, I think. But I kind of wanted proof.

A pointless picture, I think. But I kind of wanted proof.

I very rarely baste. Most pattern instructions (at least most of the patterns I’ve worked with) will tell you to baste your skirt to your bodice and then sew. I’ve always felt that was rather a waste of time, but as a result, I very rarely have been able to get my seams to match. So, instead of basting all the way round, I machine basted just over those seams. After basting each seam, I would check it. If it was off, I pulled out the basting and tried again. Then, once all my seams were aligned, I sewed the seam. I basted just shy of 5/8″ so that when I sewed the seam, I could sew just outside my basting and no stitches would show on the right side. Why I haven’t thought of this before, I don’t know, but it’s saved me lots of time and frustration! (Although, I feel like out there among my small readership, a collective “duh” may have just been uttered. I know, guys. Sometimes I miss the obvious things. 🙂 )

This bodice was particularly tricky to sew because there are several pivot points that need to be sewn just so in order for things to look right: the shawl collar at the shoulder seams, where the back bodice meets the back midriff, and the CF seam (there are two ways to do this, but they both involve tricky pivoting). I think I may do a whole separate post about those when I share what I learned about drafting shawl collars.

This is the shoulder seam. It took quite a bit of practice (and correct measuring for Pete's sake) to get that corner right.

This is the shoulder seam. It took quite a bit of practice (and correct measuring for Pete’s sake) to get that corner right.

The bodice is self-lined (necessary because of the collar and the sheerness of the fabric). All the bodice seams are pinked rather than done with an overcasting stitch (which is my go-to seam finish) and pressed open to reduce bulk. I found it was helpful during construction to keep the lining pieces labeled until I had the bodice all sewn together. The pieces were almost identical and I didn’t want to get them mixed up–not after all the time I spent matching that pattern!

Lining label

I’m trying to be better about capturing lots of different moments during my days. I’d like to become a much, much better photographer and the only way to get there is to practice!

I stitched the lining to the armholes and waist by hand with a ladder stitch.

Doesn't look that great, I admit. . . And it seems that there's something off with my tension.

Doesn’t look that great, I admit. . . And it seems that there’s something off with my tension.

The skirt is lined with cotton voile which I dyed to match. It was my first dyeing attempt, so you can see there’s some spotting. But, I’m okay with it.

I should have just sewn my skirt lining to my bodice lining (this is what I do normally). I'm not sure why I didn't here. Instead, I just whipstitched the two together.

I should have just sewn my skirt lining to my bodice lining (this is what I do normally). I’m not sure why I didn’t here. Instead, I just whipstitched the two together.

I whipstitched the lining to the zipper because I find it helps keep the lining from getting stuck in the zipper. Also, I really enjoy the whipstitch! I just need to practice to make it more even.

Zipper whipstitch

The lining hem is done by machine, but the skirt and sleeve hems are done by hand with a slip stitch. I hemmed the sleeves before inserting them into the bodice, which made it much easier.

My sister very graciously helped me measure my hem--but she did it a little crazy, as you can see.

My sister very graciously helped me measure my hem–but she did it a little crazy, as you can see.

Oh, and can we just ignore the zipper? The first zipper I tried was supposed to be invisible.

Zipper. I can still see you.

Zipper. I can still see you.

(This is what prompted me to finally buy an invisible zipper foot. That and the fact that the bridesmaid dresses needed invisible zippers.)

Instead, I decided, rather in a panic, to do a centered zipper.



And the little hole I ripped into the fabric with my seam ripper and had to douse in tears and Fray-check? I promise I’m going to redo it now that I’m no longer scrambling to finish to take pictures. Let’s just say it was not my finest hour. . .

Play nice with your seam rippers. . .

Play nice with your seam rippers. . .

But let’s take a moment to enjoy the fact that I was able to keep the look of a box pleat even though those are just two knife pleats facing each other!

Zipper Pleat

So, a quick recap. Here’s what I learned:

  • I really enjoy hand stitching. I know it’s not terribly “professional” looking, but imitating RTW has never been my goal. My clothes are handmade, and I like it that way 🙂
  • Fabric choice is crucial. The wrong fabric can ruin a good design (though I’m aware that my design also needed work. . . ).
  • Interface your zipper. Especially if working with lightweight fabric.
  • I actually don’t like having wide midriff pieces or waist bands. I don’t think they really work on my short waist. Now I know something to avoid or amend in future makes!
  • Even when a project doesn’t quite turn out, you still need to find and celebrate those little accomplishments that did. This is what I love about the sewing community! There’s always someone happy to ignore my mistakes and point out the small victories that I, in all my doom and gloom, tend to ignore 🙂
  • My favorite sewing snack is grapefruit. Not kidding. And it’s not terribly practical for sewing–but it’s sooo good!



10 thoughts on “Sew for Victory: Construction

  1. ok, that dress looks like a real accomplishment. so many details!
    i know what you mean about having to adjust your clothing all the time – tres irritating. still, i think the end result is beautiful, and i LOVE that fabric!! amy butler?

    • Thank you–I DO feel fairly accomplished after all that 🙂 But, I hope you’re not too attached to the dress, because it doesn’t look anything like this anymore!
      The fabric IS Amy Butler–good eye!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I’m glad there is a lot of good things to celebrate about your dress, because it is beautiful! Although, looking at the comments above I’m guessing you’ve made some changes?

    • I certainly did! I’m pretty ruthless about getting rid of clothes that I don’t like to wear, so this dress did indeed get a makeover.

      But, I really do think it’s very important to celebrate our accomplishments–even the teeny tiny ones! I, being a very moody person, am highly susceptible to discouragement, so this sort of mental training is necessary to my creative survival!

  3. What a great post 🙂 I agree – it’s important to focus on the small accomplishments, even when things didn’t turn out as you’d hoped. I wish I remembered to do that, ha! I thought the dress looked lovely and the little details so cute. The flaws were definitely only noticeable to you but, I understand how that is and I’m glad to hear you’ve found another way to love the fabric. Excited to see the re-reveal!

    • Thank you! I’m excited to share the new dress–just need to get some good pictures (and it would really help if the sun would come out for once!).

  4. Sounds like this dress was a good learning project! Hopefully your next few projects will be more straightforward! The dress looks good to me, but I’m glad you’ve found a way to refashion it that you’ll actually wear and love. It totally stinks to put tons of time and effort into a dress to let it hang in your closet unworn.

    • Oh, yes–the dress I’m working on now and the next one in the queue are both patterns I’ve used before: zero drafting involved! (Except maybe to move a dart or two around, but that hardly counts 😉 )

I'm done. Now, YOU can talk :)

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