Friday, April 6, 2012

So-so Springy Sampler Sheath

You know how when you start embroidery, you're supposed to make a sampler of all your different stitches? And it's not really meant to be a treasure-forever piece, more just for practicing techniques? Well, this dress is like that. I started it as a wearable muslin of sorts, just to test out a new pattern (McCall's 5927), and I wasn't a big fan of the fabrics I used. But they were very springy, and I wanted to make a new dress for Easter.

Pretty insides!
This dress is supposed to be lined, but since this was just a muslin, I didn't bother. Also I was feeling lazy because of spring break, and I didn't want to go through the trouble of thinking about how to do a lining when there are sleeves to deal with. So instead of lining it, I finished the neck and armholes with bias tape, then slipstitched the tape to the dress. I also finished the hem with seam binding and slipstitched that, too. I've gotten much better at making my stitches invisible, but it still takes me forever. Which begs the question -- should I be trying to become a faster hand-sewer, or just bask in the process? I feel like trying to speed up makes my stitches sloppy, but it really takes an abominably long time for me to do just one armhole. I think I spent at least two hours on the hand-sewing on this dress (2 episodes of The Big Bang Theory, 1 episode of Chopped).

I do like how the hem looks with the pop of pink.

Where blue is the skirt fabric, and black is the bodice fabric, and red is stitching.
I also chose to practice my flat-felled seams on the shoulders and bodice sides. They're fairly unobtrusive in the sea of white, but I didn't feel like they would work on the skirt. The skirt went together quickly and quietly; I much prefer sewing tucks to darts, but the hip pockets feel weirdly tiny after getting used to my normal, huge, side seam pockets. I did this weird thing on the waist seam where I almost flat-felled it, but instead just finished the one side and stitched that down over the other, trimmed waist seam. Is there a name for that, or did I just make up a fake seam finish?

Not quite in focus, but you get the idea.
The last technique I tried on this dress was an arrowhead tack on the back vent. It's not a real vent, you know, the kind where there's an overlap and a little slanted seam; this is just a split where the center back seam stops. Given how violently I walk, I figured it could use some help holding together. I didn't use embroidery floss, as it seemed a bit like overkill; normal sewing thread seems to be doing just fine and suits the scale better.

After I finished the dress, I checked the weather forecast for San Francisco this Sunday, and it's supposed to rain. Of course it is. So I'm not even going to bother bringing this dress; instead I just quickly snapped some pictures downstairs outside the apartment building.

My first experience with hip pockets!

It looks okay as long as you're far away and the lighting is kind of dim.

And it wasn't until I was going through the photos that I noticed it -- the dreaded nipply bust dart. Curse the dim light in my sewing room that let me miss that in my multiple fittings! A quick googling revealed that even the esteemed Gertie has had this issue before; that made me feel better instantly. More googling unearthed a helpful tutorial for fixing my darts, and a brief stint with my seam ripper and sewing machine produced this:

Also note how invisible my stitches are for the bias facings!

Not entirely fixed, but much better. I think the problem with this pattern is that there's only the two giant darts, and so all that width needing to be taken out of the waist kind of necessitates a pointy dart. When I curved the seam to fix some of the pointy-ness, it ended up making the bust a little too large, since less fabric was being taken out in the dart. Rather than futz with this pattern to get it to work, I think I'm just going to be lazy and stick with my TNT bodice pattern, M5845, and just modify the armholes and neckline to work with the sleeves and all.

Or would that be a swayback adjustment? Or a sway booty?
Fabric: 100% cotton, with tiny white dots, for the top, and 50/50 cotton/poly blend tablecloth for the skirt (this is the same fabric I'm using for my pair of bodies, which I'm pretty sure is anathema to real corsetiers, but it was the only fabric I had that wouldn't stretch)
Notions: a 22" cream-colored zip, seam binding on the hem, bias tape for finishing the neck/arms
Techniques used: Slipstitching, flat-felled seams, arrowhead tack
Hours: Five-ish, but mostly because of the hand-sewing.
Netflix queue: Lost in Austen, and the aforementioned TV episodes
Will you make this again? Almost certainly not. Besides the bodice dart issues, I'm also not happy with the fit of the skirt in the back -- I lack a booty to fill it out. Actually, I may use the front of the skirt with the hip pockets again.
Total cost: $4 for the zipper and bias tape; the fabric was donated, and therefore free.
Final thoughts: I guess when you start out feeling meh about the fabric, it's not surprising when the final dress is just so-so, too. Also, I don't really like how this is supposed to be a sheath dress, but it's not actually fitted; I feel like it makes me look more rectangular than I actually am. Although, I think I would like this a lot better in a more wintry fabric, like a thick plaid or houndstooth something.  Maybe I'll try it again in a couple seasons when I've forgotten about all of these issues.

This picture, pre-dart-fix, pretty much expresses my sentiments on this dress: just meh.

I feel a little out of sorts sewing-wise; my last two dresses haven't made me very excited at all, and my Ren Faire outfit is taking too long to be able to sustain any sort of excitement over it. I'm feeling the need for something more retro, vibrant, fun, and me. Not that I am always retro, vibrant, or fun. But you know what I mean.'s back to the crazy bedsheet stash! Also, I am totally recanting my vow to not make anymore dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. You all are so right -- if it works, why stop? If the sewing police come to my door and demand to know why I'm not moving on as a seamstress, I'll go all sewasaurus rex on them and wave my pair of bodies in their faces with my ineffectually tiny arms.

Ignore my atrocious rendition of a clipboard, pen, citation, and badge. Also, this was a pun begging to be made.

Continuing in the theme of animal poems, and appropriate for my doodle:

The Riddle of the Dinosaur, by Bert Leston Taylor

Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his weight and length,
But for his intellectual strength.

You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains,
The one in his head, the usual place,
The other at his spinal base.

Thus he could reason a priori
As well as a posteriori.
No problem bothered him a bit,
He made both head and tail of it.

So wise he was, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong,
It passed a few ideas along.

It something slipped the forward mind
’Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.

As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
For he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.

O gaze upon this noble beast,
Defunct ten million years at least.

Written in 1912 (how appropriate, too, that we are celebrating this poem's 100th anniversary!), back when it was thought that Stegosaurus had an extra bundle of neurons in its butt to help control its hindquarters.


  1. Wow I learned a lot reading this! I have had that problem with darts too. I find that all sheath dress patterns made from Big 4 have to be heavily modified or altered to be fitted. They add way too much ease. Your seam is still a flat felled but a technique used for wool to avoid bulkiness.

    1. Thanks for letting me know about my seam! Yeah, I thought by cutting two sizes down, this dress would fit better, but it's still looser than I would like.

  2. This was really interesting to me. I do a lot of hand-finishing on my pieces, and I think it takes me about as long as it takes you to do a similar task, but I think of myself as being pretty quick at hand sewing! It's all about perspective, isn't it?

    1. I guess, so, Gail! I realized after reading your comment that I have no idea how long hand-sewing is supposed to take, so I just assumed that I was sewing very slowly. I fee better about it now, thanks!

  3. Those stupid straight-line bust darts on patterns are one of my biggest pet peeves! I'm always having to shape them to make them work and sometimes it totally kills my motivation for a project.

    Your handsewing is wonderful! - and you will get faster but probably won't realize it. Once you get into a groove and have a nice broken-in needle, it really flies. (And heaven forbid, you drop and lose a broken-in needle! It's amazing how hard it is to get the next one just slightly bent like the one you lost!) I prefer #7 embroidery needles for almost all my handsewing - the long smooth eye really slides through fabric easily and the length of the needle is perfect (for me anyway).

    Maybe with a different fabric you would like the dress style better. Or maybe it just needs a sash or bright belt? I don't think it's all that bad - just needs a little pop of color. =)

    1. Brooke, I totally understand re: the broken-in needle! I've been using the same needle for the last couple of years, and every time I'm had to substitute another one when not at home, I get frustrated.

      I don't think the dress is that bad; it's just not *me* in terms of color. I think I would like it in another color/thickness, plus a few adjustments.

  4. I actually really like the dress - I envy that you are slim enough to get away with the loose sheath, and I love the neutrals (I love neutrals). The bust is so subtle only you and the most dreadfully picky seamstress would ever notice it!

    Also, I love, love, love your sewing humour drawing!

    1. Thanks for appreciating my little doodle :)

      I am realizing that I don't like neutrals very much, which is a pity, as I think I really need some in my wardrobe! I was hoping the bust was okay, but then my husband noticed the nippliness and I knew I was going to have to fix it.

  5. You know what's funny? I love this dress and I loved your Mad Men dress! I think they are both so feminine and tastefully done. And I love the sleeves and fabrics you used on this one! I truly think you look stunning!

  6. Love the doodle! This dress looks great, I hate when I don't like I dress but you will learn to love it and it looks so well made! Look forward to seeing your next pieces!XxxX

  7. Glad to have found your blog! Thanks for the tips and tutorial references. And I loved the poem - next time I have to pull a sewing solution out of my you-know-what, I'll tell myself it's coming from my posteriori brain.


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