Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wedding dress and sewing on the bias

dress +  my lovely husband.
Photograph courtesy of Belinda Lawley ( 
Dress particulars: Full length bias-cut satin dress with a deep cowl neck and a low standing collar at the back. The dress is dartless with curved waist seams and a small puddle train.

Pattern- self drafted

Fabric- Heavy Italian silk crepe-backed satin in Ivory from MacCulloch and Wallis in Soho London- £69/m. I bought 4 meters which left about half a meter for contingency.

Bodice lining and skirt underlining- 2.5 m Cupro bremsilk £10/m- also from MacCulloch and Wallis. The front of the bodice is self lined with the silk crepe satin.

Thread- Gutterman silk thread in Ivory 

Sewing method: 100% hand sewn using techniques as describe in Claire B Shaeffers Couture Sewing Techniques.

From the moment the question was popped there was no doubt that I would make (or at least attempt to make) my own wedding dress. I knew my sewing would have to step up a few notches but I wanted a simple design and I was confident that if I took my time and planned every detail I would end up with something wearable, right?

To me a garment like this is the holy grail of home sewing and I have learnt so much from the process. For anyone considering making their wedding dress it isn't a decision to be made lightly, but I would definitely say that for me it has been a 100% positive experience and I absolutely loved my dress and wearing it was a dream. However, it was the result of three months of meticulous planning and very careful sewing, I didn't count exactly how many hours it took, but it was a lot.

I had planned to detail the construction method on this blog, but there is too much and little of it is probably useful. Instead I thought it would be useful to list some tips of working with bias silk as I struggled to find much information looking at fellow blogs, youtube and even books. Claire Shaeffers book had some tips that were useful, but mainly I had to paste together tidbits from here and there and use trial and error. Below I have detailed some of the techniques I used which I found helpful and highlighted where I struggled. I don't profess to know everything, but if you are thinking about sewing on the bias they might come in handy.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Lawley (

I made two toiles, one in calico whilst perfecting the design and basic fitting and one in a cheap polyester to test sewing a slippery fabric.

1) Cutting
With bias sewing is the fabric has to be on grain to prevent bumpy seams and the fabric twisting and warping uncomfortably. Make sure you find the cross-grain by snipping and tearing or loosening a single thread and cutting along the line it leaves. My fabric was very tightly woven and so I had to use the tearing method. Anyone else a bit terrified of working with expensive fabric, I tried loosening a thread, but it was impossible.

Once I had found the grain I secured my fabric to the cutting surface (the floor for me) to prevent it from moving whilst pinning and cutting. Placing the cutting board underneath the fabric and lay the selvage edge along one of the floorboards, but you could use the edge of the table, and secured it with parcel tape. I then gently smoothed the fabric and secured the fabric on the other selvage edge and each end, taking care not to stretch the fabric.

I used a protractor to check the pattern pieces were neatly on grain and cut the pieces using a rotary cutter. Always use a single layer of fabric, it will be impossible to ensure the fabric is on grain if you double it over.

When bias pattern pieces meet at the seam it is necessary that the lengthwise and crosswise grains are running towards each other and meeting at the seam. This is because the lengthwise grain will stretch more than the crosswise and if they are not aligned the seam will stretch and warp out of shape. This article from threads magazine explains it better than I have, but the key thing to remember is when laying your pattern pieces out, the pieces for the left side should be at a 90 degree angle to those on the right side of the body. Many bias garments have a centre front and centre back seam to prevent the lengthwise grain dominating one side of the garment. I was determined to avoid this in my pattern and did not have any problems in cutting full pattern pieces. I think this was mainly as the fabric I was using was so tightly woven that it did not slip off grain that easily. It was so tightly woven that it was difficult to get a pin through it at times.

2) Construction
With the toile I tried stabilising the fabric with tissue paper to prevent the fabric slipping out of shape, but when I tried to remove it it became stuck in the seams, leaving a dress that rustled when I moved- not quite the sound I was going for. With the actual dress, I included the seam line on the pattern pieces and thread-traced all the seam lines, so I could be confident that my seams were correctly aligned. When sewing bias seams, Claire Shaeffer recommends stretching the seams as you go and pressing flat to prevent rippled seams and this did the trick for me.

When designing the pattern in calico, the back collar stood proud easily and I thought that it would need some kind of interfacing to support it. For the toile I cut the collar on the straight grain and interfaced with heavy calico, but the collar pointed upwards and any creases created a bumpy drape (see picture below). For the final dress I cut the collar on the bias and used stiff crinoline in the hope that this would work better, but it was even worse and I began to despair. Luckily I removed the crinoline, preparing to investigate alternatives and the collar draped perfectly on its own. A good reminder to work with the fabric not against it.

I failed in adding any type of fastening to this dress. Without a back seam the only option was to put the zipper in the cured side seam. I tried this with the toile and it was as much of a disaster as I expected- it was bumpy and looked just awful. Claire Shaeffers book recommends avoiding zips in bias seams and suggests slashing the fabric if you really must. I did not want to have to stabilise the zip as I was sure that the extra bulk would ruin the drape of the dress. Fortunately I was able to get the dress on over my head without any opening ad could forego the zip altogether. The only feasible alternative would have been to slash a seam down the back and insert the zip there. However this would have been a bit difficult with the back collar and I was glad I was able to avoid it. I will have to conquer this technique another day. Any recommendations are welcome.

I finished all seams by pressing them open and overcasting each side. Seam finishing is optional on bias garments and in couture pinking is widely used to prevent unnecessary bulk. For some reason I just couldn't pink my wedding dress, but was too scared to leave them completely unfinished. As I was using silk thread which is much finer than cotton, I wasn't too worried about the extra bulk.

3) Hemming
I hung the dress for three days before hemming as bias fabric will stretch when hung and worn, my dress grew by two inches! I was lucky that the fabric was quite stable and stretched evenly. After hemming the dress has been stored flat as it will continue to stretch if hung.

I was quite confused when it came to hemming, I didn't want a heavy hem to interfere with the swish of the dress, but wasn't too thrilled about having a rolled hem that would show from the outside. This is a pet hate and I try to use invisible hems where possible. I trialled a rolled hem, a 2 cm hem and a 3 inch hem. I rolled hem had too much body with the heavy fabric as did the 2 cm hem. The three inch hem was softest and when pressed flat was the least noticeable and not at all bulky- Success!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Simplicity 2281 modified

I bought  this striped linen at the beginning of the summer from Fabrics Galore as part of an unplanned fabric splurge. I was drawn to the dark indigo colour and the crisp shiny finish. I thought it would be well suited to one of the designs from Tomoko Nakamichi's Pattern Magic, which I have yet to try. However my summer was overtaken by wedding planning and all of a sudden it was August and the fabric was at risk of being relegated to the stash until next spring. After all the effort and painstaking hand sewing that went into my wedding dress I needed to do some simpler sewing from commercial patterns to get my wardrobe back on track. This was neatly brought home to me by a friend asking to borrow a dress for a wedding and me providing a shamefully low number of options- What exactly have I been sewing all this time?

So I decided to make Simplicity 2281 with a few modifications. I made this dress in black linen (see here) and it is a dress  i wear a lot and I knew I could make in a weekend. 

I made version C without the sleeves and substituted the tulip skirt with a full gathered skirt. The bodice of the first version I made was not well fitting and gaped under the arms. This time around I made it more fitted. I had annoyingly lost the pattern piece for the front bodice lining and so redrafted the pattern piece to the size I wanted. The bodice front neckline is gathered to fit so I did not need to change that pattern piece. I also took the side seams in slightly. This ad hoc approach caused me a couple of issues, mainly in areas where I think the pattern is flawed. Firstly the taking in of the bodice meant it would be difficult to get the dress over my head if the top of the side seam is sewn together above the zip as it is in the pattern. I am not sure why this dress does not just have an invisible zip at the back so that it opens up with the neck ties. I am suspicious that the bodice was originally so baggy to allow it to go over the head. I opted for a couple of hook and eyes above zip so that the side opens fully and it is much easier to get on and off.

The back bodice is gathered along the bottom where it joins the waist band and this looks slightly strange with a fitted bodice, but not enough to bother me. I joined the bodice to the neck ties more closely than on the pattern to reduce the neck opening, which again I think was unnecessarily loose. I had planned to line the skirt as well as the bodice, but ran out of time.

As a side note I did not wash the fabric and plan to dry clean this dress in order to maintain the colour of the dress as linen fades so quickly. This is not usually an issue as it is so easy to dye, but doing so would undoubtedly cover the stripes. Does anyone have a better solution to this problem, as I try not to dry clean if possible?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Striped jersey dress with bias panels.

This dress was inspired in part by Zoe from blogging about her love of Breton tops and what’s not to love? I am a big fan of yellow and they look great together. The fabric is available for £6m from Fabrics Galore in Battersea, London and I used some white jersey from my stash as a lining. I used a lining to increase the opacity of the stripy fabric and add weight to stop the jersey clinging and showing every lump and bump. I also was aware that having panels at different angels might affect the stretch and could result in some panels looking either tighter or sagging more than others, so the lining was cute in one piece to add stability.

I drew the pattern for a simple t-shirt dress using Winifred Aldridge’s “Pattern cutting for women's wear” (I Know go on and on about this book). The pattern is from the flat cutting section- where the pattern pieces are flat and rely on the body to add shape as an alternative to darts and shaping. The pattern is cut out slightly smaller than your measurements to allow the fabric to stretch and give a close fit. Alternatively you could start with a pattern such Kwik sew K3561 or Simplicity 2054.

I cut my lining fabric first and basted it together to check the fit, which was fine. I traced a copy of the pattern and drew two diagonal lines across it; from under the bust to the hip and from the hip towards the hemline on both the front and back sections of the pattern. The lines are drawn in exactly the same place on the front on the back to ensure that the seams meet neatly at the sides. I marked accurately the direction I wanted the stripes to go on each pattern piece in a similar fashion to a grain line. I then cut along the two lines creating three pattern pieces for both the front and back and added a seam allowance to each cut edge.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Me Made May- summary

My first me made May has been quite challenging. How can I spend so much time sewing and have nothing to wear????

This is doubly frustrating as all my wedding sewing means I haven't had time for a desperate sewing spree to fill in the gaping holes that are becoming apparent in my me-made wardrobe. 

The last few weeks have taught me:
1) I don't have enough separates. I think it is probably a frequent sewing trap to make lots of pretty dresses and forget those practical wardrobe staples. 
2) I wear dull colours. I made a decision about 18 months ago to only buy/make clothes in black, blue, green, purple, white, cream and yellow, which my photos in the me-made flikr group will attest to. The aim was to have a cohesive wardrobe where everything would go with everything else, but it is time to try out some brighter shades and more interesting fabrics. I will try harder!
3) I need to master tailoring. I need more trousers and jackets. 
4) I would like to make my own knickers, bras and workout gear. Thou shalt not covet other people's me-mades. Ok I know that is kind of the point, but I am very jealous of all the ladies who have tackled these less obvious or daunting projects. Oh to be self-sustainable! 
5) How much I appreciate clothes that fit me properly. I wish every woman realised that clothes should fit them and not the other way around. This isn't really a Me-Made realisation, but trying to do without mass produced clothing really brings it home. 

There's only one thing to do.... Shop for new fabric. Well if I must.....

Me Made May- Month's round up

I have been sloppy keeping the blog up to date with my me made snaps.

Here's the run down.

Day 9: Me-made silk scarf, cowl neck blouse and book bag.

Day 10: Kim Hargreave Glance jumper

 Day 13: Vogue 8593
 Day 15: Kim Hargreaves Darcy cardigan and silk scarf

Day 16: Me-made silk scarf- poor effort I know!

Day 17: Me-made cowl tee- unblogged

Day 19: Simplicity 2250 (pinned up)

Day 20: Simplicity 2281

Day 21: Cowl neck blouse and unblogged wool trousers

Day 22: Vogue 8593

Day 24: Me-made curved hem tee, unblogged.

Day 26: Vogue 1287

Day 29: Simplicity 2281

Day 30: Vogue 8593 and Kim Hargreaves Darcy cardigan

Day 31- LAST DAY! Me-made cowl neck blouse, unblogged.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Wedding update....

I have been extremely productive, not particularly in the area of blogging, but it is surprising how much sewing you can get done when you dedicate every spare moment to it.


I finished my wedding dress in April, bar the hem as I am waiting for my shoes to arrive. I won’t be sharing any pics until after the big day on the 27th July. I moved on to the mother of the bride and maid of honour (sister's) dresses, which I will complete after final fittings this weekend. I haven’t made many dresses for other people and I am really excited to see my mum and sister try them on- I just hope they fit and they love them. The enjoyable thing about making dresses for other people is talking through all the different styles and fabric choices. I could talk about fabric and sewing all day long, so it is nice to have someone listening for once!


My Mum’s dress is Vogue pattern V1108 which I have made in a colour similar to that on the pattern envelope except it is shot with a red thread running across the crosswise grain which gives the green a slightly autumnal feel. I will review the pattern in full in a separate post when the dress is complete.


We started from scratch with my sister’s dress. We played with the idea of a either a trapeze dress or a 50s style dress and the 50s style won out in the end. After a good few pinterest sessions and google searches, we came up with the following design. 

We spent a good 4 hours wandering between the fabric shops in Soho and settled on a mint green/turquoise dupion from the Silk Society on Berwick street. The skirt is underlined in silk organza and the bodice is boned to support the off the shoulder design and help nip in the waist. Again I will do a full post after the wedding. 

In other news, I am making 70 meters of bunting! I'm about 15 meters in so far.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Me-made May: Days six, seven and eight

Day 6- I was in the middle of a bank holiday sewathon. So ignoring the sunshine, I hung out at home in this floral t-shirt and gap jeans. The t-shirt is actually a practice at drafting cowl necks.  The seams and hem are unfinished. 

Day 7- Me-made wool trousers. These are the first and only trousers I have ever made and unfortunately it shows. The knees aren't in quite the right place and the style would suit a fabric with some more stretch. I think drafting the pattern was a step too far- maybe I'll try a commercial pattern next time. 

Day eight- me-made "Darcy" cardigan from Kim Hargreaves Heartfelt collection. I have worn this cardigan a huge amount, which is good as it took me five months to make! The shape is not quite perfect as this was the first piece of clothing I knitted that wasn't a hat or scarf and I dispensed with making a tension square- I was so naive! But after five months I was not about to frog it. I still love the style and it always gets compliments. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Me-made May 13: day five

Me made t-shirt, worn with gap jeans, banana republic cardigan and scarf from accessorize.

I need to make more t-shirts!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Me-made May: day four

I had a pyjama day yesterday, but I am back on it today.

Me-Made polyester blouse, worn with Topshop jeans and my haflinger ladybird slippers.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Me-made May13- Day 2

Me-made sleeveless top
Me- made linen skirt
Me-made handbag

Worn with cropped cardigan from Zara and leopard print pumps from Dune.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Me made may challenge 2013- Day one


I have decided rather belatedly and a tad rashly to take part in this years me made may challenge, click the widget above for more information.

The long and short of it is I am going to try and wear 1 item if clothing made by me each day for the entire month of May. I was a little apprehensive as with all the wedding planning (three months to go!) and could do without any extra stress, but hey I  like to be busy and I wear me made items quite a lot, so why not!
Day 1:

Me made dress- vogue 8593 ( blogged
Me made scarf- not blogged

I wear this dress a lot, so it is the most apt piece to start the challenge, I dug out this me made scarf for good measure.

N.B. I cycle to work, so look forward to plenty of iPhone photos from my locker room!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Best laid plans....

I try to plan my summer and winter wardrobes in advance, but I never end up getting round to everything. I am always in awe of fellow bloggers that seem to produce several items a month. I tend to have one sewing project and one knitting project on the go at anyone time. But most knitting projects take me a few months to complete and regardless of how much I plan I end up getting get side-tracked.

I have been designing my own patterns which slows down the process a lot and uses much calico. But every time I think about making something from a commercial pattern I get a nagging feeling that just won't let me. Pattern-cutters OCD anyone?? Hopefully if I persevere I will soon have a good set of patterns I can make again and again.

I was wondering how normal my approach is. Are you guys out there meticulous planners or going with the flow?

My spring wardrobe has been overtaken by the making of my wedding dress. Likely to be my biggest and most daunting project to date. Mainly as I am sewing it all by hand using the couture techniques from Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B Schaefer. The thought of sewing a gown by hand would have made me recoil in horror a year ago, but now I am enjoying the process and looking forward to having beautiful dress and improved hand sewing. The obvious need for secrecy means I will post about it after the wedding in July.

My project list:
1) Kim Hargreaves Logan Dress

Logan dress- from Kim Hargreaves Shadows

2) My wedding dress & matching handbag
3) Ties for the groom and groomsmen
4) Fair Isle short-sleeved sweater- in blue and cream

Fair Isle Short-Sleeved sweater from
Learn to Knit Love to Knit by Anna Wilkinson
Artesano Superwash merino in sea blue and
Rowan pure wool DK in enamel
5) Bridesmaid dress
6) Bunting
7) summer dress like this dress by designer label Milly

Milly Carlin dress (Source)

8) Quilt and cushions

So plenty to be getting on with.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Keeping busy...

At the moment most of my time and brain power has been taken up with planning my upcoming wedding (4.5 months to go and counting). As well as the guest lists, menus and invites etc etc, I have been spending an enormous amount of time designing and making my wedding dress.

 Anyone who has done the same will know how daunting a prospect this is, but as soon as I got engaged I knew I was going to make my own dress and would not be dissuaded! And I am so glad I am. After trying on dresses in several bridal stores I couldn't help totting up all the changes I wanted to make and I was quite disappointed with the variety on offer- pouffey and extra pouffey were the main choices, whereas I prefer simple and drapey designs.The pattern has been cut, toile made and I will be cutting the final fabric this weekend. Wedding is in July after which I will post details of the construction of  this top secret project. I am aiming to finish by the beginning of April and move on to honeymoon clothes!

Kim Hargreaves Logan dress
Everything else is pretty much on the back burner until the dress is made, but I have been continuing with Kim Hargreaves Logan dress (see picture below). At this rate it will be ready in time for spring, but I might manage a few wears if the British weather continues along its sub-zero path. Here are a few pictures of other projects I have made in the past few months- mainly Christmas gifts.

Double knitted scarf
Warmest scarf ever

convertible moss stitch wrist-warmers/mittens
These wrist-warmers were from my own pattern that I made up on the go, not the best approach but they worked out well. I will have to write it down and post for you guys.

wrist-warmers and matching hat

Friday, 15 March 2013

Project update & bookshelf update

I have posted before in my love if knitting and sewing books and I had several on my Christmas and birthday lists. Being a very lucky girl I actually got some from my wonderful friend a and family, with a few extra surprises.

Top of my list was Couture sewing techniques by Claire B Schaffer. This book gives a history of couture as well as practical tutorials on how to try the techniques in your own projects. I am in the process of designing and making my wedding dress and have used the couture method for sewing princess/curved seams, I might post a video tutorial of this sometime. I imagine this is a book I will come back to again and again. There is an excellent chapter on hand sewing techniques, which is probably a neglected but essential skill for all all sewers and one I am trying hard to improve. I was surprised to find out how different couture construction is and it definitely provides food for thought for a high- street girl. Recommended!

I also got Pattern Magic and Pattern Magic: stretch fabrics by Tamoko Tamichi, which I have coveted and feared in equal measure. The book has innovative designs, not clothes for wearing for the going to the shop, but there are some really beautiful details. The book is a more creative approach to designing than you get with Winifred Aldridges pattern cutting for women's wear and it will make a great companion. The book has a number of bow front blouses which I am adding to my "want to make" list. Recommended for the adventurous sewers and for those trying to think out of the box.

I was also given Learn to knit, Love to Knit by Anna Wilkinson, which has twenty different knitting patterns. Some are a little twee for someone in their late twenties, but I there are some very wearable jumpers and hat patterns. First on the list is the Fair Isle Band sweater with short sleeves.

I'm thinking it is time to start getting into tailoring, any good book recommendations?