Monday, July 12, 2010

Draping a Dress, Part Five: Planning the Construction

Last you saw, I was on my second muslin of my dress and it needed a few more tweaks to the back. I made some changes, made another muslin of the back bodice only, basted it into the dress muslin, and decided I was satisfied at last. Yay! So I've got my dress pattern all draped and transferred to paper. It's time to sew! But before I cut into the fabric, I've already spent a lot of time thinking about how I'm going to construct my design.

Let me start by stating the obvious: self-drafted patterns do not come with instructions. You've thought up this design, and now it's up to you to figure out the best way to sew it. I find this process to be liberating, frustrating, and gratifying all at the same time. It's certainly a test of one's construction skills! But I've often learned the most about sewing this way, because I don't have someone else's instructions to rely on.

Here's a little checklist of things to think about as you're designing a pattern, along with the decisions I made about my design:

  1. Finishing the edges. Will you use facings? Or have a lining that extends to the edge? I decided to line my bodice to the edge so I could finish the kimono sleeves and the neckline in one fell swoop.
  2. Lining. Will the design be partially lined, unlined, or fully lined? I'll be partially lining my dress - the bodice will be lined to finish the edges, but the skirt doesn't really need a lining.
  3. Interfacing. Where will you use it? What kind will you use? I decided to interface the midriff section of my dress because I wanted there to be a lot of support in the fabric there. I initially wanted to use muslin as a sew-in interfacing because it's breathable - important in a summer dress. But a quick test of muslin and fusible interfacing proved that the fusible was the much better choice to keep the midriff from buckling or wrinkling. (Test swatches pictured above.)
  4. Stabilizing seams. (Remember this post on this subject?) Do you want to use stay tape on any seams? Because I didn't have facings to stabilize my neckline, I used a fusible stay tape that I made myself by cutting fusible interfacing strips on the bias. Worked like a charm! I also used the tape to stabilize the shoulder seams while I was at it (but only on one side; that's all you need).
  5. Closures. You know: zipper or buttons? If a zipper: side or back? I decided to go with a lapped back zipper on this dress. I love to handpick my zippers, but I haven't loved the look of centered zippers on recent projects. Then I thought: why not do a lapped back zipper?
  6. Seam allowances. First, how will you finish them? Secondly, how wide do you want them to be? The seam allowances on my bodice don't need to be finished since it will be lined. I'm going to go with the "simpler is better" philosophy on the skirt and pink the seam allowances. As for seam allowances, I used the standard 5/8" everywhere except the back. I did an inch there to easily accommodate a lapped zipper - no need for a zipper placket.
  7. Hemming. How much hem allowance will you need? Would you prefer to face the hem? Think it through and make sure you have a big enough allowance. Mine will be a simple 1-1/2" turned up hem, covered with seam binding, and hand-stitched.
  8. Order of construction. Once you've made a muslin (or three!) that will give you an opportunity to have a dry-run of your construction. But go through it again mentally to make sure you're taking into consideration facings, linings, and stuff like that.
 Fusible stay tape on neckline and shoulder
    Whew! It's a lot to think about, isn't it? The most important thing is to think about this stuff as you're designing your pattern, not in the middle of construction. (I say this from experience - been there, done that.) You might decide to change things on the fly as you're sewing, but you know what the Girl Scouts say: Always be prepared!


    1. This series is so cool. I've always liked those tv shows where they go "behind the scenes" and look at how something is made. That's what this feels like.

    2. I love this post, Gertie! I've recently taken to spending more time thinking over construction before I just jump into something--and yes, even jotting down notes as to things I want to remember to do/order of steps! Even though I've been sewing for year and am pretty solid on order of construction, sometimes it's better to think things out and be prepared (as you so aptly put it) than stumble on any surprises halfway through! (Though, that is why I always keep my seam ripper handy! ;)

      I really like the idea of the fusible interfacing stay tape--brilliant!!! Definitely trying that on my next project. :D

      Thanks for sharing all this, Gertie--your blog is definitely the best sewing blog on the 'net, imho! :)

      ♥ Casey
      blog |

    3. Your construction notes all seem pretty spot on to me. Can't wait to see the finished article!

    4. I really like this series of posts! It's great how you let us into the planning/construction/planning phases of sewing. And I'm impressed by your patience in this work... The dress will look gorgeous when all the decision making are done and the dress is finished!

    5. This is awesome! I've not made a garment from my own design, but I have hodge-podged different patterns together without instructions and this is definitely the way to go. It was a nightmare! I didn't jot down any notes and it was so fly by the seat of my pants. I definitely want to try and use some notes! Thanks for the inspiration!

    6. Hi Gertie,
      A quick Q please... when you say "I used a fusible stay tape that I made myself by cutting fusible interfacing strips on the bias."... is this a non-stretch woven fusible interfacing, or a non-woven fusible interfacing please?
      Link given above for anyone reading this comment who wants to know the different types of interfacing :)

      Many thanks :)

    7. I would recommend lining the skirt as well as the bodice - it will not take too much longer but it will add years to the life of your beautiful dress - and it will be more couture as well! Slim fitting skirts can bag and stretch after a while and this will help prevent this.

    8. Thanks, guys! I'm so glad you're enjoying this series.

      Seemane, I used a tricot interfacing. It probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference to cut it on the bias since it's a knit, but hey, it worked and that's what counts. I'm going to buy some other interfacings to have around and experiment with.

      Mary C, good point on the skirt lining. I'm practically finished with the dress now, but I will keep it in mind for the next one!

    9. I love love love this blog!!

    10. This has all be so interesting! Whenever I make up a pattern for anything, I write out my step by step instructions, and definitely take notes when you're in the planning stages. Your list is great and could become a checklist of sorts for future projects.

    11. Very cool, This is such an inspiring series. Thank you! I think the great thing about having a solid foundation in sewing from patterns before you begin designing is the construction experience. I've learned so many things from sewing all different kinds of patterns as I'm sure you have as well. I love this process that you're letting us peak into. I'm sure the finished product will be stunning!

    12. So cool! Just read 3, 4, and 5 so I'm all caught up now. Looks like you've perfected the fit and it's going to be fabulous. I'm loving this series!

    13. I love it, as always, Gertie! Just out of curiosity, what do you do with all the muslin fabric? I was trying to figure that out myself when a friend of mine mentioned that animal shelters ALWAYS need rags. Particularly ones that might be helping sick animals.

    14. I so love that you are doing this.

      You have opened my eyes to the fusible stay tape. I bought some during a t-shirt class to stabilize the shoulders, but really never thought to use it for anything else.

    15. Ha,ha... you are like one possessed! :-))) -> making secret photos in the fitting room. :-)))
      I already thougt about writing an article about how we are all fallen ill of a special sewing-syndrom. I would list all these symptoms which are typical and also funny. ;)
      Unfortunately my english is very limited.

    16. Oh - sorry: This comment should be posted to the article from thuesday! :redface:


    Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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