Friday, 21 March 2014

The Grad Dress, Part III: The Wearable Muslin, and Advice Needed!

Even though I made a muslin for my grad dress, I wanted to try making the dress once before making it in expensive silk. I'm so glad I did! Although this is perfectly wearable, there was a lot that didn't go all that well, and I have a much better idea of how to sew it now.

It just so happened that I had my consultation for my grad hair the day after I finished this dress, so it was the perfect time to take photos!

Since my hair was done up, I decided I might as well style the dress like I will my grad dress. The necklace, the earrings, the shoes, and the bolero are all the ones that I'll be wearing for grad. This bolero is my latest thrift store find - $7 for 70% angora! It's pretty much identical in style to the 50's pattern that I was going to use for a bolero to go with this dress!

(Ignore the hanger marks that it has in these photos... those will steam out.)

I'm also wearing two crinolines in these photos! Neither are super full, and looking at these photos, it barely looks like I'm wearing one at all, let alone two! I might look into buying (or making?) a bigger one to wear with the real dress, but I'll wait until I'm done the dress itself and see how much time I have.

Anyways, about the dress. First of all, I really overestimated the amount of fabric I would need for this pattern, so I looked for the cheapest fabric that I could find without resorting to anything too synthetic.

I decided on a dark red leaf-print quilting cotton, which is definitely better suited to fall than summer, but it was the only print that wasn't completely overwhelming on me, and I wanted to use a print to hide mistakes! 

It cost around $6 or $7 per metre from the same discount fabric store where I bought the wool for my Ceylon dress.

In the end, I only used 4.5 metres of the 6 metres that I bought, and that was after the cotton shrunk to less than 40" wide. Now I wish I'd bought higher quality fabric!

Everything went pretty well - even the underarm gussets, which are horrible and finicky to sew - until I finished the upper bodice and tried it on. It was huge! I couldn't figure out why it had turned out so differently, because it should have been identical to my muslin!

My mom pointed out that the way the pattern piece is cut, the bottom edge of the front that's not pleated ends up on the bias. Not only that, but the crosswise grain of the fabric had quite a bit of give as well - it almost feels as if it has spandex in it.

So, after cursing my fabric choice, I took in the darts. They're not the perfect shape anymore, but they'll do. I did have enough fabric to re-cut the whole upper bodice, but I really didn't want to re-do my gussets.

I also stay-stitched around the bottom of the upper bodice, and along the top of all the midriff/skirt sections, to prevent more stretching. On the real thing, I'll stay-stitch all my pieces before doing anything, although I don't think I'll have too much of a problem with the silk - the crosswise grain seems as strong as the lengthwise grain, and the bias isn't as stretchy either.

After I figured out the issues with stretching, I didn't have any more problems until the zipper.

But oh my goodness... the zipper. This was by far the most difficult zipper insertion I've ever done, and not all that happy with how it turned out. As 1950's instructions will, the instructions say: "Sew zipper according to instructions on zipper package".

This wouldn't normally be a problem for me, since I've put in enough zippers to be comfortable enough with them. But... this one starts at the side seam, and curves into the seam that attaches the side back panel to the godet. I knew this beforehand, but I didn't realize quite how awkward it would be until I actually got to that step. 

I decided on a lapped zipper, which is my favourite technique to use. I probably spent about 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to start. Once I did, it wasn't too bad until I realized that I'd attached the zipper onto the wrong side, so my lap would be facing the wrong way! I debated about just leaving it as-is, since this is a wearable muslin after all, but I decided that it would really bother me, so I ripped it out and started over.

It could have been worse, but there are some puckers where the zipper curves, and the underside of the lap has some raw edges exposed. Also, since it curves to the back, the lap flips forward quite a bit. As a quick fix, I sewed on some hooks to the underside of the lap, and made some thread loops for them. It's not perfect, but it's better.

Next time, I will sew the zipper much earlier on in the construction of the dress. I think that'll make it a little easier to manage, but I still need to fix the problem of the lap flipping forwards.

This was my first time hemming a skirt this full (it ends up as full as a circle skirt, or maybe even a little fuller). To ease in the edge, I used the differential feed on my serger, which worked well on a sample piece, but on the skirt itself, it barely gathered it at all. I figured that I could just gather the serging a bit more by hand, but there was far too much hem t be able to gather it all at once. 

Instead of doing the sensible thing and just sewing some lines of gathering stitches, I cut the serging at a couple points so that I could gather it. This is far from ideal, because there's now a couple un-serged parts. I just covered them in Fray Check and tied off the threads that I pulled.

For the real thing, I will hem by hand, but for this one, I used a blind hem on a machine. 

It's not the best hem, because by this point I just wanted to be done this dress. I could have done a much better job with the blind hem, but I didn't really care all that much because I knew that it would get lost in the print anyways.

I also pinked all the seams (except for the hem), which was a first for me! I bought a pinking rotary blade just to try it out, and I love the simplicity and efficiency of it.

I won't go into detail about any of the other construction details, because I'll cover them all in more detail for the real dress. Overall, I'm happy with this. It's far from perfect but perfectly wearable.

It's also the most comfortable dress that I've sewn to date! The underarm gussets and the weird sleeves that are kimono sleeves in the front and set-in sleeves in the back are so comfortable and allow for way more movement without straining the seams or the fabric.

I'm so glad I made this as a trial run, because there's a lot of things I'll do differently on the real dress because they really didn't work so well.

For the zipper, I'm considering an invisible zipper. I haven't used one since the disastrous one in this dress, but there's no bulk at the waist on this one because there's no waist seam, just a diagonal seam attaching the godet. It also has a reasonable enough amount of ease (about 1 1/2") that I think I could probably get away with it... but I'm not sure yet.

Update: If I do a lapped zipper, I'll hand-pick it. I usually do, but I knew the stitching would barely show on this and I didn't want to bother with handstitching. That will make it a little easier to manage, but probably won't solve the problem of it flipping forwards.

For the hem, I don't really know what to do. I think I'll probably reduce the hem allowance (it was 2") so that I don't have to ease it quite as much. Other than that, I don't really know what's best. I'm considering using a hem facing, or even horsehair braid (actually, this is what I'm leaning towards... I love the volume that this gives a skirt). I'll do it by hand, so I don't want to do a narrow hem.

So... here's where I need your advice! Should I find a better way to do the lapped zipper, or should I try an invisible one? And what would be the best way to hem this?

If you missed one of my previous posts about my grad dress, here they are:

Part 1: Choosing a Pattern

Part 2: Muslins 1 and 2

Dress: Me-made, Vogue S-4727 (vintage)

Shoes: Vintage (thrifted)
Necklace and earrings: My grandmother's
Crinolines: both vintage
Bolero: Thrifted

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Grad Dress, Part II: Muslins 1 and 2

Wow, it's been a while since I last posted anything. Up until a couple weeks ago, I hadn't really sewn much since Christmas break... yikes! 

When I was planning for making my grad dress, I wanted to have started it by March. This would give me 3 months to sew it, including spring break. 

It was a good plan, but I haven't even finished my wearable muslin yet. 

The past couple months have been pretty hectic. I've been working on all my university applications as well as a few other applications for scholarships and special programs, and my workload at school was pretty crazy. It seemed like every time I would think I'd be able to sew, I'd be given another essay to write, or another test to study for. With my tendinitis on top of that, I haven't really sewn much since winter break.

Thankfully, all my university applications are done now, and I've finished enough scholarship applications that future ones shouldn't be too difficult.

At least I did manage to get my muslins done over the break, so I'm on the right track. It's now spring break, and my arms are feeling better than ever, so I'm hoping to make some real progress soon.

After I found my pattern, I knew I would have to work on sizing it down. It was a size 14, and according to the sizing chart, I was approximately a size 10. 

But... I had no idea where to even start with sizing down this pattern. The pieces were just such strange shapes that it was hard to believe that they would even come together to make a dress. So, I decided to just make a muslin of the upper part out of some stash fabric, just to see if I could pinch out the excess.

As you can see, that wouldn't have really worked. This thing was just too big everywhere. I was dreading having to figure out how to size it down... and then my mom had the idea to size it down using a photocopier. You can scale down pictures and pretty much anything else, why not patterns?

We googled it, we found this post. It can be done! I traced all the pattern pieces, and then sent my mom off to photocopy them for me... thanks, Mom!

I reduced them to 90%, which is a little small on purpose. I was debating whether I should reduce it to my high bust measurement (87%) or my actual bust measurement (93%). My high bust measurement makes for a better fit through the shoulders and back, but I really, really didn't want to have to do a FBA on this. With all those pleats, I wouldn't even know where to start. I ended up reducing it by 90%, in the hopes that it would be small enough to fit through the shoulders and back, but big enough that I could avoid a FBA.

Luckily, this worked really well!

The fit of this second muslin was spot on... I was amazed.

I've never sewn anything straight out of the envelope before. I was simply blown away by the fit. I couldn't have picked a better pattern!

Next, I sewed up the middle section, down to about 4 inches below the waist, including 6 mini-godets. The waist ended up being a smidge too tight, but I knew it would be because I would have only needed to size it down 92% at the waist. I added on about a 1/2" , distributed over 6 seams, so all in all that was a really minor alteration.

The only other thing I did was to shorten the front pieces just a bit right under the bust - you can probably see how they bunch up a little in the picture above.

I'm so happy with the fit! I'm currently working on my trial run (a wearable muslin, if you will), but I'm stuck on those fiddly underarm gussets. 

Oh and... I bought fabric for the real thing! After cutting out my wearable muslin, I knew how much I needed so there was no point in waiting. More on that soon!