The velvet dress // from fabric dyeing to construction

Up until this year, I’ve never really given velvet a second glance. I used to walk past the carefully perched rolls of velvet at Tessuti Fabrics and sigh, and perhaps tentatively stroke them, but I couldn’t really see how such a lush fabric could fit into my wardrobe.

This season is different. I’ve got images of velvet playsuits and blazers stuck in my head. I’d actually like to make all the velvet things but I had to decide on just one. I toyed with the idea of playsuit, but opted for a more classic style of dress instead. I think the simple design of this dress will have more longevity in my wardrobe.

You’ll have to forgive the scrunched up sleeves and trust me when I say the fit is pretty spot on. I could scoop a smidgen more out of the lower back curve, but with normal walking/moving, those wrinkles aren’t actually that noticeable. I really just need an assistant to straighten me up before photos.

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The dress is a faux wrap design with a crossover bodice and wrap skirt. The fabric is a woven, not a knit. It contains some stretch, but not so much that would eliminate the need for darts/gathers or closures. I chose to add gathers to the bodice design and a zipper in the back. I hid the back darts in the back curve of the waist seam. I prick stitched the back zipper in place, adding a tiny glass bead with each stitch. I also made a detachable leather tassal. which I will secure to the zipper pull to aid dressing. I’m just waiting on a little spring clip in the mail.

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With regards to the fabric, I had my heart set on a deep teal, navy, or bottle green velvet. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I decided to dye the fabric myself. I purchased some natural stretch velvet  and the necessary chemicals from Dharma Trading Co. I find their website quite informative and simple to use, particularly when trying to figure out exactly what I need for something I know nothing about.

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I used a Fiber Reactive Procion dye, regular table salt, and soda ash as the fixative. My velvet is a silk/rayon blend. It only stretches on the cross grain and is reasonably light weight (for velvet). It doesn’t require lining, but I’d consider lining it if I was working with a light colour. I’m actually really pleased with the quality of textile and absolutely delighted with the dyeing outcome. It’s important to note that the fabric shrinkage was quite significant after the first wash, but that information was on the website so I was able to order the extra yardage to account for this.

The dyeing process was extremely simple. I used my front loader washing machine, set on the hottest, longest cycle. I read somewhere that a front loader holds about 8 gallons of water so I made my dye calculations based on that (however, I was hardly precise about anything!). Here’s a quick summary of my dyeing process:

  • Pre-wash fabric with Synthrapol
  • Begin long/hot cycle. When water has filled the machine, pause cycle.
  • Dissolve dye powder in water. Dissolve salt in water. Open machine door and pour in dye and salt. Close door and resume cycle.
  • Run cycle for 15-30 min and then pause again (you need about 15min remaining for the soda ash).
  • Soda ash should be dissolved in hot water – add this to the last part of the cycle.
  • Close door. Finish cycle.
  • Start new cycle to wash out leftover dye, using Synthrapol as the detergent.
  • Remove fabric.
  • Clean machine by running a cycle on empty.

In terms of sewing with velvet, this was my first time. I knew to respect the nap, both in cutting direction and pressing, but I also learned a few other things along the way.

Velvet is shifty to sew. I wonder if the slight stretch in this particular velvet made it worse. My Pfaff has a walking foot which helped immensely. My serger hated the velvet. I only attempted one edge with the serger and then decided to pink the remaining raw edges. Hand-basting and lots of pins also helped deal with the shiftiness.

Velvet seams finger press open beautifully because the pile shifts and locks the seam in place (a bit like Velcro). When ironing, I used a thick, doubled up towel, but I’ve heard another upturned piece of velvet works well to press on too. Velvet is a dream to blind stitch as the pile hides the stitches so well. I machine stitched the centre front edges of the skirt before I realised this (so I’m not very happy with the ripple along one side). The neckline, sleeves, and hem were all hand-stitched (the neck with bias binding) and the finish is much nicer.

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Grey knit dress twice over // And a quick how-to

Inspiration usually hits me like a brick. One minute I want for nothing and the next all I can think about is a long sleeve, grey, knit dress.

 

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My first thought was to make it from scratch. I already had a personal pattern for a sleeveless, fitted knit dress. I just drafted sleeves and extended the sleeve arms and the (ever so slightly tapered) bottom hem to the length I wanted.

You could easily modify any closely fitted T-shirt pattern to make a dress like this. I was going to look up some patterns for you, but Creative Chick has already done the research and I see no point in re-inventing the wheel. Check out her very comprehensive summary list of top patterns, with a quick description of each. For a dress like this, you will need a close fitting T and very stretchy jersey. A wide variety of necklines would suit it.

Once you have a T-shirt pattern that fits perfectly, simply extend the arms in a tapered fashion to the length you want. I’m fond of ultra long arms right now so I extended mine beyond the wrist. Use your fitted T-shirt as a guide when extending your pattern pieces. The diagram shows my extended dress outline in red and my measurement guide in green and black. My fabric had a lot of stretch, so I didn’t need to add any darts for shape. I simply narrowed the waist to avoid too many lower back wrinkles. Stable knits will need bust darts and back darts for a fitted look.

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I used a lofty, stretchy, wool/acrylic blend, sweater knit for my first version. I’m sceptical of how long the fabric will last, but right now, I’m totally in love with it. In fact, I liked the dress so much that I immediately made a second.

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My second version is a little more interesting. It’s a truly awesome pure wool ponte knit from Tessuti Fabrics. I’m labelling it truly awesome because it is warm, thick, has great recovery in a stable, ponte-style stretch, has been machine washed more times than I can remember, and just between you and me, I often throw it in the dryer in winter so I can wear it more frequently. It’s possible that the fabric may have faded a bit, but not that I can tell (it’s grey after all), but there is no pilling, no thinning, no stretching, no shrinking, and no other major signs of wear. It cost me a pretty penny but it has been worth every cent.

There’s also a story behind this fabric. In a fit of panic at the idea of landing in Kansas during the infamous polar vortex of two years ago, I purchased several metres of it before I left Australia. I used it to make myself two winter dresses. One was a drop waist Malvarosa and although the loose fitted style had me on the fence, I ended up wearing that (pyjama) dress almost daily for two consecutive winters. I also made myself a fit and flare dress (modified significantly from V8805) and a few other winter items for my girls. The contrast skirt on this second dress didn’t fare as well as the grey ponte knit so I cut it off last year and turned the dress into a simple long sleeve top. I don’t have photos of the top because it was just a wardrobe staple and not blog worthy at all.

When I made the top last year, I removed the (nursing friendly zipper) from the original dress and simply joined the front seam. I also finished the neckline and sleeves with black cotton ribbing. The top was functional, but probably not the most glamorous item in my wardrobe. I didn’t particularly like the neckline. It was just a bit wide for my taste. So for this knit dress, I wanted to see what I could do to fix it. Simply unpicking the original (serged) neckline would have been arduous and wouldn’t have fixed the size and width problem. My solution was to draft a (slightly) stand up collar, that I then attached directly to the existing binding using a small seam allowance. The effect is a contrast line of ribbing between the  collar and dress which I absolutely love.

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This second knit dress was made completely on the fly. The sleeves are possibly a smidgen too long (I got carried away with my length obsession) and there was a lot of (bulky) seaming involved in achieving the length I wanted. Because I was dealing with a more stable knit fabric, I kept the original bust darts and added two fish eye darts to the back for shaping.

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I love how my two versions turned out. Here are a few more RTW examples for your inspiration.

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Love Culture            //            Proenza Schoeler             //           Banjo & Matilda

 

 

Oliver + S Apple Picking Dress in bird fabric

When I went fabric shopping for my bias dress muslin, I may have purchased a little too much of this particular bird fabric. It has a lovely, light-weight feel and drape, but it is still 100% polyester. I find it easier to overlook the poly-factor when filling my childrens’ wardrobes.

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Miss Seven was the recipient of this Apple Picking Dress by Oliver + S. There are quite a few details in this pattern that require a little extra care, but nothing is particularly complicated. In fact, the only thing that made this dress difficult was my choice of slippery, press-resistant polyester. Pure cotton or silk would sew up like a dream.

I really like the double, front button placket and collar/tie. I also love the loose bodice and drop waist shape. My front placket is far from perfect. I didn’t match my interfacing well enough to the fabric and buttonholes. There’s some puckering on the buttonholes which I find very annoying. I should have gone a little sturdier on the stabilising. Maybe it also would have helped if I’d lowered the stitch tension.

A size 7 in this pattern fits Miss Seven very well. The shoulder width and arm length looks good to me. I sewed the full length arms and they are probably designed to sit a little longer, but this length is very practical for a child. I’m not sure why the front placket is pulling up when the dress is worn. It could be that I tied the collar a little too tight. It could also be due to the way she is standing (with her shoulders back and arched slightly).

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I’ll definitely sew this pattern again. My choice of fabric works beautifully with this style of dress. It’s a design that would also sew up exceptionally well in silk for a special occasion.

 

Back to School // Oliver + S Ice Cream Dress

This dress was a last minute back to school wardrobe top up for Miss Seven. It’s one of her favourite styles of dress during Summer, and the simplicity of the design also makes it a perfect little school frock.  It is the third one I’ve made for her.

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For this version, I made a size 7, but lengthened the dress by omitting the double hem construction. This resulted in a lengthened bottom band which I machine blind hemmed in place. I think I may have forgotten to switch the iron on when I pressed the bottom band! I do that sometimes and wonder why the iron isn’t working. The crease you see is where I’ve blind stitched the hem. I also omitted the front pockets.

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I used beautiful Italian cotton shirting scraps for the top and bottom panels of the dress. Both fabrics were leftover from sewing her father’s business shirts. The mid section of the dress is from a vintage pillowcase I picked up at an estate sale recently. I love the combination of prints and colours, and I especially love that I was able to use up some very lovely shirting scraps to make it. Now, if only I could get her into a pair of shoes other than those horrid Crocs.

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The bias cut dress // RTW copy

About ten years ago, I purchased a dress on whim from a little boutique in Wells, Somerset (England). I was in my twenties. I didn’t sew. I was fickle with fashion (I still am). I had no idea about fabric back then, apart from the vague understanding that silk was special.

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This is the dress that caught my eye. It wasn’t the type of dress I’d normally wear. It was silk satin (oh the splendour!) and about three times what I’d normally pay for a garment. I remember loitering in that boutique for what seemed like hours, but I eventually walked out the door with it and I’m so glad that I did. As far as semi-formal dresses go (aka wedding guest/corporate dinner attire), this one has had the most wear of anything I’ve ever bought.

I’d been meaning to copy it for a long time now, but I’ve been hesitant because it is bias cut silk. And not recently bias cut either, so whilst it still fits beautifully, it has visibly grown in different places from years spent on the hanger. I wasn’t confident that I would be able to identify the correct shapes of the different pattern pieces.

I also don’t sew a lot of bias cut garments. I adore bias cuts but I still find them a little magical. The pattern shapes are different to regular patterns because the bias stretch needs to be taken into account when drafting. I’m sure there is a formula for this but I’m not experienced with it. There are also different techniques for sewing fabrics on the bias. The unknown is further amplified by the fact that slippery, difficult to manage fabrics are the ones that often make the most beautiful bias cut garments.

My first plan was to look for a bias cut dress pattern that I could use and adapt. I found two wonderful patterns that I may still sew one day. However, because I had quite specific style lines in mind and was wary about sizing and fit, I chose to drape the pattern on my dress mannequin instead. It took me two calico muslins to achieve a fit that I was happy with. This dress is my wearable muslin.

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The fabric is inexpensive polyester with a reasonably close hand to silk. However, the drape and bias stretch in this is still less than what you’d get with a beautiful silk satin. The hem of my muslin didn’t grow by anything discernible (by my eye) in a whole week. Because the polyester is a little more stable, there’s less “cling” in my muslin than the original. You want cling with a bias cut dress. But, apart from pressing, it was also easier to sew.

PicMonkey Collage1

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I’m very happy with the fit of my version of this dress. Seeing it side by side with it’s RTW inspiration is a great help in seeing what needs to be changed. The skirt needs to be pegged in at the bottom more. Perhaps the edge of the armscye could be moved medially a smidgen in the front. The back is a bit roomier in my version, but this is a good thing. You can’t see it in the photos, but the back darts on my RTW dress are straining and the stitches have been stretched permanently to twice their size. Otherwise, it’s pretty close. Correcting the skirt will hopefully move it from secretary to screen goddess. I might also try some little sleeves in the future.

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Daisy Chain Top for Miss Three

I made this  Daisy Chain top specifically to go with Miss Three’s fairy shorts. I salvaged my last little bits of fairy fabric and paired it with a little bit of white linen.

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I bound the hem with self made binding in a floral that co-ordinates with the fairy fabric. Unfortunately, it doesn’t match perfectly. I didn’t have any suitable white binding on hand or enough fairy fabric, or any confidence that I would like the look of a top with fairies on it anyway. For the back placket, I made use of what buttons I already had on hand (quite boring but in the perfect subtle shade of pearl blush).

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I’m not usually a fan of novelty fabric (heaven knows why I purchased the fairy cotton in the first place). My plan was to simply get those fairy faces out of my stash. It has, however, turned out to be one of the sweetest things that I’ve made for this child. I catch myself admiring her each and every time she twirls by.

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Simplicity 1435 // A quickie Summer dress for Miss Three

I’ve made this pattern more times than I care to remember. It’s a very simple style that is both comfortable and practical. It whips together very quickly and always becomes a favourite.

I made the sleeveless version this time. I bound the neck and armscye in my own way, with my own self-made binding, but only because I didn’t bother to look at the pattern cover to see that the pattern also included this view, and therefore would have included binding in the pattern pieces had I chosen to look.

 

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So, it seems that my little one hasn’t changed a great deal since I first made this pattern up for her. We’re still on a size 3. I’m sure she has grown a little bit taller, but she doesn’t sprout up at the ferocity of her bigger sisters. She truly is my little one.

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The fabric I used for this dress is French terry, which is thicker and less fluid than what I’ve used before. I would have thought that this would have made for a closer fit, but it seems not. In general, I find that the sleeved versions of this dress are a lot more forgiving (and flattering) with fit.

This version (sans sleeves) is clearly comfy, but the wider fit through the shoulder seams (as required to fit the sleeves) isn’t the most flattering design. I’ll keep making it though. My favourite part of the dress is the complete lack of closures, which facilitates independent dressing, and lets me enjoy my morning cup of tea in peace.

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The last refashion

This fabric really has been around the block. It started as a dress. Then I turned it into a playsuit. And now I’ve shortened the legs again. Shortening the legs is hardly deserving of the word “refashion”. However, there’s are reason I’m showing you this. It’s amazing how significantly different a garment can look, after such a minor change.

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I didn’t mind the previous versions, but none of them were quite right. I’m so glad I persevered.

Shop the Look

6 Shore Road by Pooja // Aqua // Banana Republic

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Embroidered organza shift with sleeves

I decided to make a birthday dress for myself this year.  The fabric was purchased for me as a birthday present last year when my husband was on a business trip to NY. He chose it himself which impresses me to no end. At a glance, it’s gorgeous. In real life, it’s a fabric I wouldn’t  have checked out myself. I would have taken one look at the label and put it back on the shelf. And I would have missed out on a lot of fun.

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My friends, this delicious embroidered organza is pure, flammable polyester. I suspected as much, but was hoping for a miracle. A burn test outed this beauty. The fibres melted rather than burned. Further confirmation was delivered by an IG buddy who recognised the fabric and remembered its content.

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Silk organza would have made this dress an enduring beauty. Polyester organza means this fabric does not breathe. It is stiff, scratchy, and uncomfortably hot. I can deal with the comfort issues by moving the dress into my Winter wardrobe. I think it would look good with a black slip and black tights. The contrast under the sheer organza would be fun.

Unfortunately, my birthday is in the middle of a sweltering Kansas Summer (we’re talking tropical Top End weather to my Aussie friends out there). I could have forgone the sleeves, but the sleeves are an important feature of the dress for me (these were actually the 3rd sleeves I trialled for this dress).

The fabric also does not press or hold a crease. To work around this fact, I kept the design as simple as possible. It’s a sheath with bust darts, French seams throughout, a hand-stitched bound neck, and sleeves. I toyed with the idea of back darts or a CB seam for shaping but after some online research into sheath dress shapes on designer runways, I decided to keep mine without. I’m wearing a white slip underneath it for modesty.

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I wasn’t keen on hemming the dress and sleeves because the embroidery makes the organza quite bulky and of course it doesn’t press. My solution was to cut the dress and sleeves on the cross-grain so I could incorporate the beautiful selvedge into the design. After putting the dress together, however, I decided that didn’t like the pretty frayed edges after all. I ended up cutting them off but keeping a portion of the un-embroidered selvedge. I also felt that the original flared sleeves were a bit much for the loud fabric so I cut different, more streamlined sleeves instead.

It was a lot of fun making this dress. I loved problem-solving the fabric issues. I will wear it, but probably not during Summer. It might become my Christmas or New Years dress instead.

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Jaywalk refashioned

This time last year, I made myself a dress and a maxi skirt in some striped jersey fabric. The dress is no longer with me. I literally wore that dress to death. I still like the skirt in theory, but the length of it was a bit off-putting for everyday wear. It was a simple issue to fix.

This refashion was quick and easy. I chopped the top off the skirt, tapered the side seams in a bit to fit my hips better, and re-attached some elastic to the waist. The top I’m wearing is my Camilla camisole. It’s a simple, bias cut cami that fits beautifully.

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I didn’t waste an inch of fabric in this refashion. The length I chopped off was just long enough to make a simple skirt for Miss Seven. I bought the side seams in by about 1.5 inches and shortened the elastic in the waist. She’s pretty chuffed because it fits the definition of a ‘fitted mini-skirt’ for her, which is something (along with heeled shoes) that I refuse to let a seven year old wear.

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