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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Carolyn Pyjamas in Art Gallery and silk organza

I don’t buy that many new patterns but as soon as I saw this one, I knew it was meant for me. It was time for me to address the sad state of assorted past makes and retired daywear that I usually call sleepwear. Of course, that’s what I should have been doing. Sadly for my family, these pyjamas are not going to replace my current motley crew. As soon as I started sewing them, I realised that they were actually meant for somebody else, whose birthday is just around the corner. Maybe the next pair will be for me! 


It’s nearly Spring here, so the short version was the obvious choice for me to make. I thought long and hard about what fabric I wanted to use. If I was going to take the time to make a pair of pyjamas, there’s a good argument for making them in something special. I toyed with the idea of silk CDC polka dots and even Nani Iro, but in the end, I shopped from my stash and came up with a lovely Art Gallery cotton voile, leftover from some wrap pants I made last Summer. I also found some beige silk organza that matched perfectly for contrast in the cuffs and hem edge.

 

The pattern itself is great. I am so impressed with the design and the fit. The pants/shorts sit on the hips, without looking baggy around the bum, and the shirt fits more slim and comfortably than I was expecting.


I chose my size based entirely on the pattern packet and it worked out perfectly. I’d normally expect most shirts (of my bust measure) to be a bit tight through the shoulders. The shoulders are a perfect fit for my broad build. Others with narrower shoulders might find the shoulder seams to fit a little wider, which I suspect is what the pattern was intended to look like anyway.

 
 
 

I made no modifications to the pattern, apart from the organza panel at the bottom of the hem. This was a pretty simple modification, but it did involve a bit of craftiness around the seams. I will confess that I did not use French seams throughout the majority of this shirt. However, French seams in the organza were essential, so I made sure to finish the cuffs in this manner too. The side seams are half serged, half Frenched, in the same way you would do a French seam beneath an invisible zipper.

The story behind my ‘Challenge’ dress and other dress pattern options

Rhonda recently asked me to do a guest post on her blog (Rhonda’s Creative Life) about my process behind designing this dress. I’m sure many of you already follow this inspiring woman, but for those that may have missed this post, I thought I’d do a summary here and include some additional pattern ideas at the end. Whilst I know this isn’t exactly a tutorial, pictures of flat pattern pieces always help me to get a better idea of how to attack a new design, so perhaps it may help you too.

I’m self-taught when it comes to sewing and design, so I am aware that some of my methods may be unconventional, but they seem to work for me (most of the time!). This time I started with a pattern that I created myself, nearly two years ago. The pattern was for this drop waist dress. I’ve made several dresses using this pattern, including some long sleeve variations, which you can easily find on my blog if you search ‘drop waist’. My love of the drop waist is a poorly kept secret.

I created the original drop waist dress pattern by draping, with the help of a favourite text book. I only have some very basic draping skills, but I do find it to be the best way for me to achieve a good bodice fit, as well as get my head around unusual or new-to-me designs.


So my starting point was a drop waist dress with long French darts and a front zipper (in those days I was breastfeeding on the hour!). This is how the flat pattern pieces of the bodice looked.


My first step was to redraft the side seam to incorporate a triangular side panel. To do this, I lined up the side seams with each other,and drew in new lines where I wanted the side panel seams to go. Here, I’ve pinned together the front and back bodice pieces.


Now you can see where I re-drew my side seams to make the panel. The overlay is the side panel piece from my Challenge dress. The purple line is the where the original side seam would be.


I also had to consider the dart size at this point. By adding the side panel, I was also reducing the size of the dart. I wasn’t too bothered by this because my bust is a little smaller (without the breastfeeding!) since I’d made the original pattern. However, I still found the dress a little snug across the chest (not bust volume) after my first muslin, so I ended up adding a tiny bit of extra width to the front side seam.

This is what the final pattern pieces of the challenge dress (bodice) looked like. The back piece, to the left, also shows the extra wedge that I added to the back to increase the A-line shape of the dress. My original muslin didn’t include this and I found that the dress looked to “flat” at the back.

In the picture below, my drop waist dress pattern is overlaying my Challenge dress pieces so you can see how I extended the length and modified the shape of the bottom.


When I finally had the bodice shape right, I went about drafting the flounce. I measured and traced the contour of the bottom of all the bodice pieces and drew up a skirt that extended along the natural A-line shape of the dress. To turn the skirt into a flounce, I slashed it in 2-3 places to give it a slight flare. There’s a great tutorial here, on how to create a flounce for a skirt.

The organza panel is simply a part of the skirt. I drew up that panel after I was happy with the skirt shape.

Hopefully, this explanation gives you a better insight into how I came up with my design. I, for one, always find it interesting how the flat pattern pieces look compared with the finished 3D garment. And if drafting a dress from scratch isn’t your jam, I’ve come across a few other patterns that have a similar silhouette to this dress, that you could quite easily modify to add a flounce or some sheer organza.

Pattern Fantastique: Celestial dress
*disclaimer* This pattern was given to me by Nita of Pattern Fantastique, but I wouldn’t have accepted it if it didn’t excite me. I haven’t used the pattern yet, but after seeing several great versions of it over the past few months (Thornberry, Sew Urbane, Artworker Projects ) I’m looking forward to trying it out in Summer.

McCall’s 6555: This dress has a pleat down the front and is much more voluminous than mine, but you could easily ditch some, or all of the pleats (carefully considering bust width) to create a more streamlined look.

Tessuti’s new Sopie dress: I’m in love with the higher neckline look of this dress. It has a similar easy shape that works beautifully with linen. Adding a sheer organza panel to the bottom would look amazing, with or without a flounce. I’d love to see the contrast of crinkly linen with the smooth, cloudy, sheerness of silk organza.



The floral fabric challenge

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Rhonda Buss recently (of Rhonda’s Creative Life), to take part in a little sewing challenge. The guidelines were pretty simple. Ten participants were each sent the same panel of fabric to make an item of clothing. Of course I was going to say yes. I love a good challenge.

 

I’m not usually big on florals, so it was quite fun to come up with a style and design that would showcase the fabric, and yet still be true to my own personal sense of style. The fabric itself was a very drapey, textured barkcloth. It has a similar hand to rayon or some woven viscose blends. It was only a small panel, so I ended up using all of it, and in fact, drafted the side triangular panels of this dress specifically to accomodate it’s short length.

In sketching out some of my initial design ideas for this dress, I realised that I was going to have to stabilise the drapey, challenge fabric in order to sucessfully make the kind of dress that I had in mind. This was easy to do though. I fused ProWoven Shirt-Crisp interfacing to my drapey, floral fabric, and voíla, it turned into a lovely crisp textile with a more structured hand, and an almost identical drape to the weighty Theory cotton sateen that I was using for the rest of the dress. It also dealt with the fact that I had to cut the fabric on an obscure bias in order to place the flowers in the position that I wanted.


The design is my own. I used my drop-waist dress pattern and modified it. My main changes were to add the side panels and change the shape of the side seams. I graduated the hemline and added a slightly flared flounce with a silk organza panel in between. I also added inseam pockets because every dress needs pockets. 

All good dresses also need a *twirl* photo. I definitely think twirling shows off the shape of the dress better. I might twirl instead of walk when I wear it.

 
 

Because the main white fabric is such thick cotton, and because of the design, I didn’t want to line the dress. I drafted an all-in-one neckline and armscye facing and understitched for a clean finish. The back is fastened with a hand-worked silk loop and a beautiful glass button. I love glass buttons. I feel like they add a special touch.

I really love how this dress turned out. I’ve been dreaming of a dress design like this for a while now, but had been putting off doing anything about it because it’s just so seasonally inappropriate. I love that this challenge enabled me to make something that I’ve been wanting to create anyway.


It’s been a long post so if you are still with me, awesome! Please don’t forget to head over to Rhonda’s Creative life because there will be voting soon. You will also be able to check out the other fabulous entries there.

 

On experimental sewing and getting good results


I don’t know about you, but I learn a lot through taking risks and experimenting with my sewing. Playing around with different styles and fabrics helps me understand how much I can bend the rules, as well as which finishes look the best on different fabrics. But I think I’ve also subconsciously developed a set of strategies to help me get pretty good results most of the time, even when I’m trying to deviate from the norm.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had an absolute wadder. This one is probably as close as it gets for me. But this isn’t because I’m fabulous at sewing. I still have so much to learn. I think it’s more to do with me getting better at understanding what works for me and what doesn’t. Ironically, a large part of this knowledge has come from dozens of disappointing sews and pattern mess ups in the past. I really think that having the courage to jump into challenging projects is the best way to learn, and even more so if they turn into an unwearable mess! So with my past in the past, I had a think about what it is that I do today, to achieve good results.

  • Firstly, I’ve learnt to recognise pattern pieces that will fit my figure. Sometimes I can do this by sight, but mostly, I line them up with a TNT and can then see right away how much length to add or inches to take away. But this also makes me lazy. I rarely do a muslin anymore, but if I did, I could probably still tweak the fit some more.
  • I have a pretty concrete set of 2-6 modifications that I know I have to make to any of the big four’s patterns the minute I take them out of the packet. This has just come from experience.
  • I steer clear of patterns that have a fitted bodice. The fitting issues are just not worth it for me. I have a very basic knowledge of draping and a dress form close to my size. When it comes to close fitting bodices and skirts, I get a much better result by drawing up a design myself and then draping it to get the pattern pieces.
  • I won’t start a project unless I am absolutely, 100% feeling it. I used to sew just because I wanted to try a new technique, or to use up fabric stash, or even just to prepare my wardrobe for the next season with boring staples. I’ve come to realise that I don’t wear as many staples as I used to. If I’m feeling frosting, that’s what I’ll sew, because that’s what I’m going to want to wear.
  • I look objectively at pattern cover pictures and pay attention to what I’m seeing rather than what I want to see. If those sleeves look loose in the photo, they’re going to be loose on me. That gape at the neckline, or the baggy armpits, well if they can’t hide it in the photo, how will I?
  • I’m better at recognising what different fabrics can do. I don’t just stick to cottons, silk and knits anymore. If I see something that excites me, I push myself to have a go. Recently, I’ve had a lot of fun sewing neoprene, rayon, and leather. Getting familiar with different textiles really opens up so many new design possibilities.
  • I’m better at recognising when something is just not working, before it gets to the point of no return. I’m pretty good at sewing on the fly and modifying projects that are heading to the pits. Sometimes a glass of wine helps at this point.

So what started me mulling over all of this in the first place? This top! It’s a wearable muslin complete with French seams, because the fabric demanded none other than the best. It’s also far from perfect, but it did teach me quite a few things.

 
 
 

The fabrics I used were small scraps. You’ve seen the watermelon poly before (I call it faux silk because it’s seriously the most beautiful polyester I’ve ever encountered) here and here. I had a little bit left in my scrap basket. All I needed was a little creativity and I was able to stretch it into a top.

The gorgeous, sheer floral silk organza panel, also from Tessuti, was a devastating mistake I made a few months ago (I blame jet lag!). I cut into my little 1m piece of loveliness only to realise that the project I was going to use it for would be completely unsuitable. I was a little heartbroken but kept all the pieces anyway. It makes me smile to see that they haven’t been wasted. I’m also happy that the pieces I’d cut were perfectly suited to this panel, even to the extent that I could position the flowers over my bellybutton.


I’ve been wanting a simple top like this for a long while, but have stubbornly refused to purchase a pattern that I could so easily draft myself or copy. It’s basically just two pattern pieces stitched together (middle panel aside). I used a favourite RTW top in my possession as a guide. But I realised when finishing the neckline, that the front piece was more than 4″ wider than the back…what?!!! And then I remembered that the top I was copying was designed by the maternity label, Isabella Oliver, so this could have been the reason why. Anyway, the neckline binding isn’t anything to write home about either. I was trying to bind it in a fashion that really only suits a binding that will hold a crease. Have I said before how much I dislike sewing with polyester?! 

But back to the pattern glitch. I’ve fixed the error now so the next top should be perfect. But this version is too roomy in the front for my liking and I’ve had to add two pleats at the neckline to bring it in a bit. This helps the neckline but doesn’t address the fabric surplus. Those pleats really annoy me, but the top is otherwise still very wearable. I’ve paired it with my leather fancy pant tracky dacks

Fabric deliciousness

So I know that I am really, REALLY not supposed to be buying any more fabric right now. I know I have a problem when all I am worried about getting to the US is my fabric and pattern stash?! I just weighed my ‘fabric’ suitcase and it was 30kg! I’m not sure how I am going to sneak that one past hubby. Obviously I snaffled the biggest suitcase(s) for myself.

But these little bits, I just couldn’t resist. I will call them my going away treats and aren’t they just the most delicious morsels you have ever seen! Unfortunately, I was only able to purchase a single metre of these delicious silks, but I have visions of how I can do justice with them (as soon as I am happy to finish admiring them of course).

Both are from Tessuti Fabrics. The first is a silk satin and the second is silk organza.

 
I’m pretty much all packed now. But I’m left a little air pocket for one last visit to my favourite fabric haunts ;-). Next stop is a farewell scrappy skirt for Miss Four. And then we hit the runway on March 2nd! Eeeek!