Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Perfectionist's Guide to Sewing a Bombshell Dress

or, How to Avoid All That Hand Sewing and Eyeballing

The Craftsy course taught by Gretchen Hirsch features many many hand sewn seams and a lot of eyeballing things.  I don't have the time nor the patience for either.  I like to have things precise and streamlined, so I documented here the process I used to make the dress.

Gretchen demonstrates in the video how to mark the seam lines with tracing paper and wheel, first on one side and then on the flip side.  She cuts out each piece separately, eyeballing about a one inch seam allowance all around.  She then thread traces the seam line (either by machine for the muslin or by hand for the final garment).  This is to ensure accuracy, but then she advises to sew the seam slightly over to the side of the basting (in the seam allowance) so that it will be easier to remove the basting threads.  This to me seems to defeat the whole purpose of accuracy.  It seems a better idea would be to baste slightly inside the seam allowance and sew on the actual seam line.

Once the seams are sewn, she advises to trim down the seam allowances to 5/8".  I can understand using 1" seam allowances on a muslin for fitting purposes, but on the actual garment, why bother with the huge seam allowance only to trim it down afterward?  She recommends leaving the vertical seams at 1" in case you want to let it out down the line.  Honestly, the vertical seams have boning and boning casing sewn to them.   Who's going to go the trouble of letting out those seams?  I would just as soon start a new dress with fresh fabric.

What I did was make a stencil out of the smaller pattern pieces.  I carefully drew in 1/2" seam allowances (my preferred width) all around the edges and cut out the actual pattern piece from the center.  This enabled me to mark the actual seam line (with my trusty Dritz sewing pencil) as well as have precise seam allowances for matching.

Gretchen hand sews twill tape to the top of the bra cups, easing in some of the fullness along the way.  I crowded the top edge, which perfectly shortened it by 1/4" and then applied fusible twill tape over it to stabilize the edge.

Gretchen trims down her batting freehand (her edges are kind of jagged) to make it fit inside the fabric cups.  Because I'm a perfectionist, I scaled down the pattern pieces to 98% and cut out a smaller size cup.  This made it fit perfectly, just inside the actual seam lines.

Gretchen shows how to fasten all the bust seam allowances by hand to the bra cups.  I only tacked it down at the seam junctures; that batting's not going anywhere.

I even used the machine zig zag to attach the waist stay to the lining.

I used 1/2" seam allowances all around, except for the top edges of the dress, where I used 3/4".  This creates a "facing" to ensure that the lining fabric doesn't show on the public side.

Gretchen sews the vent down on the right side of the skirt, eyeballing it in kind of in a flying-blind mode.  I did this from the inside, where I had the seam allowances as a guide for both the angle and length.

Here it is on the right side.
I mitered the corners on the vent, which reduces a lot of bulk and looks so much better.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sewing Class Review: Sew Retro Perfect Bombshell Dress

I didn't buy this class when it first came out, since the strapless style does not readily fit into my lifestyle and/or wardrobe.  But the completed projects posted on Craftsy all looked so good.  I made the mistake of watching the free previews and I was immediately hooked.  I had met Gretchen in person, and the video really captures her inspiring personality.  She is a great teacher, and that comes through in the lessons.

I love that the class walks you through the whole process of preparing the downloaded pattern (a first for me), to making and perfecting the muslin, to constructing the very fitted and structured strapless bodice (another first for me), with underling and lining, and finishing the skirt.  I had read in countless books and magazines about waist stays and boning, but seeing both demonstrated and explained together in this video was extremely helpful.  Just watching someone sew a garment from start to finish is kind of relaxing to me, and to learn something new along the way is like icing on the cake. 

The most enjoyable part for me was watching the bra cups take shape right as they are going through the sewing machine.  I couldn’t wait to try it out myself, and it was just as fun to do and see in real life.  

I tend to focus on details, and I appreciate that Gretchen's nails are neatly manicured.  I've seen other professional videos in which the close up sewing shots show raggedy cuticles and annoying hangnails, which tends to distract and detract from the information presented. 

The video quality is good and the information presented is hard to find elsewhere.  I paid $29.99 for the class, which I feel is a fair price for both the pattern and live detailed instructions.