Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Making a Retro Style, Summer, Swing Dress!

A few months ago, my best client cut my hours in half and I lost another source of income completely. Left with just enough income to cover my bills, I had to make some major cutbacks on my expenditures, the most major one being that I had to stop buying pinup clothes altogether.

But I want pretty things! I'm a pretty creative and driven person, so I decided that, while I hunted down more clients, I would learn to sew. Now, you may have seen my earlier post about making a gathered skirt... that was the first garment I sewed. Next, I made a circle skirt with pockets. Both of those projects turned out so well that I decided to undertake a more challenging prospect: a dress. I chose some fabric from fabric.com (a Kona cotton in a color called Aqua) for $3.58 per yard. I bought 4 yards and set to work.

It didn't turn out well. Oh, the skirt turned out fine, but the rest? Oh, Lord... I fought with it every step of the way. I used wax paper to trace the seam edges of a dress I already owned, and then transferred those marks to some wrapping paper and cut them out. I pinned them to the fabric and cut them out, making sure to give a half-inch of seam allowance all around. Then, I made my first mistake: I sewed the lining pieces directly to the outer pieces, thinking that it would work out okay and hide the seams. This is not how it is done, I soon realized, as I started putting the pieces together. I ended up with weird, bunchy seams that made the bodice look lumpy. And then I made my second mistake: I held up the piece to my body and it seemed like it wouldn't reach. So, I grabbed some extra fabric and made two additional panels for the back and sewed those on. I was going along, ironing seams and trying to make it look nice, and, all the while, I am thinking: something isn't right here.

But I continued on. I had bought 9 feet of fabric for the skirt section. I had gathered that fabric, sewed it, and then attached it to the lumpy bodice. I went ahead and put in the zipper temporarily so that I could test fit, and that when I realized a whole bunch of things:

  1. I didn't need those two additional panels. With the addition of the zipper, now the whole thing was WAAAAY too loose. Those other panels weren't needed AT ALL.

  2. I needed about TWICE as much material for the skirt area; mine didn't have NEARLY enough volume and the only way that could have happened is because I didn't have enough fabric for it. So, I would need to order another 2 yards of material for that.

  3. The lining parts should be sewed to each other separately from the outer until they're all hooked together because it all looked like lumpy crap.

  4. I will have to come up with some other solution for the straps because there is NO WAY to turn a one-inch strap right side out after sewing and it is now half an inch wide. No way. Either I have to make the straps wider or find a way to "finish sew" from the outside for the same width because sewing the inside seam and then turning it is not going to happen.

  5. I need a zipper that is CONSIDERABLY shorter than the one I bought.

After that fiasco, obviously, I learned a lot. I took my whole aqua dress apart and started over, and it turned out GREAT! So, now, here, finally, is that same process as told by Pink Dress:

Before we start, here's the materials I used:
4 yards pink fabric (Kona cotton in Primrose from fabric.com - $16.75)
1 yard pink charmeuse satin (fabric.com - $4.25)
1 zipper (17 inches long - $1.78 at Ben Franklin)
1 spool of pink thread ($0.50 at Wal-Mart)

Tools needed:
Sewing machine
Iron & ironing board or a flat surface and a towel
Seam ripper
Scissors and/or cutting wheel
Straight pins (lots)
Sewing needle
Measuring tape
Wax paper
Wrapping paper or some other large sheet paper
BBQ Skewer or knitting needle or some other long, pointy, clean object
Optional: dress form or dummy with your measurements

To start, lay the dress you want to replicate down as flat as possible on a large surface. Lay a piece of wax paper over the main bodice front, pin the wax paper as flat as possible to the dress, and, using a pen or pencil or some other pointy object, trace the seams. You should leave marks in the wax paper. Repeat this all the way around the dress until you have all the pieces. Cut the pieces out of the wax paper.

Lay the wax paper over the inside of some wrapping paper or other large paper. I like wrapping paper because it already has measurement marks printed in the inside. Pin the wax paper to the wrapping paper, lining up the edges of the wax paper cutouts as close to a grid line on the wrapping paper as you can and trace the shape onto the wrapping paper. (You could also just cut it out at this point, but I prefer to trace and then cut. Also, don't tape the wax paper to the wrapping paper; it'll tear the wrapping paper when you pull the wax paper off.)

Once you have the pieces cut out of the wrapping paper, lay them out and mark them:

You'll notice that I only have one of the "Dress Front/Side." That's because it's the same on both sides, so all I had to do was remember to flip it over to cut out the second one. Same goes for the back piece.

Next, completely unfold your outer fabric (the cotton, in my case) and measure 26 inches from the selvedge. Mark the entire length of the fabric with chalk and then cut that 26 inches off. This will be the skirt. Since the Kona cotton comes in 44" width, there's still plenty to make the bodice out of and still have some left over. Set the skirt fabric aside.

Lay your outer fabric out and then lay your lining fabric on top of it. Pin your wrapping paper to it. then cut your fabric, lining and outer, at the same time. Remember, when cutting the dress front sides and the back of the dress to only cut two out at a time and flip the paper over after the first one. Also remember to cut a little bit wider than the paper, in order ro account for seam allowance... I try to cut a quarter to a half-inch wider all around.

After you've cut out your pieces, you should have something like this:

For the straps, I just cut two strips of the cotton 21 inches long and 2.5 inches wide so I would have plenty to work with.

Now, for my next step, I use my dress form I made out of old couch cushions, masking tape, and one of my old bras stuffed with leftover fabric scraps. I made this to my measurements, and it takes into account my super long torso. I recommend making or buying a dress form when making clothes for yourself. It hurts when the pins stick you, and it is super hard to fit the pieces to you without a buddy, which I don't have.

So, next, I pin the pieces to my dress form and make little adjustment for my measurements:

I made these adjustments to both the lining and the outer separately, and then together, as it will be worn.

Next, it's time to sew! Start by sewing the lining pieces together:

Then sew the outer pieces together:

Note: on both the lining and the outer, that curve is SUPER TRICKY. You'll do a lot of starting and stopping, especially if you're lining with satin (because that shit's slippery), making sure everything is all lined up.

Next, iron all your pieces. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Ironing is boring and time consuming, but it is totally necessary! I don't know why, but it changes how your things will fit when you are finished, so iron your pieces, open the seams you made and iron them flat. I repeat: NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO IRON!

Next, pin the lining and outer together, leaving a gap for the straps in the front at the points. You could also leave a gap in the back piece if you're sure of where you want the strap to be back there. I wasn't, so I went ahead and sewed that whole thing closed. You'll see how I dealt with that later... but I didn't want to be poked with the pins while the straps were fit (and you can't really use the dress form for that because strap fit and lay is so personal to the wearer). DO NOT SEW THE BOTTOM CLOSED. The part that attaches to the skirt should be left open because you'll have to turn this inside out later.

Now, with right sides together, sew the lining and outer, making sure to leave that space at the straps unsewn.

Turn the whole piece right-sides-out, and, using the BBQ skewer, poke the corners until everything is tight. Iron everything again, taking special care to get the seams at the edges to stretch out so that they just touch at the edges, almost exposing the seam. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

While we have the iron out, next, we make straps. I trimmed my rough-cut strap pieces, and then ironed them flat. Now, I tried a bunch of ways to make straps with the blue dress, but none of them worked. If you want a half-inch wide strap, you can't sew it and then turn it... it will not turn, no matter what you do. Making a finished edge is tough... this is the only way I found to do it, by trial and error. I am sure someone more experienced has a better way of doing it, but I am just beginning. This is what I did: fold one edge of the strap in and iron, then fold the other piece over and iron it flat. If I had it to do again, I would fold my "outside" edge twice and then iron before sewing, but, you know, live and learn.

Now, with the bodice turned right-side OUT, poke the straps into the holes we left open at the front.

You'll need one hands inside the bodice, between the lining and outer, to guide it in. Tuck the excess fabric at the top of the bodice in with the strap, then turn it all inside out and sew the strap in:

I used a zig-zag stitch for this part, going back and forth over it a couple of times because I don't want it coming loose. Repeat for the other side.

Now, next, I fit the zipper into the bodice. Here's why: At this point, I have to try it on to get a proper strap fit, and I do not want to be poked with the pins, so I fit the zipper and hand stitched in in temporarily to fit the straps.

You'll need someone to pin the straps to the back where you want them and to length. Have your friend pin the strap to the outside of the dress ONLY and NOT to the lining, too. Take the bodice off - carefully; you don't want to get poked by the pins. Mark the strap with chalk if there is more fabric than you need. Don't cut it yet.

Next, turn the bodice inside out again and carefully cut an opening at the seam between the lining and outer fabric, just the width of the strap.

Carefully unpin the the strap from the bodice and poke it through the hole, bringing the strap to your mark, if you made one. Sew the strap in between the lining and outer, sewing a little bit farther back and past the opening.

Iron the bodice again. Turn it inside out, make any trims you need along seams, stray threads, the long strap inside if there was any. Then, turn it right side out and iron it again. It seems silly, and I question it myself, but it makes a difference, and I don't know why.

And now, the bodice is finished! It should look something like this:

Time to turn out attention to the skirt.

Pull off a length of thread that, when doubled through the needle is five or six inches longer than your waist measurement. Maybe longer. Tie off the thread at the end.

Remember when I mentioned the selvedge on the skirt fabric we cut? I don't know if this is actually done... if you're supposed to cut it off or what... but... on the Kona cotton, anyway, there's this frayed edge and then two rows of tiny holes, which I used to make sure that the gathering on the skirt stayed even. So, thread up a needle, and start gathering the skirt fabric:

Continue gathering until you have all 4 yards of material gathered. Now, lay out your measuring tape on a long, flat surface to your waist measurement PLUS three inches. I don't know where the extra fabric goes, but you lose some in this process.

Line up your gathered skirt (not tied off yet!) to your measuring tape, and adjust the gathers until it both reaches your measurement AND the gathers are nice and even:

Bring your bodice over to your skirt piece and lay it lining side up on the skirt fabric and pin it to you the bodice. Sew the bodice and skirt together:

We're in the homestretch now!

Time for pockets, if you want them. Slip the dress on and decide where you want pockets and how big you want the opening. Mark that area with chalk, then, lay the dress flat and cut those openings with a cutting wheel or scissors:

Repeat for the other pocket.

Measure your opening, then cut four pieces of fabric the size of the opening in a "U" shape. Sew two of these together. I decided to use the satin lining fabric so that the pockets would be easier to find while I am wearing it. Then, turn the pockets right side out, and pin one side to the OUTSIDE of the skirt.
Sew that side on with the sewing machine, then, turn the dress inside out and bend the pocket edge inward and sew that seam. Repeat the whole process for the other pocket.

There is also another way to do this, but it means cutting your skirt fabric in half before it's gathered, then attaching the pockets between the edges of the panels after the skirt if gathered and attached to the skirt, but that also means that you've got to cut the skirt in the back to accommodate the zipper... it's a trade-off. Pockets are just tough. I don't like doing it.

The finished pockets should look like this:

Next, sew the zipper in to the skirt:

And finish by sewing from the hem to the zipper.

Finally, the last step: turn the dress inside out and iron the skirt and iron a hemline. You can adjust the hem at this point, to whatever length suits you. I am tall, so I just turned mine 3/4ths of an inch:

Lastly, sew the hem:

And that's it! I went through the inside of the dress and trimmed threads and such after this, but it turned out SUPER nice. I am pretty impressed with myself. I have plans for dresses in three more styles, as well as another dress like this in a pretty, pale yellow.