Monday, December 30, 2013

Keystone Dressmaking

keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch that locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight.  The term is used figuratively to refer to the central supporting element of a larger structure, without which the whole structure would collapse.

One Saturday morning while still on my engagement Cloud 9, I picked up my pattern-drafting tools, paper, some muslin, a glass of Riesling and embarked on journey to make my wedding dress.  I said to myself “so…where do I start?”.  After some thumb-twiddling and rhythmic tapping of my pencil on the table a few times I found the answer……get another glass of wine!!!

I knew exactly how I wanted to finish but was cluelss as to how to start.  As I postulated different approaches to the construction process (Bottom-Up, Top-Down, Center-Out?), the one thing I was sure of is that it had to fit.   Having been a bridesmaid 3x I fortunately had my old BM dresses hanging around and noticed that they all had something in common.  They were distinct in style and fabrication, however as strapless dresses, they all were very well (as in closely) fitted in the bodice.  Despite the various designs on the bodices and various skirt weights , the bustiers (under-bodices) were nearly identical.   That was my “AHA!” moment.   As long under-bodice is nice and snug, I could GO CRAZY with the designs on the top and on the skirt because it would be very well supported.  The under-bodice is a keystone.  I perfected the under-bodice before starting the any other part of the dress.

BM dresses and corresponding under-bodice. All 3 ended at the waist.  
I continued to the hip for the wedding dress.

I estimate about 55% percent of the my overall patternmaking (not construction) time for this dress was the under-bodice. I started by draping a princess seamed bustier as instructed  in Draping for Fashion Design

I used a VERY heavy muslin specifically for the under-bodice.  I had about 5 yds. in my stash with no recollection of where I purchased it.  I eventually found another provider who charged a whopping $12/yd.  I’m sure that is not what I paid previously.  I was told its called “tailor’s muslin”.  I boned the princess seams and just center of the zipper and side seams in the back with an awesome sew-through boning I found on Ebay. 

Since my dimensions have changed since I ordered this dressform, I opted to include a seam at natural waist for more flexibility in making fitting adjustments. I later blended the pattern pieces together to remove the waist seam.  A huge lesson for me was to ADD MORE SEAMs when overly frustrated with fitting issues like puckering or pulling. I often cut right into the muslin and pinned it back together in a frenzy to manually smooth out puckers.  I would keep the “helper” seam in the next version of the muslin until I was sure the issue was resolved. 

Given my time crunch I didn’t document much of the fitting process in pictures.  In short, since this top is extremely fitted, the hard part was figuring out where to cinch and where to release fabric.  This is where my second biggest lesson comes in:  Do not try to make your body fit the shape of a pattern you see in the text book! The body never lies. I spent way too much time wondering why my pattern “looked right” on the flat but looked horrible on me.  I often would make a fitting adjustment, transfer it to paper – then erase it because the pattern no longer looked like the textbook.  Insane!

For example look at the text book version of the busiter pattern.  I’m curvy and not very tall so my natural waist is actually much higher at the side seam than in the front. Once I accepted this fact all my fitting problems where resolved.  My only fit worry from there was not losing or gaining weight. 

{book pattern}

{actual pattern}

Up next: The design……..

Monday, November 4, 2013

Should I make my own wedding dress?

...Is not a question I asked myself.   The first thing that came to mind when it was time to shop for THE MOST IMPORTANT DRESS I'LL EVER WEAR was............"I would never forgive myself if I didn't make it".  As if all my years of toiling behind a sewing machine would have been for naught if I didn't AT LEAST give it a try.  My resolve was strong, however.  Even if the damn thing fell apart half way through the ceremony, I was determined to make it and by God's good grace I did!  So here are my top 5 tips for any lady who embarks on this journey.

1. Pick a style within your ability
I veered away from and beading, embroidery or lace.  Although I'm not the hugest fan of those applications my concern was the time I needed to make it wedding-tacular.  A 10 month engagement while working 60+ hrs a week was an obvious no-no. I've always loved ultra 3D garments and I can flounce with the best of them so my dress design was a no brainer for me.

2. Be very patient
I searched the web for encouragement before I got started and I was shocked by how many blogs say don't do it!  I've heard it all from "you need 4 arms and 16 elbows to fit yourself" or  "only true master seamstress should every try to fit herself". Give me a break!!!  What is point of writing a blog post with discouraging advice?!?!?!  Do you want to know the REAL SECRET  to fitting yourself no matter your skill level??? PATIENCE!   That's all, a big bowl of never give up.  If you trust that you will figure it out eventually, it will happen...eventually.  I made 17 versions of my bodice until it fit perfectly.  During the last 10 versions I was altering the pattern by only 1/8" at a time.  Now, the length of your 'eventually' will depend on your skill level - I just made sure I gave myself ample time.  I'll talk more about my fitting process in another post.

3. Just ATTACK it!
Don't comb through Amazon looking for the holy grail of wedding dressmaking. It is a waste of time and money.  After all a wedding dress is just a dress only a little longer and maybe poofier than your usual dresses.  You are better off putting a plan together to collect all the specific tutorials you will need based on your dress design and get going!!  If your dress has appliqué - consult your appliqué guru.  Fancy a ribbon corset top? - there are billions of tutorials online.  Do you need a galactic petticoat? - consult just buy it on eBay.  For example, this was my first time using boning in a full bodice.  This picture I found on Pinterest gave me some guidance on where to place them. If at any time I hit a part of the dress making where I wasn't sure how to move on, I consulted an "expert" source.  If they provided little help - I just went back to my usual trial-and-error practice.

4. Don't believe in magic
The hardest part about drafting a dress you are REALLY excited about trying on is fighting through the muslin phase.  I so desperately wanted to go straight from paper to satin just so I could see myself dressed in white. But alas, I would need to be a magician to pull off hand drafting each pattern piece PERFECTLY without testing it first.   I burned through 10yds of cheap poly bridal satin to test each pattern piece before cutting into the silk satin. It was well worth it. I was able to ensure all the pieces hung in the right direction and made some crucial alteration.  I even tested how and where I would place the fusible. I first cut my final fabric only 2 weeks  before the wedding (crazy, huh?)  By then I had a tried and trued the pattern in muslin and just kicked into autopilot for the final.

Practice muslin

5.  Get undergarments early
I HIGHLY recommend buying your shoes, bra and petticoat (if you need it) BEFORE you start your dress.  Making the final dress fit without alteration was ideal for me.   I knew I ran the risk of a seamstress significantly altering the look of the dress if it didn't fit properly before it was finished.  Bridal bustiers modify your shape so a well fitting dress will account for those adjustments.  You'll need your shoes for your hem length of course, but the petticoat (if you need it) must be worn with the shoes.  Depending on the fullness you may need anywhere from an additional 2+ inches on the bottom to ensure the dress lightly dusts the floor.
That's all for now!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

No longer a Señorita......It's Señora Cindy!

click for full photo
I won't bore you with my exploits over the past 4+ years and cut straight to the chase -   I'M A MRS YA'LL!!!!!  My long time beau and I recently jumped the broom and I'm making a return to blogging to share all the fun crafty bits that came along with my DIY Wedding....there were plenty.   I thought it would be "fun" to make invites, all the bouquets/boutonnieres, place cards, tablecloths, a Gatsby inspired headdress for the bachelorette party... oh and did I mention my wedding dress?  Now that it is all over I can say it was something out of a Dickens novel: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....." Even after all of those sleepless nights and near breakdowns in the end it was all worth it!   Stay tuned, construction details to come!!!

My handsome Vietnam Veteran papi walked me down the isle

Monday, September 7, 2009

Color Blocked Dress

(I must be losing my post titles have been quit lame of late. I'll try to do better next time!!!)

BURDA 05-117B-2009

Here is another dress I've been holding out on (sorry!!!). It is from the adorable Dresses Dresses Dresses Issue from this past May. After having a VERY difficult time locating this issue in NYC just days after it hitting the shelves (I guess all the sewnista's have my old spots pegged!) I decided to subscribe to Burda. Quite frankly, I don't know what I was waiting for...

Anyhow, back to the dress. I got this fabric from Metro Textiles for a excellent price. It's 100% cotton and appears to be a run-off from a designer named "Quest". As soon as I walked in I ran to it..I LOVE color blocking and design was funky enough for my taste and subdued enough for me to wear it to the office which is a major WIN!! If you ever get your hands on a fabric like this let me offer these suggestions:
  • Ensure you have balance. Especially with a pattern like I used. The bodice alone has 8 pieces so it looks better if you maintain the the flow of the colorway consistent with each piece. Using this approach required me to think about pattern piece several times before cutting and I did not cut on the fold for that reason. I also bought an extra yard of fabric to give me more options when cutting. You don't want a garment with a large grouping of one color on one side and several colors broken up on the other side leaving it looking "unbalanced". If the latter happens it could potentially take away from the design of the pattern once complete.
  • Beware of your lady bits!!! Don't leave oddly placed lines, flowers, cut-outs etc. around your chest or lower regions. Here is a good example of why you wouldn't want that.
The only fitting adjustments I made were to grade the from a 36 to a 38 at the hip and to shorten the hem by 2.5 inches. I'm only 5'3" so it was still at a respectable office length :-)


The design does get a bit lost in the fabric pattern. I just want to show how pretty it would be even with a solid color.

Lastly, Happy Labor Day!!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Magazine to Closet in 15 seconds flat

BWOF 02-2008-103B

At least that's how it felt. I nearly forgot I made this until I looked at my backlog of unpublished projects. I swear I wore it 17 times before the warm weather hit. I had major issues fitting the collar...perhaps I didn't cut the pattern properly. Either way no one could tell and it didn't stop me from wearing the bejeezus out of it. But isn't that just the way things happen fudge your way through a garment and love it to much so that all your close friends have probably seen you in it. But then you painstakingly sew a garment and it ends up collecting dust in the closet. C'est la vie!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I shall call her...Semi Me!

I've had the pleasure of bringing home my very own custom dressform!!! While I did own one of the adjustable plastic forms but they aren't ideal for draping. I wanted something sturdy and anatomically correct to draft my patterns from(posts on draping class to come). While I was at it, I went and got one custom to my size!! Andy of Andy's Model forms made it. After working for a major dressform company for 30 years he went off and started his own business and his work is absolutely phenomenal! Many NYC designers order his custom hand crafted work and with good reason....the man is good! I'm still in awe with how much the thing resembles my shape and is anatomically correct with only my providing a few measurements. He even offered me the opportunity to check the form before it was finished, a courtesy I appreciate since I'm a novice.

I also ordered the form with two special features: A derier and collapsible shoulders. The former was a must for me know *blushes*. The latter was for the times you need to try something tight on the form without having to stretch it over the wide shoulder. They pop in and right out.

Here are the measurements I gave him:
  • Bust
  • Natural Waist
  • Hip (fullest part)
  • Front Waist Length (front base to natural waist)
  • Back Waist Length (front base to natural waist)
  • High Pin Shoulder (mid shoulder to bust apex)
  • Neck (around base of the neck)
  • Front Shoulder (front armpit to front armpit, dressforms don't have arms)
  • High Hip (Where your hip bone is. B/w waist and full of the hip)

I recommend Andy's work and you should definitely give him a shot if you are looking to get a professional dressform, be it custom or standard sizing. I shopped around and this level of quality at his price is a extreme bargain. Tell him his buddy Cindy sent you, he'll hook you up ;-)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Haute Couture Techniques: The Review

For the record, I'm going ignore the large gap of time between posts...mainly because I've come to grips with the concept of "Tempus Fugit" a.k.a "Times Flies". And it seems the more flying it does the better it gets at it.... so while I try new methods of trying to catch-up, I hope you still pay me visit or follow me on Twitter :-)

During the Spring 2009 semester at F.I.T I took Haute Couture Techniques. I figured I could learn more hand-working techniques to add to my arsenal. The class was in a lecture format and we only worked on small fabric samples. As we learned the technique the instructor gave examples of how and why a couture atelier would incorporate them into garment construction.
While I did enjoy the class, especially the camaraderie with all of the students, I wouldn't say the class exposed any major show stopping secrets. If anything, it was the minor things that weren't even official parts of the course curriculum that made it worthwhile (like how to properly use a thimble, or how to thread a Merrow, etc). For those who regularly read and engage in the sewing blogosphere and read books like Claire Shaeffers Couture Sewing, this class would have been a cake walk. So without further adieu here are samples I made in class:

Hem (Inside the garment) and Edge (Outside the garment) Facings. Using 1/4" seam allowances (SA) I machine stay stitched the top edge and stitched the edge of the facing to the fabric. After turning facing and pressing the seams, the top edge was folded in to the stay stitched and blind slip stitched to the fabric.

Here is a view of back side of the blind slip stitch, if I used thread to match the fabric, it would appear invisible.

Lace Applique on Silk Organza. Here we used two different kinds of hand stitches to attach lace to organza. I used tiny blanket/afghan stitches and on the applique and edge lace and the overhand stitch.

French and Mock French seams on Organza. The french seam is stronger.....

...but the mock french seam has less bulk.

To be continued.......