Sunday, 7 December 2014

Dressmaking Techniques Class

I've just finished the first term of an evening class covering dressmaking techniques.

In each 10 week term of 2 hour classes, the first 5 weeks look at specific techniques and the next 5 weeks is spent making up an item, with help from the tutor as required.

I attended the Beginners' Dressmaking Techniques. At first I thought this might be a little too basic for me as some of the people there hadn't even threaded a machine. I was offered the chance to go on the continuation class but felt it was important to learn the basic techniques to give my sewing the best foundation. My attempts started as very much self-taught forays into dressmaking, using technique books to help. This is extremely useful but at the end of the day, I like to see something demonstrated as I find it both easier to understand and to repeat.

So in the first 5 weeks, we covered zip insertion, making waistband, interfacing waistband, buttonholes, various seam types and finishes, including French seams which I had read about but never actually done, and we made a little skirt sample. In addition, the tutor covered basic machine threading and sewing (I missed this class as it happens) and how to choose and read a pattern.

We had to choose a skirt pattern, and appropriate fabric (no checks at this stage). I chose Vogue 8835, which I already had in my stash.
This isn't the same photo as my envelope front, which has 3 drawings

I did view B

This is a Very Easy Vogue pattern. It's a 'semi-fitted skirt with lined yoke, back zipper and narrow hem'. It is a mock wrap over skirt. Originally, the tutor suggested that I add the welts, though she said we would do a complete pocket, but I don't really like pockets in skirts as they just make me look bigger (especially if I actually use the pocket!) so I decided against that. I chose to do View B which is unadorned and knee length.

I chose a pure wool worsted fabric, medium weight, soft and non-itchy in dark charcoal grey. I didn't have much choice at the time but liked this and felt this is a staple colour and would fit in to the rest of my wardrobe.

Right at the start, I made a muslin of the skirt at home. However, I didn't use interfacing on the contoured waistband and when the toile proved to be a little loose there, at first I thought it could have been due to stretching, although when I later checked the pattern pieces (I had forgotten to take them to class), this proved not to be the case. The tutor suggested finishing the skirt to zip stage and then taking in the side seams as necessary. [Note to self - this is really not a good idea - my other tutor recommends making the skirt and then making the waistband to fit and this would have been a better option]

I wanted to line the skirt and my tutor agreed this was a good idea.

I cut out the fabric without much problem. Originally, I assumed that I would be overlocking my fabric edges to prevent fraying but the tutor said that as I was using lining, this would add unnecessary bulk. I chose a black/dark grey lining material. Not sure what it is, I had bought it prior to this project, but think it's an anti-static polyester. We discussed various ways to insert the lining. The skirt as per pattern is finished with a narrow hem and I could have made a narrow hem, enclosing the lining in that. However, I chose to make a lining identical to the skirt and then sew it right sides together with skirt. I then trimmed and graded and understitched the whole thing as much as possible and turned to the correct side.

I sewed the two skirt backs and two skirt fronts (overlap and underlap) together as advised. However, then the tutor thought I would be better using an invisible zip - where, of course, the seam is sown after the zip is inserted. So some unpicking.. [Note to self - this skirt might be better with a non-invisible zip as it was rather difficult to sew but this was probably partly to do with it being sewed too late]

I had to interface the yoke pieces and discussed the most appropriate type - the pattern specified sewn-in interfacing but the tutor could not see a good reason for this and in the end we chose a fusible sample that I had with me - I had taken a few types of black interfacing with me. I was rather upset, though, when the interfacing didn't go on properly - it looked extremely wavy and bubbly - even though I had followed instructions. I thought about re-doing the yoke pieces but the right side of the fabric looked okay so we decided against that.

I had to miss a class and spent some time at home finishing the lining, joining it to the main skirt and understitching.

Here, however, I made another mistake. I carefully smoothed out the lining and joined the yoke and skirt together with the lining in between. This meant that I was going to have problems inserting the zip and making the sides look nice - usually the lining is folded over the zip, staying just clear of the teeth. I wouldn't have been able to do that given the way I included the lining. However, after discussion of the various options, we decided that I would take out a few centimetres of stitching on either side, remove the lining from the seam and re-seam. [Note to self - it doesn't save time to have to unpick and redo - better to wait until next steps are clear, unless of course, I'm just following pattern][Further note to self - read reviews first! A couple make mention of order of construction if using an invisible zipper.]

Strangely, I had a lot of problems putting in the invisible zip. I had done about 4 previously and hadn't been too concerned. My machine didn't like the fabric, interfacing side down. It kept sticking, though a longer stitch length helped. I had originally hand tacked the zip in place but found it most definitely helped to machine tack. One side was very ripply (the cloth not the zip) and I had to take it out and re-do.

I tried the skirt on at that stage and felt the waistband was a little loose at the top. At first, I wasn't sure whether to taper the seam in towards the top (size is fine at high hip) or to leave and let the skirt sit a little lower than my natural waistline, which looked okay.

In the last week, I had quite a bit left to do: finish the zip and back seam and hand stitch the lining to the zip, put on the lining material used to cover the back of the yoke pieces and alter the waistband side seam - I decided I preferred this option.

In the end, a further week wasn't enough. Fortunately, the tutor decided to hold a 'sewing bee' in her own studio and I went there. Advantage was carving out the time to sew (I've been very busy - who said retirement meant not enough to do?!) and have the tutor on hand if I needed help.

I had one last decision to make - whether to top stitch waistband top and bottom as per pattern instructions or stitch-in-the-ditch between waistband and skirt. I was torn between the two but eventually decided to stitch in the ditch. I had to do this at home. My first attempt was a failure. I hadn't caught the lining properly in places. So more unpicking and I refolded the yoke lining. Relative success this time. It's not as neat as I'd like on the reverse. Another problem is that I used my blind stitch foot and found that in centre position the needle was too close at times to the offset and on one occasion actually crossed over the line and on another the needle broke. So I ended up using it set one position to the left. On my previous sewing machine I had separate blindstitch and stitch-in-the-ditch feet which were very similar. Do I need a separate foot? Or do I give up stitching in the ditch in favour of top stitching? I like both finishes but often like the simplicity of the stitching-in-the-ditch.
Worn with jumper outside skirt
I didn't do photo with blouse tucked in as waistband too large and blouse wouldn't stay in place.

The join between yoke and skirt is somewhat lumpy - I didn't press again when I realised I would be taking part again.

This shows my beautifully lined inside

Side view - I need to go an a diet today!!

I like the skirt and feel sure I will have a very wearable skirt in a useful colour. Unfortunately, it remains rather too large in the waist. As the fabric is so lovely, I think it will be worthwhile unpicking (again!) and redrawing a correctly fitting yoke which will have proportionately more taken out the top waistline edge compared to bottom upper hip edge. I've had to take tucks on the top part of a band previously when doing this kind of yoke.

I'm not sure whether to wash or dry clean in the future.

I went to Harrogate a couple of weeks ago, to the Knitting and Stitching Show, and brought back a few (!) pieces of wool fabric, all of which will fit into my wardrobe and for which I have plans. I originally wanted to get fabric to make trousers to match the jacket I made but I haven't managed that as yet - I took a sample with me but was unable to get a solid colour to match one of the flecks in the wool. There is enough left over of the jacket fabric to make a skirt so I may do that. One of the fabrics I bought will go nicely with this grey skirt, perhaps making up a jacket - but as it's a check, I don't really feel that I'm capable of that just yet. Maybe I should stick to a vest.

I've signed up for 'continuation' dressmaking techniques for next term when we'll be doing 5 weeks trouser making skills and then have 5 weeks to complete a pair of trousers. I have some lovely fabrics. I'm looking forward to this as trousers have been on my to do/wish list for a long time.


  1. I love taking classes - it's great learning something new isn't it? I am looking forward to seeing your trousers!

  2. Yes, I'm enjoying my classes. I do love learning new things too - that goes for my bridge classes as well. I'm looking forward to doing trousers properly. And to have trousers that fit properly... I can't wait! There will need to be more time spent on the fitting process compared to the skirt. Thank you for your comment.

  3. I can't comment on the technical aspects of feet for machines - my machine is basic. I do have to make sure everything is properly positioned or I will get stitch in the ditch that looks okay on the right side, but not okay on the inside. And often the stitch picker comes out!

    Looks like you are enjoying the classes - and I find it interesting to discover how people prefer to learn. I'm a jump right in and read the instructions after type of person (creative) while you operate (it seems to me, and I could be wrong!) by preferring to know what is what first and then proceeding. A retired surgeon I know works in this way - she wanted to learn how to paint, and really found it difficult to just pick up the paints and play a bit with them - she wanted formal rules and principles right from the word go. But then, I don't think that pick it up and play sort of approach would have worked in her previous field of endeavor!

    The skirt looks good though for a first attempt at this sort of garment. Over time you will get the feel and nuance of what you are doing. It just takes lots of practice.

  4. Yep - there are all sorts of learning styles, some more suitable for certain fields than others! Or maybe people with certain styles are attracted towards particular fields... You have me partly pegged, but there is also the give it a go creative bit that has been kept on a leash for years but came out periodically in my knitting, paintings etc. I'm trying to approach my technique classes in a non-creative sense, to build the basics. Maybe I should throw caution to the winds occasionally (though it has often worked out badly, be warned!!) Thanks for commenting


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