Sunday, 15 January 2017

Hacking a Red Silk Dress for Helen - part 1. The original. And I'm Slimmer of the Week!


A long time ago, Helen bought herself a sandwashed silk dress in red. She loves this dress and has worn it again and again over the years. Its cost per wear is negligible as it has been worn so many times. I would say worn to death, indeed, but as Miracle Max said in the Princess Bride, it's not dead yet, just nearly dead!
Helen wearing the original red silk dress under a kimono - I don't have a photo of her wearing it on its own

Front on Missy*. The front is one piece
*for those not aware, Missy is the model we altered to my daughter's sizes when I was making her wedding dress last year. She's not perfect but not too bad. Helen did change shape for the wedding and lost a little weight , don't know where she had it to lose, but is probably back nearer to Missy's size again. Their shapes have never matched perfectly.

Back on Missy. Bodice has centre and two princess seams and waistline casing with tie, over seam.
You can see the pocket from the back as it crosses over the side seam.
The back waistline is clearly too high on the original but I can't show that here
There is no lining in this dress. The seams are overlocked together, folded to one side and topstitched in a double row - is that a mock fell seam? The hems is simply turn up and the raw edge turned under. It is badly worn, with separation of the layers at the fold.

Fraying at hem fold
From my point of view, the biggest issue is with the pockets. There is a pretty large gusset pocket (not sure of description) on each side,  with a flap. There are metal poppets for closure. The flap is two layers of silk, but not apparently interfaced. The flap gets very creased and its shape has distorted somewhat. The pocket had a simple double turned hem (or more likely bias binding turned to wrong side) at its open edge but the poppets are placed below this. Not surprisingly, there are a number of holes in areas of strain.

Overall pocket view

Pocket with flap opened. There is only a single layer of silk where the poppets are - they sit below the hemmed edge.

David's hand in pocket showing gusset

Closer view of flap

Silk torn around poppet as no reinforcing of any kind here

Helen asked me to hack this dress for her Christmas (instead of the tartan skirt I had planned).  I agreed but said
  1. I need to borrow the dress. Helen agreed provided that the dress wouldn't be destroyed by my hacking.
  2. It won't be ready for Christmas

Helen initially said the dress was just ‘perfect’ but then said she'd like the waist position 1”/2.5cm lower. However she said the length was perfect and she didn't want it any longer.

My first task was to get some matching red sandwashed silk (or bottle green as a second choice). I didn't manage on line so planned to visit Goldhawk Road in early December when I was in London for a few days. In the event, Helen wasn't able to go with me, as intended. However, I took the dress with me and matched up some silk. Helen saw the silk at Christmas and said it’s ideal.

I've washed the silk so that Helen can wash the dress rather than paying expensive dry cleaning bills.  The silk isn't ruined. I didn't measure before and after. I think it should be fine. There is ingrained staining on the crinkled bias bound edges of the original.

The neckline edge isn't that well sewn

Ingrained staining. This is inside of neckline, showing selg bias binding strip.

I then looked at the dress carefully.
Armhole dart
The front part is one piece with a small dart from armhole towards bust on each side,  no waistband plus two gusseted pockets with flaps,  closed by poppets.

The back is 5 pieces - skirt, centre back bodice x2 and side back bodice x 2 - plus a waist casing and tie

The seams are overlocked and top stitched.
The bottom hem is simply folded over,  approximately 1” deep
The armholes and necklines are double folded narrow hems,  as is the pocket edging or more likely bias binding. I'm going with bias binding
The pockets cross over the side seams so will have to be added at the end
This was a little more complex than I realised at first!

I carefully laid out the dress and pinned through the seams into paper. With wearing,  there had of course been some fabric distortion. Fortunately,  the dress is symmetrical - when I was hacking an asymmetrical dress for myself, it proved very complex to get the pieces matching;  in fact I haven't managed yet but plan to move it on in February when Nikki,  one of my co-students, and I will be attending a pattern hacking session. I can true up my pattern there.

After I drew out my first attempt,  I altered and trued it. I did this in my sewing bee and had available help from Rory and Dan.

Helen had asked that the waistline be moved down 1” but that the dress length remain unchanged. I therefore then lengthened the bodice pieces by inserting paper into the pattern on the back bodice pieces only and removed that amount from the back skirt. Distortion around the waist seam caused me some problems. It wasn't clear whether this seam should be curved or straight and this would have to be sorted out at toile stage. I made it curved in this rendition,  longer in centre back, shorter towards the sides.

With Dan's help, I trued the pattern. I managed to cut out the main pattern pieces but didn't, however, get a chance to sew up the toile until after Helen arrived for Christmas.

I haven't shown any photos of the pattern cutting process but will if I'm asked.

Helen tried on the toile on Boxing Day. This is a loose fitting dress,  but even so,  this appeared rather too loose at the back so I agreed to take the princess seams in just a little. I don't think I took any photos of that, stupidly - at least I can't find them

Helen felt that she would like the waist seam even lower. I had pinned out the curve I had drawn into the back bodice, thereby shortening it in the centre but this looks like it was the correct length to start with. On the pattern, I lengthened the sides to match.  This means that the waistline will be straight rather than curved.

Interestingly, Helen decided that she liked the length she tried the toile on at. It didn't have the hems sewn, so basically I need to add additional length. I did that while sorting out the waistline.

Helen wanted to keep the pockets the same as in the original. She doesn't use them,  rather they are decorative (why then have they been torn?). Rory had advised interfacing in the pockets but Helen didn't want this,  at least not in the pocket body. She reluctantly agreed to a very soft interfacing in the pocket flap. Even that took a little work.

I drew out the pocket pattern and Helen checked the sizing for me.  The pocket,  I think, will be the most complex part of this but I will get any required help from Rory and Dan. I took photos of the red dress and thought Helen would take it back with her, but she decided to leave it for  reference. The above photos are new ones I took today, Sunday 5 January, as I'm posting this first part.

My first steps are:
  • Preparing the silk fabric - done
  • Altering pattern and truing again - done
  • Making a test pocket (this is the bit that scares me) - done, though not attached
  • All that before I cut into the silk and make the bias binding


I've had two sewing bees since Christmas. I had altered the pattern before going along but asked for a quick check of it. I then went ahead and cut out my pattern pieces from dark green crepe. I said to Helen that I'd like to make another dress, a wearable toile if you like but designed to practice all the components, and offered her blue silk-like material or dark green crepe. She chose that even knowing the fabric was thicker and spongier.

So the red silk dress I was making us now a green crepe dress. Bear with me!

The first few steps of construction caused me no problems. Then I ran into some issues:
The fabric is too thick to have French (?) bias binding at armhole and neckline. Is it French bias binding where you attach on right side, turn to wrong side etc and stitch? I’ve decided to go with commercial bias tape, after trying out various techniques, and following advice at my sewing bees. Helen doesn't mind as it won't show. The red dress will have self fabric as that is much finer and will crease better.
I had allowed 1 cm seam allowances including at the top of the pocket. Rory advised a double turned edge with interfacing for stability. I did that but the resulting fabric was difficult to turn nearly and stitch. I did manage though

I spent Wednesday evening in class constructing a pocket. One of the other students is a professional upholsterer. She showed me how to do lovely boxed edges,  like you get on chair cushions, which applied to my design. I did one in class and have since done the other at home. The original is edgestitched and I'm going to try that but this fabric is awkward. Here is a taster of my next post on the dress.

Pocket for green dress, wrong side. Pocket edge has been double folded and top stitched. The gusset has been attached and raw wedges overlocked. The hand stitching is holding the pressed edges together ready for edgestitching
Slimmer of the week

In other news - I was Slimmer of the week at Slimming World on Thursday past! I joined between Christmas and New Year, lost 2 lbs in my first week and 4 lbs in my second. So only 1 lb to go to my half stone award. I'm particularly pleased as we were still entertaining for part of that time and using up Christmas goodies. I'm happy to say I'm already starting to feel rather better - more lively, less sluggish. I got a step counter for Christmas and I'm still getting nowhere near a reasonable number of steps in a day. No wonder I was gaining weight even on a reasonably healthy diet! But small steps as they say! I'd like to lose 2 lbs per week if possible as that seems a safe and reasonable amount. So for my birthday in 26 weeks I should have lost everything I want to - but I know it doesn't go like that and gets harder and harder. I'm feeling really rather inspired just now!


  1. This is an interesting challenge. As I read the post I thought - I suspect Helen might like it a little longer once the waist is dropped. There you go! The pockets look really challenging. And well done on the weight loss Anne - people speak very highly of Slimmers World.

    1. Thank you. It is an interesting challenge. I think I've worked it out but the thicker fabric makes everything more difficult than it would be in a finer fabric such as silk.

  2. Wow! Silk is such a beautiful fabric but I find a pain to sew. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

    1. Thanks, Annie. I've just posted the finished toile so after Helen comments on fit (I'll post tomorrow), I can think about starting the silk dress. I am a bit scared about the silk because it is much less well behaved than the sandwashed silk crepe I used for Helen's wedding dress.


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