Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Helen finally got her green silk dress today - and loves it!

Helen in finished dress
You may remember that last year at this time, I made a red silk dress for Helen, which was a  tribute (near identical clone) to a beloved but almost dead designer dress which she loved. That cloned dress has been worn LOTS, Helen tells me. She says it is better than the original. That was my intention as I tried to minimise the areas which would experience wear. You can read about it if you wish in last year's posts.

               Original designer dress

Last year's red dress, outside 

Last year's red dress, inside - colour not quite right
She asked for one of these dresses in any colour I cared to sew. She agreed to a slight lengthening of the dress skirt with each iteration. Even she’s getting older!

Earlier in the year, I bought green silk to make this dress for Helen’s birthday (30th) in late November. Helen’s best colour is a lovely emerald green. I also bought some in blue/green silk - I liked the colour which would suit me but wasn't sure whether Helen would. She liked that too.

I fully intended to get it done weeks ago but - well, life! I did manage to adjust the pattern and work out my steps, which is an improvement on winging it I’m sure you’ll agree! And yes, okay, I’d been putting it off!

I washed and dried the silk but when I went to press it ready to cut out, I found horrible whitish patches all over the fabric at regular intervals. To cut a long story short, I rewashed twice more and finally concluded that this was an intrinsic flaw in the fabric - or at least a permanent flaw. As the marks were at regular linear intervals, I wondered at first whether this fabric had been too long on the bolt and had experienced fading, but realised that wouldn't work as an explanation because it would only be the outside of the bolt which would be affected. I was going to cut out trying to avoid the patches but this was going to be virtually impossible. Fortunately, they are much less obvious on the side of the fabric which became the right side. After discussing with David and with Helen, I decided to go ahead.

Oh, the blue fabric was exactly the same! I had thought I’d just make the blue one instead. I bought the red fabric from the same retailer and is was absolutely fine, but I won’t be going back there. Does anyone have a recommendation for decent quality sandwashed silk in a variety of colours? I took care to try to avoid as many of the marks as I could and I THINK I succeeded.

I hoped to finish for Helen's birthday but I found the process of cutting out difficult. At the time I was in a moon boot and this made it awkward and painful on my foot and my back. So the whole process was very slow but I felt went well with no major marks on the fabric to cause concern. After cutting out, I stay stitched the armholes and neckline and sewed the small bust darts. I’m not going into much in the way of detail because I did first time around last year at this time - it’s on my blog over a number of instalments.

I sewed the back bodice, which has four pieces, like princess seams. Each seam is overlocked and then top stitched. No issues.

Back of (completed dress) dress; princess seamed bodice; waist casing

Back of dress

Then the pockets, which I find quite tricky. As this fabric seemed so much ‘thinner’ than the last one, I decided I needed to interface the pocket front as well as having an interfaced facing behind the poppets to provide some strength - this was one of the places the original RTW dress failed. Incidentally, Helen told me that she finally threw the original dress out (I’d rather she had given it to me but never mind - she likes my version, which is superior and it would just be more stuff to look after!).

I slipped up with one pocket and cut the band too short so I had to unpick (understitching too!) and redo. However, apart from that this went okay. I also made the interfaced pocket flaps.

It's just as well I had more fabric than I needed as I had to redo that pocket band and later the bias strips.

I then attached the pockets to the front dress using a matching edge stitch to that around the junction of band and top pocket. No problems. The most important thing here is to have the placement very clearly marked - I thought I had but it could have been better, it turned out. I think that despite my care in cutting out there might have been a bit of slippage.

You can see the side seam above and below the pocket
The pockets are attached to both front and back dress but I was originally advised by Rory, when I was doing the last dress, that it would be easier to attach to the front dress before the front is sewn to the back and then add the back piece which is a much smaller piece. I found it easier this time as the interfaced pocket behaved much better. However, I have always thought these pockets are too heavy for the dress (but Helen likes them and they are copied from the original RTW dress) - and the interfacing makes them heavier still, but at least they stay in shape!

I attached the back bodice to the back skirt (front is all one piece). Between the bodice and the skirt, sitting across the waistline seam, is a casing to take a self fabric belt. This is attached to back and crosses the seam line to the front. So, again, I attached to the back within a few inches of the seam and left the front until after the side seams were sewn.

These are sewn, carefully keeping the pocket and  waistband casing out of the way, then overlocked (serged) and pressed to the back.

Front of (completed) dress
The back skirt, like the front, has to be carefully marked as the pocket is now attached across the seamline as is the belt casing. No major issues. I also joined the dress at the shoulders. I didn’t find it helpful to attach the pocket flap before joining so that was next.

I felt I could be running out of thread so I next did the hem - the edge is overlocked, turned up 1” and top stitched. I had also made the belt.

So things appeared to be going reasonably well - all that was left were bias binding facing around neckline and armholes and the poppets, which David was going to be helping me with. The dress appeared to have picked up some stains so my plan was to finish it, wash it and post it special delivery for Helen's birthday. As Scotland’s national bard said "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" Mine certainly did.

Over the course of all my previous stitching, I had had no major issues, even through multiple layers. I was using a microtex 70 machine needle.

I prepared my bias strip facing from self fabric and attached it to the neckline and armholes. I then understitched, trimmed, folded etc. A small issue was that my bias strips weren’t all the same width - somewhere, my cutting width changed but I didn’t think this was hugely important. (I had actually redone these once already - I found cutting slim bias strips from this silk very awkward indeed!

I couldn’t, just couldn’t, sew the top stitch required to hold the bias in place behind the neckline and armholes. I tried and tried. I used different needles. Even a different machine (I wondered if the noise the needle made going through the fabric could be a machine problem). Different feet. Single hole stitch plate. No joy. The problem, I believe, is that this fabric is like tissue paper made of steel! The needle had to make a huge effort to get through the multiple layers of fabric at the neck edge (I could hear the effort!), two of them bias if that makes a difference, and I believe that this adversely affected the stitch feed. I tried dual feed and tissue with no joy. Sandra Betzina in her book ‘Fabric Savvy’ suggests a jeans needle size 80 H-J for thicker sandwashed silk. I tried that but no joy. I was very reluctant to go bigger as I wasn’t sure if the holes in the fabric would heal. Oh, I also tried different foot pressures and machine fabric program settings. I tried sewing both from the font and the back of the fabric.

So, I realised that Helen wasn't going to get her dress for her birthday - I could have hashed and bashed but I didn’t feel that was satisfactory. It was going to have to be for Christmas.

I took lots of advice. The first advice came from those who hadn’t seen the dress. They ranged from using tissue paper - hammering the fabric flat (it’s not that bulky just steel-like!) - walking foot etc. I was very grateful for all the suggestions made.  I asked Lyn at sewing bee her opinion - I took the dress so she was able to see and I demonstrated the issue on some scraps. I liked that she didn’t have an immediate solution. She suggested taking out my tacking which I had used to keep the bias in place for stitching and trimming the under layers as much as possible - way more than I had done, in order to reduce the thickness - some of my stitching was going through many layers as by trying to keep the stitching at the same width on both armholes and neckline, this was a bit narrower than ideal. She thought I could perhaps gently hammer the seams only but advised against either the ¼” foot I had tried to use and would have liked to have used or a walking foot and also advised that I sew closer to the folded bias edge. In her experience, she felt that my rather narrow bias required a foot sitting as much as possible on the fabric. So it turned out.

Two other things she commented on - one was that the fabric didn’t seem quite right for sandwashed silk (I had wondered about this but my experience is very limited); the other was that she thought my stitch marks would disappear. I do hope so as they are unsightly and uneven both in length and in course.

We carried out a burn test and the fabric is definitely silk.

I took a break from the dress. Helen was going on holiday immediately after her birthday so I just needed to get it ready for Christmas.

I was in danger of putting it off again!

I made some tests on scrap fabric to see what would work best. I trimmed away even more of the enclosed seam allowance towards the understitching. I found that the best result was using my #1 dual feed foot fully placed on the bias strip with the needle (a size 70 microtex) offset the appropriate amount. This worked! My ¼” foot didn't work as the support just isn’t there (sadly as I need the stitch guide to keep at the same width) . I stitched over the earlier stitch holes in the armholes which is narrower than ideal but each armhole was the same. I sewed wider, towards the folded edge, on the neckline. It's far from perfect but I have zero options for improving it. I don't have any photos of the inside.

I learned that it is important to get your bias strips the same width! And how important it is to trim well.

Getting close to the end!

The next step was fixing the poppets onto the pockets.

I marked them up and asked David to do the fixing - I helped but didn’t do the actual banging. This worked well. I do like the SnapSetter snap attaching tool - it works really well.

In the course of this, I found a few loose threads which I needed to tie off and thought that was all - until I remembered that I hadn’t edge stitched the belt! I wasn’t completely happy with the belt but didn’t have enough long pieces of fabric to re-do it.

I was getting the dress ready to wrap but decided it could do with a wash as there were a couple of greasy looking marks on the front. The dress and fabric by this time felt quite nice - not the steel tissue I had been working with. I wish I hadn’t washed it (though I didn’t want Helen to have to go to dry cleaners all the time and why should you with a sandwashed silk dress that had been washed a few times already?). Why do I say this? The fabric of the pocket that was backed with interfacing became quite orange-skinned. I don't know if this is the interfacing shrinking or whether I hadn't put it on properly. I pressed it and it looks and feels better but I don’t have the same very positive feelings for this dress that I did for the red one last year.

Fingers crossed that Helen will get some use from it.

Christmas Day

It's a little longer than the last one

Helen loves the dress and thinks it’s ‘perfect’ though she agrees with me that as the fabric is thinner than the last one and a bit see through that she’d be better wearing a slip.

What colour next? I think I'd be best interlining fabric - what do you think?


  1. Well done Anne , it looks wonderful, and suits Helen very much xx

  2. Well done Anne, she looks great in her new dress :-)

    1. Thanks, Margaret. I've loved your posts (you're so prolific!!). Best wishes for a Happy New Year

  3. Perseverance has paid off - each garment brings it's own set of problems. She looks lovely. I was wondering what colour next year too!

    1. Thanks, Sarah Liz. That's not the first time this year I've made the 'same' pattern with the 'same' fabric and run into problems! I'm not sure what colour next. Maybe I'll try a peachskin fabric, though, in a suitable shade for an autumn (I suppose she's that as she has dark hair, dark eyes and so suits green) but not brown as she dislikes it - sad as I'm sure she would look great in it.

  4. Lovely Anne and well worth all your hard work. I've just finished a silk blouse and for such a soft, drapy fabric it is an absolute **** to sew. You're right, it's made of steel not silk! I ended up using a quilting machine needle.

    1. Thanks, Ruth. You've been sewing up a lot of lovely garments. I agree about this silk; the silk for Helen's wedding dress was a dream to sew though the lining was verrrry tricky.


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