Friday, 29 December 2017

Helen's red silk dress is finished! Red silk dress part 5. Designin' December entry.

The finished dress, taken indoors with flash, yesterday
Original Designer Dress Inspiration

I posted about this nearly a year ago! Part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 - so this is part 5! Briefly, Helen had an RTW red silk dress that she loved and was on its last legs even then - though she continues to wear it to this day! (I started writing this earlier in the month - edited to say the dress finally died on Christmas Day this year. Great timing!) I made a pattern from her dress and made up a toile in green. Helen liked the toile and regularly wears that dress still. It was meant as a wearable toile, though, and wasn’t completed to the finest standards. I  practised the pocket which was the main reason for the toile.

This is Helen wearing the original designer dress
A photo of the green toile on Missy

Rather belatedly, I decided to ask Helen if this had been a designer dress, expecting the answer ‘no’. In fact, her dress was by Markus Lupfer, bought from Net a Porter in a sale in 2011 for £90. The cost per wear is virtually zero as she has literally worn this dress to death, which is why I am recreating it - as, admittedly, has been on the cards for a year. In previous posts (linked above) I show the dress on Helen and some of its wear problems (worse now as she is still wearing it a year on; edited - see above that the dress has finally expired) and a toile I made to test my pattern of it. This means, though, that I can participate in Linda of Nicedressthanksimadeit’s Designin’ December challenge with this copy of a designer dress. However, I cannot participate in MAGAM, which is linking with Designin’ December as the dress is not for me. The only change from the original is for fit. Helen is 6' and needed the waist dropped by about 1" (I can't remember the exact amount - that will no doubt be on my posts), however, she was happy with the length and asked for the skirt to be shortened by the amount I had lengthened the bodice

Photos of the original dress from website:

I bought red sandwashed silk months ago and had originally planned to make the dress at that time as a very late Christmas 2016 present but life gets in the way! Then I planned to make it for Helen’s birthday at the end of November, but I didn’t manage that either.
I confess that there was a very large part of fear in this! I had drawn the pattern pieces to cut out with the fabric in a single layer but was still scared. I asked Rory’s advice re laying out the fabric.

The original dress lacks any stabilisation or interfacing but this one needs to have some inserted ‘invisibly’ to allow any support for the poppets. Oh, and that was another issue - the poppets I used on the green dress didn’t stay poppeted, Helen told me.

So roll forward to the beginning of December. I looked out the pattern and asked Rory to check it for true-ness (is that a word?). There were a couple of minor changes needed. I hadn’t been entirely happy with the pocket placement on the green dress (not to mention they are lopsided imo) so spent some time drawing out a better placement while keeping the essence of what Helen wants as per original pocket.

I had taken advice from Rory on how best to cut out my fabric - I was scared to do it and had been putting it off and off and off. I also read about how to cut silk. Rory strongly advised against trying the starch trick. I had made Helen’s wedding dress which was sandwashed silk crepe  but a much heavier weight and relatively well behaved. This fabric is a different beast!!

I’ll gloss over the next bit! Despite my care and help from David, my cutting (rotary cutter and mat) is far from perfect and the front hem looked like the rocky road to Dublin. I didn’t have enough fabric to redo. In any case, I wasn’t sure if I would get it any better a second time!

I spent a long time carefully marking the pocket placement on the dress.

Because the pockets cross the side seam and it was previously difficult to sew on once the dress was made up, I decided to make the front plus pockets sewn short off the seam, joined front to back and continue the pocket stitching over the side seam, as I did with the trial dress.

I decided to start with the back of the dress. The bodice is in 4 parts, princess seams. I sewed these up and then pressed  and then overlocked and pressed seams to one side as per original and top stitched. I thought it was looking good but the topstitched princess seams appear twisted or puckered, apparently this is called ‘roping’. Still, the original was like this I seem to remember, so I carried on. Rory said there is little I can do about this. The next step was attaching the back skirt, which I carried out without any hitches.

I then attached the casing on top of the waist seam by edge stitching. Admittedly not at the first attempt! I wasted some fabric here. Again the ends weren’t attached at that stage as they also go to the front.

The pockets caused me a lot of grief. I found I couldn’t remember exactly how I went about doing them. They are cargo type pockets with flaps and poppets and are a main feature of the dress (or I certainly wouldn’t have done them!) I tried to cut out the gusset part using the silk on the bias but it would not cooperate! I spoke to Rory who suggested that I had previously used straight grain and that bias would be tricky. So I cut out on the straight grain. I was originally hoping that I could use the bias cut strips I had cut for the pocket, but didn't use, for the bias binding around neck and armholes but that didn’t work out.

The original pockets have no stabilisation but this is required and I added to the last dress but this time around, I couldn’t quite work out how I did it so that Helen wouldn’t see it!

I had used tailor’s tacks to mark the pocket placement but I wasn’t  sure this was good enough so I thread traced. I was still not sure this would work as the fabric is so shifty!

Pocket position marked on dress front (similar on back - rest of pocket)
I wasn't sleeping very well at that stage. Instead of counting sheep, I would go over dressmaking techniques and try to solve the problems I was facing. I’m not sure it got me to sleep but I did sometimes solve problems! Or at least, find dressmaking solutions. I realised that I had to fit an interfaced facing to the top of the pocket. I know Helen is not keen on that, but needs must! Anyway, the pocket flap would largely cover this. Further, I realised that I would have to finish the exposed fabric edges inside the pocket (by overlocking) as this silk frays a lot. Lastly, I planned my bias edging.

In sewing bee the next day I received confirmation from Rory that my thinking was okay. She recognised that I was procrastinating because of fear and reiterated that there was no need. So I went ahead and created my box/cargo pockets ‘perfectly’. Yes, there were a couple of issues - I attached the facing to the wrong side of the pockets but decided to keep it that way as both had been done and understitched and the difference between 'wrong side' and 'right side' isn't noticeable, at least to me!. Rory suggested that I bag the top of the gusset with the facing and demonstrated how to do that. This makes for a neater finish, less likely to fray. Last time around I was most unhappy about this particular element. This also meant that I didn't need to overlock, after all, which would have been bulkier.

In class, I finished my pockets to the point of needing edge stitching, ready to attach to the dress.

I showed Rory my rather sine-wave-like hem and she said not to worry as the dress would drop anyway, especially with heavy pockets attached to it. I placed it on Missy (see other posts - the model I made for Helen when I was making her wedding dress) for a few days before completing the hem

Pockets basted on dress front - see the squiggly bottom cut line

Pockets, front of dress

  • In class, I had already attached the strip for the cargo/gusset pocket to the pocket on all sides bar the diagonal opening. The diagonal opening was backed with interfaced facing and understitched. This facing concealed some of the possible raw edges
  • I then pressed the seams, folded carefully on the edge and pressed and basted the edges together. I ended up doing a lot of hand tacking. It takes time but saves me from making mistakes so it's worth it.
  • Along the diagonal fold, I stitched at ¼”. I found this surprisingly difficult! I had to make several attempts. It's fortunate that the bits at the start are concealed by the flap!
  • Then around the seam line of the main pocket bag, I edge stitched with my needle set to the maximum offset ‘5’ around all sides.
  • The loose side, to be attached to the dress, was overlocked and I stitched a marking line of stitching at 1 cm, the seam allowance. I then folded and pressed along the line and, yes, hand basted in place.
  • Now I was glad that I had marked and thread traced the position for the pockets on the dress!
  • I pinned the pocket in place, hand basted and sewed to the front of the dress, stopping well short of the side seams. Again I used an edge stitch at 5.
  • They seem even so I stitched up the side seams avoiding the pockets and the waist casing of course!! Then I pressed and overlocked the raw edges together and folded and pressed to the back. I think a French seam would be nice but the original has overlocked edges.
After I sewed up the seams, I attached the pocket to the back of the dress in the same way as I had to the front. In addition, I attached the waistband casing to the front across the seam. I realised that I should have attached the pocket flaps too, but I didn’t at that stage.

The pocket flaps are two layers of silk, one interfaced, sandwiched together and the whole edge stitched. In addition, I overlocked the raw edges which are attached to the dress.  I marked the poppet position. I flattened the dress as much as possible to see where the pocket edge lay. Although I had marked this previously, it wasn’t exactly the same. I put the pocket down wrong side up with the overlocked edge along the line of the pocket opening. I pinned and tacked and left it overnight, ready to stitch the pocket flap to the dress, turn over the flap in place and edge stitch.

Well, nothing is as easy as it seems! I managed to sew the first flap on successfully, but the second wasn’t right - I then found I’d caught the dress in with my stitching (I didn’t notice any change in the stitching). So I unpicked the second flap. Fortunately the needle marks eventually disappeared! I tried again. The two sides aren’t absolutely identical but I was worried about pulling out the stitching too often. A lesson learned here - although I had marked the points where I wanted to attach, they weren’t good enough.

Also, the gusset parts of the pockets appear puckered. Rory recommended a good press but clearly, although I practised, my choices of tension, stitch length, foot pressure etc weren’t perfect. Also, I didn’t use my dual feed at this point because of the foot I was using. Lesson learned.

Bias edgings
Although the bias binding was already cut for the armholes and neckline, I didn't have enough - fortunately I still had a piece of fabric left and was able to cut another strip. I folded the strips in two, sewed at 1 cm (⅜”) to the armholes and neckline, pressed, understitched, trimmed, pressed, topstitched. Help! Despite trying to be careful, I obviously stretched the bias. The neckline wasn’t lying properly - so this was something else I needed to ask advice about. Fortunately I still had one sewing bee left before Christmas where I could seek advice.

I also realised that I hadn’t cut the waist tie/belt which is pretty long and thought I might have to use elastic in the centre and fabric at the end as I might not have sufficient fabric left. However, I succeeded in cutting two strips to allow a long enough belt. The join won't show as it is inside the casing. No problems making the tie up. I couldn’t remember if the original belt had edge stitching - I asked Helen and it doesn’t.

End stages

Before I went to class, I decided to wash the dress again as a couple of my markers were showing (as far as I can see they washed out okay). I hoped that washing it might help the neckline lie flatter - forlorn hope, I fear. I asked Rory about that baggy neckline (could kick myself!). It was a bit better after washing (not pressed) and Rory said to use a cloth (I used silk organza) plus plenty of steam and press well. It was a lot better after that.

The dress was now all but finished. I had Missy wear it to see how much the hem dropped. The answer was quite a bit! I took the dress but not Missy to sewing bee (the last one before Christmas; my last chance for help with this dress) and put it on one of the models there to give me an idea of how the hem lay. Rory helped me level it. After that, at home, I overlocked the edges, pinned and tacked the 1” hem in place, pressed it and top stitched in place.

And of course, I still had to add the poppets. Helen was unhappy with the poppets on the toile so I did some research and asked questions and was given a recommendation - I had to send off to the States for these so I hope they are genuinely better! David helped me apply the poppets. No major problems.

I’ve learned that even if you have made a design previously, and even if it is your own pattern,there are still going to be tweaks and changes required. I don’t mean to the sizing as I really have no opportunity to test that out beyond learning that Helen is happy with the fit of the green dress, but rather the way of creating certain elements.

Final result

I thought the dress looked pretty good. Final press then I photographed it on Missy in case I wouldn't get photos on Helen. Helen braved the cold outside for these photos, complete with Christmas socks as it was too cold to take them off.

I gave it to Helen for her Christmas - we were having a late Christmas celebration on 27th, in Cambridge, hosted by my oldest daughter. It was lovely to see all 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law and 2 grandsons.

Helen's husband thought the dress was identical to the original. Helen tried it on the next day and even braved the icy weather outside to allow photos. Her comments were that it fitted better than the original (I had made some changes to original fit, mainly dropping the waist by 1”), that she had forgotten how nice the silk originally felt and that it was ‘perfect’. She had stopped using the pockets on the original and doesn't actually intend to use the pockets on this - but she was pleased to learn about the interfacing and felt that these poppets already felt much better and more secure.

Helen would love a wardrobe full of this dress in different colours. I asked if she wouldn't tire of it and she thought not. I'm a glutton for punishment I think! I offered to make a bottle green silk version. I confess I had offered even before Christmas! Helen has said that with each subsequent dress (!!!???), I can lengthen it a little to account for her maturing tastes as she gets older! She said that it would then eventually be at a length I would consider acceptable.

For my Christmas from David I got an edge stitching foot #10D suitable for use with my dual feed and I hope that will help me achieve a non-roped seam finish.

We came back home early, last night instead of today, because of weather warnings for today. It's a winter white wonderland outside.

I'm not going out today so can get some posts together. I have also linked here to previous posts so you can if you wish read about the earlier parts of the journey including pattern development.


  1. That was definitely a "labour of love"! What a nice Mom you are to make such a cute dress for your daughter. Just lovely!

    1. Thank you, Linda. Despite the silk problems, it was definitely easier because I had previously made a toile practising the tricky bits. I feel ready to make another, in sandwashed silk, and feel that I could well have the issues I faced resolved.

  2. It's a beautiful dress Anne! What a labour of love and a fabulous designer copy too.

    1. Thank you, Diane. I was pretty pleased with the outcome

  3. You copied the dress beautifully! I can imagine this in bottle green silk...! You will love the edgestitch foot #10, it makes edgestitching so much faster.Have a lovely sewing year 2018!

    1. Thank you. I have only just seen this comment as it had been sent to spam! I have bought the green silk and plan to make the dress for Helen's birthday in November. I've used the dual feed edge foot and it is great - better than the non dual feed version as I can get a wider margin


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