Monday, 3 August 2015

My beautiful bright Birthday dress and jacket

Patterns by New look and Simplicity

This is my first ever blog for Minerva Crafts Blogger Network, and I cannot tell you how excited I am. I have been sewing for more years than I care to remember and I trained as a Tailor when my elder son was a baby.
Now let me tell you something, I have a birthday coming up, a big birthday, a HUGE birthday,  I am to be 60 on 31st May. The thing is I am rather proud of it. So much so that I am turning into one of those eccentric women who are forever saying " I am 60 you know".
So, when it came to deciding what to make it was easy, I need a dress to wear on my birthday. Not just any dress you know, a dress with personality and well, noticeable.
I think that this outfit fits the bill nicely. It is certainly bright and colourful and will look great when I go out to dinner wearing it. More about that later!

When choosing what I should make for you I wanted  to show you some simple couture techniques which I hope you will find interesting and useful.
What is couture sewing? A couture garment is made to fit its owner and nobody else.The perfect fit comes from endless fittings and the garment is made so that it is perfectly proportioned for the owners body, with seams and trimmings positioned in just the correct place for that person.
The garment is first made up as a toille where the adjustments and placings of patterns and trim are decided before the main fabric is even cut.
During construction a lot of the sewing is done by hand, hundreds of tacking stitches will be used before the seam is finally stitched and pressed. It is the hand sewing which distinguishes Couture from high-end ready to wear.
In addition, luxury fabrics are  used and trimmings are often hand made just for the one garment.
Dresses are not usually lined and somebody not used to a couture dress may be surprised at the "unfinished" look inside. Linings add bulk and may spoil the drape of the dress. Instead you will see interlinings, which add body and stability to the garment. You also may see stays and bra strap holders which are all designed to hold the garment in place.As we make our dress I will explain the process to you and you can then choose if you wish to follow it or not. There won't be anything complicated I promise.

I have chosen this pattern by NewLook  because it has a full skirt which I love and an interesting neckline. I will be making the lower neck version.

The link to the Simplicity web site is here

The fabric is a viscose print from Minerva Crafts.


Cutting out the bodice

Choose your size according to your actual measurements not your shop bought dress size. This is because retailers have altered the sizing and shape of clothes a lot over the past years so what was a size 10 in the 60s  may well now be a size 14 in some shops!
You may be horrified to find that your pattern size is 2 or 3 sizes larger than your normal dress size. DO NOT PANIC. There are no size lables in bespoke garments. Garments made to measure fit like a glove and are therefore totally flattering to the wearer.
Once you have determined your pattern size then it is time to think about cutting out.

Couture dresses are likely to be interlined and that is exactly what I am going to do.
My fabric will drape nicely in the skirt part but there is not enough substance to the bodice to give it structure.
I chose a lightweight cotton voille  for my interlining because it will add a little stiffness to the bodice without adding bulk.
A couture dress will have had a muslin made first and many fittings would be done.
I will forgive you if you want to use your interlining as the toille.This is what I am doing.
Cut your interlining out leaving extra seam allowances at the sides for fitting purposes.


Mark the seam lines and darts with tailors tacks. Tack the darts in place. For ease of trying on tack the shoulders, one side and the back together, leaving one side open. 
Try it on , pin the side along the seam allowances and take a good hard look.

I needed to make some adjustments. The side seam needed taking  in at the top of the seam and letting out at the bottom.
in addition the neckline was too large and was gaping.To solve this I added small darts at the back  neck, level with the waist darts to form a smooth line.
I was still not happy with it and at this stage I was so pleased that I was working on the toille and not the real thing, so I abandoned the low neckline  and cut out a new front. This time it fit perfectly. This is the wonderful part of sewing a toille first, you can experiment until it is right for you.

As you can see I had to make quite a few adjustments which shows the importance of making a toille and fitting the garment before cutting the fabric.

This is the front before I decided to use the alternative pattern piece. As you can see it does not lie flat and gapes when wearing it. This is mainly  because I have very narrow shoulders.
Eventually I was ready to cut the main fabric out.

Take the toille apart transferring all the adjustments to the fabric, use them when cutting out your fabric.

Referring to the toille (or interlining as it is now,) cut out the bodice fabric pieces.

Stitch the interlining to the shell with a small running stitch. The fabric should now be as one with no stretching or bubbling. Ignore the fact that you have two fabrics from now on, treat them as one.

Form the pleats in the bodice and stitch the darts. This is the right side

And this is what the wrong side looks like. 

Join the shoulder and side seams with tacking stitches. Try on again and if you are happy with the fit continue and stitch the seams by machine.
Press every seam as you sew it by the way. If you do that you will be assured of a professional  looking garment.
A couture garment will have the darts slashed and pressed open and then the edges neatened with tiny slip stitches.
 I pressed the seams open and overlocked them individually, I will explain why later. You should slip stitch the bodice seams by hand or turn under narrow hems and machine sritch them.Overlocking them together adds bulk.
You can now go ahead and add the facings and neaten the armholes with bias binding. Press every seam as it is finished by the way.
the next thing to do is to make the skirt. Tack all the pieces together and try it on. Make your adjustments and once you are perfectly happy stitch the seams by machine leaving tbe back seam open.
The skirt is fitted separately,  as this is a very flared skirt, I measured the waist and added extra seam allowances so that there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. The skirt is not being interlined you will be pleased to know. There is a lot of fabric in it and it hangs beautifully. There are many different seam finishes you could use, from slip stitching by hand through to Hong Kong seams where the seams are bound with a hand made binding - beautiful, but not necessary on such a wide skirt I don't think. I overlocked mine, but you choose whatever method you like best.
Join the bodice to the skirt.

Put in the invisible zip ensuring that all seams match and that the top edges are level. Add a hook and eye closure at the top.
A couture garment would have a zip sewn in by hand by the way, but for those of you who read my blogs you will know that I have Parkinsons which affects my hands so a lot of hand sewing is not easy and I now look for alternatives.

The dress is more or less finished now, but I do like to add my own touch so I made a bow and stitched it to the front of the dress.
I hemmed mine by overlocking the edge and turning it up half an inch and machining it in place. You may want to hand sew your hem in place or use a bias binding facing.

So, that is the dress finished.  But then I thought, what can I wear with it? It might be cooler walking back along the shoreline after dinner. Oh, did I not tell you? I going to my favourite restaurant for dinner, which just happens to be in Lanzarote! It was a surprise from my other half!
So anyway, I could not find anything in my wardrobe, but I did have some cerise lining fabric in my stash which gave me an idea.....
Vicki kindly sent me another metre of the fabric and I cut out a jacket.

It is another NewLook pattern,(link to the Simplicity web site is above) This pattern  is unlined but putting a lining in is fairly easy so that is what I did.
I am not going to talk much about how I made the jacket now because one of my future posts is going to be just that, but if you do have any questions please ask.

You can see the lining and the tacking stitches where the buttons will go.
Again, I made a toille first and adjusted the jacket neckline so that it exactly matched the neckline of the dress.
Bright pink buttons match the lining perfectly. Little touches like this make a whole lot of difference.

We have finished the outfit now. The little jacket will be so useful as I will be able to wear it with my black linen trousers on another night out.

If  I was to give you any advice it would be this. Make a toille each and every time you use a new pattern. Couture sewing is all about making a garment which fits like a glove and it really is well worth the effort involved. If your garment fits well it will be easy to wear and will flatter your figure, whatever your shape.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this. I love sewing and started the blog just over a year ago because I wanted to pass my knowledge on to others. I have been amazed at the success of it all!


Click under to see the blog post on  and the trip to Lanzarote when I wore the dress on my 60th Birthday


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