Project WD: And so it begins.

This is heads up to say there’ll be a fairly extended radio silence here as I bunker down to sew The Dress.

With everyone’s advice saying I should give myself more time than I think I need, I thought I’d start right now rather than next year!

I’ve hunted and gathered and now have everything I need to do this… including the book Bridal Couture (whilst the gowns may appear outdated, the basic techniques used certainly aren’t. This really is the reference book of all reference books.), the feature fabric - safely stowed (and regularly pulled out for admiration purposes) and of course the patterns… plural as I’m using the skirt from one pattern and the bodice from another. Both which will probably be altered along the way, but Toile #1 is currently traced, cutout and ready to be fitted.

Actually I ordered two patterns from Marfy – one of which was specifically a bridal pattern – as I was planning to franken-pattern the two together. When those arrived I got a fabulous surprise as they included a copy of their bridal pattern catalogue as a gift and a letter congratulating us on getting engaged – saying I could swap the pattern I’d ordered if I preferred any of the others in the catalogue. Thanks Marfy – you sure know how to make a girl swoon!

I adore the skirt proportions of the bridal pattern I got so I wasn’t going to give that up, but I was very, very tempted by the bodices of 3 of the dresses in there…. one of which I ended up ordering.

So, I thought I’d leave you all with some of my favourites from the catalogue, as well as some that just intrigue me. I love how they have a bit of everything when it comes to style, and even though many of the dresses aren’t me… I can still appreciate their fabulosity and the fact that for someone somewhere out there – it would be perfect. It would be such a boring place if we all liked exactly the same things!

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hello EIGHTIES!!! heehee!

S811 S820 S842 S843 S858 S859 S873 S881 S906 S908 S910 S912 S913 S921 S922 S923 S926 S948 S971 S975

Gorgeous, yes?

So whilst it’s going to be super quiet around here for the next 5 or so months (barring the next SewcieTea, which I’ll hope to start organising early in the new year), I’ll still be stalking you all and commenting of your creations of course! :)

See you guys sometime next year!

xo

V7975: Sherbert Bomb Chanel

And it is completed – Couture baby, woooooo!!

I enjoyed working on this garment so much more than I ever thought I would. The 8 other ladies I took Susan Khalje’s Classic French Jacket class with were an absolutely delight to work with, and I’m so looking forward to seeing theirs completed (come on girls!! I want pictures!!). Thank you guys so much for such a wonderful week!

But enough talk – here it is:

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Despite the seriously close fit in an unrelenting woven fabric, there's plenty of room for a hair flick.

Despite the seriously close fit in an unrelenting woven fabric, there’s plenty of movement available for a hair flick.

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The total time spent? 153 hours, including preparation of the muslin which I had to bring along to class. The only parts stitched with a machine on this was the quilting lines, the vertical seams on both the bodice and sleeves, the shoulder seams and the stay stitching around the neckline. The rest is entirely hand stitched…. I’m clearly a slow sewist.

Taking this class was absolutely enthralling – and I now truly understand why this garment has held so much fascination to sewers over the years – it really is a subset of couture in its own right. Virtually everything about the construction of this garment was new to me, and I was riveted the whole way. Nothing is wasted, even though it seemed awfully extravagant to cut out such massive seam allowances. I think what amazed me the most is how those seam allowances were utilised throughout the garment, like at the armscye – simultaneously providing the role of a sleeve head and a light shoulder pad at the same time, as well as in the princess seams to provide strength and stability to the body of the jacket. I’m tempted to call it a cardigan more than a jacket – because that’s how it feels (and how it should feel, too). It’s so much less of a jacket than I originally thought it would be. And yet, just look at the shape – nary a shoulder pad in sight – gorgeous.

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The fabric is a loosely woven Chanel boucle, bought from Mendel Goldberg – and the reason I figure I can get away calling this post what I have. It’s lined in a lilac silk charmeuse from B&J fabrics, and my trim – bling-y buttons and a silvery grey beaded thing was from M&J Trimming, all from New York. I was originally planning on having two rows of trim with potentially some orange velvet ribbon in the middle, but when it came to pinning it on the jacket, it just looked too much and the orange of the ribbon too harsh. Thanks to all the girls from Social Sewing for their general consensus advice on this matter of crucial importance! So, one row of trim it was.

Some closeups:

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My first (half lousy, half good) and second attempt at sewing on the hardware. Such a shame the pretty stitches are then covered up by the lining! Click to Enlarge.

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And the fit? Well, it’s probably the best fitting thing I’ll ever own, assuming I don’t put on or lose weight. The jacket is definitely snug, but super comfortable at the same time.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing however. One of my favourite anedote of Susan’s from my time in Baltimore was hearing her voice her disappointment when she got her white-gloved hands on some historical couture pieces from this and last century whilst at a museum in France (I forget which one) because not only did the pieces have little quirks - they had flaws. I think that’s a prudent reminder that even at the top tier, garments sewn with the utmost of skill can be imperfect. The pursuit of perfection is soul killing? Either way, she said that anything sewn by a person is going to have human aspects to it – those little imperfections that make us what we are. Now, my jacket has a few imperfections, for sure. But these are learning experiences, and the next one I make will be that much better for it. Like – if you have a non-symmetric trim, it would probably be a good idea to make sure you get it the right way up all the time. Unfortunately for me, I only realised this after sewing the trim on #3 of my four pockets. It would have potentially ruined the fabric and the trim to unpick it, so… eh.

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I ended up quilting my pockets as well – with the lining fell stitched to the pockets, then fell stitched onto the jacket. It was a mission not to let any of the stitches show through on the lining. But! These are entirely functional pockets, woo!

And somehow in the fitting process I missed that Susan pinned my sleeves a lot shorter than I would ideally like. The 2 inch seam allowance came to the rescue, however I would have preferred even more than this. It meant my quilting lines (the support to the fabric) are a long way back from where they probably should be:

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So there’s the little imperfections we can live with, and the ones we can’t… like how I got within inches of finishing sewing on my chain, only to line it up and realise that I hadn’t been pulling the blasted thing taught – the links were all squished up next to each other and as a result I was 2 inches short from having the chain meet the other side of the jacket.

So totally NOT FUNNY.

So totally NOT FUNNY.

I downed tools at that point and went off to kill some demons in Diablo III to vent my frustration. I came back later to unpick and resew, but also managed to work out a much faster and more even way to sew the chain the second time around! Ah, the good ol’ learning curve.

Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed sewing a garment more than I have this. Am I hooked on sewing these? Definitely. I’ve already bought a gorgeous blue boucle as I’d really like to make one of these for my mum. Let’s just add that to the post-wedding-dress sewing queue, alrighty?

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The Stats:
153:00 hours

Fabric Utilisation = 6.2m (Shell fabric, underlining and lining)

Couture Sewing School: Day 5 & 6

Ah, the last two days of the Couture Sewing School. Hard to accept that it was coming to an end, and struggling to keep the mojo up to get lots done.

Highlights? I broke my first ever sewing needle:

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I made my first ever hand picked zipper, too. I’ve always been in an invisible zipper gal personally, but I can see the allure with this method. You get an incredible amount of control throughout the process, and I love how easy it is to get the top part of the zipper on that slight angle, which helps share the strain on the hook and eye which will eventually be at the top:

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What’s always interested me about this method is the potential for embellishment, like using beads in each stitch:

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But, it won’t be a regular thing for me. I prefer the invisible factor, plus unless you get your stitches perfectly distanced, the uneven puckering is not for me. I may still unpick this…

I learnt a new way of sewing pin-point turns – doing it in two passes, rather than the single swipe I’d always done (hit and miss). Having both pieces stay-stitched rather than just the piece you clip helps aligning it all up, too:

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Once I’d got the bodice permanently stitched together, I had some fun with the pleats. The pattern calls for topstitching along the basted lines you see here:

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As I’m not yet decided on whether or not I’ll do that, I’ve catch-stitched the pleats from the underside which will secure it all together should I decided not topstitch all the things:

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In other, equally-as-unexciting news, I started cutting out lining…

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Which is currently holding nearly all my pins to ransom as I’ve yet to get past the align-and-cut phase. There’s the option to either thread trace the lining… or to use carbon paper to trace the outline onto (in a light colour) and get your sewing lined up perfectly so none of it shows through. Indecision rains!

And lastly… I got the little overcoat fitted :) This is the part of the garment that would have been a lace overlay, but which I’m going to sew as a separate piece in this lovely mottled fabric. Had I made it in the macrame lace (as recommended), the darts would have been intentionally lost in the detail. To make a bit of a feature from them though, Susan converted them to two ‘french’ darts on the diagonal (in blue). It softens the shape and I really like the effect!

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By Saturday afternoon… people were leaving and there’s nothing I dislike more than having to say goodbye, especially to such wonderful, inspiring people!

I all but lost the mojo and spent the afternoon relaxing by starting to hand sew the first row of trim on my French Jacket… and just like that – it was all over. :)

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Couture Sewing School: Day 4

Since getting back home I’ve taken a break from sewing and blogging…  and I’ve probably been banned from leaving the country for such a long period ever again (nearly a month!) without taking the hubby-to-be along with me! In good news, I’ve just finished sewing my French Jacket, more on that another day soon. So it’s time to finish the Couture Sewing School series!

On Day 4 I focused pretty much entirely on inner foundations. First I basted together the Marfy corset to have it fitted – this was from a pattern a size smaller than I usually go for, so I was curious to see how it turned out, especially as it’s such a fitted garment. 

The trickiest thing with this style is the cups. You really can’t fit such a thing unless you’ve got some underwires in it – which I didn’t have. So the four changes marked below generally relate to the fit around my torso than anything. I’ll eventually take this apart, sew over the new adjusted seam lines, add in some boning and appropriately shaped and fitted underwires and then tackle the cups.

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But to be honest, it was a pretty awesome fit! Such great lines on this pattern, I really can’t wait to properly tackle it.

Meanwhile, Leisa next to me was also making this pattern to go as a foundation structure for her ballgown. I took a happy snap to document the location of her boning channels:

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She also brought along a new-to-me fabric – Sea Island Cotton. This stuff is apparently the bomb for creating lightweight inner foundations, and something Susan often used when she was a Wedding Dress couturier.

This cotton is biologically different to normal cotton because the length of the fibres used to make up the strands is much longer than in ‘normal’ cotton – which gives it the super smooth texture. Oh, and it’s breathable, lightweight and tightly woven with virtually no give along the grain or cross grain – making it perfect for foundation garments. It actually feels a bit like silk against the skin – incredibly smooth – and Susan says it doesn’t pill.

So I trace out my front bodice pieces onto some of this cotton – changing the three pieces on the bottom half of the bodice to be a single piece, then get to thread tracing. The structure will be sewn into the outer fabric bodice, and held in place by the side seams (this structure doesn’t extend around to the back).

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There’s going to be two layers of cotton here, which are sandwiched wrong sides together then sewn along to create the boning channels. Once it’s together, I get to play with ‘Bone-o-rama’ (the name of Susan’s case carrying the pre-cut lengths of steel spiral boning):

IMG_6503It’s the first time I’ve touched this stuff and I’m pleasantly surprised at how light, flexible and strong it is.

Quickly I realise I should have graded the seam allowances to have one shorter than the other, because that would have made it much simpler to slip the boning through… one particular spot didn’t want to behave and it took a lot of manipulation, pleading and shoving to get the bone through there.

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And the final result:

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As yet un-pressed, of course. The bizarre thing about sewing in this environment is that progress seems to trump getting the little things as good as they could be, where you can get away with it with little flow on effect, of course.  Trying to get as far through a garment as possible so as to learn as much as possible meant my sewing was a little sub-par for my usual taste. Ah well!

As this will only fit into the front of the bodice, I use the silk organza and the seam allowances at the back of the bodice to create some boning channels:

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And then I pin the foundation into the bodice and try my hardest to get it so there are no wrinkles from the outside when being worn:

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And all of a sudden it was 6pm.

As a bunch of us were staying at the same place, that night we organised to get together in the lobby to watch Project Runway, so I thought I’d have a night off homework (and to be fair, I was starting to feel a little thin on the ground…), but then  came downstairs to find Sarah busily sewing away on her French Jacket and Leisa sewing as well, so I raced back upstairs to grab mine in the add-break for a little sew-in in the lobby:

Tim Gun on the screen!

Tim Gun on the screen!

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A great way to finish another long day :)

Couture Sewing School: Day 3

The day of the skirt.

Having had plenty of time to think about the construction process whilst thread tracing, it’s clear to me that this front panel needs to be completed before any more of this dress is put together.

One thing I’ve learnt from sewing with Marfy patterns is that their seam lines always, always match up, and there is no line or marking that should be left behind. To paraphrase Susan – it’s like a soap opera – no part isn’t important!

It’s like putting a puzzle together though – you just have to keep persevering until you figure out where everything goes and which match points fit where.

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Above is after several iterations of me pinning everything in place to get the right ‘look’, but I was really struggling to get the wool crepe to behave in the fashion I wanted – the gathered part simply wouldn’t drape nicely. Unlike silk satin, the crepe just didn’t have the right ratio of fabric weight to drape, which was emphasised by the slightly angular position of two sewn in pleats to the left of the draped section (the two draped pleats with pins in them above).

From working through this, I got an appreciation for just how fabulous this would look made up in a heavy silk satin! However, the crepe responded better to being ‘gathered’ vertically rather than at a slight angle like the pattern dictates, so at Susan’s suggestion I omitted the two slightly angled sewn-in pleats at the start and changed the direction of the gathers to get the crepe to look better:

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This looks much better, although it means I’ll need to adjust the hem length to get a better length balance between the pleats. And you can see in the background Sarah’s French Jacket being made – I shudder to think of all the progress I would have made had I the work ethic of Sarah – her middle name surely must be productivity! Alas… I was too busy happily gossiping…

After lunch I get to work hand basting the bodice and skirt together so I can have it fitted again. This is done with a backstitch… slow work, but doing it by hand reduces the handling of your fabric – even the longest machine stitch is sewn tightly and this means it’s easier to remove (translate: less damage to your fabric).

Now is also probably a good time to say I’ve switched out the Marfy bodice for a Burda bodice – for no other reason that I wanted some more challenging design lines to maximise the learning potential from this week:

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After it all being basted I whack it on and have Susan cast an eye over it, whereby she says I’ll need to construct an inner foundation piece for support because I’m not going with the patterns original design of the lace overlay which otherwise would have held it all up.

By this point I’m so blase about lounging around in a state of undress that I’m really quite fine with posting rather lousy photos of myself on the internet:

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I start working on adjusting the bodice pattern pieces to create an inner corsolette that will be boned… and then two UPS boxes arrive…

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one of the two boxes…photo pinched from Sarah of Goodbye Valentino

It’s my wedding dress fabric!!!

I spotted it at Mendel Goldberg when we were supposed to be shopping for French Jacket fabric the previous week and couldn’t get it out of my head… so Susan helped me order it over the phone. It’s kinda killing me that I can’t show you all what it is – but it’s going to have to wait until next year. Sorry!

Before this trip I had spent a few days looking at and trying on wedding dresses, falling in love with one in particular. It was made from a very specific fabric which I was unable to find whilst in New York (well, actually I did find it, but not in the colour I was wanting), which was really disappointing. I had a ‘back-up’ dress concept from my second favourite from the dress-trying-on-expedition which was made from easily obtainable fabric, and had even gone so far as ordering a custom-made art-deco style bit of bling for it from M&J Trimming‘s bridal section (they have some amazing stuff!!!)… so I guess I’ll work that into a dress at some other point!

After opening up the boxes for a bit of emotional show and tell, I was rendered useless for the rest of the afternoon. I think I even gave myself a night off from homework. And that was Day 3!