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:


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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


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!


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. :)


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.


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:


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).


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.


And the final result:


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:


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:


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!

photo 2

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.


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:


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:


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:


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


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!

Couture Sewing School: Day 2

The second day in and I find myself adjusting to the incredibly different dynamic, pace and vibe this class is generating in comparison to last week’s French Jacket Class. There’s 12 people – all working on vastly different projects all needing Susan’s attention and instruction to get some momentum going on their own project, where as last week there was 9 of us – all working on the same thing and generally all at the same pace (slooow…. ha!). Considering the load, Susan does do a pretty impressive job at balancing everyones needs.

After prepping all my silk organza pattern pieces which have all been traced out using carbon tracing paper from the fitting-adjusted muslin pieces, I’m ready to lay out those pieces on my wool crepe:


In the background there is some amazing animal print Cavalli charmuese which is going to be sewn up as Vogue 1302 (a Kay Unger pattern) and I’m so curious to see how the ruching is going to turn out!

The open space on the floor of the carpet gallery is a very comfortable place to arrange and cut, and I find I don’t miss the usual process of cutting out precisely which sewing by the cut edge (instead of the actual seam line) requires – this method you can just hack loosely around your pieces and be done with it! The precision cutting required by the sewing process we all usually sew with is something I find oddly relaxing :) Being a newb to this method, I find myself erring on the side of caution and end up with the most gigantic of seam lines ever.

Once I’m done it’s all about the thread tracing.


And you know what? That takes me the rest of the day and a good part of that evening to complete. Pretty boring stuff for me to be reporting on, right?

But there’s so much going on in the background – like ogling the other ladies fabrics and projects… just check out this wool guipere, which is soon to be an evening dress:


I learnt that guipere (pronounced gwah-pier in an Australian accent) is specifically lace that doesn’t have a mesh backing. The sleeve you see on the right in the picture above was being ‘pieced’ – cut out and hand sewn in such a fashion so that you can’t see the join between the abutting sides.

Or how about this lace which will be sewn onto a little cocktail dress? I feel sorry for the person who probably went blind stitching the bazillion little french knots on every single one of those sequins:



So there’s no shortage of inspiration or conversation to be had. Fun all around!

Couture Sewing School: Day 1

You know, seven days straight of sewing and I’m not even sick of it yet.

Yep, I spent the Sunday between the French Jacket Class and the Couture Sewing School sewing. A few of the other ladies from that class were around and willing to get together – so we figured, why not? I’ve now got both sleeves in with lining sewn shut, pocket locations mapped out and hem locations pinned in place. Oh, and the first row of trim is sewn on, too.


I was super excited for this week as I’d be meeting some people I’ve admired from afar for a long while (Leisa from A Challenging Sew, Norma from Orange Lingerie, Sarah from Goodbye Valentino to name a few) plus some fabulous personalities even Susan had raved about the week before (Cissie, that’s you! :D).

So Monday was like a groundhog day of sorts!  Same location and same teacher – but all new people with big ideas and fabulous projects to work on!

I decided on sewing Marfy 3157, mostly because I love the drape detail on the skirt, and working with spiral steel boning is something I’d been wanting to try.


To make it difficult, I’ve strayed from the straight and narrow of the recommended macrame lace and silk satin – and am instead making up the bustier and skirt in a dusty rose pink wool crepe, lined with a matching but paler shade of peach charmeuse, and for some visual interest the overlay in a mottled but matching wool/cashmere blend:


If there is one thing I can never remind myself enough of, it’s that moving away from the recommended fabrics changes everything. One of the ladies made a gorgeous Marfy dress during the course of the week (to be worn whilst in Paris… ooh!) and that was certainly the theme of her week. If one is willing to stray from the recommendation, one must be willing to put up with a little heartache.

Also – Leisa so very kindly traced out her copy of a Marfy bustier (F2630) for me. Between Susan and Norma, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up having fitted! Even before I got the niggle to want to learn how to sew, corsetry was of huge fascination for me.

Marfy bustier F2630

And here it is again:


Well, we kick start today with a bit of show and tell – who we are, where we’re from, what pattern and what fabric. I think if I had my time again, I would bring fabric along with me – leaving it to chance on the shopping trip to A Fabric Place left me a little anxious! Although they do have some seriously lovely stuff, it’s touch and go – if you’re after something specific – find it beforehand and bring it along.

Then we head straight into the fitting phase. This time it’s doubly as fascinating because everyone has such varying things to fit – dresses, coats, skirts and jackets. I again watch with fascination! When it comes to my turn, I again get away with virtually no changes – I’m talking extending the darts on the skirt slightly and raising the height of the bustier. I know I shouldn’t complain… but I feel a little cheated of having my toile ripped to pieces and put back together again by the Master ;) Call me the almost-perfect size 46? Ha!

After taking apart my muslin to be traced onto my silk organza underlining, it’s the end of the day. You know, it’s not always a good idea to underline with silk organza – but it’s more common than not. Sandra asked previously why I underlined my French Jacket with batiste rather than organza – and the answer is because organza would change the hand of the fabric to the extent that it would lose the suppleness that a French Jacket is known for. It’s supposed to feel like a cardigan, not a blazer/jacket. I underlined my Octopus’ Garden Jacket which was sewn in a very loosely woven tweed with silk organza, and you can see the stark difference it makes:

silk organza underlining difference

Hmm…. I wonder if I’ve got enough of this left over to make myself another French Jacket…?
I reckon I might!

If you were making a drapey top out of silk charmuese for example, but wanted to increase the opacity of the fabric, you would underline with a crepe de chine as it has similar properties to both the fashion fabric and the soft drape of the look you are trying to achieve. Underlining a drapey silk top with organza would totally ruin the look of the garment! You need to match your underlining to both your fashion fabric AND the desired end result of your garment.

Obviously, a heavy wool crepe like what I’ll be sewing with can happily handle a silk organza underlining – as in couture sewing – the organza holds all of the pattern piece information needed to put your garment together whilst allowing you to have the wide seam allowances necessary, provides a fabulous base to secure hems to without having your stitches go through to the outer layer and also can provide additional structure and support where required.


Mid afternoon, we pile into cars and in convoy make our way to A Fabric Place to buy more fabric. You really never can have enough of the stuff, yes?

The rest of the day is, for me, spent transferring changes to the muslin and separating all the pieces ready to be used for transferring onto the silk organza underlining.

That night I get a serious arm workout steaming all 4.5 yards of my wool crepe and wool/cashmere (oh yes people, I speak imperial now!) which took over an hour, thankfully I had Stephen and Jon to keep me company…


My pattern pieces are all traced out on organza ready to go for tomorrow morning :)

Oh, and both Leisa and Sarah have written wonderful posts on our week of sewing – I’d highly recommend popping over to have a read! And yes… the contents of that mysterious box will be revealed soon!