I spent considerable time in Muslin-city before I felt confident to pull out the fabric bolt hiding under the couch!
I was using Marfy S655 as a base, but I wanted more volume, especially at the waist. I had two private lessons with Vikki Leigh Martin to get it right – first we played with a bias cut piece of calico, gathered and pleated and pinned to me to figure out an approximate ratio of volume that looked visually appealing – ending up with 1:3.
We then slashed each of the three skirt panels down the centre and along the grain line, adding in additional strips of calico to widen. We pinned and pleated on a mannequin, then we stood back to admire:
After I marked all the fold points and other necessary bits, I used this iteration as the pattern pieces for Muslin Mk II. This time I used an inexpensive poly taffeta underlined in organza to try and replicate how it would translate into the real thing. Unfortunately for my tactile senses, I’d already bought the silk taffeta I’d eventually be using so working with the poly taffeta was a relatively horrid experience!
I didn’t get a picture of the second version of this, but it didn’t look right on the mannequin, nor on me when I pinned it to my bodice and tried it on. The volume that looked great in cotton muslin didn’t appeal to me in the taffeta. And the train you see in the calico above got completely lost in translation – it pulled an distorted and collected in a heap large enough that it could probably have had it’s own post code.
In my second lesson with Vikki (in late January) we worked on reducing the volume. It’s odd how reassuring it was having someone with experience and who wasn’t emotionally invested get involved. Here’s where we ended up:
I felt great at the time I was wearing this, but later upon reviewing the photos, I was still a little worried about the ‘harsh’ look of the pleats at the front. Muslin photos always look crap, don’t they? I reasoned I could always play around with the real (uncut) fabric to get this right… and that perhaps the colour and pattern of the final fabric would camouflage this to an extent.
We used pleats on top of each other at the back (Vikki’s suggestion – I would never have thought of this) to get the volume without it being too visually busy, and a small amount of gathering at the side to soften the ‘flow’ from front to back, and we pulled the length of the train in – even with our new fabric arrangement, the length of the back looked wrong and when I walked – pulled the skirt and all it’s additional fabric in on itself. Off with its head!
I thought I would be super nervous cutting into the real thing, but with the whole muslin process behind me, I was more zen that I thought I’d be. Don’t get me wrong – the heart rate was still definitely up there!
Before cutting though, I had to align my pattern pieces. I had exactly 3.5 meters of organza – I’d paid for 3.5 yards, but I found Alice to be extremely considerate (verging on overly generous) in her cutting. Obviously I’d been keeping in mind the amount of fabric I had during muslin stage, and I just managed to squeeze it all in with a very small seam allowance at the hem of each my skirt panels. Thankfully due to the super wide fabric (60 inches), I’d still have enough left over for my bodice and the covered buttons. Not much, though!
I played with the positioning as much as I could, and got my favourite part of the repeat (which was 1.2m wide) down the front skirt panel. I simply had no room to play with for matching at the side seams, and looking at the finished skirt – you’d never guess I tried my utmost to get the best match possible at the centre back seam.
I had known that when I was at muslin stage though, so I ensured the side seams were along a pleat ‘trough’ at the sides.
Construction – Preparation:
I used many of the couture methods I learnt whilst under Susan Khalje’s tutelage in Baltimore last year, from her bridal couture book and from watching the Couture Dress class on Craftsy. With my tracing wheel and carbon paper I marked the seam line locations on my silk organza underlining, before aligning on the silk taffeta and then thread tracing the two together. Only then did I align on my main fabric before cutting and thread tracing again.
Whilst the organza overlay was 60” wide – the silk organza I used for underlining and silk taffeta were not. I had to cut the two back skirt panels in two parts each, before sewing together to give me three skirt panels. I placed the located of these two seams at one of the inside folds when I was working with my poly taffeta muslin – but the hand of the silk taffeta and organza was a lot stiffer and didn’t fold in to the same degree, so they are visible if you know what you’re looking for. Ah well.
The three seams where then pinned together and sewn, then the seam allowances trimmed and catch-stitched.
At this point, I hung the skirt up on my dress form and got to work on the bodice.
Construction – pleats, gathers and folds
Once my bodice was at a point where I could attach the skirt, I got to work forming the pleats. I hand sewed the pleats at the back to keep the softness of the folds:
Then I attempted to coerce the rest of the skirt into the predetermined pleats. Quite simply, it just didn’t want to comply with my commands. I ended up scrapping all my carefully thread-tracing pleat markings and gathered the fabric instead. The organza/taffeta/organza fabric sandwich was considerably stiffer and more bouyant than I had anticipated – and the pleats just looked too structured and clinical. But the gathers? Divine! Like Susan Khalje says in her book though – silk taffeta is so tightly woven and thick that you need to use your widest machine stitch possible, and even then it will probably be too small.
Using a machine gathering stitch (with the strongest thread I had – poly cotton) left marks on the organza overlay fabric, and I was worried that if I did the two requisite rows of machine basting stitch for gathering that the holes would be visible once the thread was removed. As Bridal Couture predicted – the taffeta is so tightly woven that even on my machine’s longest stitch (5.0mm) I struggled to pull it through. I hand basted two rows instead with silk thread, and incorporated a single pleat fold on each side. With a bit of finger nail scratching and some judicious use of iron steam, I managed to coax the silk organza threads back to their positions pre-basting stitch.
Then, I sewed it to the bodice. Another high heart rate moment!!!!
Construction – A Waist Stay
An essential part of the dress. The skirt has both considerable weight and a drag effect – supporting that shouldn’t be a part of the bodice’s job description. The waist stay ensures that the skirt’s weight is secured to the waist and doesn’t pull down on the bodice.
I bought some of the cotton/rayon petersham ribbon from Susan Khalje’s online shop which I sewed into the skirt’s seam allowance just shy of the seam holding the skirt and bodice together. Using my waist measurement whilst wearing the bustier, I sewed some or the leftover hook and eye tape from the bustier to the ends at exactly that measurement.
This served a dual purpose of also hiding the seams from the skirt, which I decided to fold under instead of tucking up into the bodice – there was quite a bit of volume there and I thought it would be great to have that supporting the ‘bouffy-ness’ of the skirt, rather than adding bulk to the waist.
***photo to come once I pick it up from the dry cleaners!****
Construction – Closures
There’s no escaping that I made a complete hack job of the zip on this skirt. No couture methods here!! I used an invisible zip which I painted the zipper-pull with nail polish so it would match.
I machine stitched the zip to the seam allowances of the skirt, then used a pick stitch in ‘invisible ‘thread to hold the fabric in place to hide the zip. I figured I could get away with it because it was short, hidden by the pleats to some extent and also because there was no tension or pull on the fabric at this point.
Why such a dogs breakfast of zip sewing? Well, The fabric was too thick and bulky to successfully sew in an invisible zip the way an invisible zip is intended to be sewn in – but I couldn’t find a regular zip that had an attractive zipper pull. There was so much going on at that centre-back junction between skirt and bodice that the zipper pull of a regular zipper would potentially show through due to it’s bulk. At least – that’s what my instinct told me.
I’ve all but given up on the Birch zipper crap we sewists get force fed here in Aus – especially after seeing firsthand the quality of other zips when I was in New York. I’ve been buying YKK zips from this Etsy seller, and I see also that M Recht sell them (I’ve yet to buy from them but will be doing so at some point soon) in their online shop. What’s even crazier is that Birch zips are rather a bit more expensive than their YKK cousins. Sewing enthusiasts of Australia – we’re being duped!
I would usually hand sew a cover in lining material onto the zipper end, but as the skirt layers were so structural, I instead sewed a strip of taffeta onto the seam allowance, encasing the zipper end in a sweet little pouch:
Construction – Hemming
Ah, hemming. Usually my most loathed sewing activity, but on this type of garment – just a little exciting! I decided fairly early on that I wanted to have a taffeta facing for the hem, mainly because it just gave such a wonderful shape to the poly taffeta I made up a practise skirt in. Thanks to my private lessons with Vikki Leigh Martin and the mannequin I loaned from Mr poppykettle’s brother’s partner’s mum (you figure that out) the hem location was worked out during muslin phase, so it was pretty easy.
Again, it was again bizarre that I had on the off-chance bought exactly the right amount of taffeta – after cutting out hem facings for each of the three skirts I had virtually nothing left of it. I sewed them together, pinned to the dress, sewed in place, pressed and clipped ,then catch stitched to the underlining. Easy as pie.
In the middle somewhere I toyed with a little horsehair braid – to see whether it would add or detract. Once pinned in place I decided against it – the facing already achieved what I wanted – with the horse hair braid it was too much. Taffeta is really rather a stiff, structural fabric!
The skirt hem before facing was applied:
And after with facing applied (it’s a late night iPhone photo):
The width of the facing was half arbitrary, half determined by the remaining taffeta I had – I wanted it deep enough so my footwear wouldn’t catch on the catch-stitching! There was a LOT of diamantes and things for those stitches to be caught on:
To Bustle or Not to Bustle?
In the days leading up to me actually starting to sew the skirt, I clicked onto one of my favourite ‘for a laugh’ sewing blogs – Fit for a Queen – who sews and alters wedding dresses and blogs about the experience (and the crazy clients!). It’s wonderful picking up little gems here and there across the interwebs – but it was here I was confronted with the issue of bustling. Hmm.
Even with my short-arse train, it seemed like the right thing to do. Problem is, my skirt fabric being quite stiff was not exactly compliant to the concept of being gracefully draped back over itself. In fact – it wasn’t amenable to the idea at all. Every attempt and combination of bustle points looked both ugly and ridiculous. To be fair – the silk organza overlay behaved more like a gazar, and taffeta isn’t exactly known for its drape.
So that did it – no bustle for me!
Yep… no lining here. I felt that it would be a little weird to have a drapey fabric hanging underneath such a structured skirt.
At the end of sewing the skirt, I was finally able to look at this part of the dress objectively. It’s actually a rather simple skirt, made to appear more complicated than it actually is from the number of fabrics involved and the dramatic impact of that organza. Basically, it’s just a rather simple-ish gathered skirt, made large by some stunning fabrics. But that’s just how I like it.