80s flashback

I finished the tartan dress. The background to this is that few years ago (long before I started sewing) I saw a Yohji Yamamoto dress in Selfridges that I really liked but couldn’t possibly afford. I can barely remember a lot of the details now, but this is my take on the features that did stick with me: tartan, exposed zip, narrow waist, wide skirt, and drapey bits.


I think there’s something quite 1980s about it. (For the avoidance of doubt I’m pleased with that! Hence the pirate boots in the pictures rather than heels.)

I was planning to wear it with a belt but having tried that I now think it’s better without. Here it is again with the belt for comparison.


I’m really pleased with the exposed metal zip. I did wonder if the weight of the zip would make the skirt hang awkwardly, but in fact it doesn’t seem to make any difference. None of the back views we photographed looked strange. I always find that any faults show up in photos even if they are totally invisible to me in the mirror, so I think the zip is a success.


I ended up having to let the side seams out a little – I should have done a full bust adjustment but I thought I wouldn’t need it with the cowl neck. I don’t think it really shows though.


I love the circle skirt but hemming it took a whole evening. I machined it (can you imagine hand hemming six metres? I can’t!) but even so the marking, pinning up, easing, basting, pressing, and finally stitching it took an age. I could have left it raw for a more punky look, but I like this dress too much to want to risk it fraying into nothing!

Many thanks to all who gave me such good advice and encouragement about this one – it turned out to be a much more difficult project than I expected, but I’m so pleased with the results!

The zip is IN

I have produced the first half decent exposed zip I’ve ever managed!

I can really recommend the exposed zip technique at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_c/C-221.pdf (it’s a PDF so you’ll need Acrobat Reader or Foxit or similar to view). This is for the kind of exposed zip where the zip is installed under the fashion fabric, like an ordinary centred zip, but you fold back the seam allowances of the seam you’re sewing it under to make a slot. The fashion fabric edges don’t meet over the zip and the zip tape shows. A picture probably makes more sense than a description so here’s my finished zip:

Here are a few extra notes on how I did it because I didn’t quite follow the tutorial.

I was using a separating zip so I zigzagged over the bottom end with a zero-length stitch to hold it together. The zip’s tape stopped at the bottom of the zip stopper, so I sewed a scrap of fashion fabric to the end to give me a longer ‘tape’ to sew onto the dress. This was a big help and I’ll definitely do it another time. I finished the edges of the scrap before sewing it on. It was cut to the same width as the closed zip and straight-stitched to the zip tape for about the last 1cm of tape.

I marked the ‘slot’ by laying the zip onto the fabric to determine the length of the slot. The tutorial has you just measure the length of the zip plus an inch, but anything involving measuring and zips doesn’t work for me. If I put the zip onto the fabric and mark exactly where I want the thing to go I find the end result’s more accurate.

I used strips of fusible interfacing to keep the edges of the slot stable. I applied it outside the stay stitching lines on the wrong side of the fabric. It really helps.

The clever bit in the method I used is that you sew the end of the zip to the little triangle of fabric at the end of the slot before sewing the sides of the zip into the slot. This seems to keep the end of the slot in good shape. My first attempt at sewing the end wasn’t very accurate, but I discovered it’s a bit like an invisible zip – you just keep sewing over it until it looks OK from the outside. The less said about the state of the inside, the better, though. And I am very glad I didn’t sew the side seams before doing the zip. This bit would have been really tricky if I hadn’t been able to lay everything out flat. Oh and I should have sewed the back seam a little bit further than I did. You can see the triangle is coming apart in the picture.

Here’s the end of the slot. I’m really pleased I got the white stripe in the fabric to line up with the plastic bit on the end of the zip tape. You can just see the scrap of fabric extending the zip tape below the stopper – the original zip tape stops where the plastic stops.

So I’m very nearly done. I haven’t actually tried it on yet, but as the side seams are still open I have a bit of wiggle room for fitting!

Matching induced exhaustion

I finally started getting somewhere with my tartan dress. I made the cowl neck bodice, sewed the skirt to the bodice, and basted the centre back seam prior to starting on the zip.

That might not sound like very much but it went very slowly because of having to match the pattern at the seams. I pinned every centimetre, basted, pulled bits out, basted again…and it’s still not 100% matched. Thank goodness the bodice front is on the bias so I didn’t have to match that to anything.

I’m pleased with the cowl neck. The side seams are just pinned at the moment to make it hang correctly.

Here’s the full length view:

With 20-20 hindsight I think I should have put the centre front of the skirt on the bias and had a seam there. On the other hand, having to match yet another seam might have caused me to give up in despair!

Here’s the back with the centre back seam basted. There is going to be an exposed zip there when the dress is finished.

This has photographed oddly. I think the stripes look more matched in real life but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I was always intending to wear the dress with a belt so it will be much less obvious when it’s done that the stripes don’t quite line up.

I need a lie down now.

Glacially slow progress

Well I wish I had something to show on the tartan dress project, but I don’t. I got a bit too enthusiastic about trying to get the pattern to match perfectly and decided to rip out an imperfectly sewn dart by artificial light. Which led to a small but significant hole in the left bodice back and much muttering.

But all is not lost; I decided to throw that piece away and recut it, and this time I got a much better match on the tartan so it was worth all the aggravation. I think what made the difference was that I cut out the new piece on my ironing board rather than the dining room table. This was mainly due to laziness – I have to move lots of things round to get at the table and it didn’t seem worth it for one small piece. The ironing board was right there and better than the floor so I used it.

I think the ironing board is better because it’s a lot higher than the table, so I don’t have to bend over. This reduces wobbling. It also has a fabric cover which is a lot less slippery than the top of the table so fabric stays where you put it.

Now I want one of those collapsible cutting tables, although at this rate I won’t be cutting out another project until after Christmas!

Staying edges

I’ve not made as much progress on the tartan dress project as I expected. So this is just a quick post about staying edges.

My first sewing book recommended zigzagging all the edges of your pieces before sewing seams, so that’s what I used to do. I’ve recently found this tends to distort the edges and so now I often finish my seams after sewing them.

However my tartan fabric is really, really ravelly. I won’t have much seam allowance left if I don’t finish the seams early on, but if I do I’ll probably never get the stripes to match.

My unscientific solution is to iron Vilene bias tape along the seamlines before finishing any edges, like this:

Burda magazine loves this stuff. Every other pattern seems to call for it. It’s thin fusible knit interfacing strips with a line of stiches sewn along the middle. It seems to be quite hard to find in the UK. My local sewing stores don’t stock it, so I always used to skip it. It never seemed to cause a huge problem to miss it out, although occasionally I would cut my own strips of knit interfacing where it looked like it was really needed.

Once I got hold of some real Vilene bias tape, from Sewbox, I realised why Burda uses it so much – it’s great! Very easy to apply and it stablises edges nicely without adding bulk. It’s also a lot less fuss than cutting your own strips. Just don’t put it the wrong side up and get the glue all over your iron as I frequently manage to do. I now see why my GCSE textiles teacher had ‘good’ irons and crafting irons.

I have no idea if staying edges like this is the Right Way to do things or not – I suppose I could just staystitch – but it’s worked for me in the past so I shall stick with it.

Choosing a zip

Thanks everyone for the helpful comments about my tartan dress project! I’m all set to start sewing now.

One final thing I had to do before starting was to pick a zip to go with the fabric. I want to do an exposed zip so I need something quite chunky. I have a large collection of unused zips so I really want to use one of those rather than buying a new one. Here are the three that I have that are about the right weight, shown against the fabric:

I was expecting that the silver one would look best, but to my surprise I’m preferring the bronze one. This is especially good as I have the silver one in two lengths, neither of which is quite right, but the bronze one is exactly the length I want. It’s a separating zipper, which isn’t ideal, but I can just stitch over the end to stop it opening.

I’ve been looking up tutorials for exposed zippers. There are quite a few for the type where you stitch the zipper tape on top of the fabric, for example this one on BurdaStyle and this one on CraftStylish. They both fold the seam allowances of the zipper outwards and sew the zip on top.

However I want the sort where the zip is sewn under the fashion fabric, like a regular centred zipper, but rather than sewing it under a basted seam and then undoing the basting, you make a slot in the fabric and sew the zipper into the slot. The width of the slot means that the teeth and some of the zipper tape is exposed. I’ve tried this on a couple of dresses before and neither’s perfect although they are both wearable. Recently I found this interesting PDF of zipper application techniques which has some useful hints in it for exposed zippers (page 4). In particular it has you sew the end of zipper to the tiny seam allowance you get at the bottom of the slot. I’m hoping a combination of that and a lot of interfacing on the edges of the slot will make this go more smoothly than before. Wish me luck.

Matching tartans

I’ve had to wait for the weekend to cut out my tartan dress because I wanted to do it in daylight rather than artificial light. I haven’t ever sewn anything tartan before so I need all the help I can get.

I was quite pleased to realise that the front of the bodice pattern I’m using (Vogue 8413) is cut on the bias and the back on the straight grain, so there isn’t any possibility of matching stripes at the side seams. All I had to do was make it match across the centre back seam, and on the side seams of the skirt.

This proved easier said than done. I mostly used the Selfish Seamstress’s clever technique for matching, and got everything lined up beautifully (which only took an hour). But the end result was a little off after I cut it out. Look at the red stripe closest to centre back:

I figure I can just fix this up when I sew it together by changing the seam allowances a little. And if I can’t, I have enough fabric left to cut those pieces out again. The only reason I haven’t done that already is that I’m pretty sure the problem is that I’m not cutting accurately enough, and I’m not sure a second run is going to come out any better except by chance. Something about taking scissors to fabric always makes my hands wobble uncontrollably.

Matching the stripes on the skirt was even trickier. The pieces are huge. My fabric was only just wide enough for me to cut the skirt front on a fold which limited how I could arrange things. I’d also made the mistake of cutting one of the skirt backs out before the skirt front which restricted my options even more. I think I’ve got the stripes to match. I’ll find out for sure when I sew them!