So one thing about overlockers is that most of them come with a feature called differential feed. This lets you vary the ratio between the rate at which fabric is fed in and out of the area under the presser foot and needles. It is supposed to be a magical fix for tricky fabrics where seams won’t lie flat. If the seam is stretching out you make the inward feed faster than the outward feed, and if it gathers or puckers you make it slower.
This sounds great in theory and you can find loads of blog posts explaining it. It’s also what my machine’s manual suggests to do to correct stretched or gathered seams. But it never really works for me. I can see a small difference when I adjust the feed, but I often find I get gathered edges on lightweight fabric even with the differential feed down at the minimum. This sample is a case in point: three thread overlock seam finish on a lightweight fabric with the differential feed at 0.7 and everything else at the default settings. Awful.
The problem seems to come from the needle thread; the loopers look fine. Reduce the needle thread tension, and suddenly all is well.
Does this happen to anyone else or is it just that my machine has overenthusiastic tension?
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Tags: overlocker, Sewing, sewing machines, tension
Here’s version 2 of Burda 106-04-2014, the x-wrap dress. This one is made in one of the most awkard fabrics I have ever tried to sew: a very lightweight, slightly sheer silk. I normally steer well clear of such things but it was a very cheap bolt end in the sale room at Misan Textiles, there was just enough of it for the pattern, and I couldn’t turn down that almost fluorescent orange colour.
I hate cutting out shifty fabric. I did a bit of googling for tips for dealing with lightweight fabrics. A lot of sites suggest spray starch but there seems to be no consensus as to whether you should press starched fabric with or without steam, and lots of warnings about potentially burning the starch and marking the fabric if you get the iron too hot. Eventually I came across this recipe for using gelatine to stiffen chiffon before cutting and sewing. The method seemed pretty clear and sensible so I gave it a go – thanks Jo! The gelatine I could get came was in leaves rather than a powder and was ‘platinum grade’ – apparently there are lots of other grades available and they have different setting power which makes it kind of tricky to substitute. I think I used three leaves to three litres of water. It certainly stiffened the fabric and made it a lot easier to cut and sew. The downside is that you can’t use any steam when pressing or the fabric might go sticky. And the fabric didn’t press well without steam as you can see from the generally wavy effect. I washed the dress once it was finished but it doesn’t seem to have completely removed the gelatine as the fabric is still less fluid than it was when I bought it. On the upside it doesn’t wrinkle as badly as I thought it would. These photos were taken after wearing the dress all day. I didn’t press it at all before we went out to take them, so what you have here is what it really looks like after a day’s wear. Maybe more washing will gradually soften it up again.
I already posted about my fitting and facing changes but I also left out the zip as it’s not needed, and slip-stitched the shawl collar down to the outer neckline seam to make it stay put. I couldn’t use interfacing with this fabric so the sharp points where the wrap pieces grow out of the front of the dress are reinforced with bias squares of the outer fabric sewn to the wrong side along the seamlines. I kept the inseam pockets, which are a lot easier to sew when you don’t put a zip in the seam right next to a pocket.
I tried to take a little more care with the hem on this version but it’s even worse than the brown one: uneven and very wavy. I hoped it would look a bit better after washing the dress and pressing with steam but no. I’m not going to unpick it as I don’t think a second attempt’s likely to be much better and the fabric might not survive the experience. It looks less fragile in the pictures than it is in real life.
I don’t think this is as successful as the brown version, but it’s a perfectly wearable summer dress (well OK, wearable with a slip) and I love the colour. The fitting changes seem to have worked too. Two copies of this pattern is enough for now, but it’s one I might go back to at some point.
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Tags: Burda, dress, Dressmaking, orange, Sewing
This was my first version of Burda 106-04-2014. No sooner than it was finished I started working on a second one and took the opportunity to tweak the pattern a little. The version above isn’t bad, but the sleeves are a little constricting and I felt I could do with a bit more room in the bust. I don’t know you’re meant to do a full bust adjustment on this sort of pattern but here’s what I’ve done. The picture below is the front pattern piece, which is cut on the fold.
In the pictures below red areas are bits I’ve added and blue is where I have taken away. I slid a chunk of the front out sideways to give a bit more bust room, and reduced the shoulder width so that the shoulder seam would be sitting on my shoulder point rather than slightly over it.
Those two changes affected the length of the armscye so I had to make the sleeve wider to match. No bad thing as the original sleeves felt slightly tight; I’d been planning to flatten the sleeve cap anyway.
That’s it for fitting alterations, but the fabric I’m using is slightly transparent and so I also needed to do something about the neckline finish. The original design has a skinny back neck facing which is a single interfaced layer, overlocked on the outer edge. That clearly isn’t going to look good in a sheer fabric. Also the facing didn’t behave well on the first version and had to be top-stitched down to keep it in place.
I did a bit of snoop shopping to see how this sort of thing would be handled in ready to wear clothes. I found very few summer dresses with facings. Most were lined. A few, mainly in casual fabrics, had the neckline seam covered with a strip of binding. The ones which did have facings all had a centre back zip with the facings sewn to the zip tape to hold them down. The facings themselves were invariably much wider than those on the Burda design.
I didn’t fancy trying to bind the neckline seam in slippery silk, and I had nothing to line the dress with, so I had to stick with a facing. Although the original design has no centre back seam I had already had to add one because of a shortage of fabric, so I figured I could sew the facing to the seam allowances on that or stitch in the ditch to hold it in place. To try to make it look nicer I made the facings much wider around the neck than the original and cut two copies of each piece. Those then get sewn right sides together at the outer edge and turned out to give a facing with slightly more body than a single layer and a very clean finish to the edge.
And here’s what it looks like. Acceptable if not brilliant, and probably the best I could manage with lightweight silk. It is not well-pressed for excellent reasons I shall go into in my next post, and I should have done a french seam on the centre back but life’s too short. It’s wearable and the facings stay put and that’ll do.
Next up, modelled finished object pictures.
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Tags: Burda, dress, Dressmaking, fabric, Fitting, Sewing
Burda is sometimes unfairly accused of churning out endless boring patterns based on rectangles. There are certainly plenty of boxy tops and dresses in the magazine (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) but also no shortage of more complex designs like this style, 106-04-2014. This is a wonderfully practical summer dress: it is very roomy, has pockets, and protects my shoulders and neck from the sun. I was very boring and made it up in practically the same colour and type of fabric as Burda’s sample: a greyish brown silk. Mine’s from the sale room at Misan Textiles.
Here’s the line art.
I was very glad this was the illustrated ‘sewing course’ pattern for the month with detailed instructions; the x-wrap detail isn’t technically very difficult to sew once you have worked out what’s going on, but the pictures were a great help in determining which edges to sew to which. Burda’s usual terse instructions probably wouldn’t have been enough.
I made a couple of very minor changes, which were to top-stitch the hem and to top-stitch down the back neck facing to stop it flipping up. I didn’t do a brilliant job on either but I can live with it.
I love that the dress has pockets although I did have a bit of trouble with them. The side seams of the front are cut slightly on the bias and they stretched out very slightly despite my applying strips of interfacing to the seam allowances. The pattern also has a zip in the left side seam. Successfully combining a zip with an inseam pocket, wriggly fabric, and a bias edge took a couple of tries and a bit of hand sewing to get a good insertion. And then after all the faff getting the zip in I found I can get in and out of the dress without it, even though the fabric has no stretch at all.
I swear that weird wrinkle below the pocket isn’t normally there. In fact this side of the dress is the one without the zip and hence has the better pocket insertion.
When this issue of Burda first came out I remember reading a review where someone (sorry, can’t remember who!) expressed the opinion that the hem on this dress was never going to hang well. It’s a bit odd. It looks fairly straight when I’m walking.
But not so much when standing still. I considered interfacing the hem to try to reduce the wavy effect but after making samples I found I preferred the softer hem.
Anyway despite all the quibbling I really do like this dress. It’s a slightly unusual style but easy to wear. The silk feels very luxurious and was worth all the sewing problems. I have just cut out a second one, in a rather more experimental and even more temperamental fabric. Wish me luck.
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This is my version of Vogue 1390, a Sandra Betzina Today’s Fit pattern. I say ‘my version’ because while I didn’t alter the design I made a lot of changes to the method of construction. But the style lines are what really count and the reason why this pattern’s been on my to-sew list ever since it came out. Here’s the line art:
I combined the colour blocking, lining, and neckline of view A with the tucked front panel of view B. My tucks are more numerous and narrower than the those in the pattern. They were such an effort to sew they got their own post. But apart from the tucks the dress comes together very quickly indeed because there are no closures.
The shell fabrics are a medium weight linen/cotton blend from Truro Fabrics in black and charcoal. The lining is a fairly heavyweight black acetate/viscose satin from The Lining Company that I had left over from another project. There’s no interfacing other than around the pocket edges.
I think the line art misses one minor aspect of the style: the bottom bands look rectangular in the drawing but the pattern pieces narrow slightly towards the hem, giving the dress a very subtle egg shape. It’s just about visible in the picture below. I like the effect; it adds a little extra interest while still being very wearable.
The back of my dress is very plain. I very much admire Angela’s lovely version of this pattern at Collected yarns which has tucks on the back too, but I haven’t the patience to make two tucked panels.
I added very tiny horizontal pockets in the side panels. I would have liked them bigger, but the width of the side panel limits them. I made them just deep enough to hold my phone; any deeper and small items would slip down beyond the reach of my fingers. With 20/20 hindsight it might have been better to add larger vertical pockets in the side panel seam but I was worried they might sag and spoil the line.
So what did I change in the construction?
The pattern as designed uses an unusual method where each side panel is cut twice and the two parts seamed together at the bottom edge. The front and back hem bands are cut double with a foldline at the bottom edge. They are attached to the front and back panels and those units are then seamed to the side panels. As everything is already finished at the bottom edge by this stage there is no need to construct a hem. As a confirmed hater of hemming I completely approve of this method, but I also had doubts about my ability to join the panels accurately enough to avoid a step at the panel seams. I was also worried the seam allowances might poke out at the hem as there would be nothing covering them.
I ended up using a much more traditional construction with single layer side and hem panels and deep facings around the bottom edge. The dress lining is bagged: attached to the yoke facings and armscyes according to the pattern instructions, but then machined to the hem facings via a gap left in one of lining seams, which is subsequently top-stitched shut. The armscyes are finished with bias strips which are top-stitched down. Facings would have been possible there too but the top-stitching doesn’t show much in these colours. There isn’t a single hand-stitch in this dress.
As usual with Vogue I made one size smaller than the size chart suggested. That normally works out fine but on this one I could do with a bit more ease at the bust. If I make it again I’ll go up a size or do a full bust adjustment; Today’s Fit is sized for a more straight up and down figure than Misses so it’s my own fault for not checking the chart more carefully before picking a size. I didn’t make any fitting changes to the pattern other than adding my usual two inches to the length above the waist.
I am very happy with this dress. The design is beautiful and it was fun to sew. Might be a while before I make anything else with tucks though.
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Tags: 1390, Dressmaking, pleats, Sewing, tucks, Vogue
Vogue 1390 has been in my pattern stash and lurking on my to-sew list for a while. I particularly like the tucked front panel of view B.
When I finally came to take the pattern out of its envelope to trace it I was surprised to find that the front panel wasn’t quite as I’d remembered it. The image I had was of fairly narrow tucks with gaps between them. In fact the fold of one tuck lies on top of the stitching line of the next and they are very wide: each tuck takes up 13.5cm of fabric leading to a finished width of 4.5cm. They are also described throughout the pattern instructions as ‘pleats’ although the envelope says ‘tucks’. After some dithering I decided to adjust the pattern to have the smaller tucks with gaps I’d imagined. This used less fabric, but meant sewing a lot more tucks.
I started out by trying to make an accurate pattern piece for my version but soon realised that turn of cloth might be a problem: if each tuck takes up even a tiny fraction more or less fabric than I had allowed for then the panel would come out much too narrow or too wide once the error had been multipled by 14 tucks. Finally I cut a centre panel piece that was as wide as I’d calculated plus quite a bit extra, and just started making tucks from the centre until I got to about the right width. My tucks take up 3cm of fabric each, with a finished width of 1cm, and have a 1cm gap between them. It was not a quick process, especially as I was trying to be extremely accurate!
The long metal ruler was a great help, not least for checking the panel wasn’t pulled off grain when I laid it down to mark each tuck.
Tucks need the foldline to be marked from the right side. I used black chalk in the hope that it wouldn’t show much if it didn’t brush off the fabric easily, but I still ended up washing the panel at the end to get all the chalk out. And the black dust made a terrible mess on my hands and the ironing board.
When I’d made enough tucks I laid the centre panel on top of the two panels it attaches to and compared with the lining pattern pieces to make sure I’d overlapped them at the right place to get the correct total width. Once adjusted for width I sewed on the side panels very close to the last tuck seam.
I realise now there was a good visual reason for the wider tucks in the pattern in that the width balances the untucked side panels better. But I’m committed now so we’ll see how it looks when the dress is made up. That might yet take a while. Better hope I still like the style as much when it’s finally done.
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Tags: 1390, dress, Dressmaking, pleats, Sewing, tucks, Vogue
One of my Christmas presents was an unusual sewing pattern ‘book’ called Mappamodello. It contains patterns for very geometric styles developed by the designer Nanni Strada in the 70s. The dress above is her ‘Arab-Islamic Work Dress’. It’s the only one I’ve made up so far but I suspect there will be more in the future.
I’ve described the object as a book but once you unpack it what you actually have is two very large pieces of paper. One is the (huge) pattern sheet, and the other includes brief notes on the history of each of the styles and some photographs and technical drawings of the designs. The only thing resembling sewing instructions provided is the key on the pattern sheet. The pattern for the dress I’ve made up didn’t entirely match the photographs and diagrams, but I found the process of reconciling the differences enjoyable. Having said that I made a fairly major mistake with this one which I would have avoided if there had been a photograph or a diagram of the back view as well as the front. More on that in a moment.
The designs are all one size and entirely flat in the sense that there are no seams or darts. They work by wrapping around the body and fastening with ties. The size is adjusted by fastening the ties more or less tightly. Most of the styles are very fabric-efficient and they almost all include pockets. You can see some of the fitting ties on the Arab-Islamic work dress in the back view below. If you’re familiar with the Walkaway dress it’s a similar ‘apron’ style. I was a bit cynical about the ‘one size fits all’ claim and added a few inches of length to the pattern for insurance. It probably wasn’t needed but does give a nice deep hem.
This particular style is supposed to be wearable in two different ways, but this relies on making the back neckline identical to the front neckline so you can turn the dress around 90 degrees and stick your arms though the neckline slits, tying the top neckline slit ties over your shoulders. The original ‘sleeves’ undo at the underarm, and those pieces then wrap over your chest and back, and presumably tie at your sides. As you can see I didn’t make a slit on the back of the dress so I haven’t got anywhere to put one of my arms through when I turn the dress around. I don’t think I’ve lost too much as wearing it that way doesn’t look very comfortable in the model photo.
I think the style I have made up is one of the earliest in the series. There are several very similar dresses in the book and it’s interesting to compare the later ones with the earlier. The shape of the neckline and sleeves evolves, the ability to wear the dress in two ways is dropped, the pockets become more complicated, and some purely decorative features creep in. I suspect the later versions make slightly more practical garments! Mine shouldn’t be worn without leggings and a t-shirt underneath because of all the gaps.
The book doesn’t go into any detail about fabric choice. For one or two of the designs it mentions ‘glazed cotton’ or ‘lacquered cotton’ which sounds to me like crisp fabrics. Accordingly I made my dress up in a polycotton poplin on the grounds that it’s got a crisp hand and is cheap enough for an experiment, but I think something with a bit more drape would actually have been better. By the way you need wide fabric for this style – 150cm/60″ – which limits the choices. I couldn’t find wide poplin from any of my usual sources and ended up getting it from eBay. The dress is mostly one huge pattern piece nearly the whole width of the fabric and well over two metres long. It makes efficient use of fabric. I only had small scraps left over.
So does this pass the wearability test? I’m not sure. These photos were taken on a bitterly cold and windy day so you are not seeing the dress or me at their best. It does feel a bit like wearing an academic gown only not as warm. Despite the book’s claim that the styles work for all seasons I think this one is only for spring and early summer days.
This all sounds rather negative but I really enjoyed the process of working out how to make the dress up. I’d like to give some of the more sophisticated versions a try, using better fabric. I think there’s a great dress in here somewhere.
And in other news, I am in the current issue of Vogue Patterns magazine! Very flattered: thanks Vogue!
Filed under: Dresses, Dressmaking, Fabric, Finished, Mappamodello, Patterns, Sewing, Vintage, Wearability | 9 Comments
Tags: black, dress, Dressmaking, fabric, Mappamodello, seventies, Sewing, vintage