Sometimes I can be REALLY slow. In this case going on six months slow? Eek!
Now that I’m more comfortable with iMovie, I can finally edit the video chats I had with Madelyn (aka “Mo”) for the dress we sewed together a few months back. It was Mo’s first garment and I fear I gave her trial by fire! The pattern was not an “easy” pattern but all of the elements of construction were very basic and things that any of us do for just about any other pattern. While Mo was conquering her fears like a champ, I found myself dissecting this pattern unlike I had ever done before.
Madelyn had told me about this pattern she picked up because she really liked the dress on the envelope. I thought it would be difficult, but doable, for her because all of the elements of construction are what you would find in any other pattern. And while it’s not normally a dress I would make for myself, I thought it would be good for me to get out of my comfort zone. I am a girl who loves her pleats, princess seams, and structured retro-inspired style. This dress is very blouse-y, despite a rather fitted waist band, and the skirt is significantly shorter than what I normally make and wear. I was also a little dubious about the side zipper, which I decided many moons ago is something I avoid 99.9% of the time. So, I couldn’t engineer any pockets for myself in this dress (sniffle!) but in the end, it has turned out to be a dress that garners a lot of compliments when I wear it out and about.
In the end, I’m glad this was Mo’s first dress! She’s been sewing like a fiend these days (kudos!!) and I think she knows a lot more about dress construction from the start, which is great. Beginner sewing projects can often resemble the ugliest of muumuus and while there was a Major Muumuu Moment for Mo (to be shared later), I’m a big fan of aiming high for something that resembles a dress you might buy in a store, rather than just a big potato sack in a festive fabric.
Madelyn and I originally broke down the pattern steps but quickly learned that we had to break it down even further. This pattern broke down into the following skill elements:
- Machine basics – what constitutes a normal “chunk chunk” noise and getting familiar with basic maintenance.
- Translating the pattern instructions (always the first hurdle!) and figuring out your size.
- Choosing fabric – choices, choices, choices. Oh, and how much should I *really* buy?
- Preparing the pattern pieces & pre-treating the fabric.
- Understanding pattern piece layout for… dun-dun-dun! CUTTING fabric.
- WTF is interfacing??
- Fusing interfacing to fabric pieces… don’t forget your press cloth!
- Stay stitching. Huh??
- Seam allowance: how much, why its important, the meaning of “garment ease”.
- Pinning methods and getting comfortable with a simple, straight stitch (+ back stitch).
- Finishing seams… prevent The Great Unraveling.
- Edgefinishing – details are important.
- Clipping curves & trimming seams – OMG this is getting tedious.
- Understitching – more details… for reals?
- Stitching in the “ditch” – bonus topic!
- Gathering stitches… easier than pleats.
- Stitching smaller tubes of fabric, like sleeves. And the magic of the free arm. (The tool box slides off for great reason!)
- When pattern pieces look similar and how to keep track of them… like this pattern’s sleeve bands & waist band pieces.
- Sewing on a curve (for the banded skirt hem).
- Attaching a skirt to a bodice. Don’t forget to leave room for the zipper.
- Inserting the invisible zipper… “Gulp!” becomes “Magic!!”
- The importance of pressing and how pressing is different from ironing.
I think our first list broke down into about six parts: choose fabric, cut fabric, stitch top, stitch bottom, join top & bottom, insert zipper. Wow, that was an understatement!! I know Madelyn is keen to write some reflections and I’ve invited her to contribute them whenever she wants. Stay tuned!
Things I took away from doing this sew along with one of my besties include realizing how much I’ve learned since I started my own sewing journey and a reminder of how daunting it is to start working on a garment when you’ve not sewn one before. Then there’s the realization of how much work goes into a a seemingly simple dress. When you start sewing your own clothes, you learn really quickly the big difference between high end clothing and “fast fashion” — all those tedious details like edge finishing and understitching, even your choice in quality interfacing, create garments that can withstand the test of time in a way that cheap discount racks can never hold a candle to.
In the end, despite the bobbles and the imperfections, a completed garment is a rather wondrous thing. You can WEAR it! Holy cow! So much creativity goes into the garment, it’s easy for it to feel like a work of art… except it’s totally functional. I think that is one of the most beautiful aspects of sewing clothes and why couture costs so much. You’re paying for these handmade labors of love, doted on in the wee hours by a dedicated seamstress making artistic judgements with needle, thread, and some fabric.
First step: Locate sewing mascot. Check. Ok, now we can get started!
If you want to retrace the steps of Madelyn & me, you are welcome to follow along with these posts! I’ve tried to make sure I caught all of the little pitfalls we encountered along the way so that you can avoid them ahead of time. If you’re a 100% beginner, I think you can do this project but you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time — don’t set a finish goal date otherwise it will stare you in the face and bug the crap out of you. Beginners will also want to read your sewing manual instructions if you are still learning how to wind your bobbin and thread your machine. Give yourself some liberty and go crazy with some scrap fabric or fabric swatches! Have fun and play with the stitches on your machine so you can get a good feel for it.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Maw & Mo Sew Along when we tackle sizing and pattern instruction reading.
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