As part of my ‘training’ for making myself a graduation dress I decided to make a practice dress. That way I could (hopefully) make all my mistakes when it didn’t matter- especially since it would be my first time inserting zips and sleeves- something that sent shivers down my spine…
Luckily I had some material tucked away in a drawer which I had originally bought to make a maxi skirt. But the colour was too gorgeous to not use it all, so I decided to make a long sleeved maxi dress. I won’t talk you through the entire process, but I’ll leave you with the lessons I learnt.
- The kitchen drawer is my friend: I got a print-at-home Burdastyle pattern for a half sleeved summer dress. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a print-at-home pattern but it’s just how it sounds. You print off the pattern and stick the A4 sheets together like a giant puzzle. After that you have to find something to trace the pattern onto. With no pattern paper to hand, I used some baking paper which worked like a charm!
- ‘Seam allowance’ is an actual thing: The pattern did state that it didn’t include seam allowance, so I figured I’d just cut a little wider than the pattern. It was only when discussing my modifications to the pattern (see number 3) with my MIL, that I realised that there’s a fixed distance for a seam allowance. So my method of just cutting approx 1-2cm (by eye) wide of the pattern was it a bit slap dash to say the least… In my defence, what on earth is 5/8 of an inch?? I’m very much a child of the metric system; inches, feet and yards just don’t register in my brain. (Similarly, yesterday I found out that a ‘cup’ in American recipes is an actual measured quantity! So my grabbing the nearest mug from the cupboard is also wrong… Sigh. You live and learn.)
- Modifying a pattern when you’ve never sewn with one is just asking for trouble: As the pattern was for a half sleeved short summer dress, I had to make some adaptations to the pattern-which in hindsight, is probably not the wisest thing for a first time dress sewer to do… but ho hum, it was just a practice dress after all… I lengthened the sleeves and the skirt, and the biggest change of all, was moving the zip from an invisible zipper under the armpit to an exposed metal zipped down the middle of the back. The idea of starting off with an invisible zipper was far too frightening! But having never sewn a zip, I had no idea how much seam allowance I needed to add to the back piece (which now had been split into two to make space for said zip). And seeing as I didn’t know that ‘seam allowance’ was a thing, I just winged it.
- Winging it/being slap dash when you don’t know what you’re doing doesn’t work: When it comes to cooking I like to throw things in here and there, whereas Tree is an incessant ‘electric weighing scales’ type of man. You know the type? The type who give you evils if you put 354g of flour in a cake rather than the 350g as stated in the recipe. The type who stands by the scales with a teaspoon sprinkling in the sugar until it’s exactly the right weight. The type who does a celebratory fist pump when he fills up the car with petrol and hits exactly £20.00 (actually, I’d probably do the same if I ever managed it…instead I grumblingly rummage through my purse for change to pay £20.07). Well apparently I’m the same with sewing. I took ages doing the first sleeve, tacking it by hand, checking it again and again- and it turned out great. Then it went to my head and my second sleeve…er…didn’t go so well. I blame the chalk. It had rubbed off by the time I got to sewing it. Instead of being a good girl and redrawing the pattern onto the sleeve, I kind of guessed where it was supposed to go…
- Interfacing, zipper feet and gobbledegook: All words that were complete and utter gibberish to me. To get an idea of what I needed to do with the zip, I first pinned it in place. Straight away I noticed that the weight of the zip pulled on the material, distorting the shape. After a bit of googling, I found the solution: interfacing. An iron on (there are non-iron versions) material which adds weight and sturdiness to the material so the zip sits on it rather than dragging it down. It was quite a scary thing to do- ironing on sticky material onto my dress. I had nightmares of it going wrong but actually it was very easy to work with. Then it came to sewing on the exposed zipper and from all my research (google, youtube) I couldn’t get by without a zipper foot. Now, my sewing machine is a mini sewing machine which quite clearly does not have the option of a zipper foot, nor do I have one. And after discussing it with my Mum (who also doesn’t own a zipper foot), we decided I could make do. So I gave it a go- and I have to say despite my concerns, it was fine! I can see why a zipper foot would be more convenient but I don’t think it’s ‘essential’. (I would say the same for a tailors ham- a rolled up old towel works perfectly: thanks Google!)
- The kitchen drawer is my friend, but bias tape is my bestie: The other part of the dress making process that gave me palpitations was the neckline… I was going to make my own bias tape but ended up buying some instead. What a lifesaver. It was so easy and so quick! The finish was beautiful and effortless. Just what the doctor ordered.
- Fitting to my mannequin? I’m not the same size as my mannequin: I knew this would be inevitable as the mannequin is 10-12 and I’m a size 10. Unfortunately, I had fitted the dress to my waist quite early on in the sewing process which meant that it no longer fitted my dummy, no matter how much I tried to wiggle it over her bust and bum. Gah. I was relying on using it for hemming the skirt. Oh well, back to laying it out on the floor then…
In the end, it was a worthwhile experience. I definitely learnt a lot about sewing and a lot about myself (mainly my stubbornness to do things on my own despite all the mistakes I end up making). And the dress turned out…wearable! The sleeve on the left isn’t inserted properly and the zip is a tad wonky and doesn’t match up perfectly with the seam of the skirt. And I’m constantly having to explain to that I haven’t worn my dress inside out, the zipper is meant to be exposed: it’s fashion darling.
But all these flaws with seams and hems are all things that other people don’t notice. I love love love the colour and love the freedom of altering a design to fit my clothing needs. I also love that you can buy a pattern and depending on your choice of material, colour, how much you follow the pattern; you really can make something totally unique. And the biggest seal of approval of my new venture into sewing? When I got asked where I had bought my dress from. Gush.
Now on to the big un….the Graduation dress. T-minus 7 days. Can I do it??
P.s. Iphone photos again! Will be bring out the SLR next time!