Adventures in sewing – part 1

English: NYA: Minnesota:young woman learning t...

English: NYA: Minnesota:young woman learning to sew. Русский: Молодая женщина учится шить. Миннесота, 1936. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my goals for 2013 is to learn to sew. Not just play with material and thread, but actually sew a piece of clothing I can wear. Proudly. Outside my own house.

Thanks to my mother, who is an excellent seamstress, I understand the basics of sewing. I have my own sewing machine and I can sew a more-or-less straight line. I can read and follow a simple pattern. However, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at sewing. A 2-3 hour project takes me at least 6 hours, often more.

If I stuck to simple patterns and projects, I’d probably be fine. But what’s the fun in that?  The beauty and the folly of the  blogosphere is that I when I find an online tutorial for a dress or a skirt. When I see a fun project or  outfits on Tea Rose Home and Stitch Parade, the rational part of my mind understands that these ladies could already sew before they started blogging about their creations. The fact that I’ve never sewed anything more complicated than a pin cushion or an apron doesn’t seem to matter (Never mind that said apron took 2 weeks and 1 and a half spools of thread to complete).

So this year, I decided to take a sewing class and learn how to sew properly. I signed up for the dressmaking class at fabrications , a funky new independent store, with really lovely fabric that has been hitherto hard to come by in my burg, except by mail order (and huge shipping charges) from the US).

Everyone in the class in making the same dress – Crepe from Colette patterns. Since it’s a wrap dress, with ties, instead of a zipper or buttons, it’s considered a “beginner” pattern (famous last words).

For my dress, I chose a pink and purple paisley – Grace – RubyWine (Cocoon Collection) by Valori Wells for Free Sprit. It’s busy, but I think it’s rich looking and will compliment the simple lines of the dress. Plus, I have a pair of pink shoes that will look almost as cute with the dress as the yellow shoes in photo.

The pattern calls for 4-1/4 yards of material, which even for a total non-sewer like me, seems like a lot of fabric for a sleeve-less dress with a V-neck back. But no worries – I washed it and pressed it  out with the iron. I figured laying out the pattern pieces would be easier without wrinkles.

The course was 6 hours – over 2 nights. For the first class, the instructor told us we would focus on fitting the pattern and cutting out the fabric. On the second night, we’d sew the dress and finish it (once again, famous last words).

The first step was to take our measurement and figure out what size to make the dress. The pattern comes in sizes 0-18, all printed on the same tissue. Each of the sizes is identified by a different cutting line. Based on my measurements, I was a size 0 on top and a 6 at the waist and hips. The instructor did caution me that Colette patterns tend to be generous on top, so I might have to make further adjustments to get it to fit properly.

The second step was to cut out the pattern and make a muslin. Since my mother has always cut straight from the (Vogue) pattern, I’d never actually made a muslin before. In this case, we only made the top, which featured 6 darts, 4 on the front (bust and waist) and 2 on the back. I’d never made darts before either, but the instructor provided very clear directions.

Putting in the darts and sewing the top together weren’t terribly difficult. The dress has a small cap sleeve and the shoulder seam is curved which is was a bit tricky to iron. Other than that, so far so good.

The muslin didn’t fit very well, and as expected, I needed to adjust the pattern. By this time, we’d been working for over 3 hours and time to go home.

At the second class, we worked on adjusting our patterns. The instructor had all the necessary tools and tricks, plus an amazing amount of patience. For me, the biggest issue with the fit were the double darts on the front – very pointy a la Wonder Woman. Not at all flattering (I didn’t have my camera with me, so there are no photos).

It took me most of the class, but I managed to make all the recommended adjustments – add an inch to the length, take out excess material below the shoulder, etc. I made so many changes to the original pattern that the instructor suggested I re-copy the pattern onto plain paper, so I could cut it out properly.

At this point, we were at the end of the 6 hours. Carrie and Curtis, the lovely owners of fabrications, invited us back for another week. We were supposed to cut out our material at home and come back, ready to sew.

Despite having followed all the directions, I wasn’t a 100% confident about cutting out my material from the re-adjusted pattern. I really liked my fabric and wasn’t keen on wasting it on a dress that didn’t fit. So I dug through my fabric stash and found a piece of fabric to make another muslin.

The second time around, the muslin came together quite quickly – much faster than the first time. In class, we’d used tracing paper to mark the darts, but I didn’t find this very accurate – my darts weren’t exactly the same length. Since this makes a big difference in the fit, I decided to mark the darts on my second muslin with thread. This way, I’d be able to tell exactly where the dart ended as I was sewing. While using thread took a bit longer than just tracing them out, I had a much better results – all 6 darts were more or less in the right place and the right length.

However, despite my new-found talent at sewing a dart, the second muslin didn’t fit. In some ways, it was worse than the first one. It was too tight under the arms and pulled across the neckline. Even worse, the darts were too close together. I’d gone from merely pointed to bullet-boobs. Not only was it not pretty (again, no photos), but it was discouraging. I had no idea how to fix the pattern.  There was no way I was going to risk cutting out the material.

Back to the store for the last session. The instructor made several more suggestions and while I re-drafted the pattern, she took apart my muslin, so I could make a THIRD one. Meanwhile, everyone else in the class had cut out their patterns and are busily working on the top of the dress. My fabric hadn’t even been out of my bag.

At this point, I decided that if the muslin didn’t fit, Crepe and I were done. We were never, ever getting back together. If I couldn’t get the pattern to fit after 3 tries and 9 hours, it was not meant to be. Besides, this was the last class and unless the instructor was prepared to make house calls, I had no idea how I could get the pattern to fit. Since I like to know as much as I can about a subject, I’d ordered every book I could find in the catalog on alternations and pattern fitting from the library. But as I’ve learned from experience, reading and doing aren’t the same thing. I was not feeling encouraged.

Muslin #3 was closer. The double dart was definitely not my friend. I was totally prepared to bail, but the instructor re-drafted the pattern while I was sewing up my muslin. The biggest adjustment was taking out that pesky bust dart.

Since the instructor went to so much trouble to help me, I feel obligated to give it one more try. Crepe and I are still together for at least one more day. Just to be on the safe side, I’ve started checking out possible replacements. Suggestions are most welcome. Anything with darts need not apply.


11 responses »

  1. Pingback: first award: the versatile blogger « tailorfairy

  2. The fabric you picked for your Crepe is beautiful – I really like the pattern and the vibrant colours. I think it is just great that you have taken a sewing class and I bet you have already picked up a ton of tricks from just those nine hours working with an instructor, even if this is not yet apparent to you. Now, I’ve never made the Crepe pattern and you want to know why? It’s because I’ve heard numerous times that getting the fit on the bodice super tricky, especially for small busted women (Colette patterns are designed for a C cup!) and unlike you, I tend to shy away from challenging projects. You may want to read up on the issues other people had with the fitting – Pattern Review and links to people’s blogs on the Colette Patterns flickr group are a good starting point, or you can read through the Crepe sewalong that Gertie hosted some time ago as there may have been others with similar issues to yours. All that to say that for a beginner dressmaking class the pattern you are working with is not that easy, especially when one considers that elusive perfect fit. Good for you for not giving up on it yet! I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but if you ever have any sewing questions or simply want to talk shop, feel free to e-mail me at stitchparade[at]gmail[dot]com Good luck with the next muslin!

    • Andrea – thanks for the tip about checking out previous posts on Gertie’s blog for tips on fitting the dress. The instructor also suggested I could try adding a princess seam on both sides of the bodice.

      thanks to for checking out my blog – I’ve been reading yours for some time. I have some nice vintage material in my stash that might look good as a Scout shirt – plus, no darts.

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