Painting my Upton dress

For the past few days, I’ve been working on the surface design for my Cashmerette Upton dress, the one I’ll be wearing to a friend’s wedding in a couple weeks. At first I thought I could use the technique I call “shattered lace”–which is basically printing through lace with liquid dye. I really love the effect on a silk scarf I made during my work group’s holiday crafting party a few years ago. (Yeah, we do that kind of fun thing.) I want to do more of this. It would look great on a dress!


This silk habotai scarf was printed by spraying liquid dye through scraps of lace. I call the effect it creates “shattered lace” because that’s what it looks like to me.

Just not this one. I realized that this technique probably wouldn’t take well on shantung, or at least not as well as on habotai. So I purchased some pretty stencils, a large rubber stamp, and a set of Jacquard Lumiere and Textile paints, and tested out the effects on scraps of my silk shantung. I settled on one stencil and the stamp and started by printing the dress bodice sections. If it turned out horrible, I had enough leftover fabric to cut new bodice pieces. I cut the bodice sections from the fabric, pinned them to large sheets of paper to keep them stable, covered my dining room table with a huge plastic drop cloth, and got to work!


My fabric, before cutting and printing.


Printed bodice front.

I wasn’t sure at first whether I liked the effect, but it grew on me pretty quickly. Especially as I added metallic gold and metallic purple accents to the black print to give it more dimension. The design is very random and has kind of a hodgepodge appearance because of the branches with flowers and birds and then the large scattered blossoms of a different variety that in no way relate to the branches. This is the effect I would have wanted with the lace printing technique. I like the design a little more every time I look at it.



I really like how these back sections now seem to glow. That’s the splotchy dye-job, but now it almost looks like an intentional part of the surface design.


And just yesterday I realized that even if I had used the lace printing technique, there are no metallic liquid dyes. Duh. So I would have had to use some form of hand painting or printing/stamping anyway to do the metallic accents. Sigh. What a happy accident!

Jacquard’s textile paints are great because they don’t spread willly nilly (unless you’re using DyNaFlow), and they heat set very easily with a hot iron. Once a painted design is heat-set, the fabric is washable. This dress won’t be washed often, though, as it will remain a semi-special occasion garment.

Now that the bodice sections are done, I’m starting to work on the 4 skirt sections.


The right skirt back. The left one is similar. I might have gone a tad overboard, but it’s hard to know when to say “enough.”



Another view of the right skirt back (upside down) with the two back waistbands.


Dirndling–the real thing

Well, October is gone, and I’ve done quite a bit of sewing since finishing this particular project, but somehow I never got back to posting details about the finished dirndl.

In the few weeks since sewing the first and second dirndl muslin, I was sewing up a storm trying to get it completed in time for my office group Halloween costume on Oct. 30. (We were all Edna Mode from The Incredibles.) See?? A plain black dirndl is so versatile.

I decided not to use fusible interfacing with my black linen, as I couldn’t find black interfacing and I didn’t want anything to dilute the color of the outer fabric. Instead, I chose black cotton duck as an interlining. I sewed a few samples of various ways of applying it, and also a few without it to feel the difference it would make to the garment’s structure. Hands down, the cotton duck interlining was the best option. So I had to cut and sew 3 versions of the bodice: outer, interlining, and lining. (the photos here are kind of blown-out because to get a good view I had to adjust the images’ brightness and mid-tones, etc.)

The dirndl bodice interior is cotton canvas: firm, heavy, and sturdy. It really helps the bodice keep its shape.

The dirndl bodice interior is cotton duck: firm, heavy, and sturdy. It really helps the bodice keep its shape.

I chose a silk twill in black with a purple stripe for the bodice lining; unfortunately the fabric was too narrow to accommodate the skirt pieces, so I had to use a different fabric for the skirt lining. The pattern didn’t call for a skirt lining, but if I’m going to wear this in fall/winter, I’ll be wearing tights, and without a silky layer in between, the tights and linen would stick together. I chose a polyester-blend jacquard lining fabric in gray tones from my stash.

One lining for the bodice (silk twill) and another for the skirt (some kind of poly/rayon jacquard).

One lining for the bodice (silk twill) and another for the skirt (some kind of poly/rayon jacquard).

From the numerous dirndl images pinned to my Dirndl Pinterest board, I’ve found that one of the common details in simpler dirndls is piping at the neckline and armholes. It gives a nice finished-looking edge and adds a really crisp, professional-quality detail. Some of the black linen yardage, combined with some narrow cord from my stash, became piping for the dirndl.

Piping at the neck and armscye edges stabilizes the edges and adds a nice dimensional detail.

Piping at the neck and armscye edges stabilizes the edges and adds a nice dimensional detail.

Unfortunately I didn’t really think out how the piping would affect the shoulder seam, and I had some trouble getting it all tucked under the lining in a neat, clean way; if I used piping again, I’d have to change the construction sequence a bit and apply the lining entirely by hand, wrong sides together.

From the lining side, you can see all kinds of messiness caused by the addition of piping BEFORE sewing the shoulder seams.

From the lining side, you can see all kinds of messiness caused by the addition of piping BEFORE sewing the shoulder seams.


But from the right side, it looks okay…Not ideal, but passable.

Live and learn! EVERY single garment I make provides a lesson in some way. Which brings me to the next issue I ran into with this project…

What should I discover once the skirt front and back were sewn together but that the two cuts of linen I purchased–from the same store, of the same type/weight, but purchased a few months apart–are two different shades of black. Of COURSE they are. Le sigh. The front skirt section is a brown-black while the back skirt and bodice are a blue-black. Different dyelots. I should have expected this. Learn from my mistakes, people!

It's difficult to see the color difference in these photos--or any photos, really--but in real life, it's obvious. If you're looking for it. The bodice and back skirt are from one dyelot. The skirt front from a different one that's a brown-black. Oh well.

It’s difficult to see the color difference in these photos–or any photos, really–but in real life, it’s obvious. If you’re looking for it. The bodice and back skirt are from one dyelot. The skirt front from a different one that’s a brown-black. Oh well.

If I was going to wear this as a festive dirndl with an apron, the difference wouldn’t be a problem. I’m still considering it not that big a deal because the color difference was only obvious once the two different dyelots were sewn together and viewed in the weird light (tinged with lime green) of my sewing room. Fortunately, when I wore the dress to work (with other sewing people who really notice things like this), I was told that if I hadn’t mentioned the color variation, it wouldn’t have been noticed at all. But it is visible at the side seam. Oh well.

Now, dirndl dress patterns don’t include pockets–but I really like a pocket in a full skirt. So I added some on-seam pockets, taken from the Sewaholic Cambie dress pattern (thanks, Cambie!). The pockets are inserted into the skirt side seams, and they live between the outer skirt and the lining.

Oh how I love pockets in a skirt!

Oh how I love pockets in a skirt!

The pattern calls for an invisible zipper, but I chose to use a regular zipper because they’re stronger, and the multiple, somewhat thick layers of the bodice would be too much for an invisible zipper. A centered application with little flanges covering the zipper looks fine and is the more usual closure used on RTW dirndls. This closure change necessitated a change in how the lining was applied at center front, but it wasn’t a big hassle.

Zipper installation was a bit different from the pattern directions because I used a standard zipper instead of an invisible zipper. My installs of this type are usually a bit pucker, but it's stronger than an invisible zip.

Zipper installation was a bit different from the pattern directions because I used a standard zipper instead of an invisible zipper. My installs of this type are usually a bit puckery, but it’s stronger than an invisible zip.

I even dangled a pretty silver charm from the zipper pull. Overall, I’m really happy with how the dirndl turned out. I still have to make some longer-sleeved blouses to go with it, but all in good time!

I actually like this blouse with the dirndl, but it's not good for winter.

I actually like this blouse with the dirndl, but it’s not good for winter.

Here’s my review of BurdaStyle 7443 on PatternReview.

Dirndls, dirndls everywhere…. especially in my head

First things first: Happy Birthday to me! Now, what can I sew as a kind of birthday present to myself? Hmmm…

Bam! A great Burda Style dirndl pattern. The perfect base for my very own dirndl.

Bam! A great Burda Style dirndl pattern. The perfect base for my very own dirndl.

Lately, all I can think about sewing is a dirndl. Probably because the weather promises to become fall-like very soon now, and the trees are already turning here in Connecticut. But it’s probably also because October is really right around the corner and that means Oktoberfest! Beer! Brats! Polka!

I’ve always loved dirndls, and I’ve been wanting to make one for a few years now. I have the pattern and the requisite Dirndl-centric Pinterest board and everything. Even the fabric: suit-weight black linen bought on sale, and a lovely black silk twill for the lining.

What’s not to love about dirndls? They’re cute, folkloric, feminine, and really quite versatile if they’re not covered in brightly colored embroidery and heavy ribbon trims–not that there’s anything wrong with a little embellishment. A dirndl looks fabulous with a cardigan or a nipped-waist blazer.

I want a dirndl to wear outside of the local Oktoberfest celebration, as well as inside, so it has to be a bit plainer for greater versatility. Sure, I want to do a dirndl that’s all-out embroidered and bedecked with channel stitching and those fabulous pewter hooks with chains looped around them, too–but to start, I’ll make a simple one that can go anywhere, with anything (an all-rounder, if you will).

The blouse is a conundrum. Most of the dirndl blouses out there are poofy sleeved and very peasanty in style. If I wore a poofy-sleeved, lace-ruffled, peasant-type blouse to work, my coworkers would think I’d regressed to the age of 6. Luckily I managed to find a BurdaStyle downloadable pattern for a dirndl blouse that’s pretty sleek; no poof in sight. And in a pinch, a button-front shirt would do, perhaps even in a striped shirting.

So despite the fact that the ladies at work have formed a Chanel Jacket Club, and that I’m participating in it and am behind already on my Chanel-style jacket, I’m going to make my first dirndl. Hopefully it won’t be the only dirndl I make. It all starts this weekend.

I’d love to post some inspiration images, but they’re from all over the web, and none of them belong to me. So you’ll just have to peruse the aforementioned Pinterest board. Here we go!

Refashion Progress

Although progress on my second Heidi dress has slowed to less than a snail’s pace, I’ve made considerable headway in the neckline refashion on my grey wool Talbot’s sheath. What can I say? It’s easy to distract me sometimes.

After finalizing the pattern for the refashioned bodice center panel and neckline, and cutting the existing panel accordingly—outer fabric and lining—I flipped each so that wrong sides were together, pinned them along the new neckline edge, and sewed a 3/8-inch seam. Then I pressed the seam open and understitched the lining edge to the seam allowance and pressed it all again so I could have a nice clean edge that lays perfectly flat when it’s all finished. 

I pinned the outer panel to its lining in a straight line down the center of the panel to keep everything in place while I was working on placing it between the bodice outer fabric and lining. In retrospect, I should have basted the panel fabric and lining together to make it easier. But it worked well enough.

I started the placement by hanging the dress and sliding the bottom tip of the new panel between the outer dress and its lining at the open waistline seam and pinned it in place. Then I used a hand backstitch to sew it in place at the waistline.

From there, it was all pinned into place along each side of the unstitched bodice center. I tried it on to make sure it was straight and even and not bunching anywhere, and amazingly it looked perfect. I measured the distance between the bodice edge and the center V point on each side and got 4 1/2 inches for both.

I had hoped it would be easy to machine sew the panel to the bodice opening, but the existing seam allowance and the configuration and construction of the bodice (especially with the reapplied bodice stay) made it impossible.

So after making sure the panel was pinned correctly in place, I simply selected a dark charcoal thread and used a tiny pickstitch to hand sew the panel in place from the outside of the bodice.

If you look closely, you might be able to just make out tiny indentations where the “pick” of each stitch is located, but a good steam ironing might make them less visible. 

Then I flipped the skirt exterior up from its lining, pinned the open waistline seam allowance together, and machine-sewed it all together again.

To reattach the bodice lining to the center panel, I’ll also use a hand pickstitch, but will probably need to apply it from the outside above the top edge of the center panel to prevent any stitches showing through. I’m not sure it’ll be necessary to stitch the lining down to the center panel below the interior bodice stay. It was all sewn down originally, of course, but first I’ll try it on to see if it’s necessary to keep things smooth (it probably will be).

I’m really happy with how this refashion is turning out; it’s much better than I expected, but just as well as I had hoped. I’ve tried it on and it’s looking great. When it’s complete, I’ll post pics showing the interior lining sewn down and then the refashioned dress worn.

After this neckline refashion I’ll feel much more confident in taking on another one that should be simpler. I have a zebra-striped sheath from Talbots that just isn’t working for me anymore. More on that in another post.

I Needed More Fabric…

….like I needed a hole in my head. Seriously, my stash is substantial. But there are a few patterns I really want to make and I’ve never come across the perfect material for them.

So prompted by a helpful sale email from, I browsed over to their selection of cotton lawns. I found three I just couldn’t do without–and I first saw one of them years ago, so I feel like I waited until it was priced just right before jumping. I purchased several yards of these three wonderful, wide-bolt cotton lawns for $4.95 per yard! They will be added to my stash, but with a purpose.

This lovely lawn in a purple, grey, and green print will be used for Vogue 8492 (now out of print), View A. I’ll probably line it in black batiste to make those colors pop! I’ve been fond of this pattern for quite some time. I love a cross-over V neckline. Jury’s out still on whether I’ll actually make the sash for either of the versions of this dress I’m planning to make, but it’s possible I will make one in purple for the above material, and possibly dark navy for the one below.

This bright-blue and white lawn (above) that just screams “SUMMER!” will also turn into the above knee-length dress. I love blue-and-white combos for summer. They remind me for some reason of depictions of vacations in Greece, where the colors are vibrant but almost hard and contrasts are stark. This’ll be lined in white batiste and probably underlined as well, for opacity.  

And the sweet beige-and-pink floral lawn I’ve gazed at longingly for a few years now will become Vogue 8380, the low-neck version. Just imagine this lined in pink batiste. It reminds me of candy, for some reason. I don’t usually go for such pale, sweet prints, but this reminds me very much of a frock I had a few years back with a sand background and tiny pink-and-sage flowers sprinkled all over it. It had hemline flounces and pleating through the bodice and was so wonderfully girly, which I don’t often indulge in. I’m not trying to recreate that dress, but I did love the colors and it went with so much and was perfect for the summer.

Now, I have a long list of frocks already lined up to make, so these three will go at the end of the list. But the materials are beautiful, as are the patterns, and since I don’t really pay much attention to trendy styles from season to season or year to year–at least in terms of sewing projects–I think these will keep very well.

Refashioning a RTW Dress Neckline

The great wool sheath from Talbots. Looks great on the model!

Back in Fall 2009, I bought this fabulous charcoal worsted wool Talbots sheath. I loved the angled center bodice and skirt pleats, and in fact have since found a Vogue Ann Klein dress pattern with very similar pleating so I can make some more in this style. Another element I loved about the original dress was a very architectural neckline drape that was formed by a bias-cut bodice insert. On the model it looked fantastic—as garments usually do. See how nicely it lays? (ignore the feathery pin thing on the model—it’s not part of the dress.)

I loved it when I tried the dress on in the shop, as well, despite the extra material making my bust look a bit—well, baggy. I plunked down my money for it and felt very satisfied with my purchase. Sometimes you just have to buck pure figure flattery for something that’s interesting. My mother was with me at the time and she loved it so much she tried one on and bought it as well. Being small-busted (way smaller than me!), this dress works better on her. But even she now finds the drapey center panel annoying, as it won’t lay consistently unless it’s pinned.

The drape panel was already unpicked here, but you can see the general effect. See how happy I look?

Even with pinning, my bust looks baggy in this dress. It doesn’t lay well under cardigans or jackets, either. But I still love the overall effect of the dress, and have worn it many times. However, I recently came to the conclusion that I’m no longer so in love with the interesting detail that initially was so key to my purchase.

So I decided to refashion the neckline.

This is no easy task, and there’s a significant amount of risk in taking a RTW dress apart—even partially—and attempting such a change. But I’m willing to take it on, because otherwise, I’d get very little use out of this dress in future.

I spent much of this past Saturday morning picking apart the seams where the center drape panel—a bias-cut triangle—joins the main bodice pieces. This was difficult because the bodice and skirt pleats are also made in the same general area. I had to take the dress apart at the center waist seam, as well, because the point of the fabric triangle ends within the waist seam allowance. There’s also a separate lining insert under the drapey panel that holds the main bodice pieces taut—a kind of fabric “stay”. That came out with the stitches holding the panel in place, and it was the first thing to get stitched back in place (carefully, by hand) so I could effectively play around with new bodice insert shapes.

Drape panel removed, stay insert restitched in place.

Once the disassembly and restitching of the stay-insert was done, the fun of drafting new neckline shape ideas started. It took me a while prior to starting this project to decide on my goals for the refashion. I want the new center panel to lay flat, to eliminate that extra fullness in the bust that the drape created. I also want a sharp sweetheart style neckline.

I came up with a shape that’s very modern in effect, in keeping with the lines of the dress. It looks, when unfolded, like a very tall, narrow heart with sharply angled peaks, rather than softly rounded ones. The new bodice insert is narrower than the original and has a lower neckline. The original drape was a variation on a high boat-neck. Because of the way the main bodice pieces attached to the drape panel, it will be easy to insert this new panel with the lower neckline while retaining the original seamlines.

The muslin for the new bodice panel.

The bodice panel pinned in place.

I played around with the shape a bit, putting on the dress and pinning the muslin panel in place to see how it should lay and what alterations needed to be made. Surprisingly, very little needed to be done between the first muslin cut and the recut of the original panel.

The new cut wool bodice panel, freshly cut in the new shape.

So now I’ve got a new center panel all ready to install in my Talbots sheath to make it even more wearable for next Fall/Winter. Still undecided as to whether I’ll attempt to machine sew the panel in place (probably not) or affix it using a hand backstitch (probably). The waistline, however, will need to be machine sewn.

Heidi #2 Started

Neckline staystitched, bodice tucks tucked on Heidi #2.

I’ve finally started sewing my second Heidi dress, which has been cut out for the past 2 weeks or so. Sometimes I have to force myself to start because no matter how much I like the act of putting something together–especially something pretty–the amount of work involved can be daunting. It’s kind of like exercise. I like moving my body; my muscles crave the exertion. But it’s frequently hard to get motivated to get into my exercise gear and commit time to the bike or the elliptical machine, even though I know I’ll feel great afterward and it doesn’t really take many minutes out of my day.

Same with sewing sometimes. So I find it’s best to think in baby steps, take it one thing at a time (which is really the only way they can be taken anyway, but sometimes the brain moves forward too quickly), and that way each step seems more manageable.

The black cotton batiste bodice lining for Heidi #2, with fusible interfacing at the neckline--a step I skipped in Heidi #1.

In any case, Heidi #2 is well underway. I’ve applied fusible interfacing to the lining necklines, staystitched the outer fabric necklines, sewed fronts to backs and created the tucks in all layers. That’s a good start.