Tag Archives: couture techniques

Make a Custom Flexible Dressform Arm

Before I start on the instructions to create a custom arm for your personal sized dress-form a quick update on Wolf Dress-forms. Sadly the company is out of business and Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness tells the story. Wolf forms occasionally show up at tag sales, store closings, on EBay or Craig’s List but they can command a hefty price. If you are lucky they can be purchased for around $200. Best of luck if you embark on a search.

I’m always looking for snippets of information as to the workings of couture ateliers. The film, Signe Chanel, shows an inside view of Chanel’s workrooms and I noticed that the mannequin arm is extremely soft and flexible. Not at all like the rigid arm form which came with one of my forms.

Pre Made ArmPre Made Attachment

This arm is very heavy and intended to be attached by tying the tapes around the neck. Unfortunately this never worked well and was difficult to insert into the garment sleeve. I’m including my pattern for a custom sleeve form as a printable pdf document. Hopefully I’ve formatted it correctly. This is my first attempt using Adobe Illustrator and have found the learning curve fairly steep. The pattern tiles are 7.5 x 10 inches so expect 1/2 inch margins all around if you are using US paper. It should also print out on A4 paper fine, just adjust the margins. Print out page 1 to check that the size box prints at 4″ x 4.”

PDF Layout

Mannequin Sleeve

There are NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. I used cotton drill cloth for the two main arm pieces, cotton muslin for the oval armhole and wrist covers and cardboard to insert into the armhole/wrist covers.

Fabricsitch lines

I’ve traced the stitch lines in blue dashed lines and am adding 3/8 inch seam allowances. Transfer the vertical and horizontal balance lines also. I use washable marker. Notice the vertical line down the upper arm pivots at the elbow.

There is ease on the upper arm at the elbow point. If you try and match up the stitching lines there is excess fabric which needs to be eased in to create the elbow shape. Stitch the back seam first.

Elbow EaseElbowElbow 2Completed Seam

If your balance lines are slightly askew at the elbow, blend into a smooth line across the seam. The marks will dissolve with water after you topstitch the line. Press the seam open. I use a topstitching (has a larger eye) needle and two strands of black thread to trace the balance lines using a 3.5mm stitch length. There are three horizontal balance lines, one at the elbow, one at the underarm and another about 2 inches up from the underarm. Extend the upper balance line to cross both sleeve sections.

Elbow with corrected lineCompleted Seam

Close the remaining seam matching the stitched balance lines. Press open. Close the dart at the top of the sleeve. Cut the shoulder piece (looks like a shoulder pad) from drill cloth. It needs a seam on one side only. I serge the outer edge to prevent fraying. Using a 4.5m stitch, sew along the top of the sleeve. It will gather up slightly which is all you need. Don’t try and ease it like a set-in sleeve.

Top DartAdd SeamsCap Ease

Clip within the seam allowance on the shoulder section. Mark the mid point and attach it to the arm, matching the mid point to the dart on the sleeve. Make sure you have right sides facing each other. It should look like this.

Completed shoulderCompleted shoulder right side

To stuff the sleeve I use soft polyester fleece. I cut a piece the length of the sleeve plus about 2 inches. Roll up the fleece, not too tightly, and gauge about how much is required to fill out you sleeve. I want the sleeve to be full but not tightly packed and stiff. The wrist and lower arm needs less fill than the upper arm so I shape the fleece like this. I’ve used about 30 inches an have cut off one corner so that the lower arm has less stuffing than the upper.

Cut Fleece

Begin rolling at the shorter end forming a soft cylinder which is fatter at one end. I safety pin a length of ribbon onto the slimmer (wrist) end, insert the ribbon through the top and pull it through. If you want more or less fill pull out the roll and adjust the amount of stuffing.

Rolling fleecePull through

Trim the fill at the armseye end leaving enough to fill out the top.

Fleece at top

Cut ovals from cardboard for the wrist and armseye covers. I use lighter weight muslin (the drill cloth is too stiff to gather) and add about 3/4 inch seam allowances. Stitch around the edges, insert the cardboard and pull the threads up to create the covers.

Cardboards

I place the armseye cover against my form and mark the shoulder seam point. Notice that I’ve angled it towards the front to better replicate my arm position. Human arms tend to fall slightly in front of center. Line up the wrist oval to simulate the wrist shape. Again wrists aren’t circular; they are wider when viewed from the top of the hand than the side.

Scye cover rotatedAttach Wrist

Hand sew the covers in place with a whip stitch. Your new arm can be attached with a few pins (I use flat head pins and push them at an angle to avoid snagging the garment). This pattern is for the right arm. If you would like two arms just flip the pieces and make a matching form for the left side. See how easily her arm bends and I’ve found this version much more workable than the premade ones.

CompletedBendable Arm

This will make a fairly slim arm. If your arms are larger and you want to adjust the pattern I would suggest this method. Trace the pattern onto your preferred paper and slash the upper and lower arm sections. I don’t cut up my master pattern until I’m happy with the changes. If the first alteration doesn’t work I haven’t destroyed the original and it’s much easier to start over.

Adjust

Divide the amount you want to adjust by 4 and spread the pattern sections by that amount. It doesn’t need to be the same for the entire length of the pattern. You might want an extra inch at the wrist and an extra 2 inches at the bicep. Overlap the sections if you need a smaller arm. Likewise the length, both above and below the elbow can be adjusted. The ovals for the armseye and wrist covers will need to be adjusted and I would just use trial and error. There is a mathematical formula for figuring out the circumference, long and short axis of an ellipse but you don’t want to see it. Anyone with a math background will understand! Enjoy.

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Do You Have $7000 to Spare?

I often take inspiration from a designer outfit and this one from Alexander McQueen caught my eye. The sweater retailed for $5000 and the skirt another $2000. Why not try to replicate the pieces?

mcqueenblacksweaterandskirt

I fashioned the skirt from a tweed from Linton Mills and added contrast black leather from Mood Fabrics. Concerned that the leather might rip at the top of the slit, I reinforced it with grosgrain ribbon. Notice the ribbon peaking out from the lining. The most difficult task for the skirt was topstitching the leather. My industrial Juki with an edge compensating foot attached made the job easy and produced perfectly even stitching. I sewed over tissue paper just to make sure there were no problems with the fabric feeding evenly.

top-stitch-leatherskirt-reinforcement

Finished skirt:

finished-skirt

For the sweater I used a purchased (on sale of course) one and added the rhinestone embellishment. Rather than apply heat set Swarovski stones directly to the sweater I opted to design each element separately and hand stitch them on.

I designed the motifs on sticky backed transfer film. The rhinestones are placed wrong side up and them heat set with an iron. I used one layer of cotton tulle covered with another layer of silk tulle.

rhinestone-placementembellishment-done

The silk tulle edge gathered, turned over a cardboard circle, and pressed flat.

gathering-tulleready-to-attach

My sweater blocking board was perfect to stretch the sweater slightly and figure out the placement for each motif. Some motifs were composed of sewn on larger stones and pins helped with placement of each stone. The safety pin marks the bust point so I don’t place a motif directly there.

sweater-boardplacement-for-sewing

The large black flower surrounded by tiny stones was the most difficult. I used a scrap of black Ultrasuede, digitized the design, and sewed in the embroidery hoop. Tiny 2mm rhinestones outlined the petals.

hoop-design-2

sweater-and-skirt

completed

My little girl Sydney decided she wanted to get into the photo. I’m on my way to a party for my husband’s parents 70th wedding anniversary! How many couples make 70 years together? Quite an achievement and the entire family gathered to celebrate with them. For all those who asked for more details,  I promise the custom dress form is coming next.

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments

A Black Tie Wedding: What to Wear

My last post detailed my pool party tunic for the wedding our family attended in Miami earlier this month. The wedding was black tie and of course I created a special dress (when friends and family know you sew, you can’t exactly show up at these affairs in a store bought garment).

Here is the inspiration design and spectacular fabric from B&J’s. I spotted this while shopping in the NYC garment district and knew this would be the fabric to work with.

inspiration

The black silk taffeta from Como, Italy is a border design composed of hand painted flowers and dimensional black flowers in what felt like vinyl paint. A closeup look shows the brush strokes. This design was definitely done by hand; there is somewhat of a repeat but there are irregularities characteristic of hand work.

flower-closeup

Now that I have the fabric, what to do with it? Sometimes the characteristics of fabric dictate the design. I wanted a slim fitting style with fullness at the hem. I did a toile using released box pleats, but it just wasn’t right.

box-pleating

Flaring the skirt using a border print poses problems. The hemline has a distinct curve which causes he border to appear off grain. Layout showing a conventional pattern shaping:

layout-1

The hem curve may not look pronounced in this scaled down illustration but it became quite noticeable when enlarged to full scale. Solution: break up the fullness into multiple smaller sections which allowed the hem to follow the horizontal line of the border. I had three yards of fabric and planned for the hem fullness to be distributed as 1 yard in the front and 2 yards in the back. Lower bodice sections fit nicely in between the skirt sections.

layout-2

My custom dress form also needed a little tweaking as this design would follow the back hip area closely. Most dress forms stop at the hip line but I wanted mine to extend down past the low hip. I constructed a new cover and also added two flexible arms. Details of how to modify a dress form in this way will come in a future post.

refined-dress-formdress-form-arm

The dress was designed using a combination of draping and flat pattern design. I applied style lines to the form to drape the bust and hip areas. The side seam was shifted towards the back; I felt the back seam lines worked better this way. The front had a single princess line; hem flare started 9 inches below the low hip and flared to 36 inches in the front, 12 inches in each of the 6 back sections for a total hem width of 108 inches.

style-lines-1style-lines-2

The silk taffeta was underlined with silk organza. A layer of black cotton muslin provided additional support and extended from the waist to 9 inches below the low hip line. It was catch-stitched just inside the seam lines. The interior corset was cut from two layers of cotton tulle, one layer on the cross grain and one on the lengthwise grain (a technique I picked up from studying the work of Barbara Matera, the renowned Broadway costume designer). Spiral steel boning is enclosed within the casings. I find the tape used to stabilize armholes in tailoring makes a wonderful thin and strong way to prevent the top edge from stretching out of shape. The white zip is basted in for fitting but will be removed when the corset is sewn into the final dress.

interior-corset

I felt a lining in the hip area would be prone to shifting and might cause wrinkles, so I opted to finish the seams in this area with lengths of grosgrain ribbon. The white boning which extends from the top to low hip is one length of horsehair braid stretched, steamed and zig-zig stitched into another length of un-stretched horsehair braid. I find this boning is flexible yet smooths the seams over the body in a slim fitting garment.

interior-boninginterior-hip

I found a wonderful  embroidered tulle with three dimensional flowers to form the upper bodice and sleeves. An underlayer of cotton tulle was fitted and thread traced for use as a pattern when cutting the heavily embroidered tulle. Having each section with seam lines thread traced made it much easier to place the design so it would be mirror-imaged from right to left sides.

final-tulle-fittulle-used-as-pattern

A section of the embroidered edge was shaped to follow the collar. The decorative edge fell stitched in place and excess cotton tulle trimmed away.

collar-detailcollar-completed

I don’t care for the look of just sewing a plain seam when an appliqued seam could make the transition from one fabric to another look better. I sewed the back upper bodice through the layer of cotton tulle only; then hand appliqued the decorative tulle edge.


The front seam got a few appliques to disguise the seam. Working with lace is so forgiving as you can hide almost anything. Here is a shoulder seam before and after a little applique work. I also find it easier to work in sections and complete as much as possible before joining one section to another. Finish the skirt, inner corset, lace section and bodice before attaching them together. It saves much wear and tear on the dress.

shoulder-seam-1shoulder-seam-2

front-view

side-view

back-view-skirt

Another small detail gleaned from Barbara Matera: raising your arms in a close-fitting dress can be difficult. Solution: add an underarm gusset. I cut a football-shaped piece of stretch mesh (about 5.5 inches long by 3 inches wide) and inserted it in the underarm seam centered between the front and back. Sewing by hand was much easier than manipulating the dress into the machine. It doesn’t show and makes moving so much easier.

underarm

Have you ever had a major clothing malfunction? For the back closure  I found a zip with sheer mesh tape while shopping in NYC. It was only available as a two-way zip. I figured no problem, I would just insert as usual and not use it as a two way. Put my dress on; all’s fine. We are leaving for the ceremony and my daughter-in-law notices the zipper is starting to open in the middle of my back. Within minutes the entire back is open. I tried to run the slider to the bottom and realign the coils but no go. My husband asks if I have anything else to wear. This is an out of town affair and I didn’t exactly bring a selection of evening gowns. There is only on solution: get sewn into the dress. Fortunately my husband is an OB/GYN and has a fair amount of experience sewing (humans that is). I did have a supply of needles and thread so, with Holly holding a cell phone light on the sewing (operative) field, I told him to just whipstitch (non-interrupted running stitch), the zipper tapes (incision) closed. I had a backup supply of needle and thread in my evening bag just in case but his stitching held firm throughout the night. I’m replacing the zip with my standard invisible version which has never once failed.

20170115_212318

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Another Wedding and a New Tunic

Our family is in wedding mode.  We gathered in Miami this past weekend to celebrate our nephew’s marriage. I also finally got to meet Sarah of Goodbye Valentino in person! We have been following each other’s blogs for several years and I was invited to do a guest post for the launch of “The Tunic Bible.”  I wore an ankle length tunic to the welcome party around the hotel pool; very appropriate attire.

with-sarah

The tunic fabric was purchased in Mood several years ago. It is like raffia but much softer and woven with a knit backing. The fabric is quite flexible and extremely comfortable. I used my master tunic pattern and was able to eliminate the back waist darts and incorporate the shaping into the side seams.

I enjoy having my garments look clean and finished on the inside. All seams were bound with narrow strips of bias cut china silk. I attached them with hand sewing; much more elegant and softer than machine stitching.

inside-armholeinsid-front-facing

The side vents and hem were invisibly slipstitched, catching only the knit backing, to prevent them from flipping to the right side. The collar band was faced with a scrap of gold toned silk charmeuse.

inside-heminside-shoulder

The challenging aspect of this project was to work the trim (also purchased at Mood Fabrics) so it looked custom shaped for the neckline. The neckband trim was arranged so that the motifs were symmetrical at center front and front neck opening pieces were mirror images.

tunic-trim-1

Removing the unwanted beads and stitching was tedious to say the least as I didn’t want to damage the net backing. It would be needed to back the bald areas and prevent beads from sinking into the textured fabric. Save the removed beads for later.

tunic-trim-2

To create a neat finish at the lower edge I stitched silk organza in the desire shape to face the edge. Hand stitches here; machine stitching this would have been impossible to control. Turn and trim the organza.

tunic-trim-3tunic-trim-4

tunic-trim-5

Fill in the areas with saved beads and it looks like a custom shaped trim.

Next up will be the gown I created for this black tie wedding. Sarah just published pics of her stunning outfit; be sure to take a look.

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The Wedding Gown: Inside Details

My youngest son was recently married and I had the joy of creating my new daughter-in-law’s gown. But before elaborating on the details of her gown I thought I would share photos of gowns I created for my other two daughter-in-law’s.

My oldest and his bride opted for a beach wedding on a far flung island in the Bahamas; not easy in terms of travel and logistics, but spectacular. She chose heavy silk crepe fabric and I embroidered abstract roses on the skirt. Random petals were cut out and backed with silk organza. The embroidery doesn’t show well in the photo. Silk organza flowers covered the narrow shoulder strap and cascaded down the bodice.

liz-gown

My middle son’s bride chose an antique looking crochet lace woven from silk, wool and cashmere. The ivory lace was backed with white silk charmeuse and underlined with ivory silk tulle. The lace required precise layouts as it had a large pattern and I wanted to position the scalloped edge to skim the ground in the front. Hemming this lace wasn’t an option so the toile needed to be carefully fitted. I also played with various edge and seam finishes using the lace borders. Here is a pic of her getting unrumpled and set for her entrance.

sarah-gown

My youngest and his bride chose a beach setting for their wedding so her choice of a simple gown sewn in heavy silk crepe worked well. We designed a dress with a fitted and flared skirt, bodice with low necklines front and back, and jeweled belt.

The problem with low neckline in both front back is keeping the shoulder strap up. The bride doesn’t want to spend the night struggling with falling straps. Spiral steel boning solved the problem. After attaching the strap to the back bodice, interfacing with a channel for the boning was stitched to the underlining. The boning extends to the waistline seam in order for the strap to be supported from the waist up.  Seams were turned under and catch stitched, ready for lining.

back-boningback-strap

My first draft of the bodice had all the shaping transferred to one dart but no matter how I shaped and pressed the dart it ended in an unattractive point. The day before our final fitting I removed the front bodice and remade it using princess seaming which had a much better silhouette. I added a layer of cotton flannel to the front to camouflage a stick-on bra. The flannel was catch stitched just inside the stitching lines to avoid unnecessary bulk.

bodice-first-draftbodice-second

Firm cotton sateen reinforced the center front. I normally use silk organza for this but the deep plunge neckline needed something firmer.

front-stabilizer

The lining was inserted by hand. There was no way to do this by machine and sometimes sewing by hand is simply easier and produces better results. Hand sewing enabled me to ease the lining in much smoother than could have been done by machine.

lining-1lining-2

A final touch for good luck is a horseshoe covered in silk ribbon. I start with a small cardboard horseshoe shape. Wrap narrow silk ribbon from both ends meeting at the top. Secure with narrow double sided tape and add a bow.

hs1hs1

hs3hs4

A French bustle held the skirt up for the reception. Color coded silk ribbons made it easy to tie everything up after the ceremony.

bustle-diagram

The bow drooped but all else stayed secure.

bustle-back

veil-in-wind

preview

 

40 Comments

January 9, 2017 · 6:29 am

What to Wear to a Beach Chic Wedding

What is your interpretation of “beach chic” attire? This was for a very casual beach front wedding. If you google the term “beach chic” the attire most often suggested for women is a long sundress.

I had fabric purchased at Mood last summer in the stash. It was a silk crepe de chine panel print. Very interesting but would definitely require some creative cutting to make the most of the design. I had two panels and planned to use one for a long wrap skirt and the second for the bodice and trim.

Silk Panel

Skirt draping started first. I have a professional style dress form which has been padded to my size. I find the effort spent constructing this saves so much time that I can’t imagine working without it now. The process I used is detailed in my post on April 25, 2014. How time consuming to drape and fit a design only to need to make alterations because the dress form is shaped differently than your body.

I basted a lightweight silk/cotton batiste to the silk and thread traced a reference line for the hip. Start at the left side which will be the skirt underlap and work around to the right side seam. At this point, just get the hip aligned; don’t worry about the waist shaping.

Begin DrapingContinue Draping

When you reach the right side seam, smooth the fabric downwards from the waist, which will drop the reference line. My post on November 3, 2015 also gives an explanation of how to drape this style of pleated skirt.

Right Front Drape

Form the first pleat. Second and third pleats are formed.

First PleatSecond PleatThird Pleat

Shape the back darts, pin in place and thread trace. Thread trace the waistline. I’ve also placed a thread mark at the center back line

Back Darts PinnedThread Trace Waist 2

 

Next you want to accurately mark the front waist and the pleat shaping. I pin a narrow ribbon around the waistline. Remove the skirt from the form, being careful to keep everything pinned in place.

Front WaistRemove Front Waist

Now I cut the waistline seam leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.

Trim Front Waist

I wanted the front overlap to gently curve from the hem to waist. An easy way to experiment with possible shapes is to use a length of leaded drapery weight. It is easily shaped yet is heavy enough to stay in place while you cut.

Drapery Weight

Front Curve

I had considered a lapped closure but as the bodice and skirt were attached the easiest solution was to insert a zip at the center back. How to do this with no back seam? I found inspiration from Valentino. Here is a center back invisible zip with a contrast satin welt.

Valentino

Why not turn this into a design detail? Construct it like a narrow welt pocket.

Zip 2Zip 1
The bodice was a simple scoop neck with tiny piping at the neck and armholes. It was cut on the bias so the design is shifted 45 degrees from the skirt.  I left the center back seam open to the waist so ties at the back neck were in order. I used thin drapery pull cord; measured the amount needed for the neck edge and added about 15 inches to each end for the ties. The ends were done first, cording removed from inside and then a bias strip covered the center portion. The bodice was lined to the edge with the same lightweight silk/cotton and fell stitched to the piping seam line.

Cording 1Cording 2Cording 3Piping

Finished!

Finished 1Finished 2

I must also mention that in addition to his medical practice, my husband decided to become a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain,  which gives him the authority to officiate at weddings. We are close friends with the bride and groom and they were thrilled to have him conduct the ceremony.

Officient

 

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Filed under Draping

Follow the Birth of a Custom Wedding Gown

I have an exciting project in the works and finally have enough pics to share it. I’m creating a gown for a July wedding and will be posting the progress, both as a record for myself as well as a memento for the bride.

The focal point of this gown is absolutely spectacular handmade Point de Venise lace which has spent the last couple of months in Connecticut being cleaned. Hard to believe this lace was created with a single needle and sewn entirely by hand. We were told by the restorers that the lace was likely made during the 1820’s!DSC_0572
Closeup of the detail
DSC_0575
There are two matching pieces. One is rectangular with a scalloped border and the other this shape.
DSC_0576
The dress will be a simple strapless gown with train which will be bustled up for the reception. The lace will be a separate top hemmed at the midriff with short sleeves. Buttons covered with dress fabric will close the top at center back. The fitting muslin with lace draped to approximate the top.
DSC_0578
A gown with no embellishment calls for luxury fabrics. I met the bride and her mom at B&J Fabrics in NYC and set up a work station at one of the long tables overlooking 7th Ave. The window provided loads of natural light for color matching. Antique lace is never white and and we needed a LARGE selection of fabrics to choose from. The staff at B&J were incredibly helpful, pulling roll after roll of various shades of ivories. We finally decided on a wonderfully drapey 4 ply ivory silk crepe which will be underlined with white double faced silk charmeuse. The white underlining brightened up the ivory just enough to compliment the lace.
Fabrics 1
The lace will be backed with ivory silk tulle which will provide just enough stability for it to hold its shape nicely. The same silk tulle will be used for a short veil.
Fabrics 2
Veil 2
The first step is now to create the gown’s under structure of a boned corset and attached petticoat. I’ll tackle that in the next installment.

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