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Jul 22, 2011

Heat waves and strapless dresses

Friends, the only good thing about a heat wave is....I can't think of anything.  (It feels good when it's over?)   I actually enjoy the heat, most of the time.  But I'm ready for a break, which won't come till next week, when it's predicted to be in the Arctic upper eighties. 

But let's talk sewing -- specifically boning (Who groaned?).  As you can see up top, I cut both the skirt and bodice for my strapless cocktail dress.  The fabric doesn't fray easily and since all the skirt pieces are cut somewhat on the bias, there's no fraying of seam allowances (visible on the right in the photo).  Hence, I'm not finishing them (I'd originally planned to pink them).  This is good.

I have a confession: I have a developed the terrible habit of tracing my darts in colored pencil.  (I know, right?)  Nothing else seems as effective.  I trace them lightly and always test first to make sure nothing shows through the fabric.  What should I be using instead -- wax?  I hate those vanishing ink pens -- too often the ink doesn't vanish and it can seep through the front of the fabric, which pencil does not.  I've also found that ironing the center line of the dart before stitching is helpful (to me, anyway).  Ever try that?

The skirt, as you can see, is quite full, and will likely have a crinoline beneath or something to puff it out a bit (I have a few makeshift tulle crinolines, but this may call for real net -- we'll see). 

Here are the bodice and skirt together.  Mind you, that dummy is not a true bodyform.  Everything that needs close fitting has to be done on you-know-who.

Now, in an ideal world, I'd have underlined the bodice.  Susan Khalje underlines her wedding gown bodices with any of a variety of fabrics, depending on her fashion fabric.   I am not underlining; the pattern instructions didn't mention it (except for sheers) and it didn't occur to me.  Plus let's face it: nobody's getting married in this dress.  It's as much an experiment as anything else (my fabric was $2/yd).

I am simply lining the bodice, using a densely woven cotton sheet.  The boning channels are sewn to the lining itself.  Susan Khalje attaches her boning to the underlining, which is stitched to the fashion fabric, and the whole kit and caboodle is then lined.  Since I'm stitching my boning to the lining, the boning is facing inside (i.e. toward me).  That's what my McCall's instructions say to do. 

The instructions have you stitch the boning by hand to the bodice lining after the lining has been attached.  I'm doing it first (though I'm removing the spiral steel bones before stitching the bodice and bodice lining together (this is then turned; the open bottom is whipstitched to the waistline).  Then the bones can be inserted and the casings stitched closed. 

The boning channels should not protrude into the seam allowance (I made that mistake initially), but should be as close to the upper seamline as possible.  In the pic below, you can see that the casing is caught in the seam allowance:

As it turns out, I'm going to have to trim about 1/2" off my two front bones -- that's one of today's chores.  Then I'll whipstitch the bottom of the bodice lining closed, add my zipper (lapped),  and then a grosgrain ribbon waistline stay, hook and eye, etc.  I'll likely add twill tape to the neckline as well.  That's the plan, anyway.  As you can see, there's still much to do, and much of it is new to me.

I stitched the boning channels to the bodice lining with a zipper foot and it worked well.  (I'm doing this project on my Featherweight.)   If this were a more complicated bodice (or a more difficult fit) I'd likely do this by hand to allow for adjustments in the position of the bones.

What else can I tell you?  If it weren't so hot I might enjoy this more but hey, in six months we'll be complaining about the cold.

Friends, I don't want to talk about this dress again tomorrow; I think we all need a break, I know I do.  Any good topic suggestions out there?

I'm all (slightly sweaty) ears!

Happy Friday, everybody!


  1. Speculate on why it is that your stitches look perfectly even while mine look uneven and too small for my having set them at 4. I have a Husquavarna fairly modern machine. Is it that vintage machines make stitches look so perfect?

  2. I've never heard of using a colored pencil but if it works - why not? I've had problems just within the last two weeks with marking tools. The disappearing ink pen didn't disappear in some spots. The blue tailor's chalk also left marks. I've had better luck with a regular pencil than them. I haven't had any trouble with tracing paper, so I think I'll stick to using it and thread for marking.

  3. Susan #1 - Any machine should be able to make even stitches. Is you tension set correctly?

    Susan #2 - I wish I had your patience for marking in thread!

  4. I use a regular old pencil on light fabrics, and white chalk on dark fabrics. Both always wash out and never show through

  5. I use an awl to punch holes at the mid point, and end of my darts, I place them amount 1/4 inch in from the stitching line, half way down the dart, and 1/4" in from the point of the dart. The awl separates the threads instead of cutting them, and I'm left with no marks.

    Your sewing is so precise! I'm much more of a free spirit sewist lol :)

  6. am with you in the pencil, i gave up long time ago on disappearing ink to trace clothing I use colored pencils like you or gel pens yeah they work really nice, and tailors chalk it is only for really expensive fabric cause it does not affect the fabric.

    on your stitches personally i have found that is more my setting on the sewing machine, depending on the fabric type and thread am using.

    thanks for sharing! have a great weekend!

  7. I mark my fabric with wahsable crayons....but I bet colored pencils would be perfect! Off to the store...

  8. Hey, its your fabric!

  9. I use a regular #2 mechanical pencil sometimes, Peter. It washes out, doesn't show through the fabric, and I don't have the same problems I have with stuff supposedly made for the purpose. And if I want to be extra careful, I use embroidery transfer sheets!

  10. Topical Treasure Trove:

    Home Healthcare Helpful Hints

    Another book revue, with appropriate references to musicals and actresses.

    Sewing contests demystified - "Lappin's Lessons Learned".

    Cathy's Diary - a voyeuristic peek into her plentitude.

    A post-mortem on Peter's recent sewing funk. How to navigate and pull out of one, handily.

    Accessories for fall, and the party season. Cathy Lane's first frank discussion with your readers.

  11. Tomorrow's topic:

    Sparkley swimsuits
    Psychodelic shirts
    Cathy's singing career update
    Chihuahuas, and the advantages of treadmills in the heat.

    The dress looks lovely. It cries for white gloves, I think.

  12. I've never had luck at all with any of the transfer pens etc., I mark darts and everything with thread. Darts can be tricky though when you do it with thread, but I have learned to do a lot of it by eye.
    I remember my mom always using the sewing carbon paper, and tracing wheel. Those little dots, never seemed to go away!!!

  13. I haven't had a problem with marking pens, but I don't use them on things where they show through. Tailor's chalk is the only thing that works for me on dark fabrics.

    Am I the only person who cuts out darts in the pattern paper so I can mark them directly on the fabric? It's the only way I've found to get the markings to transfer accurately. I also use a hole punch to make holes where dots are so I can mark those too.

    As for tomorrow's topic -- getting out of a sewing funk would be a good one! Some days I have a real hard time getting started on my projects....

  14. Didn't I cover that earlier in the week? ;)

  15. I mark with pencil or a colored pencil when making one thread darts or darts with bowed legs.
    If I'm working with a straight dart, I mark the point of the dart and pull out excess top thread to use as a line marker. When I have the cut edge under the presser foot, I put the needle down and then pull that top thread from the needle to the dart point. Then I use the thread as a guide.

  16. I have a lot of experience using spring steel and spiral steel stays (from making costumes.) The stays you're using are washable (by hand, or by machine on delicate.) I've had friends use the steel strapping from packing crates as stays, even painted, those rusted out. The painted spring steel that I bought from a theater costume stop did not rust. The plastic boning is crap. I've used it in place of wires for millinary, but it's a waste of time in a garment. It takes a shape (not the one you want) the first time it's worn and then has to be replaced.

  17. I've used the blue marking pens on cotton and linen and never had a problem getting them to wash out. I've never got up the nerve to try them on silk, though.

    Since I do a lot of curved darts (especially at the bust), and often hand-sew them (or at least the last 1/2" or so at the tip), I need nice, clear markings. So I use colored pencils all the time. I've never thought anything of it; I figure as long as the mark doesn't show through the fabric or bleed into it when being washed, anything that makes a good, clear mark is fair game.

    And yeah, like you I always press along the center line of a dart before sewing it--it helps me be more precise. For me, getting the darts perfect makes a huge difference in how the finished garment looks. So while I have no love for sewing darts, I'm willing to put in whatever extra effort it takes to get them right.

    The dress is coming along great--I think Cathy's going to look fabulous in it!

  18. My cousin gave me one of these a couple years ago: I have since bought one in every color. It is by far and away the best marking tool I've ever used. easier than other chalks, always washes out, easy to control, nice fine line, colors to contrast your fabric. I know i sound like an insane proselytizer, but it's one of the best sewing tool I've discovered.

  19. The dress is looking great. I really like that fabric. IMHO, it will need a crinoline to get that “Once Upon a Dream” look, as you described it. Thanks for letting us learn about boning along with you. I was always afraid of it. Having the boning against the body seems odd, but if that’s what the instructions say …

    I mark darts with pencil. Nothing else seems to wash out so completely. I never tried pressing before sewing. I must try that next time.

    It’s too hot to sew, so I’ve been looking pictures on blogs and other websites for inspiration and to dream. Where do you get your inspiration?

  20. The dress is looking good Peter. I think Cathy will like it.
    Re markers I thought I was the only one that marked in lead pencil n light fabrics, chalk on dark fabrics and - gasp- biro on everything else. It washes out surprisingly well.

  21. Yes, Peter, I find that sometimes pressing center line on the dart helps. I use tailoring chalk to do all of my marking unless the fabric is white (the chalk comes in other colors, but I don't like the colored stuff). This chalk disappears when pressed. If I need to use a color other than white to mark, I use chalk pencils with good results.

    Because of your inspiration in getting back to the sewing room, I have committed to a sewing project, too. Mine is a flirty summer skirt. It's cut out, and the yoke waistband interfaced, tonight I begin stitching!!

    Topic idea for tomorrow - please tell us more about your sewing machine collection!

  22. I use a regular old pencil on light-colored fabrics too, and nobody is any the wiser. What do you think our grandmas used? You could also use colored chalk, I very much like my Japanese chalk wheel on darker fabrics for instance, very clear line. But it doesn't matter as long as you're cautious about hiding/removal. And I also iron my darts before stitching them, of course, makes them much easier to stitch.

    I don't see any reason to treat every dress as if you were going to get married in them. Once would be more than plenty, although congratulations it sounds as if gay marriage might be making it soon to NY! And underlining is mostly useful if your fabric just doesn't cut the mustard in terms of body, which doesn't seem to be the case here. I'm glad to see you're being sensible and not finishing seams that don't need it :-).

    I hope you're lying down in front of a fan by now, and not sweating up a storm wrestling with boning. I feel like lying down myself, just thinking about y'all..

  23. Odd...nobody has mentioned tailors tacks for marking your darts. I use tailors tacks and there's never a problem. At first it might seem like it takes more time.but in the long's swift and sure! No tell tale signs at all, ever, on any fabric....and most of the time you have a needle and thread handy anyway. Try it, you'll like it.

  24. I can't wear strapless dresses. Too much self holding up to do for me to risk holding up a dress, too.

    I use tailors tacks for darts, too, since I always have an ancient scotch tape tin of needles right at hand. I also use good quality tracing paper and a wheel sometimes, but first I always reinforce my darts with scotch tape, so the paper doesn't tear.

    Tomorrow's topic? How about Italian Ices? Or something equally chilly? I'll bet they're abundant in your 100-degree-plus part of the world.

  25. I am so ready for Fall! As I write this, it is 101 degrees here. It has been over 100 for the last 45 days. And no rain. Cooler temps and rain would be so welcome.

    How about a discussion of tools used that are really not meant for sewing. I use a magnetic mechanic's parts bowl for my pins. I can pull the pins as I sew and toss them in the direction of the bowl. It catches them every time!


  26. I hope you don't mind a comment about your tape application. As a fairly new corset maker, I am by no means an expert but I have been doing a lot of learning about boning application. The common wisdom is that one really shouldn't be applying the tape with the boning in the channels. It is risky with the possibility of hitting the boning with the needle. It can also cause puckers in your fashion fabric as the tendency is to make the channels too tight. There has to be a little amount of ease to allow for movement but not enough to allow the bones to twist in the casings. There are lines in the weaving of the casings to use as a guide, or you can just choose your edgestitch distance. After sewing you just slide the bones into the casings. I hope this is helpful.

  27. I sometimes use pencil for marking too, although I did buy some chalk pencils (think they were Prymm ones) that sharpen to a nice smooth point and they're pretty good too. My MIL thinks I'm nuts, she's a 'tailor tacker', although if I ever get the chance to work with the finest silk then, maybe, I'll have a go at the tailors tacks.
    Maybe you should do a post concerning Lido's (do you have Lido's in the U.S or is it just a British thing), that would be a very weather appropriate topic.

  28. Another topic suggestion for the next post: kilts and men's skirts. Once more many thanks for this inspiring blog!

    Matthias from Bavaria (can't log in at the moment)

  29. I completely agree with using a colored pencil lightly to mark a's the only way I can make those points really skinny. And I'm SO GLAD you are putting in that waistline stay!!!!

  30. I use dressmakers' carbon paper (it's really wax), with a seam marker with points, except on knits. There is a smooth-wheel marker for knits that makes a solid line instead of dots. The markings wash out and the paper comes in lots of colors; just be careful where you put the marks, as there is a right side & wrong side. I also use a chalk pencil; its marks brush off easily. Darts are easier after the first 500 you do! Kristina

  31. Late to the party regarding Susan's comment about straight stitches (the first one here): My Pfaff does wonderful straight stitching, but no machine I've ever used can match my 60 year old Singer Featherweight for truly straight stitches. So, yes, I'd argue that at least some vintage machines are the very best at the only thing they do: straight stitching!


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