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Jun 13, 2015

Inside Susan's RTW Wardrobe: Exploring Seam Finishes, Facings, et al.

When Susan came over last week, I asked her to bring me samples of some clothes from her wardrobe that fit well and that she likes.

I explored them in detail today because I want to learn how women's RTW garments are finished.  I've made a fair amount of women's clothing over the years but have always followed commercial patterns so I'm not that familiar with what store-bought women's clothing looks like inside.

The first garment I examined is a Trina Turk black pencil skirt -- a cotton/poly blend, I believe, with a bit of Lycra in it.  I'd call this a "better" skirt, the kind you'd find at Nordstrom's or Lord & Taylor (based on my online research).  It's lined and the lining is trimmed with lace.

The lace is serged to the lining and the seam allowance pressed down.

One thing that struck me as unusual is that there's a front zippered fly; I assumed all skirts zippered in back or on the side.

I like how, inside, the lining smoothly covers the outer edges of the fly facing.

In back there's a kick pleat.

The seam allowances are serged, as you'd expect.

There are no darts in front and two approximately 4" darts on either side of the center back seam.

The waistband looks like it's attached from the front and then folded over and stitched in the ditch.  The raw edge is finished with bias tape.

The waistband is lightly interfaced.

This is a nice skirt but I don't care for the front fly.   Would you want that showing when you tucked in your blouse?

I also want to show you some details from Susan's black pique dress from Friday's post.

It's unlined but the front and back neck facings extend into the armholes.  I've read about this way of drafting facings on some sewing blogs but I've never seen this in a commercial pattern.

Susan also brought a floral print cotton golf skirt. The unlined skirt has two darts in front and two in back, all the same length. The waistband is just a facing (interfaced with a tricot fusible) that's folded over and topstitched along the top to hold it in place.. The raw edge is finished with seam binding.

Seam allowances measure 1/2".

I noted that women's waistbands are generally pieced together and (I believe) each piece is curved, in contrast to a casual men's pants waistband that's often just one long straight piece.


There's an invisible zipper in back -- broken -- which I offered to repair.

I love looking at ready-to-wear, don't you?  You can learn a lot by seeing how clothes are made in a factory setting.

Yesterday I bought a pattern online with Susan in mind.  We didn't talk about cocktail dresses but I saw this pattern -- Butterick 5599 -- and thought it would really work for Susan's figure, don't you agree?  I've seen some great-looking versions on Pattern Review.

Moving right along, readers, are you following me on Instagram?  I've been using it a lot lately now that I have a smartphone.

It's great way to share things like flea market finds and dumpster dive treasures -- as they happen!  (Lots of dog pics and some street fashion too.)   If you follow me you already know I found a great vintage straw hat this morning as well as some beautiful Russell Wright Steubenville dinnerware to add to my collection!

And that's it!  In closing, does anything about the clothes I've archived surprise you or is this pretty much familiar territory for you (for you women especially)?

Have a great day, everybody!

Caught this woman on the street today -- very successful pattern placement!


  1. Oh, I love Russel Wright! My mom's wedding china (from 1959) is Russel Wright Iroquois, some pink and some gray. Such lovely shapes! She still uses it from time to time. I like the dishes you bought. Pretty colors.

    As far as the front zip in the skirt, I'm not a huge fan. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, and front zips are common in ladies casual skirts. It's just that on me, front zips often don't lay quite flat. (Okay, okay, it's my stomach that isn't quite flat. Whatever.) It can add a bit of bulk to an area that doesn't need any extra. I prefer side or back zips. I'm the same with pants--I'd rather have a side zip or no zip at all.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing what you make for Susan.

  2. I think that cocktail dress will be great on her! Great choice.

    Does she really like how she looks in the pencil skirt? It's not a style I would imagine her wearing with her broad shoulders. Fly fronts on skirts are more informal,for example I have a denim skirt with one and pencil skirt that (looks like it's) made from a Docker twill, I like them. I am thinking of making one, and using this Threads Magazine tutorial to make sure the pockets stay anchored.

    My preference is for the zip to be in the side, preferably hidden in a pocket.
    A curved waistband makes skirts and pants fit so much nicer! Take a pattern with waist darts, close them, then make the waistband to fit the resulting curve. I don't know if I explained that very well, you can find tutorials online. Sometimes it's called a contoured waistband.

    I really like the lace on the lining of the skirt, a nice touch. It used to be you could buy hem tape in all sorts of colors.


  3. I always like to check out RTW when I'm out and taught both kids (boy & girl) what to look for when shopping. I'm a bit older though and never could understand why a woman's skirt or pants/slacks needed a fly front. I know, design detail but flat stomach or no, I just don't care for the look, especially on me. To each his own though and that's why we sew. I like the pattern you chose for Susan and look forward to your creations for her.

  4. The golf print skirt has a contour waist---it sits at the waist or top of the high hip. That creates no bulk on the waist. A quartered waistband is also a great waistband to use if one has to alter clothes occasionally as you can change at 3 places, depending on where the zip is. Frequently used in costumes for that specific purpose.
    If I get stuck on a garment part I will go to goodwill to see if i can find the same part on a rtw garment and then take it apart. Only a few dollars but some learning experiences are worth that.
    Always enjoy your posts. You have come a long way in your sewing capabilities in a relatively short time. I'm impressed!!! Keep up the good work. Renita

  5. Unless it is a jean skirt, I have never been a fan of the fly front zipper on a skirt, but is this a detail Susan likes in her casual wear? If she likes it, go for it!

    I also love looking at finishing details! You can learn so much from them. I have not seen the extended facing in any of the commercial patterns I have used, but it will be easy enough for you to create one. It is well worth the time spent drafting one.

    That sure is an nice dress pattern. It would be very pretty in a sea foam green or other bright summer color. Maybe coral? Can't wait to see the final result!

  6. Thanks for sharing Peter. I hate to clothes shop and sew my clothes--fabric shopping is different! It's nice to see the construction details of RTW. Nice photography and descriptions! I hope you do it again (hint, hint)

  7. I think zipper at the front is a style element on that particular skirt. To set it apart from the rest of black pencil skirts out there. I do think that the linings bottom edge is serged first and then the lace is simply sewn onto the edge.

  8. Try looking for that one piece neck/sleeve facing in 60s and 70s patterns where it was quite common. I've seen it recently in a little girl's dress pattern, too.
    Looking at how RTW is made can be very educational. I learned how to sew from the old Vogue sewing book, so RTW construction can be a real eye it's all machine made, with none of the hand finishing I'm used to. That's the first RTW skirt I've ever seen with a lace edging on the lining, something I used to do as it's an easy way to get a pretty finished look on the lining's hem.

  9. Sometimes a skirt has a fly front because it's intended to be a kind of menswear style. I have a suit skirt like that (wool flannel) that I really like for that reason. Just depends on the style. The dress pattern is cute, but it would be difficult to wear a bra with it, so that's a thought to consider.

  10. Enjoying your Instagram snaps. So in love with the pottery you got. It's making me want to ditch my white.I don't like the fly on the skirt. I used to have a Jean skirt with a front zip its a very masculine casual finish don't you think? I don't inspect rtw clothing just pick faults with the fit. But I will have a look at mine now.

  11. The curved or shaped waistband is a feature since waistlines got redefined below the natural waist. Hence the need to sit on a slight curve. It is more common and probably more flattering to to make a skirt without a waistband, but with a facing, or a petersham facing, instead. Nice for the short waisted or those without much length in the torso or waist definition. Same finish applies to A line skirts.
    The all-in-one facing is ubiquitous in the unlined sleeveless dress, and sometimes when it is lined the facing is still there with the lining attached to it.
    BTW I find this very cute - the David Attenborough inquisitiveness into the details of another kind of life form tee hee! We women are much more familiar with menswear - some shockingly huge percentage of menswear is bought by women for their menfolk - 70% or some such. But then maybe I am skewed in my thinking there as I made my first men's shirt when I was 15 for a friend, out of satin of all things! :)

  12. Peter, have you ever checked out Silhouette Patterns. Peggy Segars has videos on her website showing the construction details of lots of better clothing and her patterns are copies of designer wear. You can also find her on YouTube. If you are going to be sewing womens clothing you might want to check it out.

  13. I second the suggestion above by "Anonymous" to find an example of the woman's garment you plan to sew at a thrift store. Using this as reference will be a valuable way to teach yourself how to sew women's styles using current industrial techniques--rather than the 'how to' included with home sewing patterns. You may even want to start a little sample collection to use for future projects. I think you will love working that way.

  14. I like exploring how things are put together, too - especially at different price points. That way when I make a similar garment I'm more apt to use a higher-end technique for finishing so that when people see the garment it doesn't read "home sewn".

    Currently I'm working on an Irish dance solo dress for my oldest and every time I go to a competition with her I peruse the racks of used dresses, looking at the construction techniques, so I have a better idea of how to go about making hers. It's a complex thing, but so interesting!

  15. No surprises in those garment finishes. I have a small stash of RTW garments I no longer wear but have kept as references for certain techniques or interesting finishes (sometimes deconstructing them to figure out how they were made).

    Years ago I was shown mass-production methods for constructing a shift dress and a lined jacket. While the commercial pattern instructions would have produced the same results, the factory methods were a revelation - so much faster and simpler.

    Like Jen, I tend to match technique to the type/style of garment but am much more likely to employ couture techniques to everything I make these days. If you ever get the chance, pop into a Chanel boutique and examine their garment finishes - exquisite.

    This is a very exciting project. Deserving of a vlog post at some point methinks.


  16. Great choice for a dress! I like fly fronts on skirts - especially denim and have made a few skirts in that style.

  17. A couple of days ago, I was 'sightseeing' at Barney's and I examined the interiors of some garments from The Row. Very nice edge finishes (facing alternatives) in unlined dresses which I'll try at home. Also, I love the zipper installation in Dior RTW. I think that if you are snooping RTW for sewing inspiration, you might as well go for high end. I thought the garment interiors you showed looked cheap.

  18. Ahhhh, Steubenville - a little Ohio in your life!

    It's all so suddenly Susan. Can she handle mass adoration?

    I'm with Spud, please vlog us (Susan needs to make a talkie - her public is already demanding it!!).

  19. Go and look an high end read to wear. The construction is impeccable, including the fact that they use a serger. The clothes you showed, look cheap cost effective manufacturing techniques used by low end clothing lines for mass market ... ie Joe Fresh. You need to focus on fit which is what you are doing, but use couture sewing techniques and great finishes for the clothing for your client. Also plan a wardrobe or line for her, discuss fabrics and lifestyle .. ie .. can i use silk charmeuse or do you need something wash and wear and breathable. You need to plan and pick one area of her lifestyle that you will create a wardrobe, then move to the next. Since she is asking you to create "custom handmade clothing" you need to treat this with high end rtw techniques or couture sewing techniques.


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