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May 18, 2013

Bodice Darts, Facings, and Back Stays, Oh My!

Friends, I'm almost done with my silk dress bodice; I've hardly left the house all day.

As I think I mentioned yesterday, there are four darts in the left bodice front (which is largely covered by the overlapping right bodice front) and four darts in the back, two of them fish-eye darts.  If you look closely at the back piece (below), you can see the small perforations marking the darts (the three large holes at the straight edge mean cut on the fold).

I usually enjoy making darts but they're much more challenging to create in shifty silk charmeuse.

In an ideal world, the darts would be basted by hand.  I took some shortcuts and I'm happy to say they worked just fine.  Rather than make tailor's tacks to mark my dart points, I used a water soluble pencil on the wrong side of the fabric.  It doesn't bleed through the front and since it's pink, it's easy to see.

Then, with pins, I matched the dots and set the outline of the dart.

With my iron, I made a quick crease to set the basic shape.  From the outside, this is how the back looked before I sewed anything.

The darts came out nicely.  The Bernina handles silk beautifully and I used a trick I learned from a Margaret Islander video: when making a fish-eye dart, start from the center and work your way toward either end.  It's easier to stitch off a teeny edge than to start sewing on one.  I hope that makes sense.

Can you find the dart?

I decided to make a back stay with my silk organza to give the silk a little more firmness (it also reinforces the back armhole).  The stay has the same shoulder darts as the back piece.  As you can see, I used the selvage at the bottom of the organza so I didn't have to finish any raw edges.  (I think I got the stay idea from "High Fashion Sewing Secrets" by Claire Shaeffer -- a very useful book for this kind of project.)

Next came the facings.  I had the hardest time on the back neck piece -- the pattern just tells you to cut bias strips to make the facings, nothing about width, interfacing, nothing.  I ended up using my back stay to finish the back neckline; there's no additional facing and the neckline lays beautifully flat.  I just stitched the neck up right sides together, trimmed the seam allowance, and turned.

My front facings are 2" bias strips of charmeuse underlined with 2" bias strips of silk organza.  The edges don't have to be finished since it's cut on the horizontal and doesn't fray.  I may still stitch these down discreetly here and there; I'll see how they lay.

There's still a lot to do on this dress, including adding a side zipper, attaching the skirt, making the sleeves (I'm doing the tulip short-sleeves -- never made those before), and hemming.

Oh, and shoulder pads.

In other news, I found a few nice patterns at the flea market this morning -- two for $5.  This Simplicity looks to be from 1939 or 1940.

This variation on a New Look-inspired cocktail dress is likely early Fifties.  Who doesn't love a sweetheart neckline?

This evening, Michael was kind enough to make dinner -- red snapper and fiddle heads!

And that's it!  You probably know I tend to get totally consumed by my sewing projects these days and this one's no different.  I would love to finish the dress tomorrow but I'm not sure I will manage it.  One thing about silk -- it demands your full attention.

Readers, please don't spend the entire weekend at your sewing machine: it will turn you into a zombie, take my word for it.

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Looking wonderful! As usual, the 'how-to' details are greatly appreciated.

    I'm sewing my own silk dress at the moment, and I couldn't agree more about needing to take a break from the project occasionally. I think it actually goes faster this way, because you are way less likely to make silly mistakes or try to rush.

  2. The dress is lovely; but so is Michael's cooking. Nom, nom, nom.

  3. Thanks for the details on how you make the dress! I've never worked with silk, hopefully some day I will. Your twin cousin is going to look gorgeous!

  4. A good idea to underline like that. I'll remember it in the future.

    I personally prefer to trace everything, as Claire Schaffer suggests in her Craftsy class. Ever since I started doing that my darts have gotten a lot better.

  5. I'm super excited about this dress!! The fabric is divine!! Can't wait to see the tulip sleeves!

  6. The facing and the dinner both look fabulous. You are so right about fish eye darts- much easier to run off at the points. Then you can catch the thread by stitching an inch of thread chain after you have run off, raising the machine needle then lifting the pressure foot. moving the needle so it is in the dart body and the thread chain is laying straight but not taut, then stitching one or twice on the spot to anchor the chain.

  7. Beautiful workmanship, as usual, Peter!
    ...and I love the gathered detail on the new pattern 3334!
    Very beautiful repetition on bodice and skirt.

  8. Beautiful! I am really looking forward to seeing the finished garment.

  9. I try very hard to control my inner grammar Nazi when online. I wouldn't bring this up, Peter, except that your English is usually very precise and I know from a previous comment of yours that you try to be correct in usage and grammar, so here goes. Facings don't "lay" flat. They LIE flat. "Lay" requires an object: I lay the facings down on the table. The facings lie on the table.

    Here's a something I read years ago that illustrates this well and serves me as a memory aid. Someone wrote that he was confused when he read that "the protesters were laying down in the street." Why, he wondered, would anybody lay soft, fluffy down in the street? Perhaps they were filling potholes?

    Always look forward to Cathy's appearances. This dress promises to be especially successful!

    1. Oh, I'm usually so good at lie/lay. You can see how fried I am if I'm making mistakes like that!

  10. I agree with Debi, it looks stunning so far. I can't wait to see this dress finished! And thanks so much for sharing the details :)

  11. What a clever solution for the back stay. "It's easier to stitch off a teeny edge than to start sewing on one." Yes!


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