THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

December 29, 2006

The Beauty of Underlining

I am working right now on what I call my “Laura Bennett Dress”, named in honor of Laura Bennett, the Project Runway Season 3 finalist and all around fabulous lady. I am basing it (rather loosely, if the truth be told) on McCalls pattern 5269. The fabric I’m using as the main dress is an embroidered, sequined and feathered netting. The pattern calls for a lining, and when I started planning out my sewing of this dress, I spent a very long time thinking about how I wanted it to look. With this fabrication, there were a few options that I contemplated. First was a straight interpretation of the pattern instructions, using a stretch silk charmeuse as the lining. The problem with this is that the sheer mesh will show both seams (mesh overdress and lining):

Straight, plain seam test

The moiré patterns alone would be incredibly distracting. So I eliminated that possibility immediately.

Diva Phyllis and I talked on the phone several times about construction techniques. She opined that a baby French seam would look nice, but I was afraid that a French seam on a princess line dress would be lumpy and bumpy over the bust. Plus, it just looked heavy, even on the straight seam test that I did:

French Seam

The eye would be immediately drawn to the seams, and it would ruin the airy effect of the mesh.

So I came back to my original thought, which was to use the charmeuse as an underlining. Between cutting this fabric and underlining it to the stretch charmeuse, I took several days to get ready to sew. It was worth it. I would like to say, that if you are going to underline a fabric like this, do it by hand.

Hand Basted Underlined Pattern Piece

Notice my underlined piece. This is the left back. The basting stitches are very long, and there is no puckering. Had I done this by machine, I can guarantee that there would be puckering and grain shift going on, with unpleasant, or perhaps even disastrous results. I used a plain cotton basting thread, and I used 1 1/2 inch long running stitches in the seam allowance, about 1/4 inch away from the cut edges. This gave me the control that I needed to keep the fabrics together properly during stitching.

While stitching the seams, I used my Pfaff, which has a built in differential feed. I think my industrial Juki would do a good job too, but I didn’t want to chance the fabric slipping around, so the Pfaff did the trick. Here’s a picture of the seam from the wrong side:

Right Seam, wrong side

And here’s what the seam looks like from the right side.


The seam is much less conspicuous, and the allowances are all well hidden. Underlining is a couture technique that is well worth the effort. When it’s finished, this dress will be quite spectacular, and it won’t have any of the seamline distractions that might be there otherwise. Watch this space for the finished dress.

Happy sewing!


  1. Ann, this is a really useful and practical post, and you brilliantly illustrate an important sewing & design principal – it always pays to prototype an idea or method, whether it’s construction or embellishment related. The time spent working out a process or idea in advance really pays off in the end. I can’t wait to see this dress!

    Comment by Phyllis — December 29, 2006 @ 9:25 pm

  2. it looks lovely — oh, to have a lifestyle that i would have something, anything, to wear a dress like this! 🙂

    Comment by mamafitz — December 29, 2006 @ 10:57 pm

  3. beautiful!
    I’ve been reading for a while–thank you for having such a great blog complete with instructional photos!

    Comment by verbalcroquis — December 29, 2006 @ 11:44 pm

  4. This dress will be absolutely spectacular when finished, Ann. I look forward to seeing it on you!

    I’m glad you’ve posted on something that seems so obvious on its face but that might not be thought through first when working with net.

    Comment by Mary Beth — December 30, 2006 @ 1:12 am

  5. Your fabric choice for the underlining and the hand basting process is the same what I would have chosen to do with this kind of net fabric. It will look fabulous Ann.

    Comment by Els — December 30, 2006 @ 5:44 am

  6. Hi Ann,

    Comment by Marcia Bromberg — December 30, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

  7. Ann, Thanks for the detailed post. I always learn so much from your work! How are you going to finish the seam edges? Are you just going to serge them?

    Comment by Lorna — December 30, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  8. Love the new site. Thank you for the great detailed photos of this incredible dress. Can’t wait to see it when it’s finished. Definitely a work of art!

    Comment by priscilla — December 31, 2006 @ 9:15 am

  9. Beautiful. Sometimes it is just easier and in the long run, faster to do it by hand. Can’t wait to see the finished product

    Comment by Nancy — December 31, 2006 @ 11:53 am

  10. Beautiful. While my lifestyle does not require the beautiful garments you make, I love seeing them and watching your great work!

    Comment by Linda T — January 1, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  11. This is just beautiful, Ann. Great job.


    Comment by Sandra — January 3, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  12. Ann, saw your PR review and have made my way here. This is so helpful! Please continue to share this kind of information for us intermediate sewists who get stuck in one sewing mode. I love the look of seam using charmeuse as underlining.

    I hate hand basting, hand sewing BUTTTTT-can see the real benefit of it here. I need to work on this to improve potential garments in future. Thank you again for showing this. I am a visual learning!!!

    Comment by Linda L — January 6, 2007 @ 7:21 am

  13. Hi,
    I have one technique to add for dealing with a seamline on net or laces. I have a couture garment that has an embellished net, worn over the skin (no lining), and the seam is encased in nude chiffon. The seam virtually disapears when worn. Wouldn’t this technique also be possible over a lining? (encase the seam in a bias strip of lining fabric). That would eliminate the black line that a french seam creates and allow for free movement of the net (rather than flat lining, which will add body, but prevents any ‘floating’ effects).

    Comment by Jennifer Orsini — January 1, 2008 @ 2:41 am

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