THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

January 5, 2007


McCall’s 5269, aka “The Laura Bennett Dress” is done! The dress got that name because I saw the fabric and immediately thought of the Project Runway Season 3 runner up. I can only hope she would like it!

A few notes on the pattern itself, and the construction.
The pattern is a relatively straightforward lined, princess seamed dress. I made some changes to it that look significant, but are not very difficult. I changed the sleeves from very short and puffed to long and straight. To do that, I morphed the armscye to match the one from the Vogue 8280 Roland Mouret knock off, and I used the long sleeve from that pattern.

I used a non-standard fabric for the dress: a sequined, embroidered nylon net that I bought from Kashi at Metro Textiles in New York back in October. Because of the sheerness, I decided to underline the fabric with a stretch silk charmeuse, also from Kashi. You can read about the design decisions I made about construction options in this post from December. I underlined the dress completely, and lined the bodice with the stretch charmeuse as well. I finished the seams on the unlined portion of the dress by whipstitching the raw edges to the underlining fabric using a single strand of silk thread:
The right seam allowance is finished This gives a smooth finish inside, encasing the net as well as the charmeuse. An added benefit is that it adds no bulk to the seam.

The rest of the construction details can be found here, here, here, and here

To finish the dress off, I used a narrow overlock stitch on the charmeuse’s hem. I then did a 5/8″ narrow hem on the net underneath the fringe. This took a lot of time, and I hand basted and pressed the hem before sewing. I debated whether to cut the hem of the net at the hem of the charmeuse, but there are sequins embroidered under the fringe, and like the idea of showing a little twinkle when I walk.It took a lot of patience to keep the fringe out of the way of the hem. But I got zen about the whole experience and kept saying, “You’ll look fabulous, you’ll look fabulous” and eventually the hem was done.

The dress will have its debut at a dinner in New York later this month, after which I’ll hopefully post a picture of me in the dress. Until then, here’s a peek:

Thank you, and good night!

Happy sewing!

January 1, 2007

Progress on the Laura Bennett Dress – design decisions

After celebrating New Years with my family and Sewing Diva Phyllis and her brood at a local hotel, I got back to work on the Laura Bennett dress. Since the bulk of our New Years celebrating was spent by the indoor pool watching our kids swim, eating pizza and drinking wine out of plastic cups, I didn’t sweat finishing it for the countdown to 2007. But Diva Phyllis (and hopefully Diva Gigi) and I are converging on New York City later this month, and I need a fabulous dress for dinner on that trip. Plus, I’m going to a trade show in Las Vegas in April, and I want to bring this to that.

Back to the dress. The neckline on the dress as designed is quite wide:McCall’s 5269.

I don’t have any problem with that, but I would like to be able to wear a non-strapless bra underneath it. So I widened the front shoulder piece by 5/8 inch, and I thought that it might be nice to add some lace trim to the neckline as well. It can cover a multitude of sins, and gives a little more leeway for bra straps without weighting down the look of the dress. I had some really nice yardage of pleated black lace in my stash, so I cut a few galloons out and started playing.

Because I want this dress to be “just so”, I have been testing and basting almost everything before making any final design decisions. This is not a “fast to make” project, but it will be one that I have for many years, so it’s gotta be good. To test this neckline treatment, I did a few things. First, I hand-basted the seamline on the outside of the garment: Basting along the seamline
This would allow me to place the lace precisely. I wanted the motifs to be a certain height above the seamline when sewn, and this gives me that control. I was able to place the lace so the bottoms of the scallops hit right at the seamline:Basted lace along the seamline.
Notice that you can see the white basting thread along the seamline through the lace. This allowed me to place the scallops precisely. Next, I basted the layers together using a long running stitch, and put the dress on my (way smaller than me) dress form to see how I liked the result.Nope, no good

Bammmmffff! I didn’t like it. I pulled all the basting out and removed the lace. Then I sewed the neckline to the lining without any embellishment. I like it much better. I’ll post a picture of it later on after I attach the sleeves.

Now, some of you may be thinking that it was a frustrating waste of time. It wasn’t. It was time very well spent. I’d rather spend the extra 20 minutes prototyping and basting the parts together to get an idea of how the finished garment will look. It beats not prototyping, then hating the results when everything is sewn and pressed. And it eliminates the possibilities of a very costly fabric turning into a very, very costly wadder.

I’ll post more when I have the garment closer to being done: either tomorrow or the day after.
Happy sewing!

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!

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