Friday, November 29, 2013

Coat-dress construction: Pre-shrinking the fabric

How do you pre-shrink your wool fabrics, readers? Are you a daredevil who throws it into a drier, or even washes it, or a purist swearing by the London shrunk method? Or, maybe you don't believe that the wool can be properly pre-treated at home and, so you hand it over to your trusted dry cleaner?

In fact, quite a few good wool manufacturers pre-shrink their fabrics (Linton Tweeds, for example) before they land in stores or designer workrooms, but often you just don't know whether you fabric has been pre-shrunk. Either way, nowadays a careful steam press is usually all you need for a better quality wool fabric.

Of course, you do need to consider the type of fiber/ wool you are dealing with (for example, crepe doesn't like much moisture and shrinks like crazy), the fabric weight, and the future use and care. I hope you understand that I can cover only what's relevant to my particular project. I chose high-end wool flannel, medium weight, that can be successfully used for jackets, dresses or skirts. With fabric like this,  a good steam press is an adequate method of pre-shrinking.

Anything else would overshrink the wool. I will explain. Let's go ahead a bit and talk about the construction of the dress - this is where a proper planning comes in handy! I want to shape my sleeve elbow sections with steam and iron, a little - to conform to the natural shape of the arm. I also want to convert my neckline darts in the back to ease - I got a slightly rounded back and have to add those unsightly darts, but I can eliminate them on the face fabric, again with steam. These operations require the wool to be able to stretch or to shrink. Steam pressing leaves some room for shaping during the construction process, but, at the same time, stabilizes the fabric just enough to withstand regular cleaning and pressing.

This method is really simple, and was first recommended to me by Kenneth D. King and Susan Khalje in their Sit and Sew class in New York. Later, I did my own research and put together these simple steps for preparing wool for work.

  • research your particular type of wool (quite a few require special attention when pre-shrinking, such as crepe, for example)
  • check whether your fabric is on grain
  • fold the fabric, right side inside, align selvedges and smooth out any wrinkles
  • gently steam press wool by hovering (not gliding) the iron, section by section without applying force and without leaving any gaps as it will leave unpressed sections lighter in color than the pressed ones. 
  • press the fabric dry, again, section by section, without too much pressure, for a few seconds at a time.

For heavier fabrics, pressing can be done through a cotton or linen press cloth. Dip it into water and then wring it almost dry. The moisture on the pressing cloth should be distributed evenly. Too much moisture, and the fabric may pucker. Actually, the same is true for steam - use it thoughtfully.

And, please, use tumble dry only if you want to felt your wool! Drier, also in combination with a washing machine, will permanently change surface characteristics and the fell of your wool fabric - if this is what you aim at - experiment freely...

Finally, I thought I'd share some of the resources I referred to to complete this step. Interestingly, Claire Shaeffer in her  Couture Sewing: Tailoring Techniques  doesn't offer any advice on pre-shrinking the fabric, although the book and the complimentary DVD are a great reference for specific couture construction techniques. Her Couture Sewing Techniques reveals more about the process, and her Fabric Sewing Guide gives directions for the London Shrunk method.  However, if you want a comprehensive step-by-step guide to constructing a couture tailored jacket, I'd refer to Vintage Couture Tailoring by Thomas von Nordheim. If you are interested in high-end tailoring techniques, the book is a must.

I wish my US readers a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and hope to connect to them on Monday again! Meanwhile, please do leave comments about your preferred methods of pre-shrinking!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Burdastyle Coat-dress 1: Planning a couture project

There is hardly a morning in Nicosia without the sun. Weekend breakfasts take place on the terrace among blossoming bougainvilleas, jasmine, gardenias, or  even roses, and it is difficult to comprehend that the winter is almost here. In summer, the island looks mostly like a desert. Now, in November, when the first rains start watering the thirsty soil, nature wakes up and spreads it's green cover across the valleys and hills, followed by rivers - virtually dried up in summer, but gaining strength now, conquerring their riverbeds again. Even birds suddenly reappear after a long summer break

Only when the dusk starts falling, and the temperatures rapidly drop, we pull on warmer clothes, cocooning in wool, making fire and heating houses that soak up all the warmth they can get. This is when you wish you made some progress with your coat dress during the day...

...Oh well, back to business. On my facebook page, I promised you some dress planning notes and so, here they are.

First of all, when I start working on a complex project that is based on a commercial pattern, I like to read instructions and note the steps, the techniques that may be different than in the pattern instructions, or where I am not yet sure how to proceed. If the project is not based on a commercial pattern I would write up a brief order of sewing, which helps organize the project better. Maybe I am a control freak but I like to know where I am with the project.

As I go, I write what (couture) techniques I am going to use for every step, or what extra steps are needed to improve the quality of the garment. Let's take Burda instructions for this dress, for example.


"Clip allowances of fronts and back into corners. Then stitch each sleeve to armhole edge, from corner to corner... "

These inward corners absolutely need to be stabilized, and this is not part of the instructions! I guess Burdastyle designers assume we know it. So, it is really up to you to figure out what techniques you will use - making the planning process even more important.

But let's rewind a little and cover the fabrics and the steps that precede sleeves.


I got my fabrics, here, the raspberry colored wool, in a slightly darker and warmer hue, to give you an idea. (The blue wool is for a skirt)

It is an easy decision with this style and the wool. I will pick organza underlining and silk crepe-de-chine or charmeuse/satin for lining. That's enough layers to be able to wear the dress over a light turtleneck sweater for a more casual occasion. In addition, silk organza will protect the wool from wrinkling - perfect for travel and packing.

All fabrics will need to be pre-treated before I baste the underlining to the main fabric - I will try to put together a post with some tips.

I will also line sleeves ( I don't know why Burda doesn't), so I will have to adjust the sleeve pattern for lining and include it in my lining fabric calculation.


Darts on wool can be bulky and, unless you balance them on both sides of the stitching line, one side will just look bulgy and unsightly. In addition, I would like to topstitch them, as in the original dress, and this makes it even more important that the fabric is distributed evenly on both sides.

Topstitching on the Gucci dress. Source:

I won't be talking much about stabilizing seam allowances by catch stitching them to underlining and similar steps. You will see as I go.


"Press sleeve hem allowances to inside and sew in place by hand"
The hem allowance will be catch-stitched to the organza underlining - noone will detect a  single stitch from the right side of the fabric. Perfect example of why it is good to underline.

But what's more important here is the use of a faced hem. A strip of fabric (organza or something heavier) is placed on the hem crease line, making the crease softer and rounder.


Burdastyle recommends using hook-and-eye tape and snaps. The Gucci dress has a hidden button closure - easier to close and more reliable. I think this one is up to you. I am not sure yet what option to choose, but I like the idea of a hook-and-eye tape with a contrasting placket to prevent hook-and-eyes from digging into skin.


That's it for today. My notes are longer, and I will have to continue tomorrow or on Monday. Things are busy around here these two months and I will have to balance quite a few projects (most sewing) at the same time, but there are some good news on the way which I will share with you, of course!

By the way, if you want to see other sewers progress with their Christmas dresses, here is the link to the German Me Made Mittwoch blog. It is a great blog, for every Wednesday, all German- and non-German speaking bloggers upload images of their Me-Made projects. I love this format more than the original me-made-(month), because it is only once a week and more or less stress-free. And now, the lovely seamstresses behind the blog are hosting this dress sew-along, which I was too keen to participate in.

Back to the dress - please do comment, ask questions, make suggestions - I love it all!

Friday, November 22, 2013

As I work on my dress...

Thanks, T. & M. for this wonderful welcome gift!
This motivational mug is my new companion as I am writing planning notes for the Gucci-inspired Christmas dress. I am taking pictures and documenting the process, and will share with you couture techniques used in the construction of this dress. Thanks to everyone for your commitment, support and wonderful comments! Some exciting announcements to follow, so stay tuned, readers!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Frabjous kids sewing :)

It is almost impossible to find a decent-quality cotton nightgown for a girl, it is either pajamas or polyester merchandise by Disney or American Girl alikes. So, I just sat down last week and made this one for my 4-year old.
Quick bits about the project:

Fabric: (Liberty?) Tana Lawn from Mood (last year purchase - yay, I need space for new fabrics...)
Pattern: self-drafted
Seams & Finishing: flat-felled side seams (to withstand multiple washing), double bias binding for the neckline and sleeves

One thing I would change is the finishing on the neckline and sleeves. Tana Lawn next time - it is less stiff for a binding than the solid yellow cotton I used...

What quick projects have you been working on recently? As for me, I am off to print my Holiday Dress pattern and do some modifications - it is for tall sizes...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fabric abstinence, revisited...

With the climate being really mild here in Cyprus, I really don't have enough warm-weather fabrics. In fact, yesterday was the first time I had to wear my light bouclé cape, but that was an exception.

I thought, yay, fabric stash, here I come. But then I realized that I got mostly wool and special occasion fabrics. Ok,  I do have a few, but not enough.

There are a couple of nice fabric stores here  in Nicosia, but the choice is limited, so I went over to Gorgeous Fabrics (I guess the big pond is no obstacle for a hardcore fabricoholic) and filled up my wish list with silky and flowery treasures:

On the top left, designer print silk georgette and matching chiffon (bottom right). I thought georgette would make a great lining for a black Chanel-inspired jacket, or a skirt, or both (not necessarily worn together, of course). Matching chiffon will look great as a simple top to pair with jeans, or any solid color garment pieces.

Red silk jersey on the top right is being contemplated for a simple wrap dress à la Diane von Furstenberg, and the golden brocade on the bottom left will probably end up as a high-waisted A-line skirt.

What fabrics do you (plan to) sew with this season (i.e. stock up your stash with for the hard times)?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas Dress planning

As I am writing this, the house is almost vibrating, so loud is the thunderstorm that has finally reached Nicosia around midnight. Rains are very rare during summer, up until November, and this one is so strong - it is loaded with energy. I have always associated thunderstorms with renewal, the new energy and so I had to get up and write the next post.

In New York, blogging was for me an escape from the daily life, especially at the beginning. Here, it seems more like a consequence of it. The day loads you with new experiences, leaving a strong imprint on every day of your life, begging for an outlet to express everything you absorbed.

We were out today, visiting friends in one of the very few mixed Turkish-Greek villages, very close to the UN buffer zone. Their house, on the outskirts of the village, is surrounded by a lemon and orange groves. We had a beautiful meal outside, while kids were chasing chickens between the trees, picking oranges to take home... The food and wine kept coming, and the conversation was flowing effortlessly, like everything else here, it seems. On the way home, my 4-year old fell asleep in the car hugging a sun hat full of oranges she picked herself. I can get used to this life...

Not so effortless is the Christmas planning this year. I need a nice dress for a formal dinner with my husband's family in Germany on the 24th, the day when Christmas candles are lit, the Bible is read and the gifts are exchanged. A conservative affair, with an oiled routine that has been perfected from year to year...

But, who said the attire, however formal it is expected to be, needs to follow the same pattern. So, when the German-speaking sewing blogosphere announced its third annual Christmas sew-along I was only too happy to join in. I was tempted to participate in the previous two years too, but I just could not nail the style. This year, however, I spotted a wonderful dress that was just perfect: original, practical and versatile.
Obviously, the dramatic neckline that works so well for the runway, needs to be raised, but otherwise the dress needs no changes. And - what a joy - Burda issued a pattern that is so similar in style and, yet, is more wearable. Gucci has slimmer, kimono-cut sleeves, three topstitched darts (BS dress has three), the cut is slightly different - you can see it in the hip area, and, what's more important, the neckline in Burda version is not as plunging as in Gucci version.  I could even wear this dress for casual occasions over a turtleneck sweater; with wider sleeves it would be comfortable too.

Image: Coat dress #127, Burdastyle Magazine 11/2013
Of course, I went and checked first feedback on the pattern, and the first reviews on the Russian Burdastyle site (Russian members are very fast in sewing up garments) are very positive, the fit notes are helpful, issues with the pattern minimal. This week I plan to make a muslin, and will update you on the progress. I will use couture techniques as usual and try to share them with you once the fit is fine.

What about you, readers? Are you making a dress for the holiday season? Do you start early, or are you a last minute sewer? Any tips for succeeding with a deadline project? Anecdotes are welcome! 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hello, world!

Getting back to blogging after a Transatlantic move with the family (including two demanding kids), turned out to be more DEMANDING / TESTING / CHALLENGING / NERVE-WRECKING / BACK-BREAKING... than I thought. Hey, for us it was the first move with kids and more than two suitcases. My stash alone required twelve large boxes I am ashamed to admit. But I love our new (nicer!) house, I even got a room only for sewing and crafts, I even started working on a few projects,.. but no blogging. No idea why! I would wake up every morning with blog post ideas, but then, when I got to computer, all I could say was 'Hello, world'...

Anyway, the blogger block is over, friends. So here I am! My room is still an unorganized mess, but, hey, look, I am working! And to give you some visual satisfaction, here are pics of my not-yet-so-glorious workroom/ studio.

If you are interested I can share some room-organization-in-progress (I love peeping into other people's workrooms!), as I intend to

  • hang up my thread organizers
  • install mood board tiles
  • organize stash
  • set up my embroidery station
  • unpack my Babylocks
  • find place for arts and crafts supplies
  • hang curtains (and make them before hanging) 

I am now wondering, readers, whether that's really all...  oh no, I also got to hang up some artwork, and my favorite poster from the Metropolitan... wish me luck - I have been trying to hit 'Publish' for a couple of minutes now! Phew...


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