There is something about a simple sheath dress that states sophistication. The classic sheath can be dressy or casual, but even in a casual fabric it is still classy.
One day at Gail K’s, I was shopping for fabric to make a prototype for one of my husband’s inventions, I found this beautiful red tone on tone silk. I love silk so I just had to have it, my immediate thought was to make a simple sheath dress, and this is what I came up with.
I started with Vogue pattern V8666, that has an optional color block inset on the side. I knew I wanted to use black for the inset, so I laid a couple different blacks next to it, with sheen, without, with a tone on tone pattern, without. I decided on a black silk dupioni, with no sheen, for a more slenderizing look.
As you, my followers, know I love to dabble in couture sewing, but I don’t like to take my clothes to the dry cleaners, I want the convenience of being able to wash my clothes at home. I find that if I have to use a dry cleaner, then I won’t wear my outfit as often and I am also very choosy where I do wear it, because I don’t want to spill anything on it and take the chance of ruining it. But, if I can wash it then I don’t care where I wear it, and I enjoy wearing my outfit more. That being said, I wanted to be able to wear my silk sheath anytime I wanted, whether to run errands, go to dinner, to a party, or to a meeting. That means I want to be able to wash it.
Yes, you can wash silk! It is a very strong beautiful fabric. It is amazing to watch the process of how it is made.
Silk ravels easily, so I serged the store cut edges of my fabrics for this dress, the red silk, the dupioni, the silk organza underlining, and the silk/cotton blend lining, I threw them all in the washer with a Shout Color Catcher, and washed them in warm water with my regular detergent. (Some people add white vinegar to set the colors.) This is my philosophy, I rather take the chance of ruining my fabric before I make something out of it, then to worry about ruining it after taking all those hours, days, weeks to make it into something beautiful. I also put the fabric in the dryer, using a low temperature, I take them out of the dryer before they are completely dry and I iron them till they are dry or just slightly damp, then I hang them over a rail or chair till they are completely dry.
Washing silk can change the hand of the fabric, the color and the shiny sheen. So if you aren’t as gutsy as I am, cut a small piece of the fabric, measure it and wash it, then compare it to the original. Make your decision after the comparison. I will tell you this from experience, I once made a skirt and blouse out of silk dupioni, I did not pre wash it, I wore it on a hot day and got perspiration stains on the blouse. I have never been able to wear it again. If I had pre washed it, then made my blouse I could still be enjoying that blouse today. Some silks, dupioni, being one of them, spot with water, so be careful if you don’t want to wash it, especially when you press it, because if your iron has just one little leak, it will leave a water stain.
I almost always make a muslin, (make the pattern out of a cheaper fabric or cotton muslin) of my project and then after making all my adjustments on my muslin I either transfer the changes to a paper pattern, make a new paper pattern, or use my muslin as the pattern to cut out my fashion fabric. I usually pin the pattern to the muslin, but in this case I used a 20 pound weight. After cutting out the muslin, marking all the darts, dots, grain line, etc. I machine basted it together. Here are some of the fitting issues I had.
The shoulder seam wasn’t correct and there was too much length from the shoulder to the upper bust.
I adjusted the shoulder seam for the length issue and I took it in at the princess seam for the horizontal bulk. When you do adjustments by yourself, you just have to study your issues, tuck and pin, study some more, repin, until finally it works.
Here you can see the comparison of the how much nicer the shoulder alterations make it fit.
I’m glad that this was going to be a sleeveless dress because I also needed to make changes to the armscye. I had to change the underarm just a little, and I brought the front armhole into the princess seam.
The pattern armsyce seam is the red thread, the new under arm change is marked with the red ink.
The front armhole is completely changed because I had to take in the princess seam, therefore, I brought the armhole seam to where it was actually the princess seam. Further down there is a picture that shows how the new side front pattern looks compared to the original.
This picture is of the back, the pins and green ink show where I adjusted some of that shoulder bulk into the back princess seam. The red ink shows my new back armsyce.
Another picture of the back; the new shoulder seam is marked with the green ink, notice how it slants the opposite direction than the original shoulder seam marked with the red thread. It looks weird, but that’s what works for my body.
Here is a pattern comparison showing the actual side front pattern and my new pattern.
The front darts had to be slightly moved, the black ink shows the new dart.
After getting the bodice fitting, I moved down to the hip area. I discovered that the side blocking inset didn’t end at a flattering part of my hips. Instead of making them appear smaller, the inset would actually make my lower hips and thighs look larger. So I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want that.
What I did was I started placing pins down the front side following the line of the lower part of the inset seam, until I was happier with the slimming illusion.
I took the dress muslin off and duplicated the new inset line to the back using a Sharpie pen.
I made a few marks (notches) on the new seam line so that it would make it easier to sew back together. I cut the muslin at the new inset line that I drew and took out the basted seams.
This is what it looked like after cutting the new seam lines and after taking out the machine basting on the princess and side seams, but leaving the bottom part of the seam intact on the original inset. The red thread on the right is the seam, when making a muslin I always do my seam allowance extra wide so it is easy to make adjustments.
I added seam allowance, and drew a new pattern piece out of muslin. Here is the new front side inset pattern compared to the original pattern.
When I make something that is going to be lined, I have learned to cut out and make the lining first. I don’t cut out the fashion fabric until the lining is completely made. I like to make the lining first for a few reasons, I can work out any little issues in the sewing process, or I might find a little mistake or some other adjustment that needs to be fine tuned. Even though I have made a muslin, I might have marked an adjustment incorrectly.
I alway hand baste a zipper in it so I can try it on. This also gives me a glimpse of what the final outfit will look like and gives me extra confidence in cutting out the fashion fabric. Plus it gets my excitement level up about making and wearing the final outfit.
When cutting out the fashion fabric, I actually cut the underlining first, in this case silk organza. I usually make all my markings on the underlining. This time since I had washed the silk organza, it lost it’s stiffness so the markings weren’t as accurate. So I actually redid all the markings with tailor tacks on the red silk itself. I have been told that silk organza doesn’t need to be pre washed, that it won’t shrink, but I have not done a test wash to see. Maybe that test can be another article.
Once upon a time, I would never have taken the time to underline a garment. I thought, why add the extra cost, why add the extra time, why make it harder to sew, why, why, why? Now I can’t imagine not using an underlining. It makes your clothes wrinkle less, it changes the hand of the fabric, then adding lining on top of that I just can’t explain the sumputous feelings I get when wearing something that is underlined and lined. It just feels so scrumptious and makes me feel elegant.
Underlining is sewn at the same time as the fashion fabric, it is as if they are both as one. When sewing darts with a fashion fabric and underlining I take an extra step to hand baste down the middle of the dart going through both fabrics. That way when you fold the fabric, to machine stitch your dart, the dart on the fashion fabric will be held in place, doesn’t slip out, making the dart accurate. I fold the fabric matching the tailor tacks, sew the dart and take the hand basting down the middle out.
Here is how nicely the side panel sewed out. It is very smooth, no puckers. In the pictures of me wearing it there appears to be puckers, but that is just the way I was standing. This seam is as smooth as can be.
I decided after cutting out the fashion fabric and after starting to make it, that I might need to treat the edges of the silk because I was going to wash it. I thought the washing might cause the seam allowance edges to fray even though they were encased in the lining. I decided to use a tiny zig zag on the edge of the silk, I didn’t want the extra bulk on the seam that a serger would produce.
I had already folded over the seam allowance on the armsyce and hand sewed it down using a catch stitch. I didn’t want to take that all out, zig zag the edges and then do the catch stitch again, so I hand sewed tiny little stitches close to the edge of the fold over. Kind of like an understitch. I’m a thinker, so I always try to think of everything, unfortunately this causes me to think I could have always done something different to make it better. I am learning to accept that anything I make will never be perfect, but it will be made, worn and enjoyed anyways.
This is how I did the the neckline V to hopefully keep it from raveling. I sewed a little zig zag slot where I was going to cut it.
Cutting the little zig zag slot.
Hand sewed it down with a catch stitch.
The lining I attached and hand sewed at the armscye first, making sure all the seams aligned up.
On the lining, at the neckline, I did the same process I did for the V slot, pinned the lining, and attached it using a fell stitch.
The seam on the lining at the bottom of the zipper had to be sewn up a little further,
before attaching the lining at the zipper using a fell stitch.
After doing all the finishing touches, hook, hand made loop for the eye, hem, and my label I was ready to wear it.
The first place I wore it was to an American Sewing Guild meeting, City-Wide Couture, and I thought I would have a little fun. To me this dress screams 1950’s afternoon tea, so I dug through my collection of vintage gloves, found a hat, the right jewelry and went on my way. So much fun!
I hope you enjoyed the making of this dress.
Absolutely Fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I agree with your philosophy. It is a pain going to the dry cleaner. They charge more for silk too. More painful.