Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SewCieTea Dress - Some Construction Details/Mini-Tutorial

Thank you all for the overwhelmingly positive response to my SewCieTea dress the other day, I am truly touched. As promised, today I'm going to share some information on the construction of the dress.

Creating the pattern pieces
To add the contrasting band around the neckline I took my bodice pattern pieces (on the left below), and measured out from the neckline a consistent amount (in my case 1.5" plus 5/8" for the seam allowance already included) and marked that line on (shown in red in the middle below). Then I added the seam allowance onto that line and traced it off to make the new pattern piece (below right). Now repeat with the other bodice piece so you have one for the front and one for the back.


As you'll see in the construction steps below, the bodice pieces remained the same, as the contrast band was sewn on top like a facing, so leave them alone.

Cutting Layout
I played around a fair bit to try and get the most economical cutting layout for the dress, as obviously I  I didn't want to waste any of my Liberty fabric. Below is the cutting layout that I'd worked out as a plan...

As the skirt piece was only a quarter of the circle, with it cut on fold on the centre front and back (indicated by a dashed line). So, I folded the fabric along where the first of the dashed lines is and cut out that skirt piece first, carefully making the fold so that it was at just the right point so that I could fit the skirt piece on without any extra. After cutting out the first skirt piece I repeated the process with the second piece, carefully placing the fold to fit the skirt piece, and no extra.

After that I then planned to cut the front and back bodice pieces from each end as shown in the diagram above, however I managed to fit both pieces out of the first 'scrap', shown on the left in the above sketch.

My initial plan was to line the bodice with some batiste, but the addition of the contrast band on the neck meant that I couldn't work out how to line the bodice and have the contrast band. This is because the bodice doesn't have a centre back seam, and I didn't want to be sewing the shoulder seams at the end. So, instead I used the method I will detail below, and underlined the bodice.

To underline the bodice, I cut out the two bodice pieces from the liberty, then smoothing it out carefully on top of the batiste I basted the two layers together by hand within the seam allowance and up the middle of the darts. Lastly I cut out the underlining to match the liberty.

Quick Tip: Coat your thread with beeswax when you're hand stitching, it'll make it smoother and less likely to tangle/knot. To coat the thread run it across the wax then 'melt' it into the thread with your iron, using baking paper to protect your iron and ironing board from the wax.

Construction - Contrast Facing
The first step of the construction was the same as all the dresses I've made; sew the darts. After sewing the darts I sewed the bodice and facings together at the shoulder seams. For the facing I just stitched it together with the 5/8" seam allowance and pressed it open (after fusing interfacing to the facing). For the bodice I stitched french seams to make it neater inside.

See how to stitch French Seams in this post

Then I prepared the outer edges of the contrast facing. To do this I wanted to fold in the seam allowances under in a nice smooth curve. To achieve this I used the same method as I would for hemming a curved skirt edge with a line of basting stitches near the edge, pulled up slightly to ease the larger edge into the smaller space

See how to ease in the edge like this in this post.

Next I gave the facing a press to make the fold a nice crease as a smooth curve.

Now to attach the facing to the bodice...

Pin together the bodice and facing at the neckline, lining up the shoulder seams, with the facing on the inside, with the RIGHT SIDE of the facing against the WRONG SIDE of the bodice as in the below photo.

Stitch all the way around the neckline at the 5/8" seam allowance...

Trim the seam allowance and clip the curve...

To have a nice neat fold at the neckline, next I understitched around the neckline (just like I showed how to understitch the pocket in this post) using my topstitching foot, with the guide down the seam, and the needle moved slightly to the side (to the left in the below picture):


Understitching the neckline like this means that when the facing is folded to the outside it will curve around nicely and the insides won't peek out:

The last step for the facing is to topstitch around the outer edge of the facing, again I use the topstitching foot for this, lining up the guide with the edge of the facing and moving the needle across about 1/8" over the facing.

The inside of the neckline will then look like this:

I deliberately kept the bobbin thread navy for the line of topstitching around the outer edge of the facing, even though it means that I now have a line of navy stitching on the inside of the bodice, as I didn't want to risk any white bobbin thread peeking through on the outside if my machine's tension wasn't perfect.

You may have noticed that using this method meant that the armholes aren't finished yet, so to finish the armholes (after stitching the right side seam, and the top inch or so of the right side seam) I finished the armholes with bias binding, but instead of stitching the inner edge down by machine I stitched it by hand only to the underlining so that it's invisible from the outside.

See how to stitch on bias binding in this post, just ignore the stuff about the collar.

The last construction tip that I have is for sewing the circle skirt to the waistband. Because of the curve it can be a bit tricky to do this. What I did was add a line of stay stitching just inside the seam allowance and then clipping at intervals up to the stay stitching (shown above), as then you can pull the skirt pieces to the length of the stitching line much easier.

The hand picked lapped zip
A few of you asked about the hand picked zip, and rather than re-inventing the wheel, here are some resources that I've found particularly useful for learning how to do a hand picked zip:

- This tutorial from Tasia was the first I followed to do a hand picked zip, but a centred one.
- This tutorial from Gertie talks about putting in a lapped side zip.
- The threads article that Gertie references that talks about how to do the hand picking.

As in Gertie's tutorial, I added a placket to the skirt front piece to enclose the raw edge and make the single layer there a little more sturdy (I didn't find I needed to for the bodice). I stitched the back side of the zip, which is under the 'lap', by machine, slightly differently from Gertie as the liberty holds a crease well, I stitched it on and just pressed it back, rather than topstitching by machine like Gertie does.

I hope you've found this further information about the construction of my SewCieTea dress useful; if you have any questions please ask them in the comments below, and if you use any of the tips share with me what you create!


  1. lovely work. your basting is so neat! mine is all over the place. might explain why the final result doesn't look as good as yours!

  2. I love seeing how others work. It's so fun to see the behind-the-scenes, in-process photos. And I agree! Your hand-basting IS very neat. ;)

  3. Thank you for this...I'm going to read in detail several times to get my head round it (it seems to take me ages to get stuff to sink in!) but I will def be using all your info for when I make a similar dress. Really an inspiration, Rachel!

  4. Your choice of pattern, fabric and colours are just perfect for your dress. All the hard work you put in certainly have been worthwhile. You look fantastic in it!

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  6. Thank you so much for these construction notes! I've been wrestling for ages with how to do a contrast band at the neckline- and here you have the tutorial, complete with pictures! It is much appreciated, and your dress is beautiful!


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