How Not To Do Dressmaking

I’m still working my way through old and long-forgotten projects, and today I decided to finish sewing a dress. About three years ago, I got a wave of enthusiasm for dressmaking. I went to Remnant Kings, chose a lovely cotton printed with Russian dolls, picked a pretty summer dress pattern, brought the whole thing home, cut it out – and then my sewing machine broke. The dress has been sitting in a box, in pieces, ever since. Every now and again I’ll take it out, look at it, and then leave it for another day.

A couple of days ago I decided enough was enough, so I set aside a couple of hours and got to work on the actual sewing. When I cut out this dress, I was about a stone lighter than I am now, so I decided to sew all the pieces together with half the amount of seam allowance recommended, in the hope that the finished dress might actually fit me. I seamed up most of the bodice and the skirt, joined them together, then realised that I didn’t have any interfacing for the top of the bodice. At that point, I gave up and went to bed.

Today, feeling refreshed and determined to finish the project, I did all the things that you’re never supposed to do when dressmaking and then some. There was still no interfacing, but I substituted Wonderweb, which seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, there was no black thread in my sewing box, so I used navy blue for my topstitching. It’s not ideal, but from a distance I don’t think anyone will ever notice. The pattern recommended turning the hem when the dress is on the intended wearer – not something that was going to be possible. I don’t have a dress form to fit garments on, and I think my boyfriend might have panicked if I’d asked him to mark up the hem. So I just turned it, pressed it, and gaily machined along it with my lovely navy blue topstitch.

At this point, I had a look at the dress in progress, and had my first doubts about the fit. The whole thing seemed really large, but since I wanted to get finished, I ploughed on regardless. The next step was the bias binding on the armholes, one of my pet hates. Tacking the binding on, and then sewing it neatly into place, actually took longer than assembling the rest of the dress. Finally, it was time to put in the zip. I couldn’t work out which of the many bits and pieces in my sewing machine toolbox was a zipper foot, so I did the best job possible, and then sewed the dodgy looking bits of seam by hand.

Finished! I put the dress on – and then realised that all my bad dressmaking had produced a garment that just didn’t work. The bodice was baggy and gaped at the armholes, and I couldn’t see a way of fixing it that didn’t involve unpicking two hours worth of bias binding. Eventually, after a lot of pinning and swearing and frowning into the mirror, I came to a solution. When I sewed all the pieces together, I’d actually overestimated how much weight I’d put on, and made the whole bodice at least a size too big. I stuck the dress back under the machine, and resewed most of the seams with the correct seam allowance. Unfortunately that meant that the armhole binding needed to be inside the seam in places, and it took a lot longer than if I’d just done it properly in the first place, but I ended up with a wearable garment.

I’m reasonably pleased with the finished result, but it’s never going to win any prizes, and I’d have failed miserably if this had been a Great British Sewing Bee challenge! At least that’s almost all of my old sewing projects finished, which means I can dig out my GBSB pattern book and start some new things – and maybe do them properly this time.

Since I was having a super productive day, I also finished knitting a wee tank top to use up a bit of my yarn stash. It’s orange, red and green, but the colours don’t show up very well in this picture. Now for a bit of crochet and Netflix to finish the day!


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