Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Dress -- Finally!

I was hoping to work on this post before the wedding and have it ready to go on June 30, but alas, having a house full of guests prevented me from doing anything other than cooking and entertaining!  After many mentions, here is the post about my 'mother-of-the-groom' dress.

Dressed and ready to go!
I have been sewing for over 30 years.  I took Clothing I and II in high school, and was lucky enough to have a mother who was an excellent sewist as a mentor.  When it came time to consider what I was going to wear to my son's wedding, my natural inclination was to make my own dress.  I have the was time to put them to use.

Simplicity 2247 and 1754 - both under consideration.
I had perused the pattern catalogs and found two that I thought could work. Both had princess seams -- the style that has a seam over the bust and down the side of the dress.  I knew from experience that this type of garment is easier to adjust for fit than a dress with a style with bust darts and no seam down the front.

While in Missouri in April, my sister's American Sewing Guild (ASG) neighborhood group was having a 'sew -in' and I decided to go.  My plan was to do a sample dress of each pattern in muslin and work on the fit.  When making a muslin, you learn about how the garment is constructed and you can add extra fabric to the seam allowance around each piece to allow for fitting.  One of the biggest frustrations for novice sewers is cutting out a garment and sewing it together, only to have it not fit right.  Creating a muslin is especially important to do if your finished garment is made with expensive fabric  -- making a muslin (using inexpensive fabric) prevents costly errors.

Denise and I work on adjusting a pattern.
It helps to have another experienced sewer in the room when you try on a muslin...she can help determine where you need to let it out or take it in for the best fit.  I got lucky because my sister's friend, Denise, was at the 'sew-in.'  She teaches Home Economics in the St. Louis School District, including clothing construction.  She was generous with her time and knowledge, and helped me understand how to alter a pattern to fit my body.  Most commercial patterns are designed for tall, slim women, and I am neither.  You can imagine that I had a lot of fitting work to do.

After cutting out two dresses and stitching them up, I tried them on, inside-out, for Denise to inspect.  She helped me isolate the problem areas and she showed me how to alter the paper pattern to allow for a better fit in those areas.  I went back to the sewing machine and made the alterations until the garment hung properly from my body -- no pulling across my stomach, no gaps in the bustline, and the seams on the sides hung straight.  After transferring the changes to the paper pattern, I knew that I could cut the dresses out of fashion fabric with the confidence that they would fit me well.

Upon returning to Philadelphia, I set the project aside for a few weeks.  Just before leaving for Sewing Camp with my ASG chapter, I was looking through my patterns for something else and discovered another dress pattern that I had purchased some time ago.  This too was a Simplicity pattern with princess seam lines.  I took it along, planning to make another muslin before deciding which dress to create for the wedding.   Again, having a room full of experienced sewers helped me adjust the fit for the third time, and I decided to go with Simplicity 0395 for my dress.

At this point, I had not yet shopped for fabric. I took one precious day of Camp (generally reserved for sewing) to go shopping, and ended up at Fabric Row in South Philadelphia.  I found what I was looking for at Maxie's Daughter.  The bridesmaids were wearing purple, and I selected a teal satin with matching teal lace, hoping that it would look good with the rest of the wedding party.  (What was I thinking??  I didn't have a single photo taken with the entire wedding party, but I did have one family picture, which included my daughter in the purple dress!!  Ha!)

Pre-washing fabric before cutting is something I was taught long ago, although it did give me a bit of a pause to wash the lace.  However, both fabrics laundered fine (with Ivory Snow -- regular detergent leaves marks on the satin), and I cut out the garment while I was still at Sewing Camp.

Each pattern piece was cut from satin and lace,
then stitched together
I spent a couple of hours stitching the lace to the under-dress fabric, planning to treat it as one fabric.  I folded it up neatly and brought it home with me to sew in the comfort of my own space, with all of my tools close at hand.

Having made the dress (in inexpensive fabric) ahead of time, it literally flew together.  I was nervous to try an invisible zipper, having never done one before.  It was so easy (with the proper presser foot on my Bernina) that I don't know if I'll every do a lapped or centered zipper again!
My first invisible zipper insertion!  Yea!

After the side seams were sewn, I tried it on for my daughter, and was happy to find that it needed to be taken in a bit.  Once I took care of that, all that was left were the sleeves to set in and the hem.  The sleeves did give me a bit of trouble...I ended up cutting them shorter, and in retrospect, I think that I made one adjustment too many on the armscye (the opening for your arm to go through).  If I ever want to wear it again, I may have to take the sleeves out and trim away a bit more fabric for wearing ease, then re-set the sleeves.  It didn't look bad, it just was a bit uncomfortable that day.

So, how long did it take?  Well, if you don't count the time invested in making and adjusting muslins (and the 30 years of experience!), the actual sewing took about 6 hours.  Yes, that's all -- 6 hours to complete a semi-formal dress.

There are three reasons to sew it yourself -- first, the fabric, pattern, zipper and thread cost me only about $50, a fraction of what I would have spent in a bridal salon.  Second, I could adjust the fit so it was comfortable on my body -- something you have to pay dearly for when purchasing ready-to-wear that needs alterations.  Third, no one else will ever have the same dress.  I had many compliments that day, and people came back to me a second time when they learned that I had made it myself, to tell me how impressed they were.  (I take that to mean it didn't look 'homemade', but 'custom made!)

My d.h. and me, after the ceremony -- one down, three to go!
I have more wedding preparation photos to post...check back later to see what else kept me busy in June!

Happy sewing!  


  1. Renee,

    Beautiful job!! You and your husband look so happy, it sounds as though it all went well. Can't wait to hear more details a ASG.