Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Making a Dress

When it comes to making clothes, I can't see why men are different to women. Luckily I live with two of them, so here is the classic black dress I wanted to make:
simplicity 5707 (1966)
It's the one on the right.
Like I said, since the pattern is second hand, there's usually no need to cut out the pattern pieces. I'm making dress #2.


Firstly, grab your tape and measure your subject's vital statistics. Obviously you should do this before choosing the pattern, but if the subject thinks she's a certain size just ignore this. Size 18 is huge these days, but this dress size was not the same in the 1960s. The most important part is the bust size, but there is more information on the back:
back of packet contains valuable information

Choose a fabric

Reading the back of the pattern envelope, look at the type and amount of fabric required. We're using polyester/linen, so for #2, look at the right: "nap is the raised (fuzzy) surface on certain kinds of cloth, such as velvet" (from wikipedia). The size on the left of the table refers to the fabric width. If you have, say, 42" fabric without nap, you'll need 2 7/8 yards. OK, a yard is 90cm, so 180 (2 yd) + 78.75 (7/8 yd) = 258.75cm. I'd just get 3m.

Check the contents, read instructions

Inside the envelope you find the instructions. Take these out (you should definitely check that this is there as well as all the pattern pieces before you buy second hand patterns). If anything is missing, you probably won't be able to make the garment.
Instructions tell you how to lay the pattern pieces on the fabric to minimise fabric waste. If there's one piece of advice to give other learners it's to read all of the instructions, and don't ignore something if you don't understand it.

The right side

The fabric must be folded right sides together. Right sides together is an expression you'll get to know well. The right side is the one that will be on the exterior of the garment, and the wrong side will be on the inside, possibly hidden by lining but not seen when the garment is worn. Right sides are always sewn together.

Cut it out!

Lay the paper pattern pieces on the fabric as per instructions and pin them on. Using loads of pins means you will get much better cut fabric. The pattern pieces will have lots of markings too. These must nearly all be marked onto the fabric before you start using that piece. My daughter's dress pattern (and this one) both suggested tailor's tacks for this. This means you have a long piece of contrasted cotton (e.g. you have black fabric, so use white cotton), double it over then poke the fold loop through a needle so you have four threads coming from the needle's eye. On simplicity patterns, the three big circles signify a side that is on the fold and the two big circles must be on connecting threads so you don't have to mark these. On all other circles, put the needle through like you're sewing a four hole button. Leave a large loop and cut about an inch above the pattern/fabric. When all of these are done on all the pieces (this takes a long time) move on to the cut out v shapes. Snip the fabric (it doesn't have to be a v - just a single snip is enough). If you think this is a massive pain, so did I. The Simplicity book gives you two alternatives, one of which being to mark these holes with tailor's chalk. To make sure the side that's on the table gets marked correctly, you should put a pin through the centre of each hole in turn, lift the fabric and mark the other side: I found it easiest to change the angle of the pin three times and mark each one (so there's chalk pointing to the centre).
pinned pieces. Marking is nextpin through to mark the other side

Read the instructions and test your machine

Now you can start reading the instructions again.
Before you start sewing, you must test what you're going to sew with a fabric off cut. Fold it in two and sew together. I find that I'll have to modify various settings before it sews nicely. Here's what to look for: puckering (foot pressure is too much or thread tension too high), missed stitches (bent needle or thread too loose), one side of the thread is straight and the other is OK (too much thread tension on the side with the straight thread) and thread looping (not enough thread tension on the loopy side). Fix the problems and you should have a nice even stitch.

Mark your seam

Old patterns usually have a 5/8" seam allowance (seam allowance is the overhanging bit after you stitch two pieces together), so it's really helpful to have 5/8" to the right of the needle marked somehow. Some machines have markings on the plate: Singers usually do, my Pinnock doesn't, so I have a small sewing magnet that will attach to the plate. This has a straight edge. Alternatively, you can keep measuring every time, but this is annoying and really unnecessary.
OK, follow the instructions one at a time. Don't skip any.

Start to sew

Patterns will usually ask you to sew the bodice first (it's the hardest part), starting with a row of "stay stitching" around the neck line and shoulders. This is to prevent the fabric from stretching or changing shape in any way. You do this on front and back sections, just inside the 5/8" seam allowance (you don't want it to show, or you'll have to un-pick it later) then usually sew the darts (bust and back) then sew the front to the back at the shoulders then the sides.

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