I’m really excited that I can officially share my completed Nautical dress! I think this dress may be in my top three projects that I’ve ever made for myself, garment wise.
Before you start scrolling through the post I have to say… this also may end up being a really long read. I did a decent amount of documenting so I’ll be showing you a lot of detail shots and describing how I did each section. Feel free to scroll and check out the pictures if you don’t want to read everything. And if you happen to want to see even more images, check out my flickr page here.
As most of you are aware, I try to participate in Sew Weekly nearly every week. But I consciously try to write up completely separate blog posts for Sew Weekly vs. my own blog. My Sew Weekly post is all about the weekly theme and why I created a certain pattern/fabric/design, but here on my personal blog I try to give more details and construction instead of talking about the themes. Long story short… click on this link to read my Sew Weekly Post for the Childhood theme to get an understanding of why I made this dress in the first place.
After work, my husband Felix and I took a cab to Navy Pier to take the photos. My dress, being a nautical inspired piece, I wanted the photos & background to be as aquatic/nautical as possible. What better backdrop than Lake Michigan and boats?! Unfortunately no one would let us on their boats or ships, but I was able to stand next to them which was all I was expecting anyhow.
Cutting out all of my fabric took at least 3 separate evenings. The skirt is made up of eight gores. Originally it was only 6 gores, but I separated the center front and center back piece (cut on the fold) into 2 separate pieces. I wanted to have a center front seam line in order to create the chevron pattern that would fall in line with the center front of the bodice. Otherwise it’s a simple skirt that is gathered at the top. Gathered skirts are great since there is no fitting required. I never make the muslin for the skirt pieces since I can just gather the skirt to fit whatever size my bodice is.
My dress has pockets! This is my first 50’s dress that had pocket pieces, which is a lovely thought. I cut the pockets using the contrasting red silk Shantung. What was tricky is that the lapped side-seam zipper gets affixed through the pocket piece. Not having sewn pockets onto a dress before I had to pick out my side seam 1x and my pocket seam 1x in order to understand the construction and have an open pocket instead of stitching it closed.
I inserted the regular zipper at the side seam using a lapped construction. If you recall, the fabric is on the bias, and I was fearful at having a funky rippled zipper. But no such thing happened to me. I basted in a 1.5″ wide strip of black silk organza into the side seam of the bodice to help stabilize the zipper seam. I think this must have greatly contributed to having a flat zipper. The only conundrum I faced was having not enough of a seam allowance for the lap-side and had to attach a placket on the fly.
After coming home from the Charles James Exhibit on Sunday, I decided a simple hem wasn’t going to cut it for this dress. Even though I tried to be as thrifty with my cutting layout as possible, I had a decent amount of scraps of fabric from this dress since it was cut on the bias. Coupling these two things, I resolved to cover my horsehair braid hem with bias facing.
I decided to use a 3″ wide horsehair braid for the hem since the fabric is on the thicker side; I needed the wide braid to accommodate the weight along with the large circumference that comes with an 8-gore skirt. I cut my hem facing 4″ wide, to allow for a 1/2″ seam allowance on the bottom hem along and turned over the top edge by 3/8ths of an inch to allow a tiny bit of wiggle room between the horsehair and the facing.
Why yes, I did match my facing pieces to match all the way around the hem! I wasn’t as anal about matching the facing 100%, but either way I think this marks me, officially, as a crazy-stripe matching lady!
It was technically an afterthought for me to finish the inside seams on my bodice. Being cut on the bias, the seams don’t actually fray like other cut fabrics on the straight grain. But once I tried it on it was uncomfortable. The edges where there was metallic thread was making it feel icky against my skin so I threw in some seam binding & bias binding.
I carefully stitched the bias binding just inside my sleeve basting stitches. I then trimmed the seam allowances to a scant 1/4 inch and wrapped the bias to the opposite side and stitched it down again.
For sleeve hems along with the neckline, I used the same bias binding and stitching, but instead of wrapping the bias to the other side of the seam allowance, I stitched the edge of the bias directly to the dress, invisibly from the right side.
And for the rest of the vertical seams on the bodice, I used hem tape, which I pressed in half and sewed down the length of it in one go to affix it. (Does this make sense?… I hope it does).
Since there is soo much fabric & weight in the skirt, it was imperative that I stitched on a waist stay. I used a rayon Petersham ribbon that is 1 1/4 inch wide and feels like butter. While I got my Petersham ribbon locally, Sunni has some equally fabulous, buttery Petersham ribbons in her shop. The 100% rayon Petersham is 1,000 times better than the stuff you buy at Joann which is polyester! I’m never going back to that poly stuff for waist stays.
Let’s talk darts! This is one of the little details that has me absolutely loving this dress!
I’d never rotating a dart before. And for this bodice, I had to not only rotate the dart, but I combined two darts into 1 rotated dart! Not having done it before, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed with myself after doing so. I did a little happy hop when I was showing it to my hubby. What’s even better is that the fit wasn’t affected one bit after doing the rotating and joining of darts. (I did a muslin to test and it was a-okay.)
After I had sewn up the back waist darts I realized that I needed to do something about the front darts. I was going to keep the side seam dart as is, and rotate the front waist dart to the front bias seam. It was a little awkward and so I thought how about rotating it to the side seam. That’s when I decided that I couldn’t have 2 darts at the side seam and wanted to combine them.
I made up my muslin with this pattern piece and made an additional change to the dart ends since they weren’t completely getting sewn into the side seam.
I did a bit of research prior to making the dart rotation and I used this tutorial from Gertie and this one from Miss P. But just this morning I saw that Ms. Sunni posted up a great tutorial herself, which is equally instructive.
After realizing the need for altering the darts, I shortly realized that I’d have to cut out a new front bodice. Ugh! I had hopes of using what fabric I had left over for a shorter skirt. Now I hacked into what remained of my fabric to sew up a new front bodice. Ahh well…. such sacrifice is needed when learning the hard way.
I used a silk Shantung fabric for my neckline and arm sashes. The pattern only called for the neckline sash, but I thought adding a sash to the sleeves would be even better. Using a Shantung wasn’t my first choice of fabrics, but it was the only one that perfectly matched the red-color of the stripes. I do love how they seem to glow with the yellow-setting sun.
I had started to make a matching red silk belt, but after joining it all together I found that I didn’t have quite enough fabric for a decent lap at the end. Perhaps I’ll come across a perfect gold or navy belt in the future…
Thoughts about Sewing on the Bias:
One thing I had to keep in mind about sewing on the bias is the stretch with stitching along with the stretch over time. Sunni recommends sewing the seams with tissue paper underneath while pulling the fabric slightly while stitching. I did both of these things and let the skirt relax & stretch for 2 days and also let the bodice stretch for a day.
But one additional thing that is important about bias is the after-affects. If your dress/skirt is hanging on a hanger it will stretch out over time. While it stretches it’s going to get narrower, ie smaller. This won’t be an issue with the skirt since it’s so full, but it will be an issue with the bodice. In order to accommodate any future stretching, I’ve sewn the bust dart about 1/2 than my true apex, I stitched the side seams with a bit more ease than I normally would have on a fancy dress, and I also stitched the bodice a bit shorter than my true waist (3/8ths to 1/2″). While I’ll be storing my dress flat (somehow…), even wearing it out and about will cause it to stretch and I want to be able to wear this dress for years to come. Hopefully these three adjustments will be enough to ensure that it fits after a few wearings along with the proper storage.
All in all, I’m in love with my dress; I think the fabric is what really ‘makes’ it.
I’ll leave you all with my happy, victory twirl. :)