Unfinished Business

What happens when an unavoidable interruption takes you away from the depths of a sewing project for more than a couple weeks of time?  Well, if you are me, you forget exactly where you were in the process.  And, when you finally get back to work on it, you assume, incorrectly, certain fitting steps have already happened.  Recipe for disaster?  Well, not quite that bad, because this dress can be saved.  It is just going to take some time.

The dress in question is the one for which I used this colorful floral silk.

Although I was so certain in May I would finish this dress before we departed our home on the East Coast (USA) for our Summer home in Wyoming, it did not happen.  So I brought it with me to finish.  When I finally picked it up again, I needed to reacquaint myself with all the steps yet to be completed.  I had the hand-picked lapped zipper sewn and the sleeves inserted.

I love a hand-picked lapped zipper…

I was working on the narrow ruffle I had decided to add to the V-neck edge.  I consider this to be the focal point of the dress (in addition to the fabric).

I used the same vintage pattern for this dress as I did for a blue silk dress late in 2019. This fabric, to me, was begging for a narrow neck ruffle.

As luck would have it, the most recent issue of Threads Magazine included an article by Susan Khalje on Couture Gathering.  Now, I have done a lot of gathering of fabric in my life, but this article is illuminating in all the tips it offers for an excellent result.  It could not have been more timely.  As it turns out, there is lot more to gathering than I ever considered.

Among the concepts covered in the article are:  gathering ratio, fabric grain, underlining, stitch length, preparation of the piece to be ruffled, forming the gathers and attaching the gathered fabric to the body of the item.  As with so much of couture sewing, each step builds on the one before it.

Three of the tips in the article, so helpful to me in completing this detail, were:  1) cutting the piece to be gathered much wider than I would have thought was necessary.  This gives one much more control than with a narrower strip.  2) using three lines of gathering rather than the customary two, and 3) once the gathers are formed, using an iron to set them in place, stopping just short of pressing the ruffle.

I decided on a 5/8″ wide ruffle. I cut my piece to be gathered 5″ wide, folded to 2.5″. I used three rows of gathering stitches.

For those of you with subscriptions to Threads Magazine, I highly recommend this Essential Techniques article.  It has forever changed the way I will do gathering/ruffles.  And although not all features in Threads are as useful, it is offerings like this which make me a fan of this sewing magazine.  (These are my opinions;  I have no relationship with Threads.)

Well, back to where I left off.  After picking up work on this dress again, I proceeded to go through all the steps necessary to complete it.  When I thought this dress was finally finished, I put it on to take pictures, and to my surprise, it did not fit correctly.  It pulls across the bust and forms drag lines on the V-neck.  Ugh.

The pulling across the bust and at the V-neck is clearly noticeable in this photo.

I can only guess I thought I had tried it on for fit after the zipper was basted, but I must not have done that.  Unknowingly, I proceeded with the finishing of the interior – the facing of the V-neck, the hem, and the insertion of a green crepe de chine lining.

Normally with couture sewing, neck facings are eliminated and the lining is brought right up to the neck edge and then understitched to secure it. However, with a V-neck, a facing is necessary. I then cut the lining about 3/4″ below the neck edge and fell-stitched it into place.

I believe removing the zipper and taking some of the center back seam allowance to add to the width of the back will correct this glaring mis-fit. This is not a dress which I will have occasion to wear  this summer – so do I dig in and make the corrections now, or do I wait?  I have quite a bit in my summer sewing queue, and perhaps a tried and true project like a blouse will put me in a better frame of mind.  Regardless, this “unfinished business” will one day be finished, hopefully successfully.



Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Ruffles, Sheath dresses, silk, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

16 responses to “Unfinished Business

  1. Mery

    Such beautiful workmanship and such beautiful fabric. I suggest putting it in a handy container where you sit so one day you’ll start opening up some seams. Once you open it up, I think it will go fairly smoothly. You might be able to incorporate a side zipper and a short back neck zipper if necessary. If I were your sister, I would tease that perhaps your bust grew because you’re pregnant.

    • I think I need to be mentally ready to tackle this alteration, and having it easily available and in sight will help in that, I think. I’m pretty irritated with myself for making such a stupid mistake. Let’s hope my bust hasn’t increased, for whatever reason! That would wreak havoc with not just this pattern….

  2. Oh bother, not the outcome you were expecting! I was just thinking of you today, wondering if you had gotten out to WY for the summer…I bet it is a different world from what you’ve experienced this spring in the east! We are very fortunate out here in the sticks.

    • Yes, Kathy, we arrived here in Wyoming in the first days of June (which means not much sewing has been accomplished this month). Yes again, it’s been a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, from when we left Pennsylvania (which was closed up tight as a drum!) Not that everyone here isn’t considerate and conscientious regarding personal space and efforts to reduce contagion, as they are! But it’s been lovely to be a little bit back to normal. The “sticks” are quite nice!

  3. chris v johnson

    Well, I did leave a comment, but since it’s not here, I will try once more. This is so sad, and the work ahead seems daunting. I have an alternate way for you to consider to resolve the problem that may not be a good plan, but may encourage you to ponder a simpler way to fix the fit. Remove the sleeves, open up the underarm side seams, and, if needed, add a gusset to provide the extra circumference, where needed to relax the fit. Finish the armhole for a sleeveless version of this well-loved pattern.

    • I saw your first comment, Chris, and approved it, and do not know why it has disappeared! But thank you for trying again. I appreciate your thoughts and idea! I am hesitant to make this into a sleeveless dress, as I know I won’t get as much wear out of it if it is lacking sleeves. I know taking out the zipper sounds daunting, but I have done this sort of thing before. I also know I have a very wide seam allowance in that center back seam which will make an adjustment easier than an adjustment to the armholes which have been trimmed and clipped closely. If the back adjustment does not do what I hope it will, then I’ll be forced to look at the sleeves… Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Karen,
    What thought provoking posts you’ve written – both this one and the last! I too had the same existential sewing crisis, and I believe many other sewists did as well.
    Your beautiful dress……………. I know you’ll be able to rescue this lovely garment when the time is right. Thank you for all of your tips, and in the last post the links to the books. I had no idea of the Cardin/Dior connection.
    All the best to you, and enjoy your summer in WY 😉

    • Thank you, Sarah. I’m fortunate to have a “sewing room” here in our Wyoming house, but it’s still a bit of a challenge not to have all my “stuff” with me! Hopefully it will be a productive summer, nevertheless. Best to you as well!

  5. Oh I hope you have success with it someday, it’s a beautiful fabric! Enjoy your summer!

  6. I share your pain and exasperation! You’re not the only one with a pending project due to unforeseen sewing consequences. I have complete faith that after experiencing the summer in Wyoming you’ll return to this lovely dress and make the necessary changes. I look forward to the update and final photos. Take care and enjoy your surroundings in the glorious western USA.

    • Ah, thank you, Peggy for your encouragement. Much of life is filled with unforeseen consequences, but somehow when they affect my sewing it’s especially irritating! But here’s to a productive summer for both of us!

  7. Your first paragraph resonated with me as this as I often had the same problem. My current way of solving it is to start a blog post as I work on a project & detail the steps there, saving the blog post in draft mode. Then when I pick up the project again I know what I have & haven’t done. Sometimes the draft blog post gets updated & published once I’ve finished the project, but if I decide not to publish I just delete the draft.
    And yes,I think you should finish it now you’re so close to completing it, it’s lovely now but it will look even better when it’s done.

  8. FINISH IT NOW! You’re so close, and you know it will just sit in a pile for ages if you dont.

  9. Too true – leave it long enough and you lose your confidence in your ability (ask me how I know!) – thankfully I find it’s something that comes back once I get back into it 🙂
    You’ve reminded me that my Threads subscription has lapsed, and I did used to so enjoy flipping through it. With my birthday just around the corner, I know what to tell family members to get me when they ask, these days I struggle to say something other than ‘time’ haha.
    The mini ruffle trim really suits your beautiful fabric!

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