Fabric covered belts and buckles: Might as well do it myself!

I’ve been waiting two weeks for a catalog from a maker of custom covered belts. In a way it’s good the catalog hasn’t come yet because I’ve had time to rethink my need for this service.

The total outlay for supplies to make a fabric covered belt will begin to repay me the more I use them. In comparison, the cost for the two covered belts I need can run anywhere from $20-30 each depending on who I’d go with for the service.

This is where sewing blogs like those run by Coletterie and A Fashionable Stitch have been very valuable to me. I know experienced sewists who tell me that the blogs are clever marketing tools to drive consumers to buy the products featured at the blogs. While it is true that such blogs are part of marketing/research/development they are also community centering and creating. I give these blogs extra points (and Thank Yous) for the sincere effort made to educate their followers. There’s always something new to learn and the sharing of something so simple as a beltmaking tutorial can have a big impact on a sewists approach. Seeing the photos and the process has greatly encouraged me to do it myself!
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Using different colored threads for basting, tailors tacks and grain lines

While sewing the Dirndl Dress, I used black cotton basting thread to mark the Center Front, Cross Chest Width, Cross Back Width and Hip Line of the garment pieces. The same black thread was also used to baste all the seams. The result was that after awhile I couldn’t tell what was what and I ended up removing the threads marking the grain lines.

I’ve decided to start using different colored threads for marking and basting. I bought a set of colorful cotton threads which I’ll use on my next project. I think the use of different colors will work out well, especially since I plan to use only solid colors for the skirt and blouse I plan to make.

Dirndl Dress Completed…Photos to Come…Closing thoughts on Quilting Cotton

The Dirndl Dress is completed. I’m going to wait before posting photos even though I want to share right now. However, without the right accessories to add that touch of Retro Glam the overall effect is lacking.

I’m going to have a belt made in the same fabric as the dress. Belts covered in the same fabric as the dress were popular in the 1950s. I’m also on the look out for some costume jewelry that will add a little more interest to the outfit. It will be a few weeks before the belt is finished since I’m ordering it from California. I already have ideas for my next project and want to devote time to sketching and researching blouse weight fabrics. Right now I just don’t feel ready to go through the process of making the belt myself.

The Dirndl Dress made from quilting cotton has turned out better than I expected. The positive aspects of my experience with using quilting cotton to make a dress include:

*It has a lot of body. The cotton will hold a boxy shaped bodice very well.
*The cotton becomes softer after pre-shrinking it.
*Stitches can be removed easily.
*It presses beautifully and responds well to steam for shaping.
*Quilting Cotton works best on the simplest of styles. I think they work well for fitted bodices and maybe a fitted skirt.

Some of the drawbacks I learned while using quilting cotton during this project:

*Although the fabric responds very well to hand stitching there is something about it that reminded me, over and over, that this fabric wants to puff, fluff and be stuffed. It is, after all, made to be a quilt.
*It is best not to use quilting cotton for gathered skirts. The fabric gathers well but the weight and fullness of the gathered piece can result in the skirt looking unflattering on a larger size.
*There is much body but little drape in the finished garment. By drape I mean the ability of the fabric to move as the body moves. This doesn’t change how much I like the overall look of the completed Dirndl Dress but it lacks the movement and appeal the dress would have in a suitable dress weight cotton.

Does this mean I would tell other sewists not to try quilting cotton? My advice about choice of fabrics is simple:

*Research what other sewists have to say about using it.
*Consider all the positive and negative things you read about it.
*Assess your own project and whether or not you are willing to experiment.
*Pick a style that will work best with the nature of the quilting cotton.
*Give it a try perhaps using the simplest style possible, one that will not require too much work or too much fabric
*Assess the results you get and use that as a guide for the future.

While other sewists might be able to tell if you used quilting cotton or not, other people you meet most likely won’t. They will consider how well the garment fits and whether or not the color, pattern and entire look is flattering to you.

When I was 16 I bought several Simplicity patterns designed by Betsey Johnson for Alley Cat. I was so in love with chintz, polished cotton and prints consisting of large, red roses that I bought chintz curtain fabric to make one of these Betsey Johnson maxi dresses. My Grandma Josie had a sense of humor about my selection but did not discourage me from making the dress. Instead she told me it would be important to make sure I matched up the roses at the center back seam and along the princess seams. I proceeded to make the dress and the roses matched up ok. Not perfect but not so far apart that it was too noticeable.

When I wore the dress to school I got many compliments. No one knew it was curtain fabric and nobody said I looked like I was wearing old curtains either. So my advice is that if you want to try a quilting cotton–and many of the patterns are irresistible so I understand the allure–I’d say give it a try and then make your own conclusions about whether or not you want to use it in the future.

Unexpected discovery: Using a running stitch to hand sew a slot zipper application!

This weekend provided yet another example to me of why my late Mother and Grandmother were so correct in telling me that a good book is like a good friend.

It was time to hand stitch the slot zipper application for The Dirndle Dress. I used a prick stitch and thought everything was going very well. But when I was finished I had to admit the results were not visually appealing. I had failed to match up the prick stitches on both sides of the zipper. Despite the thread being a good match to the fabric it was very obvious that the stitches were not running down each side of the zipper in an even sequence.

I’d learned from past mistakes that it’s no use trying to cover them up. Sometimes the cover-up only distorts the fabric more and makes the fit or drape worse. This time I was fortunate because quilting cotton has proven to be very forgiving. I carefully ripped out the prick stitches and started again from scratch.

I wasn’t sure how to remedy the situation so I took a break and had a cup of the delicious Starbucks Casi Cielo blend coffee. The rich aroma of its chocolately notes and the little butter cookies I had with the coffee gave my eyes, hands and mind a much needed break.

After that, I spent some time in my Inspiration Room going through my dressmaker and sewing reference books. In Claire Shaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques” I found instructions for inserting a zipper in a slot application by using tiny running stitches. Shaeffer said the running stitch is more flexible and allows the zipper to move easily on the body. There is extra work involved but I decided to give it a try. The close-ups of the couture dresses in the book which had such an application did not have show any obvious stitching from the outside. There was a hint of stitching but none as noticeable as is the case with a zipper inserted with a prick stitch.

The zipper is inserted using an open seam. After pinning and basting the zipper into place a small running stitch is used about 1/4″ from the seam line. I found the running stitch easier to do. Using a #5 Sharp Needle and Guttermans thread I took very tiny stitches from the outside. This stitching sews the zipper to the garment.

A second row of running stitches is then done just on the seam and zipper tape about 1/8″ away. After this the edges of the zipper are fell stitched just to the seam.

It was about 1 1/2 hours to do because I hand sew best when I’m relaxed. When I was finished all I could think was WOW! what a beautiful technique I’d just learned.

The welts of the zipper were almost equal which was a big improvement from the prick stitched version of the slot application. Also, although the welt is noticeable the stitches are not. From a distance one cannot discern the stitches and the eye only sees the vertical seam.

Even at the waistline there is no gapping or irregularity using this sewing technique. I plan to use this type of application when I do a slot zipper application on my next project. At that time I will detail the process in photos.

The Dressmaker’s Library: Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing

Dust jacket of “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing”.

A reference library is one of the dressmaker’s best resources when it’s not always possible to attend workshops or pursue extended coursework in design, patternmaking, garment construction and alterations. One day workshops and visits to exhibits are also good educational experiences, but again extra time is needed to pursue these activities.

At this point in my life my library of dressmaking and fashion related reference books is the main resource for my ongoing self-study and improvement. Due to work demands and scheduling it is hard for me to have enough time in which to pursue coursework or workshops. Instead, my well loved and frequently referred to books have become teachers and companions along the journey of discovery that is dressmaking and design. I’ve finally added a long awaited friend to my library and the enjoyment is very high.

When “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” arrived last Saturday, I put my phone on voicemail and luxuriated in getting immersed in the book for over an hour and a half.

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The Dirndl Dress: Creating a Gathered Waistline Stay +Some thoughts about Quilting Cotton

My sewing is broken down into small units of time each weekend and sometimes on week nights. It all depends on how I have to juggle the demands of two jobs. For home sewists with busy lives I recommend this approach which I call the Unit Method of Construction. Time is set aside to perform one complete part of a construction detail. If the construction is involved then each sewing session can focus on one or two components of that detail.

I was very surprised at how puffy and full the gathered cotton fabric for skirt of The Dirndl Dress is. This is where I have to admit my complete ignorance about the pros and cons of using quilting cotton when I purchased the fabric. I’m working with a very cute print by Zoe Pearn for Riley Blake. When I surfed into Martha Pullen’s website I didn’t bother to research quilting cotton at all before purchasing the fabric. The print was exactly what I wanted for The Dirndl Dress. Considering that I haven’t sewn full scale for over 10 years and have not stayed abreast of fashion fabrics I really made something of a boo-boo when I purchased this fabric.

To keep a balanced perspective I will say that overall the sewing experience has been very pleasant. The cotton is a dream to work with and responds very well to steam pressing and shaping. It has responded well to the demands of the fitted bodice with French Darts which has turned out to be much different than a bodice with darts below the bustline. I credit the weight of the quilting cotton for holding up the shape of the bodice very well. It’s just that the challenges and issues of working with quilting cotton became very obvious to me after I had gathered the dirndl skirt and prepared to sew it to the bodice.

Although the gathered portion of the dirndl skirt is weighty it is not as heavy as anything you could make with bottom weight denim. Still, there is a difference in the overall feel that is hard for me to describe but is very evident when you can feel and touch the fabric. Once the dirndl skirt was sewn to the bodice it all looks very lovely and I’m pleased overall. It’s just that the slightly extra weight of the skirt required some extra consideration.

This is why I chose to make a stay for the gathered waistline.

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Off-Topic: An analysis of why commercial patterns fall short in fitting standards

Ms. Debra Lee McLendon wrote her Master of Science thesis on the topic of why commercial sewing patterns fail to meet the fitting needs of most of the population here in the United States. As a former patternmaker and designer she is well aware of the shortcomings of commercial patternmakers and pursued this topic in her graduate work.

When I used commercial patterns I was never, ever satisfied with the fit, even after alterations were made. Even now as I read posts and blogs about sewing, I can see how different patterns, even those from the smaller independent companies selling online, can give different bloggers and forum members the same problems. With the high cost of patterns this should not be.

Not everyone has the time to devote to drafting their own patterns and this should not be the only alternative.

I’m still working my way through the almost 160 pages of Debra’s thesis but have decided to share the URL where it may be downloaded.

I know there are many who share these thoughts. Being well informed will make those who purchase commercial patterns better enabled to communicate the shortcomings to the Customer Service Reps at the commercial pattern companies. When a pattern produces poor results the company should be informed.

Debra’s thesis is available for reading and downloading at: http://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/ir/bitstream/1840.16/7392/1/etd.pdf

I’ve excerpted the Abstract and Bio from her thesis here so you can see if you’re interested enough to follow through on her study.



MCLENDON, DEBRA, LEE. An Investigation of the Sizing, Grading, and Fit of Commercial Sewing Patterns. (Under the direction of Dr. Cynthia Istook, Committee Chair, Dr. Katherine Carroll, Committee Member, and Dr. Marguerite Moore, Committee Member).

Fit is the most critical component that ensures consumer satisfaction with garments constructed from commercial sewing patterns. The purpose of this study was to evaluate current commercial sewing pattern industry sizing, grading, and fit practices and propose ways to improve sizing and fit.

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