Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Iron Seamstress

In my own personal version of "Iron Chef", I have accepted the challenge to make myself a new dress for the Baronial Ball this coming weekend. I started last Sunday night with a plan to use some blue-grey wool for the dress and scarlet linen blend for the lining. All handsewn.

I took my inspiration from,
a lovely dress and just what I had in mind. Here's a pic for those too lazy to chase the link. (This is not me. It's Alina!)

I needed a lining, and for that I chose a tomato-red linen blend that had been hanging around in my stash for a bit. Nothing perks up grey like red, right?

I cut out the bodice, using a pattern I drafted last fall that had a fitted back piece that I liked. I made a muslin first to make sure of the fit and it seemed a bit snug. Have I gained weight? I wondered, as I made a note to add an extra inch to the back. When I cut the two front bits, I added extra room at the front as well, with the theory that it would be easier to take it off than add it on, if needed. (Can you tell I've been burned by measuring mishaps in the past? Incidentally, I ended up not needing the extra inches. Just paranoid, I guess.)

Right sides together, I backstitched the hems, then pressed them flat, clipped the points and the armscyes, turned it right-side out and pressed it. Whipstitched the back to the fronts in the traditional way, then tried it on, pulling the front snug and straight and marking where it met with pins. I used a 1/4" cable tie on either side to reinforce the seams where the lacing eyelets would pull.

I hate stitching eyelets, but nothing else looks right, so there ya go: traditional spiral-lacing spacing, one and a half inches apart. One eyelet takes me 10-15 minutes, horrible things. I wanted to leave them for last, but I knew that it would be better to just get it over with and not give myself an excuse to stall. I did most of them in the car, too.

That took two days.

To make the skirt, I just halved the remaining yardage lengthwise. I have done this in the past and it was the perfect length, so I didn't even measure. Oh my goodness, such hubris. So once it's cut, I hold it up and realize that once my skirt is hemmed it will only fall about halfway past my knees.

You'd think I'd take a moment here to fling my pincushion across the dining room, but you'd be wrong. I had a plan B. I chose some scrap navy blue wool and made a six-inch wide stripe and stitched it to the bottom hem. Still too short. I made an eight-inch strip from scraps of the grey and stitched that onto the bottom of the blue. Perfect! But that made for eight yards of hand stitching that I had not scheduled for, and the days were ticking by.

Then I realized that with the additional width on the skirt, I didn't have enough of the red linen blend to line with. Okay, now I throw the pincushion.

But I'm not the Iron Seamstress for nothing. To the stash! I find some linen in a muted grey-gold and there's enough of it to make up the difference. Hooray!

The purpose of the lining (besides warmth, I suppose) is so that one can tuck up one's hem and show off a pretty little flash of cheerful color. I don't want a stripe of grey-gold and a stripe of red when I tuck up, so I decide that I'll put the stripe at the inside top of the skirt. No one will see it there, unless they're seeing enough of the inside of my skirt to be more interested in other things.

Stitching that extra bit into the lining is another four yards of hand stitching that I didn't plan on. I can do a yard of back-stitch in about 45 minutes, so you can see the chunks of time these mistakes and amendments are adding to the project. Not to mention the time ironing all the seams flat and such.

Finally I get the skirt and lining parts ready, and pin them right sides together to prepare for the top and side seams. (The bottom hem will be done last of all, after I've attached the skirt to the bodice.) It is almost midnight on Thursday night, and I only have one more day to sew. And I have a full work day on Friday, complete with two evening clients. I think about how much time it will take to stitch two 42-inch sides and four yards of top and compare it to the time I have available. Then I still have to pleat the skirt, attach it to the bodice, and hem it.

I won't have enough time. There's no way. And I'm already so worn out from a busier-than-usual work week, plus the previous late nights of sewing. There's nothing for it -- something's gotta give.

I decide (and believe me, it wasn't easy to come to this decision) that I will machine-sew the top and sides of my skirt. They are inside seams that will be hidden and covered by hand-stitching, so it won't be obvious. This will save me approximately five and a half hours of sewing time. I load a bobbin with grey thread and in fifteen minutes I have stitched the top and sides. I put the machine away and fire up the iron to press the seams flat.

Friday forenoon during my break I am folding in pleats. My plan for box pleats is a no-go; even with close deep folds I still end up six inches longer than my bodice width. I change the plan to knife pleats but no time for that now! It's back to work and not until the afternoon do I get back to my project. I make pleats about 1.25" wide, and overlap the edges a bit, and finally get the fit I need.

Friday evening I finish the pleats and attach the skirt to the bodice with extra-strong thread and close stitches. For the first time, I can try on the dress and see if there's anything seriously amiss in fit or drape. ...nope. Everything looks great. I'm very pleased! And I'm especially glad because once again it is near midnight and I'm just plain tuckered out.

The morning of the big day arrives. Six am finds me eating cereal and pinning my hem, then it's off to work. On my break, I stitch half the hem, and in between clients I find a little time to hem a new apron out of the remaining grey-gold linen. Back home, I finish the hem and I AM DONE! I have 90 minutes before the Ball begins -- just enough time to shower, do up my hair and get dressed in my lovely new grey kirtle.

The back should come up a little higher on the shoulders, and I think the armscyes are a bit big, but all in all, I'm very pleased with the results of my one-week, intensive effort.

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