(I know I took a break on this one for a bit, but I needed to finish my picnic dress for an early June event, so it took priority…)
Anyway, once I had my altered pattern established for the tea gown, it was time to get to the sewing!
Looking at my fabric, I was relieved that the embroidery was basically omnidirectional, which meant that I didn’t have to be too careful about placing my pattern pieces when determining how to cut them out, as long as they were on-grain. But first I cut each piece out of plain white cotton sateen for lining (I used a queen-sized sheet set). I cut the lining first because it was 1) more expendable, being plain cotton, and 2) easier to draw on, which was important because I didn’t actually cut out the paper pattern pieces (instead poking holes in the paper with a pencil and making dots to connect on the fabric). Then I used the cotton pieces as pattern pieces when cutting out my fashion fabric. Sorry, no photos, I detest the cutting-out process so I try to get it over with as quickly as possible…
After basting all of the lining and outer pieces together for the body (which took forever, also a pain) I stitched my main seams, binding the edges of the seam allowances with Hug Snug seam binding to keep them neat on the inside (well, *neater*– my binding technique still needs work), and sewed in my darts.
I will note that I added pockets to the side seams of the gown– I’m not sure if keeping things in them might ruin the nice smooth line over the hips, but I’d like to keep my options open. I made them out of white cotton, with 2″ wide strips of fashion fabric at the tops so they wouldn’t show much if the slits pulled open a bit. Here’s the inside and outside:
Once I had the embroidered wisteria designs finished, I decided to create a few three-dimensional wisteria blossoms to use at the neckline of the gown. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to do the stems– the blossoms would be simple, just looping seam binding and using thread to bind the tops together, but the stems were a puzzle. If I used regular embroidery floss they would be too droopy and wouldn’t have any structure. If I used wire they would be too stiff. I thought about fishing line, but then I’d have to tie it all up together and find some way to make it green, and it sounded like a huge hassle.
I finally bought some green cotton cord that was on clearance at my local craft store. It had some structure to it, and I figured that it would strike a nice balance between stiffness and flexibility.
Here’s the process for making the wisteria sprays:
Once I finished the neckline, I moved on to the important part– the wisteria embroidery. Of course, I’d never really done ribbon embroidery before, so I was a little nervous about how it would go. As always, I researched tutorials online and learned a few basic stitches. I also learned that I couldn’t use just any needle– the 1/2″ seam binding was far too thick to pull through the fabric with even a large-eyed standard embroidery needle– but that I should get a “chenille needle,” designed for use in chenille embroidery. It was recommended that I use size 13 (apparently the largest available), which was a whopping 2.9 mm in diameter.
To map out the design, I used masking tape to section off where the blossom motifs would go on the bodice and skirt, adjusting until it looked good from a distance. Then I basted a line of stitching along each piece of tape, so I could remove the tape and do the ribbon embroidery directly over the (easily removable) thread.
When I decided on wisteria as my theme I was hopeful that I could find some pre-embroidered appliques to use on the dress. Sadly, this was not to be– for some reason, wisteria just isn’t popular enough to make appliques out of. Next I looked for some embroidered wisteria decorator fabric, hoping to make my own appliques. No luck– there was some gorgeous fabric out there, but it was something like $300/yard. Not going to happen. Machine-embroidery would be too expensive to commission, hand-embroidery was out of the question due to time constraints, but then I thought of silk ribbon embroidery. It was a lot faster than regular embroidery due to the width of the ribbon, and it would look lovely and dimensional. Right?
Unfortunately, silk ribbon is SILK, and therefore prohibitively expensive when one is considering making life-sized wisteria blossoms all over the skirt of a ballgown. And regular (cheap) satin ribbon is just too thick to really use for embroidery, especially when embroidering onto a tightly-woven satin base. But then it hit me– Hug Snug seam binding. It’s extremely light and thin, it comes in a million different colors, and it’s CHEAP. I could get a 100-yd. roll for about $10, so I bought two rolls– one in “Orchid Pink” and one in “Moss Green.”
Why pale pink, when wisteria blossoms are various shades of purple? Because I didn’t feel like buying multiple colors of purple and then switching back and forth in the middle of a wisteria spray. Instead, I dyed the whole spool in variegated shades of purple using Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow. It’s actually really easy to use, and unlike regular dye it doesn’t require a long soaking/boiling time to set. Here’s how I did it:
Once all of the structural elements of the dress were done with all the seams finished, I finally hemmed it. The first step was putting it on the dress form and doing a preliminary pinning, but then I put it on myself and had my husband adjust the height of the hem so it actually worked for me (not making the same mistake I did with the bodice here). I trimmed the extra fabric and used the seam binding to bind the raw edge of the hem, then used that edge to machine-hem the dress with a blind stitch. The video below explains it fairly well.
You don’t really need a blind hem foot to do this– just keep a close watch on where your stitches are landing relative to the folded edge. Especially with a more textured fabric, it won’t matter if your stitches are a little bigger than expected.
So I’ve got the main dress done, but I wanted to add a little something to embellish it at the neckline. I wasn’t about to do any hand-embroidery or beading in my limited timeframe, so I looked for some nice appliques instead. I looked at a lot of different types, including venise lace, soutache, and even sari trim, but eventually I decided on some silver embroidered appliques in a vaguely floral pattern. They’re not too shiny and not too ornate, so they embellish without overpowering.
Okay, so remember how I went to all the trouble of picking out lavender lining fabric and cutting all my pattern pieces out of it before moving on to my embroidered fabric? I honestly did intend to do a lining at that point, but after trying the dress on I realized that the inside really wasn’t all that scratchy after all. Plus, as the weather has warmed up I’ve realized that it’s going to be awfully hot at the end of May, and I won’t really want another layer of non-breathable fabric next to my skin to hold the sweat in. So I’ve decided to skip the lining. I’m going to put in a neckline facing to finish that edge, and since the inner seams will now be exposed (at least from the inside) I’m binding them with Hug Snug, a rayon seam binding that will finish the edges and prevent them from fraying.
First up is the seam binding. While more experienced sewers may be able to simply iron it in half and sew both sides at once, I opted to go with the more cautious method and first stitched one side of the binding to one side of the seam allowance, then turned it over and did the other side. It took FOREVER, but it made the inside of the dress look infinitely better than it did before.
Once those were done I finalized the neckline of my dress, then traced it out on paper to draft a pattern for the facing pieces. I made the facing out of material from the gores (interfaced with lightweight iron-on interfacing), and then sewed it, right sides together, to the neckline. Then I flipped it over and understitched it to keep it lying flat.