Saturday, 25 February 2012

My Sewing Methods

I have now been sewing as a hobby for around 18 months since I re-discovered my sewing machine in August 2010. The journey from pincushion to Macaron has been filled with learning, sewing, buying fabric and equipment and much more. These pictures may illustrate how far I have come. Here is a recent make – the Macaron dress:

Here is the pincushion I made out of an old shirt just after re-discovering my sewing machine:

I even embroidered a “K” with a zig zag stitch! Yes I have the skills to make a better pin cushion now but I like this one. I like the size and is a reminder of how far I have come.

At some point along the way I settled into a routine of how I like to do things, often after some trial and error. I'm learning new things all the time and trying out new things that end up being part of my routine.

I thought it would be interesting to take stock of where my sewing methods have settled at this point. I've learned there is no “right” way to do things. There are often several ways and it's a matter of trying out new things and using the ones you like. We're also creatures of habit and, like having the same current account for years on end, once you find a method that works you may not see the need to change it.

Equipment and storage

I have two builders' tool caddies, a small and large one to store everything. They are canvas ones bought from a DIY store. My smaller caddy lives on my sewing table and has the core items I use the most:

  • The first pair of cutting scissors I bought which I now use for cutting paper
  • Fabric cutting scissors (that I keep in the packet)
  • Embroidery scissors (for snipping, again kept in the packet)
  • Metal triangular technical ruler (which I don't understand, I use it for straight lines and for finding the grain of fabric so the weight is useful)
  • Set square with built-in protractor (which I use for straight lines, and measuring right angles against the grainline for, say, when cutting a rectangle)
  • Sewing guage (for measuring seam allowances)
  • Pack of felt tip pens (for tracing and marking on pattern paper)
  • Masking tape (for when I am lengthening patterns or joining downloadable patterns)
  • Safety pins and sewing needles
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Pincushion and pins
  • Tape measure, pen and pencil
  • Metal skewer (for turning through corners)
  • Elastic
  • Empty thread bobbins in the pockets. I keep leftover thread of a decent size (anything from say 7 inches or longer) and wind it around the bobbins and use it for hand basting.
If you're a beginner I would say this is pretty much all the equipment you need to get started apart from the sewing machine. I invested in a decent ironing board and steam iron some time last year. Well I thought the ironing board was decent being Brabantia but it has broken and been replaced 3 times and has just broken again. The problem may be that it is not sturdy enough to take a heavy steam iron on the ledge.

My bigger caddy carries most of my other supplies. It lives on a shelf as I don't need to access it that often. This carries my thread, which I store in an 38 cm organiser bought from a DIY store:
Here's a picture:

This is a great way to store thread. It holds a lot and you can sort it by colour. The plastic case is slim and easy to store.

Apart from the thread, the most used items in this caddy are:
  • Vilene edge tape
  • Cording (for piping and handles for stuff bags)
  • Various elastics, ribbons, trims, twill tape
  • Spare machine needles of various sizes
  • Zips
  • Spare machine bobbins. (My machine takes a very narrow non-standard bobbin so I can't use these in my machine. I use them to wind on and store leftover bobbin thread after finishing a project).
This caddy also contains items I bought after picking up internet tips. They're not essential and I wouldn't miss them if they weren't there:
  • Hammer
  • Three piece chisel set
  • Small round chopping board (cheap around 99p) and small piece of chipboard
The hammer is used for flattening bulky seams, such as the tops of a zip on a dress or waistband. I don't always use it and I'm not sure how effective it is. It's probably a better (and safer!) to reduce bulk by clever trimming.

I bought the chisel set as I read they were good for cutting open button holes, used with the hammer. I haven't done buttonholes on a garment but I have done a few practice ones. I think I would use the same method as I use for slitting open a welt pocket. I fold in half the area I want to cut and snip into the middle with the tip of my fabric scissors. I then carefully cut open the slit using the tips of my fabric scissors again.

The wooden boards I use for the hammer to avoid damaging my table. I used to use the small chopping board for pressing before I got the clapperboard. A false economy and the clapperboard is much better.

The caddy also has some white and back shop brought bias tape. I used the black on some of my earlier garments but I think it's stiff. I think it's better to make your own bias tape. It's still useful to have it on hand for use on the right garment.

I also have a Phillips screwdriver. I'm struggling to remember why I bought it. I think I needed it to attach the invisible zipper foot I bought. I never use the invisible zipper foot so I never use the screwdriver. I use a normal zipper foot for my invisible zips and they work just as well, if you go slowly, hold open the zipper teeth and stitch close to the teeth.

I also have a tracing wheel and sticky coloured tracing paper. I thought this would be a quick method for transferring markings but I have to say I hate the method and never use these items. The sticky tracing paper is rubbish, doesn't show up and I don't think it's an accurate way to mark. I usually take the time to do tailor's tacks. Sometimes, and only if I know I can do it accurately and without the fabric moving, I will stick a pin in where the mark is, lift up the tracing paper and chalk against the bottom of the pin.

Cutting, tracing and storing patterns

I never cut into the pattern tissue. This is mainly to preserve the pattern in case you want to later cut a different size. I use Burda tracing paper and a felt tip pen to go over the lines I want to trace to make the tracing process easier. I store my traced patterns in clear plastic wallets with a label for each pattern. Here is a picture:

I store my original and traced patterns and my tracing paper in 2 old laptop bags at the moment. They are now bulging at the seams and I need a better solution for them.

Until last week I used trusted cans of tomatoes as pattern weights. Pattern weights are expensive so I tried to find fender washers in Wickes last Saturday (a large DIY chain). I have no idea what fender washers are as I've only read about them on sewing blogs. I looked at the plumbing section and couldn't see anything. I was too embarrassed to ask someone just in case they asked what they were or what I needed them for! I proceeded to look around to entire store to find something suitable. The only thing I found was this set of 10 kitchen cupboard handles which I bought for around £14:

I used them to cut out some Renfrew top cuffs yesterday and they were fine. I think a fender washer may give a flatter result when holding down the paper but they're fine. I've kept the little tray that the handles came in so it can sit on my sewing table. I've also kept the handles in their little plastic bags to make them easier to pull them out of the tray!

I don't pin pattern pieces to fabric before cutting. I have settled on the following method for cutting:
  • I cut one piece at a time sitting at a table (with the radio on). Before I had my sewing room I used the kitchen table. My legs can't take kneeling on the floor, laying everything out and cutting in one go.
  • I don't follow cutting layouts. Cutting layouts will (most of the time) fold the recommended fabric length in half and arrange everything on it. I fold the fabric (on the grainline) just enough to enable me to cut the piece I want, to reduce wastage. I start with the larger pieces first. If I have only a small piece of fabric to work with I may have to plan a bit more but usually I have enough fabric not to worry about this. With this method it is usually more efficient to cut out, say, sleeves individually.
  • I hold the pattern tissue down with weights and trace around the pattern piece with chalk. I remove the weights and tracing paper, put the weights back on the fabric and cut out the fabric on the chalked lines. I don't have a rotary cutter so I use my fabric scissors.

Other items in my sewing area are:
  1. Tailor's ham
  2. Sleeve board
  3. Clapperboard
  4. Metal metre rule
  5. Large curved ruler
I use the tailor's ham all the time for pressing anything other than straight seams. The sleeve board is good for, well sleeves, and for getting into the corners of lined or faced skirts and dresses near the top of the zips and into shoulders.

The metre rule I use mainly to help fold fabric along the grainline and then to measure from the selvedge (if I have one). The curved ruler is great for altering patterns and drawing in new pattern outlines.

I have a dress form. I haven't yet used it for altering as I tend to alter when I'm wearing the garment as my dress form isn't quite the same size as me. I nearly always have a finished, or a partially finished make, on my dress form.


I have made a muslin for every project since last June. Before this I was unsure and thought it was too advanced for me. My first muslin was for the Crescent skirt so I followed Tasia's sew-along post on the subject.

I'm always surprised to hear people say they hate doing muslins and that it takes the fun out of sewing. The main reason I love muslins is the speed with which you can have a made-up garment to try on. One of the best parts of sewing is trying something on for the first time and smiling when you realise it could be a winner! I use a size 3.5 to 4 stitch on my muslins and don't finish off the ends.

I agree that the altering stage is not much fun, except when you realise you don't need to make any alterations or the first round of alterations you make come out fine. Once I get to the second or third muslin I tend to lose the will a bit and sometimes end up settling with how it is rather than continuing to get it perfect. Each muslin takes a lot of time to alter, trace out new pieces and re-cut. I entirely agree that this can take the fun out of sewing. The flip side is that you will have only wasted muslin fabric in the process rather than nice fabric.


I'm a “pin and baste” girl in that I will always pin and hand baste before I sew the final seam. I used to remove the pins after hand basting but I prefer having the pins there as well. I don't sew over pins and remove them just before I reach them. I sew fairly slowly and have the speed on half setting. I press all seams as I go along and now use the “press flat and then open” method. I also finish and tie off loose ends as I go along.

It's been interesting to take stock of the methods and equipment I have settled on at this stage of my sewing hobby. What has surprised me is how much I have varied the sewing process to suit me. I am usually one to do things “by the book” such as following a recipe. It just goes to show that you can vary these things to suit you if you wish and there is no “right” way to do things if what you do works. Equally sewing is a learning process. If something interests you, then you can try and if you like it, you can use it.

I just have the cuffs to do on my second Renfrew top this weekend and then I really must get around to making my mother's pencil skirt muslin!

Happy sewing.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Stripey Renfrew Top

I've finished my first Renfrew top from  Sewaholic Patterns. After the epic that was my Macaron dress it was nice to have something straightforward to sew. A bit of a cliché but so true especially if you end up with something you know you'll wear all the time.

Here are the pictures:

I've sewn with jersey and knits before. I'm always surprised to hear so many say they hate or are scared of sewing with knits. They are one of my favourite fabrics and the finished makes some of my most-worn and professional-looking garments. I've loved seeing all the finished versions and Tasia's done a great job of producing a pattern that will encourage people to try knits.

I made a muslin in a size 12 leaving off the cuff and lower band. It was too big for the look I was going for. I like my jersey tops to be more fitted on top. I ended up shaving around 1 cm off the sides but the arms and shoulders were left as they were. Easy alterations so I made up new front and back pattern pieces with these adjustments.

I knew I didn't want to sew the lower band. Looking at Tasia's made-up version of view A and some of the ones I have seen, she maybe had in mind a garment to wear with jeans, trousers and leggings. I don't wear these things much. I have loads of hand sewn skirts and I need top halves to wear with them! I wasn't fussed about having something long or the band. My skirts fall at the waist so all I need is something that can be worn with them. I didn't need the extra length or the band to add bulk. I didn't lengthen the pattern at all and missed off the band. I hemmed it by turning under twice by around 1.5 cm each time (around 3 cm in total). I sewed it in place with a double row of stitches. I don't have a twin needle so I just do 2 rows of stitches.

I used the stretch stitch on the machine. I know this isn't necessary and a lot of people use an ordinary straight stitch or a narrow zig zag stitch. I've always used the stretch stitch for knits so it's just something I do now. I like the extra reinforcement it gives. Just don't make a mistake as it takes forever to unpick!

I used Vilene bias tape at the shoulder seams instead of the twill tape that Tasia uses in the pattern instructions. You just iron on the strip on the wrong side of the shoulders where you will sew (rough side facing down). It's like iron on interfacing just not as stiff. Here is a picture:

I got this fabric from Rolls and Rem in Lewisham on a recent fabric excursion to London. We got up early to go to a car boot sale one Saturday to find nothing there because it was held on a Sunday! My chap asked what I wanted to do and I said I'd like to go to Rolls and Rem in Lewisham so he kindly volunteered to drive. It's around 2 ½ hours away!

I had a go and matching stripes and it sort of worked. They match perfectly at the side. I tried to do this where the shoulders join the sleeves. I used as a marker a stripe at the lower part of the shoulder. This means that the stripes match at the bottom of this area but not at the top. I think it's impossible to match all the stripes without altering the sleeve pattern piece, which would give you a different type of sleeve. I've been scanning the stripey versions I've seen and this seems to be the same. I've noticed that others have the stripes matching well at the top of the sleeve rather than the bottom, the opposite of mine. It's not noticeable anyway and I'm certainly not stressing about it.

I haven't done this type of neckband before. I thought it may be a bit flimsy because the band is effectively one fold of fabric. It has turned out fine. I wouldn't mind a bit of extra re-inforcement in the band itself. Maybe you can cut the neck band one finished width wider to give three layers of fabric. This would add more bulk at the seam though. Not sure but not a major problem.

I used a different top-stitch to Tasia. She top-stitched under the neck band with a zig zag stitch. This stitch is vital to secure the neck band seam. I remembered this stitch from my sewing machine manual:

It's a decorative flatlock stitch. It's like a zig zag stich between two rows of straight stitches. After doing a test I went ahead with it. I'm pleased with the finish. Here is a close up but I'm not sure if you can see it very well:

On my machine you can't alter the length or width of this stitch which is a shame. I would like to see what it looks like with a bigger stitch, making more of a feature of it.

Like many others I am really pleased with the finished version and I'm already on my second one!

Happy sewing.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Burdastyle Sewing Handbook

I now have the Burdastyle sewing handbook! This is all the more special because I won it in the Burdastyle Day 29 giveaway! The question was about sewing plans for the new year.  I said I would make the Macaron dress, the Minoru jacket and a pencil skirt. 

I wasn't expecting to win at all and in fact this was the only December giveaway I entered. I got an email from Burdastyle on 2 January and I replied straightaway with my address. When the book hadn't arrived by the end of January I sent an email.  This did the trick because the book arrived yesterday.  Maybe it's bad form to chase a giveaway prize but because it was Burdastyle I thought a nudge wouldn't hurt.

Here's the lovely book:

I debated about ordering this one when it came out last November.  I wasn't sure about some of the patterns and I felt the Colette patterns were more me. As it turned out I didn't have to order it! I spent the gloriously sunny (but cold) morning yesterday reading through the book.  It's a wonderful book and I would totally recommend it.  It was fun looking at the member variations and seeing who I recognised from the site! 

I like the skirt and the dress patterns.  Here's the skirt:

 An underskirt and an overlay with a cute scallop hem.  Perfect for the summer.

I also like the dress:

 The dress (the white one on the right) is an under dress with an overlay.  Ruffly necklines aren't usually my thing but I might try this one.  I also love Casey's variation - the red sailor dress in the middle.

The coat is nice as well but a bit advanced for me at the moment.  I'm not keen on the blouse.  A bit too much material going on for me.  I would only consider making it into a dress. I'm not interested in sewing a bag but they're fun to look at.

Look what else they threw in:

There's a measurements chart, some Mettler thread, a pen and a Burdastyle badge (with a picture of a button on). I usually use Gutterman thread.  I grabbed one of the Mettlers when I run out of black today and noticed it was much thinner than Gutterman.  I decided not to use it.  Maybe the finer thread is for use with finer fabric.

I'm delighted with my prize and I'm looking forward to making up some of the patterns.

Happy sewing.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Red and Black Macaron

Exciting news – I now have a Colette Macaron dress! My first Colette make and possibly my favourite Colette pattern along with the Beignet skirt. I love this pattern and the dress despite having so many problems with the fitting, the pattern and it being the main reason why I haven't posted anything for a month. This has been a bit of an epic and I can't believe I have a wearable dress at the end of it.

Here are the pictures.

Now for the (many) details!

I used some black and red fabric from the lot I bought from the retired seamstress. The black is the same fabric I used for my Plain Black (almost) Miss Chalmers' skirt. I don't know what it is, possibly garberdine. I had fun choosing a contrast fabric and went with this one because I thought the black and burgundy would go well together. The burgundy is a nice shade despite it not being the nicest quality fabric (ie not soft or luscious).

I ended up making at least 3 muslins. The first size I cut (a 10) was way too small despite my measurements according to those on the pattern envelope. This was annoying because I had traced out the size and made adjustments to make the waistband a bit bigger. I then traced and made up a size 12 with no adjustments but stitching a 1cm seam allowance everywhere instead of 1.5 cm. This didn't look right so I unpicked the muslin and stitched it up with a 1.5 cm seam allowance. This was the odd thing – the bodice and the skirt were fine but the waistband seemed totally wrong – way too small. I haven't yet gone back to the original pattern pieces to see if this was an error with the pattern, my tracing error or whether the pattern is designed to fit an exceptionally hour glass figure!

By this time I couldn't face tracing out yet another copy of the pattern and making up another muslin. Instead of going back to study the original pattern pieces and figure out what had gone wrong I decided to re-draft the waistband to fit which in turn meant adjusting the top of the skirt and the lower part of the bodice pieces to fit the widened waistband. My drafting skills to date have extended to making a Peter Pan collar, adding a pleat to my Petal skirt and drafting a slash pocket on my Miss Chalmers' skirt. I couldn't find any tutorials on lengthening and adjusting a waistband so I winged it. 

Obviously I don't recommend that you do this at home – go and buy a pattern making book or find a tutorial from someone who knows what they are doing. However if you want a good laugh this is how I did it. The waistband and the lower part of the bodice was about 4 cm too narrow. I therefore added 4 cm by letting out the darts. I also reduced the inner pleats on the skirt to 1cm instead of 2 cm. I also thought the waistband was too narrow for me so I lengthened it by around 1.5 cm. To draft the waistband I closed up the newly adjusted darts on the skirt and bodice pieces and held them apart by the distance I wanted and traced out the gap.

Not surprisingly the waistband hasn't come out very straight! Luckily you can't really see it in the black fabric. I didn't want a contrasting waistband anyway.

Now you would think after all this I would have made up the dress with no further alterations. Wrong! I had to make life just a bit more difficult for myself.

I wanted to alter the sweetheart bodice shaping. It was a bit too defined for my shape so I straightened it out a bit. It still has that curved shape. Here is a picture of the original pattern piece on top of my adjusted one so you can see how much I added back in.  (I have marked with a red dotted line where the original line was).  This of course meant a corresponding adjustment to the front yoke pattern piece.

I sewed the sweetheart bodice to the front yoke differently to the pattern instructions. Probably because of the curved seam, the instructions told you to fold under the seam allowance on the front yoke and press, using a line of basting stitches along the seamline to make it easier. This part is attached to the bodice front by a row of topstitching. Because I had smoothed out this curve I thought this was unnecessary so I attached this like I would a normal seam, with right sides together and the seam allowance pressed down towards the waist. I then under stitched the seam after clipping the curves and topstitched.

I didn't want to do the facing around the neck. I haven't done a neck facing before and I'm a bit nervous about them as I've read they don't always come out well. The pattern doesn't call for lining but I wanted to line the dress. I've done a lined shift dress before but wasn't sure how this would translate to a dress with sleeves. The sleeves on this pattern are made by cutting out 2 sleeve pieces per arm and then joining them at the lower edge and side and turning through. I wondered if this would make my sleeve too bulky plus if I was lining the dress I would want the sleeve to be lined. Here's what I did! I made a hem facing for the lower edge of the sleeve in my main fabric. I just traced out a facing piece from the lower part of the sleeve pattern piece. The hem facing depth is about 2 cm plus adding what I needed for seam allowances of 1.5 cm. I then traced out a lining sleeve pattern piece to make up the top half of the sleeve lining plus seam allowance at the lower edge of the sleeve. The sleeve hem facing and sleeve lining, once made up, end up being the same size as the sleeve piece.

I couldn't find a tutorial anywhere on lining a dress with sleeves. Nor was there anything in my many sewing books. The only mention of lining sleeves was in the Colette sewing book which just said that sleeves aren't normally lined! Luckily I have a ready to wear dress with lined sleeves (and a sleeve hem facing) so I examined the inside. I could see how they did it. I thought it might be tricky getting into all those nooks and crannies with the sewing machine. Although it took a bit of time it really wasn't hard.

I've described previously how I line a sleeveless shift dress here (with the tutorial I used) and how I did the same thing when lining a shift dress with a Peter Pan collar. To complete the picture I describe at the end of this post how I lined the dress with sleeves. I imagine a similar principle is used for lining a jacket (something I haven't yet done).

I used a red lining which was part of the lot I bought from the retired seamstress. My chap thought the lining was funny – like a little dress inside my dress! It is worth remembering to think about lining as you're making it up. The lining and dress are wrong sides together in the final garment. I forgot this and ended up sewing the side of the dress which had the side zipper so had to undo it which was a pain because I had already trimmed the seam allowance.

Here's a picture of the lining.

I ended up using a lot of interfacing on parts of this dress to give it more structure. I interfaced (on the main fabric only) the sleeve hem facing and various other seams including: the neck edge, the shoulder seams and the place where the zipper tape would be. I was also going to interface the seams where the sleeve attaches to the dress but I got a bit tired of doing it. I've noticed this technique on ready to wear clothing. I cut out a strips of interfacing and placed it on the wrong side of the pattern piece at the seam in question. I cut out enough so that the seam stitches go over the interfacing. The idea is to prevent stretching and the seams breaking in places that might get a lot of pull:

I also interfaced the waistband to give the dress some structure and the hem (see below).

I tend to interface the zipper tape area as a matter of course now. It really does make the process easier to do. With this make I interfaced the lining at the zipper area as well. With a side zip the dress is a bit harder to get on and off so I thought this would reduce the risk of the lining getting ripped at the zipper. Again this made the attaching the lining to the zipper tape easier and I may do it again.

I was delighted with my side zipper. I used an invisible zipper and this has been my best one yet. (I just used an ordinary zipper foot and hold back the teeth with my fingers. I don't think it is necessary to use an invisible zipper foot if you don't have one). I followed the instructions for an invisible zip in the Colette sewing book. Sarai suggests that you machine baste the seam line first so you can align the teeth of the zipper with the stitches. I really liked this method and will definitely be using it in future.

I under stitched the lining to the seams at the following points: the neck edge, the sleeve hem facing (the inner edge where the sleeve lining meets the hem facing). A first for me was edge stitching (or top stitching) the lining to the zipper tape (after sewing the lining to the zipper tape) which I think will help prevent the lining getting caught in the zip.

Another first for me was pressing seams “flat then open”. I had never heard of this before reading about it on Gertie's blog post. It really does produce a nice finish and I will definitely be doing this from now on.

As mentioned above, I interfaced the hem before sewing it, to give it more structure and because I know from experience that this fabric does not press well when folded. My hem was 3.5 cm so my interfacing was around 4.5 cm (with the fold of the hem and interfacing at the 3.5 cm point). I used sew on interfacing because I like it but it does take longer.

I love the pockets but I think the pocket placement lines on the pattern are wrong. They have you place them too high up. I won't go into it because it will only make sense if you have the Macaron pattern. Suffice it to say that once you have sewn the skirt pleats you are not left with enough room to comfortably fit your hands through the opening. I can just about do this because I reverted to a 1cm seam allowance when doing the pockets, thereby adding a centimetre. The picture of the pocket placement on the pattern instructions does not correspond with the placement on the pattern. I noticed this before I made it up. I carried on regardless thinking it may work out but it didn't. Next time I will place it lower, somewhere which accords more with the placement on the pattern instructions.

Overall I am really happy with the dress. It still looks like a Macaron despite all the changes I've made. After all the fitting changes I made the bodice has ended up being a little bit big at the back where the bodice back yoke meets the bodice lower back. My dart change didn't effect this area so this is how it was designed. If I want to change it in future this will require another pattern alteration. This hasn't affected the fit at the bodice front at all. I have noticed other sewers having fitting problems with the back of Colette patterns. They seem to be roomy at the back. This is a “maybe” to change on my next make as it is not something that it noticeable from the front.

The skirt and waistband are a little big now but I actually don't mind as it is nice to have some ease so you can move around and sit in the dress easily.

One fitting alteration I think I will make on the next one is to the length of the shoulders. They are a bit narrow and once the sleeves are on there's not much ease up there. I did muslin one of the sleeves and didn't notice this at the time. I think all I need to do is add around 1 to 1.5 cm to the distance from the neck to the edge of the shoulder. The underarm is fine, it's just the top that is the problem. I suspect this alteration will also need a corresponding alteration to the sleeve piece as well but I'll look into this.

I do want to make another Macaron. I think I have to strike while the iron's hot on this one. If I leave it I will never make another one! I also want to go back and look at the original pieces again. This may mean another long delay before I have a project to post. This is the downside of doing projects which are more complicated. I did a lot of skirts last year which didn't require much alteration. Dresses are a bit different. Because of my shape they inevitably take a bit longer to fit. I want to try and get my dresses as good as my skirts so if they take a bit longer so be it!

I've got to start the muslin for my mum's pencil skirt soon as I will be going down there at some point. I'll do my next Macaron first and then start on that. After that will probably be the Renfrew top and I would like to make a wrap cardigan at some point.

If you're still reading by this point – thank you! This has been a bit of a long post. I'll close now and leave you with the instructions to attach the lining. Happy sewing!

Instructions for attaching lining to a dress with sleeves and a sleeve hem facing

My instructions for attaching a lining to a sleeveless dress are here (with the tutorial I used). I slightly altered these instructions to add a Peter Pan collar to the same dress and these instructions are here. Lining a sleeved dress is not too different. Using the same pattern pieces, make up the same dress in the lining fabric. Make up the dress part of the lining first but make the the following change to the dress lining before attaching the lining sleeves.

Don't stitch along the whole length of the shoulder seam on the lining fabric. Just stitch enough to let you attach the sleeve lining to the dress lining and press open this part. I sewed about an inch and a half along the shoulder seams of the dress lining starting from the shoulder. This leaves about 2 to 2 1/2 inches of the shoulder seams un-sewn. Attach the sleeves lining pieces to the dress lining. (I forgot to add – this applies equally to the main dress shell. So you're just sewing enough of the shoulder seam on the main dress fabric to attach the main fabric sleeves).

These instructions assume you have made the hem facing for the sleeves in the dress fabric. I think I would always use a hem facing if I was lining sleeves as there would be a risk of the lining peeking out if it went to the edge of the sleeve.

I attached the sleeve hem facing to my dress fabric sleeves.

I then attached the neckline of the dress to the neckline of the lining, right sides together I used the same principle here as for lining a sleeveless dress. So I sewed a long the neckline but stopping short of where each shoulder seam will be by about 1 inch to an inch and a half. Turn through and press the seam into place. I under stitched the lining to the seam allowance and topstitched along the edge as well. You can do either or both. I always do both (where I am topstitching as well) as I read this is what they do in couture. If I'm not topstitching I will always under stitch the lining.

With the right side of the dress facing you, reach with your hand in between the dress and the lining up to the shoulder seam that you need to sew. Starting with the main dress fabric, pull out the shoulder seam the way you came, just enough so that you can comfortably stitch it on the machine. Press open the shoulder seam and repeat with the shoulder seam of the lining fabric. Press open the shoulder seam. Then do the same thing with that bit of the neckline that needs sewing. I managed to do all this on the machine and that under stitched and topstitched this part of the neckline.

I then tackled joining the bottom of the sleeve lining to the top of the hem facing. The seam allowance here will be enclosed so you are attaching the top of the hem facing to the bottom of the sleeve lining right sides together. Again with the right side of the dress facing outside I reached in with my hand between the dress and the lining out to the sleeve and grabbed the seam I needed to sew. I pulled it through the way I came just enough to sew it comfortably on the machine. If this is hard to follow think of it like this. A sewer might look at a complicated finished seam like this and wonder how on earth they get the sewing machine in there, or even a hand to hand sew it. The answer is it would be impossible to do this without grabbing the seam they want and pulling it through the nearest available exit (which could be the bottom of the skirt or in my case the hole where the side zipper is) enough so it can be sewn. It's a bit like one of those “ah” moments. None of these seams were hard to sew.

Once I attached this seam I understitched the lining of the sleeve to the seam allowance at the top of the hem facing. This effectively looks like topstitching at this point – here's a picture.

Next up is securing the seam allowance at the shoulder seam of the dress to the seam allowance of the shoulder seam on the dress lining. I did this by getting a strip of fabric measuring about 1.25 inches x 1 cm and hand stitching one end on the shoulder seam allowance on the dress and the other end on the shoulder seam allowance on the lining. Here is a picture.

I used a bit of red tape that some new tea towels came wrapped in, cut in half. This wasn't the best choice of fabric as it frays really easily. The ready to wear dress that I copied this from used a bit of the lining fabric folded over a few times and secured in place. That would be a better fabric to use in future.

Next up I secured the lower part of the sleeve. I did this by hand tacking the seam allowance on the hem facing to the seam allowance at the lower edge of the sleeve. I haven't photographed this as I can't make head nor tail of it look at that area now. All you're doing is joining by hand sewing the seam allowances in the armpit area on both the lining and the dress. Just a few stitches on top of each other a few times to preventsthe area from moving around too much when you put it on.

I then sewed the zipper side of the lining up to just below were the zip ends. I then machine stitched the lining to the zipper tape and hand stitched the parts at the top and bottom of the zip which are difficult to machine stitch.

I made up a new pattern piece for the skirt lining which closed off the pleats slightly, to reduce bulk in the lining. You don't have to do this and you can use the same skirt piece as the dress.