Monday, December 3, 2007

16. Fabric Shopping!

(Let down alert – no photos yet. Sorry…)

While Susan and I have both been sewing for several years, neither one of us has really ventured into fine fabrics. I mostly stick with cotton prints and flannels, although I have used some knits, linens and bottom-weights. But dupioni silk? Not me…

Thus I think that, at first, we were both a bit overwhelmed by the task of selecting fabric for her dress. I felt like I didn’t even know the set of options that we had to choose from, which was unnerving. Luckily, the instructor from one of the online classes I took at, Sarah Veblen, graciously gave me advice via email and even sent me a swatch of the silk satin that she used to make her daughter’s wedding dress. (If you want to see an incredible creation, check out the wedding photos on Sarah’s website:

There is, of course, lots of good advice on the pattern review web site, including information about online shops for fine fabrics. And for people with a little bit of experience working with fine fabrics, I think that this is probably an excellent option. But in the end, for us, I think that the brick and mortar store experience was a necessity. We needed to see and touch bolts of fabric side by side – to unroll them on a cutting table and overlay bolts of lace – we just didn’t have enough knowledge in our heads to fill in the details that are missing from web site words and pictures and little swatches that come in the mail…

Luckily, there is a great fabric store in Orlando, The Sewing Studio Fabric Superstore (, that has a large bridal section. A friend at work told me about it, and Susan and I visited it last Tuesday night (our usual rock climbing night.) Even that experience would have been overwhelming, if it wasn’t for the assistance of one of the employees, a knowledgeable young man named Scotti. He encouraged us to unroll bolts of fabric and lace on the cutting table and mix and match to our hearts’ content.

Susan had brought the pattern envelope and her cardstock cut-out of the dress outline. Scotti was able to give us advice about the level of firmness of the various fabrics and how well they matched the requirements of our pattern. (For example, too soft of a fabric wouldn’t hold the [horizontal] pleats in the front of the dress.) We used the cardstock cut-out to help visualize the possible combinations of fabrics and laces distributed across the bodice, body and godet. I can’t say enough about how patient, encouraging, and technically helpful he was!

And the evening was a success! We selected a rich, gorgeous, just-off-white silk satin for the dress, a burnished gold satin for the godet, and the most heart-stoppingly beautiful champagne colored lace to overlay the bodice and the godet. The lace has a distinct top and bottom. Along the bottom there are flowered vines growing upwards. The bottom is the most heavily patterned area of the lace, and the embellishments become sparser the higher up you go. I’ll align the bottom of the lace with the bottom of the godet, so that the flowered vines grow up from the bottom of the dress. I’ll use less detailed pieces of lace (from higher up) to overlay the bodice.

We debated using the gold satin for the bodice as well, but recalled my friend Dorothy’s advice, that adding this distinctive horizontal line under the bust might make Susan look shorter. So, Susan decided to leave the bodice in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, but use the lace overlay to connect it with the godet, so that the godet doesn’t jump out like this bit that is out of place from the rest of the dress. The matching lace should tie everything together nicely.

We also debated not using the gold satin at all, and just highlighting the godet (and/or the bodice) with the lace. That would have been beautiful, but perhaps more traditional. The combination that Susan decided on is, I think, uniquely her. While it will still clearly be a wedding dress, her personality and her voice will sing out in this dress. Just wait until you see it! :)

And that, of course, gets us to the question of time and schedule. Originally we had planned to go back and buy the fabric on Saturday. But it turns out that this store has a huge sale on New Year’s Day – EVERYTHING in the store (including the lace) is 40% off! We’re going to keep a close eye on Susan’s selections – stopping in every week in December to make sure that they aren’t running low on anything. (In fact, I’m going tomorrow night.) I’m not going to let these choices slip away from us, but, if everything goes well, I’ll make the purchases on January 1st, 2008.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

15. Last Diversion of 2007

Okay, ONE last miscellaneous sewing project before Christmas… This is it, I promise. ;)

Speaking of promises, the reason I’m doing this is that I promised to make chalk bags for two rock climbing friends. One friend is Michelle, who climbs up in Ohio with my parents and the other is Alfred, who climbs with his mother at our gym in Orlando. Chalk bags are drawstring pouches that rock climbers wear at their waists. They contain (wait for it….) chalk, which climbers brush on their hands to keep them from getting sweaty and slippery. (Other athletes do this too – you’ve probably seen gymnasts dip their hands in chalk before starting a routine on the uneven parallel bars, for example.)

It looks like it should be something simple to sew, and I started working on coming up with my own pattern a few years ago. After a bunch of experiments and variations, I think I’ve settled on “the one”. Interestingly (and perhaps foolishly) I never did the most obvious thing to do – I never purchased a commercial chalk bag and took it apart. I probably should have done that ages ago. At first, it seemed like it should be easy enough to figure out on my own, and now that I have a working pattern there doesn’t seem to be much point…

My chalk bags have 3 layers – an inner layer of fleece, an outer decorative layer of whatever fabric the climber chooses, and a middle layer of medium-weight canvas, to give it some structure and make it stand up on its own. All three layers are cut from the same pattern and constructed the same way.

My first pattern for the pouch was a rectangle, sewn into a column, with a circular piece stitched in one end to close up the bottom. But I HATED sewing the bottom on, and as I sewed various purses and bags from commercial patterns, I learned other ways to construct a 3-D pouch. Here is the pattern I use now and some shots of the construction:

(Sorry for the poor quality of the photos.)

While there is no single “right” set of dimensions, here are the ones that I use: Both the long side seam and the width of the body are about 8 inches long and the width of the (centered) bottom seam is about 4 inches long. The incut is approximately 2 inches by 2 inches.

And here is the final version, inside and out:

As I said, using this pattern I make 3 identical pouches, out of fleece, canvas and the “fashion” fabric (typically a cotton print).

The next step is to prepare for the drawstring, by putting metal eyelets into the middle (canvas) and outer (cotton) layers. (You can get eyelet kits at Joanns.) I usually put them about 2 inches below the upper rim, and I interface the outer layer first, because the cotton is too flimsy to hold the eyelet on its own.

Here is one I’m working on now - the three pouches and a closer view of the eyelets:

Now, I insert the loops to hold the drawstring into the inside of the middle (canvas) layer. I only use 3 loops and I make them out of 3 inch pieces of elastic. The goal is to be able to close up the inner (fleece) layer without too much distortion of the outer 2 layers, which is why I make the loop so long and stretchy. For the drawstring, I use about 30 inches of cord and I burn the ends with a match so that they don’t unravel.

Oh, I learned the hard way to stitch the drawstring (at its midpoint) to the middle loop (only). If you don’t, the people that you give these chalk bags to will, at some point in time, pull out the drawstring and then ask you to thread it back through the loops! I can tell you from experience that this is possible, but NOT fun. So, sew that puppy in permanently!

Insert inner pouch into middle pouch – wrong sides together (and toward the inside), keeping drawstring cord in a loop around the circumference of the fleece layer such that it can be used to tighten inner pouch. Baste these 2 pouches together around the top.

Now you’re probably expecting me to slide this combined piece into the outer layer, and baste all 3 layers together, before finishing the upper edge, right?

Well, this is the really cool part of my design. My design is not for just any old chalk bag. It is for a chalk bag with interchangeable covers! In other words, you can make multiple outer layers (cotton prints) for the same chalk bag, and switch between them whenever you want!

So, my next step is to add a loop to this piece, so that the chalk bag can be clipped onto a climbing harness. I use about 5 inches of strap, folded over to make a 4 inch (circumference) loop with a 1 inch tail. Both ends of the strap have to be burned with a match to prevent fraying.

I use 2.25 inch wide grosgrain ribbon to make the binding around the top edge. (As with the cord and the strap, I burn the edges to prevent fraying.) Before sewing it into the pouch, I stitch hook and loop tape (for example, Velcro ®) – the hook (stiff) side – across one length, close to the edge. Then I sew this binding inside the pouch , with the hook tape sticking up over the top. The idea is that the pouch slides into the decorative outer layer (cotton) and this binding folds over and the hook and loop tape holds the pieces together.

You'll notice that by putting the strap on first, this binding doesn't meet in the back, but rather a 1 inch gap is left. This may seem like a design flaw, but I do it deliberately, to account for the fact that my covers aren't always a 'perfect' fit. If a cover is a little bit too big, then this small gap in the binding allows room for the excess fabric, leaving the majority of the bag looking smooth and well fit.

Inside the bag, there is a perfect spot for your label - right over the strap. ;)

That finishes the main body of the chalk bag! So, the only thing left to do is to finish the outer layer. You do this by turning over the top one quarter inch and stitching in place, and then sewing a piece of hook and eye tape – the loop (soft) side this time – all around the top.

And, now, you are ready to 'dress' your chalk bag! Here is a series of 3 pictures, illustrating the process of putting a cover on:

I usually start folding over the top binding in the front center and work my way around each side to the back. If the cover isn’t a perfect fit, you can hide the excess fabric in the small open area in the back, underneath the belt loop. ;)

For the finishing touches, add a cord stop and a small carabineer…

And voila! You have a chalk bag fit for a 5.15 climber, with interchangeable covers!

If you happen to climb, or have friends who climb, you are welcome to use this design to make chalk bags. If you find ways to improve the design, please let me know! I would ask, however, that you don't use my design to produce and sell chalk bags with interchangeable covers. Thanks. :)

PS - my next post will be about shopping for the wedding dress fabric!

Monday, November 19, 2007

14. Fitting #3

Sunday, November 11th, was our third fitting. I asked Dorothy, a friend of mine with much more sewing experience than I have, to join us and give an honest critique and any helpful advice that she could.

After my mistake last time, I was feeling a bit anxious about this fitting. I really wanted to show Susan that her faith in me is justified.

You may remember that, for our very first fitting, I didn't follow the actual dress assembly instructions, but rather completely assembled the lining to a size that I thought would fit, but left the outer dress pieces separate. I had Susan try on the lining - it was too big - and then I quickly assembled the outer dress pieces to a smaller size and had her try those on.

To prepare for this fitting, I took all of the pieces apart, re-marked them all to the smaller size, and then assembled the dress according to the instructions (minus the boning). So, Susan tried on the "full" version of the dress - lining and all. It was a major success!

I'm still going to take in the sides and under the bust just a little bit more, but we are very, very close to having the fit just right. There are a few wrinkles across the bodice back (running parallel to the floor), but I think that those may go away when the boning is added.

I also still have a bit of work to do on the inner corset. But it is really coming together! It was so nice to have Dorothy there - both for the suggestions she made for improvements, and for the reassurance that we were on the right track!

Here is a picture of the 3 of us:

13. Diversions #2

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted. My digital camera died and it just seems to me that posts in a sewing related blog really need photos...
My camera was over 3 years old (i.e., ancient by digital camera standards) and the warranty had expired ages ago, but its recent death was due to a known defect, and so Canon replaced it for free with an upgrade, albeit a refurbished camera. I was hesitant because I had really liked the original, but the new one seems to be quite nice! So, no more excuses... ;)

Since my last post, Susan and I have had another fitting and I am making real progress on the muslin! But, before I provide an update on my progress, I wanted to quickly mention some of the other sewing projects that have been filling the small open gaps in my sewing time. Working on Susan's dress requires that I have a real block of time available and am mentally at the top of my game. I'm making enough mistakes under those circumstances - the last thing I need is to try to work on it when I'm tired or distracted!

However, there are some easy and fun patterns that I can bang out in a spare hour here or there, and over the last 1.5 months I have squeezed some of them in. First, I made my husband a second Hawaiian shirt from the other piece of fabric that he picked out while we were in Hawaii. Here is a picture:

Next, I used the fabric that I picked out in Hawaii and made myself a simple button-up-the-front shell (a shirt with no collar or sleeves). The cool thing about this is that, inspired by another blogger, I made it a reversible shell!

I wish I could give you a link to the other blog, but it seems that she has taken it offline or changed the url, because I can't find it anymore... She was blogging under "bluemooney".

Here is a close-up picture of the shell, showing off the 2 different fabrics.

If you'd like to read my full review of this project click here.

Finally, a sewing friend of mine, Dorothy, is about to become a great-grandmother for the first time, and I made a couple of cute little baby buntings for her. This pattern is as easy as they come! Here is a pictures of 1 of the ones that I made:

And, of course, if you'd like to read my full review of this project click here.

There is really only one other mini-project on my sewing plate between now and Christmas - I've promised to make a couple of chalk bags for some climbing friends. Other than that, it will be full steam ahead on the dress. We're closing in on a good fit for the muslin, and shopping for the real fabric will be coming up soon!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

12. Fitting #2

We had our second fitting today (Sunday, October 28th). We focused on the corset, following the detailed instructions provided by a highly experienced PR member, JF, here .

Basically, JF recommended that, instead of having Susan wear a strapless bra under the dress, I use the bodice pattern pieces of the dress to make a tightly fitting corset and embed it inbetween the outer dress and the lining.

This corset would also be the place where the waist band or waist stay would be attached. The waist stay (which is not called for in the pattern instructions, but EVERYONE recommends adding) is important because it holds the weight of the skirt. If you put the weight of the skirt directly on the (strapless) bodice, it is likely to pull it down at an inconvenient time. (Think Janet Jackson & wardrobe malfunction...)

So, I hate to publicly admit to another very stupid mistake, but I'm trying to remind myself of my motto:

'muslin mistakes make for defectless dresses'

What did I do? How could I mess up something so simple? Believe it or not, I got the top and the bottom of the bodice pattern pieces mixed up, and put the zipper in upside down. Not realizing this, we did all the fitting and adjustments on the corset while it was on her body upside down.

Not surprisingly (in hindsight), it took quite a large adjustment (deviating in a disproportional manner from the stitching lines) to get it to fit snugly... ;)

How could I have done that? Well, without experience sewing evening gowns, it just was not obvious to me - from looking at the shapes of the bodice pattern pieces - which was the top and which was the bottom. And I guess I was just working too quickly and not double checking every step. :(

Susan, (and this is a TRUE friend!), laughed it off and said that (a) she's glad to know that she's not the only person who makes mistakes, and (b) under the circumstances, it's pretty impressive that we got it to fit so well... :)

Bottom line - I'm embarrassed and annoyed with myself, but it's not the end of the world. We'll just have to do it again. Right side up, it should go much more quickly! The next time we get together for a fitting, I'm hoping that a friend of mine will join us. Dorothy has more experience than I do, and should be able to help me get the fit of the corset and muslin perfect!

Sorry, no pictures - my camera died and is in the shop for repairs. (Kudos to Canon - they are fixing it for free!)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

11. Wedding "Theme" and Dress Design

Susan and her fiance have a vision for their wedding that expresses the idea of two unique and separate people joining together. They are going to use two colors throughout the decorations to capture this - each color representing one of them. Susan, whose nickname is "Sunny", will be represented by some shade of yellow or gold.

They have even decided to continue this theme into their clothes. While she hasn't settled on the final design, Susan is considering having the majority of her gown done in a creamy off-white, and the godet (and maybe even the bodice) in a golden yellow tone, with a lace overlay to mute the contrast a bit.

Here are some swatch samples to give an idea of the kind of look she has in mind:

There is more to their vision than this - I haven't really done it justice here. Maybe Susan will add a comment to this post and elaborate a bit? (hint, hint...)

In any event, I think that this is going to result in a truly beautiful and one-of-a-kind wedding dress - for a truly beautiful and one-of-a-kind bride, in a truly beautiful and one-of-a-kind ceremony! :)

10. Our First Fitting!

Sunday, September 16th was the big day - our first fitting! Susan spent the previous day dress shopping - seeing what was commercially available, getting an idea of what looked good on her and how much the dresses cost.

She emailed me some photos (clandestinely taken - apparently that was not encouraged by the shops she visited) and her thoughts ahead of time. She had found two dresses - one more formal and one more casual - that she really liked. And she was concerned about the Vogue pattern that she had picked - she was afraid that the folds in front and the side godet were not going to be flattering with her figure. But she did have some ideas for ways to modify the pattern to still make it work.

Truthfully, I was a bit worried. I wasn't sure if I could figure out how to incorporate the changes she was suggesting into the pattern. And I suspected that I was going to be "fired". Even though the most important thing to me is that Susan get THE dress - you know, the one that makes her heart melt and her knees tremble - regardless of whether it was one she bought or one I made - I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't be a little tiny bit disappointed if she ended up buying one.

But I wasn't going to throw in the towel until she tried on the muslin and we both got a chance to see how it looked.

We started with the lining, which I had completely assembled to the size that I thought would fit. It was WAY too big on her - easily a complete size too big from top to bottom.

So, while she patiently waited, I assembled the outer layer, increasing the seam allowances by one half of an inch. Then she tried it on.

It was beautiful! :)

My pictures don't do it justice, the fit still isn't perfect, it's been made in a cheap cotton and you have to ignore the bra straps...

But it was beautiful!

She looked gorgeous!

And I still have my "job". :)

9. Preparing for the First Fitting

After the cut fabric pieces had hung over night, I prepared them for our first fitting. The Khalje book recommended marking all of the stitching lines by basting them into the single pieces of fabric with thread in a contrasting color, and then joining the pieces by basting them together with a second contrasting color of thread.

The idea is that, once these pieces are adjusted to fit, the pieces themselves become the pattern pieces that are used to cut out and mark the real fabric. While the muslin is a bit flimsy, it's a lot sturdier than the tissue paper that the pattern is printed on!

By comparing the markings on the original pattern pieces, I was able to determine that each size was drawn 1/2 inch larger than the previous size. In order to adjust for the different sizes that I thought I'd need to fit Susan, I marked the smallest size at the bust, one size up at the waist and a third size at the hip, and then connected those marks with a french curve. Finally, I marked 5/8th of an inch inward from those lines, to show the seam allowance.

I did get tricked once - one of the pattern pieces only adjusted in size along one seam - not all the way around... Once I discovered that, I worked more carefully and so was not tricked by the two pieces (center bodice and godet) that were the exact same size for all versions of the pattern.

I will say that basting (I used the longest setting on my machine) and using two different colors of contrasting thread (in my case: black to mark stitching lines and red to connect pieces) did make removing stitches much simpler! I was glad I had followed that bit of advice! :)

Finally, I did not follow the instructions for assembling the dress. Instead, I basted up the lining to create a "stand alone" dress that Susan could try on first. In addition, I basted up the folds in the front of the outer dress, but didn't connect the pieces of the outer dress. I figured I'd have her try on the lining first, and then, depending on how it fit, assemble the outer layer accordingly.

8. Cutting the Muslin - Take Two

Susan, (like most of us!), fits in a smaller size above the waist than below the waist. After some deliberation, I decided to cut out all of the pieces in the largest size called for across all of her measurements and adjust around the bodice and waist by using larger seam allowances.

Given that this is a practice dress, I also decided to at least TRY each of the steps that I know will be important with the real fabric. At this stage, that basically means making sure that your fabric is "grained" correctly before cutting out any of your pieces. This ensures that the dress will drape beautifully. :)

First, you need to make sure that your width-wise edge is on the grain. (I guess the odds are good that the finished [length-wise] edge [the selvedge] is on the grain...)

There seem to be two main ways to do this. If the fabric rips easily, you can take a small snip near the cut end and then rip down the entire width of the fabric. This rip should be along the grain.

Luckily, this worked fine with my muslin.

Apparently the second method (for fabric that doesn't rip so nicely) is to literally pull a single thread out of the weave the entire width of the fabric, and then carefully cut along the gap it left. I think this is called thread tracing. All I can say is, "Yikes!"

Unfortunately, you are not done yet. Next, you have to make sure that your length-wise edges are perpendicular to your width-wise edges. Having a cutting board marked with a grid is helpful for this.

This picture shows what it is SUPPOSED to look like.

It actually looked more like this:

You can see how far off grain the muslin was... :(

I guess if you steam the fabric (with your iron) and pull / stretch it, you can often get it on grain. Truthfully, given that this was just the muslin, I worked with it even though it was a bit off grain.

Finally, you are supposed to let your cut pieces hang for a day or so, allowing the weight of the fabric to help bring the grain into alignment. (I learned these things in the 2 classes I took on PatternReview and am trying to incorporate them into my routine sewing practices...)

It took me the good part of a day to mess around with the muslin's grain and get all of the pieces cut out, so I went ahead and let my pieces hang overnight before starting the next step.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

7. Diversions

I must admit that I was a tiny bit discouraged to find out that I had cut out the wrong size. So, instead of plunging in and cutting out a new muslin, I took a short break and made up one of my TNT (tried and true) patterns today: a Hawaiian shirt for my husband. I used fabric that he had picked out this summer in Hawaii! (We went there to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.)
(To see my review of this pattern click here .)

Here he is in his new shirt:

It wasn't a complete waste of time, wedding-dress-wise, because I practiced a technique for attractive seams - I made French seams. A small tutorial on how to make French seams can be found here: click here

Here are a couple of close-ups of the inside of my husband's new shirt:

See, no raw edges showing anywhere! Inside or out!

Now, it's back to the wedding dress! :)

Friday, August 31, 2007

6. Muslin, Mistakes and the Master Plan

Well, my "Master Plan" is working! I've barely started on the muslin and already I'm making stupid mistakes!

Why is making mistakes part of my Master Plan? Because, once I make a mistake on the muslin, the odds that I'll make that same mistake on the real dress are practically (!) nil. So, the more mistakes I make on the muslin, the better... :)

And believe me, my first two mistakes were doozies!

1. I ordered the wrong size muslin. I ordered 6 yards of 45 inch wide muslin. The pattern calls for 6 yards of 60 inch muslin. Result: I had to supplement the nice, high thread count muslin ordered specially for this project with some cheaper muslin from my stash AND I had to piece together some of the wider pieces in the skirt.

2. I cut out the wrong size. For some reason, I just had it in my head that we had determined to start with a size 16 and make adjustments to reduce the size of the bodice as needed. But I couldn't remember exactly when we had discussed this and come to this decision.

Guess why I couldn't remember when we had discussed this....

Because we hadn't.

In fact, size 16 should be the right size for the bodice, but will be too small for the skirt. So, it's back to the cutting table for me...

5. Preparations

In preparation for "the project", I started looking around for resources. Several of the online classes on the Pattern Review (PR) website seemed potentially very valuable (not to mention fun!).

Click here for catalog of PR online sewing courses

Susan and I took our first online class together - "Top 10 Couture Techniques" by Susan Khalje ( The techniques she covered were:

  1. narrow machine hem
  2. bias spaghetti straps
  3. gathering
  4. angled seams (like in a Basque waist or godet)
  5. bound buttonholes
  6. lining treatment for bound buttonholes
  7. grosgrain ribbon facing
  8. faggoting
  9. covered snaps
  10. attaching hooks and eyes
This was my first experience with an online sewing class and, overall, it was great. We received detailed and well-illustrated handouts on each technique. There was a message board where we could post pictures of our efforts and questions for the instructor. And we had several scheduled chats, when most everybody in the class could "get together" and talk about the lesson and/or anything else. Our instructor was great. I think that the chats were most useful if you had been working on the lessons and had questions prepared, but they were interesting regardless. Unfortunately, I have to admit, I did not finish trying all 10 techniques before the last chat...

A funny thing happened during one of our chats. Right before the chat began, I got an email notification of a sale at, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to buy Susan's Vogue pattern. So, during the chat, I sent her a private message telling her about the sale and asking her size so that I could place the order. Her reply - she knew about the sale and had already ordered the pattern! That little booger! It's going to be difficult to make this a wedding gift if she keeps jumping in and buying everything first! ;)

The second class I took was "The Technique of Underlining Garments" by Sarah Veblen ( Like the first class, the handouts were extraordinary, the chats were very informative and a lot of fun, our instructor was great, and I didn't get all of my "homework" done. In this class, we made two half-scale garments: a wool skirt underlined with organza and a charmeuse blouse underlined with silk georgette. Underlining is a key component of wedding dresses, so being able to take this class was HUGE! I was also very happy to get to use some of my "top 10 couture techniques" (like the grosgrain ribbon facing) on my half scale garments in this class!

Finally, I purchased and am currently engrossed in studying Susan Khalje's book, "Bridal Couture: Fine Sewing Techniques for Wedding Gowns and Evening Wear." (link to book at amazon) The book is perfect (and invaluable) for me - someone who has been sewing for a few years, but has no experience in couture or wedding dress sewing. (And after reading the chapter on sleeves, I'm SO thankful that Susan picked a sleeveless pattern!)

Of course, interspersed through all of this, I keep a close eye on the Message Boards on the Pattern Review website - in particular, the forum on "Bridal and Formalwear Sewing." For example, I used advice from this thread, click here, to decide what kind of fabric to use for my practice version of the dress (often called a muslin).

Thank heaven for the PR website! :)

4. It Must Be Fate

A few days after Susan picked out her pattern, I was checking the reviews on the Pattern Review website (see my links), and what did I find?

A newly posted review of that very pattern!

click here to see the review

Yes, a PR member had just finished making the same dress for her god-daughter's prom! In addition to posting beautiful pictures and giving lots of helpful information about the pattern, she eased my mind quite a bit when she said that she thought that an Intermediate level sewer could probably handle it.

I couldn't wait to tell Susan, and she was just as excited as I was! A coincidence? No, we agreed, it was fate...

3. Pattern Shopping

Our first step was to meet for lunch, grab a quick bite at Chick-fil-A, and then spend the rest of our break browsing the pattern catalogs in our local JOANN store.

When we first sat down, Susan didn't have any concrete ideas of what she wanted her dress to look like. (Well, long and white maybe, but that was about it...) But it didn't take long - comparing gowns, analyzing features - before she started to zero in on - if not what she wanted, at least what she DIDN'T want.

Then, while looking through the Vogue catalog, she found a pattern that she thought she liked. We wrote down the number and kept looking. The more she looked, the more she kept going back to that Vogue pattern. The more she went back to it, the more she was sure that this was THE ONE.

link to pattern

She liked View B (the view without the sleeves), but with the lace overlay on the godet (triangle-like insert in the skirt) that is shown in View A.

I was nervous because the pattern was labeled as "Advanced" in difficulty. But I had to agree that it was beautiful. And I could see that she really loved it. We said we'd both "sleep on it", but I think the die was already cast.

2. Where the Magic Will Take Place

I am very lucky to have a dedicated sewing room. I have three machines set up, a cutting table, an ironing board, a dress form and assorted pieces of storage furniture. While I wouldn't say that it is 'decorated', my cat knick-knacks have all migrated to this room (not to mention the live cats, who seem to prefer sleeping on half-finished sewing projects to any other place in the world!). And I made a window valence and cushion cover with some cotton fabric showing cartoon cats sewing & quilting. So, I guess there is kind of a feline theme...

My three machines are: a Kenmore Free Arm Sewing Machine (Model 16530), a Singer Quantum Lock Serger (Model 14T967DC), and my grandmother's Elite Sewing Machine, from the late 1940's, which was made in "U.S. Occupied Japan." (If you are interested, check out this yahoo group: vintagejapansewingmachines.)

They all work, and while I spend most of my time on the 2 newer machines, I do periodically use my grandmother's and I love having this vintage machine in my room!

One of my favorite things in my sewing room is my bulletin board. I post pictures of people wearing the things I've made for them. Looking at those pictures never fails to make me feel smile.

I have to admit that I don't have my dress form (Dritz "My Double") set to my measurements. I use it more as a 3D hanger - to do things like make sure that hems are even and buttons align with button holes, etc.

My iron is new - a Consew Model 300. This is my first experience with a gravity feed iron. I researched irons on the Pattern Review web site (see my links) and this one got rave reviews. So far, I have to agree. I really love this iron!

Around the ironing board you can see the remants of a past hobby. We used to be into photography, and the stand holding the water container for the iron was originally a stand to hold backdrops for portrait photography.

As you can probably tell, I love this room and it is a wonderful place to work!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

1. The Saga Begins...

Good friends of ours are getting married in March 2008. The four of us go rock climbing together once or twice a week. They are the couple on the left in this photo, and we are the couple on the right. We climb at Aiguille Rock Climbing Center in Orlando, FL (

My friendship with Susan, however, extends beyond our shared enjoyment of climbing, to include (among other things) careers in the same field and a love of sewing. So, when they announced their engagement, and after some deliberation, I offered, as our wedding gift, to make her wedding dress.

My deliberation stemmed from two main concerns:

1) I didn't want her to feel obligated to say yes. If she wanted to select something from a bridal boutique, then that is what I wanted for her.

2) I wasn't 100% sure that my sewing skills are up to it. I consider myself to be at the advanced beginner / low intermediate level. And, while I'm happy to wear "good enough" homemade sun dresses around the house on the weekend, I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than "practically perfect" for something this important. And, of course, wedding dresses are typically a bit more complicated than sun dresses!

The pros were mostly the obvious ones:
Sewing is something special that we share. Sewing our own clothes means the same thing to both of us - you get to have EXACTLY what you want. I thought that having a dress I made for her with love would be more special and meaningful than anything she could find in a store. And, unlike many recently engaged young women, she actually seemed to feel more stressed than excited about shopping for a gown.

After weighing the pros and cons, I went ahead and made the offer, attempting to give each of us an easy way out, just in case. I started by telling her that I wanted to make a suggestion, but if it didn't appeal to her then that was fine and I wouldn't be the least bit hurt or upset. I suggested that, if she thought she might be interested, she do both - shopping in bridal shops and browse patterns with me. IF there was a pattern that she fell in love with AND nothing in the stores appealed to her as much, then... I even added the disclaimer that it would have to be a pattern I felt capable of doing, and doing well.

You never know for sure if saying those types of things ("It's okay if you don't want to, honest.") will really work and eliminate any feelings of obligation. But I generally say what I mean, and I was hoping that Susan knows me well enough to believe me when I said it.

Well, given that you are reading a blog entitled "The Wedding Dress Saga", I don't suppose there's much suspense about the outcome. She said "Yes." And so, the saga begins...