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...