Satin Stitching and Appliques

Back to business.

There have been a few questions lately on IDD and Celtic Flame about satin stitching and appliques. Instead of repeating myself, here are the relevant parts of my Diary of a Daft Dressmaker. #10 and #11 are from Part 2 and #12 and #13 are from Part 3.

If you have something to add, more tips or ideas, please leave a comment!

10) Take the time to learn how to satin stitch and then TAKE the time to satin stitch correctly. Nothing worse than crappy satin stitching. I saw the example below a couple of months after I started making ID dresses and had to scrape myself off the floor. Completely beyond my comprehension..the money paid for this dress…the shoddy workmanship…I was speechless and Susan laughed that humorless, sardonic laugh she uses on me when my naivete is glowing radioactively. Stunning.I should think the problems with the satin stitching in the pic above are obvious…however, I feel the need to elaborate. First, the density of the stitching is not even. The obvious assumption here is that this is hand done (as are most/all edges) which means that the stitcher is forcing the fabric through the machine. Yes, sometimes our thicker fabric is difficult to get under the foot… this is where a practice piece comes in handy. How will it move? Does it need help? Is a plate needed to accommodate the extra thickness so things move smoothly?

Second: the width of the stitches is not even…let the machine do it’s job!!!!! Stop fussing and moving things around. Guide the fabric STRAIGHT and back off. Do not push and shift.

One thing I do on edges to help with the two issues above is use tear-away to help the machine move it through smoothly as some fabrics are “sticky” like lycra or get snagged.

The pic above is an example as seen from the lining side of a skirt. (This hem was done in different colored sections which is why only one part is done.) After I cut the shaped hem, I attach a length of tear-away using a small zig-zag. Then I do the first round of satin-stitching (rayon here, metallic would be second round). Then I Fray-chek and tear just the area hanging below the hem which allows the second round of stitching to cover any tear-away fuzz on the bottom, but leaves the rest to protect the lining and help move it through smoothly. After the second round of stitching, I Fray-chek again and tear the rest off.

Third: learn how to get around a corner. So many different ways. I have a couple, but we all have to deal with our own temperamental machines and fingers. Before each new hem/pleat/crown, it is worth my time to refresh/refine my memory or maybe try something new. Remember to remember!

Fourth: Fray-chek and then TRIM! When done, put fray-chek on the back and points of the embroidery. Let dry…trim threads and any fuzzies. Depending on the color, I try not to put Fray-chek on the front, but sometimes it is necessary. Do a fabric test. It shows on some…others can be scratched to make it invisible.

11) Sequins: The above pic brings up another special consideration when making ID dresses… satin-stitching around sequins. I have read a lot about dealing with them, watched Susan, asked questions… they are awful. But, there are ways of making them behave.

The pic below shows the equivalent of a wash-away stabilizer. This stuff tears away perfectly. Some people use plastic bags from the dry cleaner (it stretches and pulls too much for me) and I have recently read about using Press&Seal. So, why use this? This is see-through and it keeps sequins in place while satin-stitching…no tiny pieces flying into eyes, machines, coffee… But it also helps with coverage around the edge of the sequin applique piece by covering the sharp edges of the sequins which helps keep them from poking through the stitching. However, I will go over edges twice if I need to so it is fully covered. (The pic below is of a design done in hand-guided satin stitch by Susan Gowin…unbelievable! See, it is possible to get a design to look fantastic without an embroidery machine!) I also digitize my designs and stitch them out on my computerized machine. I do two things that work well to get full coverage. 1) Depending on the thread I am using around the applique, I can adjust the stitch density of the stitching for better coverage, and 2) because my machine does not need to “see” to do its job, I can use a thicker tear-away (in black or white) which really keeps the sequins from poking through the thread.

All of this has been about dealing with sequins from the outside. What about the inside? Fuse it!!! Except for the fishscale sequins I have bought from NY Elegant, every length of sequin fabric begins to lose huge amounts of sequins the second it is cut if it not fused properly. So, I fuse the backside well to anchor the threads holding the sequins. There seems to be no real fool-proof way to keep sequins anchored forever (short of spraying them with a thick layer of shellac), but fusing sequin fabric that knots at the back (more expensive) is fairly reliable. I have resolved to be honest with clients about the suitability of various sequin fabrics. Some work…some will shed as you pass the judge’s table no matter what you do.

There is also the issue of sequins in the seams. There is the obvious discomfort for the dancer when they scratch; this is not an issue when the bodice is lined with a true bag lining, but I am not going to do this. Sequins caught in a seam are pierced by the needle and are prone to falling off leaving bare spots, and they do not lay flat. We tried one solution: not putting it in a seam that would bend any sequins. The first pic shows the sequin fabric folded and then sewn close to the bodice side seam. This allowed me to try and fold a line so no sequins would bend or poke and catch the fabric under the arm. Also, there is a generous fold to guard against losing sequins from the cut edge.

The second pic shows a few things. 1) The collar was made as a single piece that I attached to the bodice after the shoulder seams were sewn in the base fabric, so, no sequins in the shoulder seams. 2) The neckline is bound with the fabric from the selvage edge of the sequin fabric (only because it was already the right color!). 3) After I sewed the shaped edges of the collar to anchor it to the bodice, I satin-stitched.

The third pic shows the folding and sewing of the side bodice piece to the finished bodice. I actually cannot remember if I did the same thing at the waist, but I am assuming I did since the waist seam would fold up and cause bending of the sequins.

Have not yet had a request with sequins in the same places, but it will be interesting to see if I still feel this is the best way to handle it.

12)Appliques: Next in this train of thought is preparing good appliques to ensure a good looking design.

First, stabilizing the fabric is a must. Different fabrics require different stabilizers but all of them perform the same function…supporting the applique fabric so it can stand up to the dense satin-stitching. Nothing worse than a fraying applique that eventually falls off!

Second, best way to keep the applique in place for satin-stitching and for all time is to adhere it to the base fabric. Fuse wonder-under to the back of a prepared length of the stabilized applique fabric using the dry iron press. The press can iron large areas, and the lack of steam keeps all things from crinkling. Then after cutting, these pieces can be fused into place on the base fabric and nothing will move.

I have also gotten in the habit of using Fabri-tac to adhere my appliques into place. It is flexible and fast drying. Love this stuff!!!

And this brings up the very important third point: clean cutting lines on appliques. Sloppy, uneven applique pieces and then even sloppier stitching will always make a dress look “homemade” (in the BAD sense of the word). Obviously most of us are making these dresses at home, but there is a difference between “homemade” and “professionally made” in our basements (or dining rooms, spare bedrooms, kitchens, etc). Use precisely drawn and cut templates to ensure the appliques are the correct shape and then get down to the very time-consuming activity of tracing & cutting them all out very carefully. There are cutting machines for this that would make life easier, but I, for one, cannot justify the cost since I really do not do mass production. Maybe someday I will find a cheap one.

Again, remember to make sure the satin-stitching is dense and wide enough to ensure full coverage of the applique piece. No gaps, no misses, no fraying fuzzies.

I will not post pics of a bad applique (don’t want to embarrass anyone, least of all myself). Suffice it to say that crooked cutting, design pieces that should match in size and shape but don’t, sloppy satin-stitching (because the cutting lines are crooked or the technique is faulty), fraying fabric that is untrimmed or pulling away from the stitching…these all contribute to making something look unprofessional. And I am assuming most of us know it when we see it. We criticize it. However, the question is, are we that demanding of ourselves? A “Come to Jesus” moment for me every time! Then I take a break, re-evaluate, rip it out if needed, and begin again more slowly. Have ripped many an applique out, cut a new one using my template, and started again when I came back from a breather.

13) Things that don’t line up. This has been a real challenge for me. Designs that cross seams are very difficult to line up. It is of course perhaps near impossible to line things up EXACTLY, but I get a twitch when there is asymmetry in the wrong place. Have ripped out seams, zippers and even appliques themselves to get closer to the necessary symmetry. And it is not just me. I do believe that the eye is drawn to mismatches and asymmetry. If that is the point of the design, great. Otherwise, I am doing my client a disservice letting obvious issues go unaddressed: she wants them to watch her dancing, not fixate on a mistake on her dress.

Here are pics of what I mean. (These pictures are of a dress made by another professional dressmaker and used with her permission. They have first been altered to illustrate incorrect placement, but then shown again as is to illustrate correct placement.)

This pic is the back bodice showing the zipper above the shawl and the applique does not meet. I might be briefly tempted to ignore this, especially if the dancer wears a longer wig…but not for long. Here it is again with the angles meeting…much better.

Here is the same problem at the center back seam. This is always visible.

Here, it now matches. And this is a great example of design elements matching as they should not only over the seam but over a pleat fold. Notice the long zig-zag line that visually meets up with the diamond on the back skirt outside the pleat fold.

This pic of the center front of the dress shows two things: the center designs do not line up and the curved appliques at the top of the pleat do not match up.

Here, all is well (the bodice is a bit folded so the center design still looks a tad off, but it is not).The execution of this design is a great example of several things: all elements are well cut and stitched, there is a clear & even repetition of shapes; sides mirror each other so it does not look lopsided; the pleats are folded in the same place in the design (on the back); hem-line shaping is even and consistent.


Serging pieces together

Katherine wrote: “Do you always serge your lining to the main fabric before construction? Seems much easier than making a dress inside the dress, but is this standard? I confess I’ve not looked inside many ID dresses.”

Yes, I do. When I first started dealing with ID dresses, I was helping our school at the time with alterations. Those dresses basically had bag linings that looked wonderful, but they hid mistakes, shoddy cutting, and uneven seam allowances. When I started working with Susan, she introduced me to the wonders of a serger (trumpet music, please) and I converted. I now always serge my lining fabric to the bodice pieces.

Yes, the bag linings are very pretty and professional looking…I admit it. But, since everyone wants to be able to have the ability to alter their new dresses in the future, it is more cost effective to have the seams easily reached. I charge more to alter a bag-lined dress because I have double the seams to deal with and that takes me longer. Also, there have been times when evaluating a bag-lined dress that although I could feel a large seam allowance on a seam, when I got in there the seam allowances were not uniform or unserged edges were too frayed. Alterations were then cancelled, but the client still incurred a charge because I had pulled things open! You can see all seam allowances in my bodices so alterations decisions are easily made.

Is my way standard? I do not know.


I hate setting sleeves…

(I have not been posting as regularly… an internet friend wrote to ask if everything is ok. Yes, yes… it’s just that when the divas go back to school, I literally seem to collapse. When I HAD to take another nap yesterday as I have every day since they went back to school, I realized that I have done this every year since they started school. As I told Susan, it is as if I need to recover from summer…it is really weird. Anyway…)

Yes, I have been sewing. Seems there are many irons in the fire…solo dresses to organize, school dresses to do, the new school design still in the works (it is going to be so wonderful!), the current solo in construction…it is another slow one. Who woulda thunk that this panel would take me so long to make…
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…but it does. And there are 10 of them. New design from Susan. Absolutely love this dress.

And my machine is giving me fits. I keep breaking needles on the sequins (they are covered with solvy in the pic), and today I bent another and cannot get the needle out. My arthritis lately has kept me from getting the screw tight enough on the needle so I used a tool to tighten it the last time. Must have stripped something…so off to the Old Sewing Machine Guy (OSMG) tomorrow…he will quietly yell at me (his brief little under-the-brow glare literally does me in!), and this time I bet he has to keep it. Something tells me I screwed up. Damn.

Oh…and yeah…there was a point to this post…I hate setting sleeves. So much so that I have devised a way to make them easier for myself. There was a discussion on Celtic Flame about setting sleeves the other day…folks talked about sewing one long seam from waist to wrist. Have to say that I do not like that as it does restrict movement. There were ideas about clipping, etc. Still do not feel that is the best way.

The best way is to set the sleeve in when both the bodice side and long sleeve seams are already sewn…but I hate dealing with the littleittybitty sleeves that I seem to have so many of… so here is what I do.

Here is a sleeve on a Dudney dress ready to be set. Notice that the bodice side seam and the long sleeve seam have not been sewn yet. All is still flat.
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I pin the entire sleeve cap into place…but I am going to begin and end sewing about 2 inches from each edge. (I still pin those edges to make sure all is aligned.)
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Here is one open edge.
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Another view of the underarm edge that is not sewn.
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Now I sew the bodice side seam and the long sleeve seam.
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Because the sleeve cap seam was not totally closed, once the long sleeves are sewn, there is a gap under the arm.
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I press the long bodice and sleeve seams open.
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Another view of the underarm gap after the long seams were pressed open.
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Now I pull the sleeve right side out as it would have been if I had pinned the sleeve into the armscye the traditional way.
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I now pin the very small open area under the arm…
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…sew it closed and I am done!!! No wrestling with a curved sleeve seam!
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Was this clear?

Soft Capes

I love it when someone asks a question that spurs me to do a post. Thank you Celtic Flame poster.

Here are the soft capes that I have done. There are no set patterns here. To figure out what I want, I whip out the good ol’ muslin and start fooling around. With the dress on my dress dummy, I start pinning, cutting, gathering, draping. Once I have it, I use the muslin to cut my fabric.  I feel like one of those artistes on Project Runway!

Celia’s cape.

Katelyn’s cape.Photobucket

Liz’s cape.
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Dana’s cape.  Triple layer.
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Emily’s cape.
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Pleated drape.

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This cape did come from the drawing the dancer had done. I used her drawing as a starting point to make the pattern.

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Single layer draped.
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Double layer draped.
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This is actually soft fabric over a stiff shawl.

Double layer.

Gathered to hang from stiff piece…which is not secured correctly in this pic. I like the idea of this one…someday I will try it again and figure it better.

Caroline’s shaped sleeves with French seams

The fashion fabric is backed and lined. This particular fabric already had a nice design at the hem so I decided to follow that. As you can see I am using a strip of B508 to make sure my stitches are nice and flat.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Carefully cutting out the shapes. Use a REALLY SHARP knife for this to make your life easier!Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

A trick I picked up from Celtic Flame: cover the white fluff with a special t-shirt ink sharpie!
I did this after the satin stitching here, but if you want, you can first straight stitch the design, then cut out the shapes, use the sharpie on the white edge and then satinstitch around.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Removing the back part of the vilene with my blade.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I do a french seam for the sleeves. I start with stitching the fabric WRONG sides together.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Then, I turn my sleeve inside out.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Then I press the fabric (actually I didn’t do this in this picture, but you should!) and really press in the seam. You can then stitch the seam again, making sure you encase the raw edges inside the seam. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
As you can see, this method might require a bit more seamwidth, but I think it is nicer than leaving serged edges inside and you can still keep some extra seam allowance for alterations.

The seam from the inside (very unpressed, sorry).Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Seam from the outside.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Swoop dress center front panel

One of the things I have not liked about the swoop dresses I have seen and gotten to really inspect is the fact that the front skirt essentially functions as a single panel. They have kept the pleats between the front side panels (FSP) and the center front panel (CFP), but because of the shape of the FSPs, there can be no movement. Those pleats are useless and in some cases have been sewn completely shut. One dancer described her experience dancing in one as restrictive and even painful as she had to keep kicking against this sandwich board that did not move.

Some dressmakers have now come to the conclusion, rightly so, that since the pleats are useless, why not just make the front skirt a single panel from side to side? No pleats, no separate panels. But then there appears that problem of the side-to-side crease at hip level where the skirt has to bend when the dancer kicks.

Susan and I kicked this swoop skirt issue around quite a bit. It’s what we do, talk things to death while we check out photos of dresses. Sometimes, with the phone on speaker, we just sit there and stare as we analyze everything and propose answers for some of the issues we see. We decided to try a swoop dress with a totally free center panel.

This was the first one we attempted this on. First, I should clarify the size of this dress as it had bearing on the skirt hang. Many have told me they thought this dress was for a little girl, that it was a small dress. It is not. The young dancer is 16, and this skirt is 17 inches long. And, the dancer wanted the swoops to come pretty close together at the bottom to frame the cross.
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Considering how close in the swoops come, Susan and I both felt that the CFP did not need to be very wide, which I assumed would then make this very easy to dance in as not only would there be no pleats attaching the FSPs to the CFP, but the narrow width of the CFP would allow the dancer to move the FSPs more easily. Well, the swoops collapsed in and covered the cross. Granted, this skirt was fairly heavy because of its length and because of the 2 rows of pleated ruffles, but there was something else going on. Only option to fix this skirt was to sew the FSPs to the CFP. So much for this attempt at that idea.

There are still pleats behind the FSPs (front side panels).  In fact, we added to the depth of the side pleats to make up for no front pleats, therefore allowing kicking room.

I still need to ask the dancer how it feels to dance in this skirt.

So, Susan and I sat and analyzed the pics I took of that skirt before I sewed the panels down. It did not take Susan long…the tension in the skirt was all wrong, in fact, it was missing from very key areas. Susan’s design of the Feisdress skirt pattern in general is based on tension. She explained it to me in that scientific way she possesses, and off we went to the next dress.

And it worked perfectly.
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The front side panels are completely free, no collapsing, and the young dancer says dancing in it is very easy.
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So, what is different? The CFP is wider, and most importantly, wider at the top. This provides the necessary tension and support for the FSPs so they do not collapse. If you want instructions for this alteration of the Feisdress pattern, email Susan ( ).
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Next time I make one I will add boning to the CFP from the get go.  This dress made its way back to me because the CFP began creasing vertically.  You can read about that and the fixes here: Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease and Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease, Part II

There have been a few questions on the boards lately about stiffeners and how many layers to use. I use FirmFlex that I get from shopper’s rule. Love this stuff. I only ever use 1 layer. Go here for my little treatise on using this stiffener.

Feisdress pattern: stiffener placement & seams

When making an Irish Dance dress, I only sew the stiffener into 2 seams – the front pleat seams. In the Feisdress pattern, the skirt is constructed from 3 pieces: the center front panel (CFP) which includes the front half of the front pleat, and 2 side/back skirts. (Click here for visuals.) The side/back skirt includes the back skirt, side tuck/pleat and the front side panel (FSP) and the other half of the front pleat all in one piece. There are 3 seams (not counting hem and waist): the back seam and the two front pleat seams. I use FirmFlex (same as Timtex) in the CFP and the FSP. I do not stiffen the front half of the pleat attached to the CFP, but I do include it in the FSP pleat seams because they do not bend and it is part of the tension mechanism for the skirt. Here is a top cut-away view (thanks, Susan):

I do not include any of the stiffener in the waist seams, either. I cut it to just below the waist seam.

Placement of stiffener: I do not use stiffener in my back skirt. The fabric has some stiffness due to the fact it has been stabilized, but I have only ever stiffened the back skirt once because it kept collapsing (another construction error on my part). For the CFP and 2 FSPs, I make pockets in the lined skirt pieces and insert the cut stiffener. The CFP is a complete pocket made by sewing 2 lines from the hem to 2 inches below the selvedge at the waist, through the lining just to the side of the flash pleat color. I roll up the Firmflex and put it through the top, work it into place, give it a good shake, and it is in to stay. For the FSP, I sew 1 line from hem to the waist selvedge this time, on what will be where the FSP folds back into the side pleat/tuck. I insert the cut piece which extends from the fold line all the way to the pleat edge. This I either fuse into place with a bit of WonderUnder or with some Fabri-tac.

The above is what I do when I have a regular hem on the skirt. When I am going to satin-stitch the hem, I still make the pockets, but there is no hem. This makes it easier to insert the FirmFlex into the CFP as I do it from the bottom. For both the CFP and the FSPs, I make sure it is fused to the fabric about 1/8″ below the waist seam line, but I do not worry about cutting the hem line exactly. I leave the stiffener longer so I can easily & smoothly fuse the base and lining fabrics into place. Next, I run a stitch along the hem line (shaped or unshaped)to secure it all, then trim the hem neatly, and I am ready to satin-stitch.

Physics of the Skirt Hang

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