Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Dress Tale

The story is always the same...once I have some new fabric, I want to sew.

I thought the Far Far Away unicorns would make a cute dress for Agnes using the smocked sundress pattern from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. The pattern is simple and easy to follow, and Heather has great illustrations in her book for almost ever step. Heather was also on The Martha Stewart Show in May, and she showed Martha how to make the sundress. The 13 minute segment is available for viewing, so I with the additional visual instructions, I figured this project would go smoothly.*

The Far Far Away fabric was a little difficult to true up and cut to size. I don't know if it is me, or if the patterns on most fabrics are printed slightly off, but I found the unicorns were not even close to being perpendicular to the selvedges. I ignored this problem, since I didn't want to waste any of my precious unicorns. The linen-cotton double gauze also likes to shift and unravel much more than quilter's cotton.

The dress came together easily. At one point my bobbin loaded with elastic thread acted up, so I had to sew over one of my smocking rows. I originally started to rip out the row, but the double gauze did not like me removing stitches, and I figured it would be better just to sew over the row than to tear the delicate fabric. I also had to ziz zag the interior seam where the back of the dress comes together twice, as the single row of stitches ripped through the fabric slightly. I think this is a problem with the double gauze fabric and not with the pattern, but I was glad I chose cotton thread to sew with instead of poly as the ripping would have been worse.

For the straps, I made my own folded bias tape. I've tried those bias tape makers, but they always make me swear and I've never been able to figure out how wide my fabric should be to achieve the desired tape width. I use my own bias tape all the time, especially for bag straps and apron ties. While pressing the bottom hem of the sundress, I realized my dressmaker's tape was the perfect width for the straps at 5/8th of an inch. I multiplied this by 4 (the basic formula for making your own folded bias tape), and found I needed to cut my strips 2.5 inches wide. With my iron, I pressed each strip in half to mark a center line with a crease. Then I unfolded the strip and folded each long edge to that center line, pressing in place with my iron. Once both sides were done, I folded the whole strip in half (this is easy since on one side you have your creased line and on the other you have the "line" created by the two edges meeting) and pressed with the iron again. On one end of each strip, I tucked the short edge inside before the last fold for a clean edge. To finish off the strips and close the open side, I topstitched along both long edges 1/8th inch. For bag straps, I'll offen do several lines 1/8 inch apart as this makes the bias tape much sturdier.

Placing the straps evenly and edge stitching the top was a little fiddly, especially since the double gauze does not like to keep a crisp edge. I think next time, I'm going to sew the top hem before I do the smocked rows, then just sew the straps to the inside of the dress which wouldn't look too different. I suppose I could also cut open the stitching in four places, insert the straps, then sew over the line again securing the straps in place. Heather actually has you make the top hem before doing the smocking on her adult version of this sundress, the Mendocino Sundress.

Soon after I finished the dress, Agnes woke up from her nap and started clapping when she saw it laying on my bed. She wore it over to her grandparents' house, and enjoyed showing off her new dress to Papa, Grandmaman, Uncle Josh, and Mu cat. The green colorway was the only color my local fabric store had, but it looks so perfect on Agnes and I'm happy now I didn't end up with the magenta. The only thing this outfit needs is a matching diaper cover, and I think the Ruby's Bloomers pattern from Weekend Sewing will be perfect. Though, I'm going to try it first with other fabric to check the sizing before I use my last precious scant half yard of unicorns.

*I actually started another smocked sundress a few months ago, using a vintage floral tablecloth from my collection. This particular tablecloth has several large holes, so I was happy to repurpose it. Once the smocking was done, I realized this dress was going to be much too long for Agnes's current height. Since I didn't want to lose any of the pattern from the tablecloth, it seemed to be a better idea to set the dress aside until she is older than to trim the fabric down.