I've recently been drawn to garments with sheer inserts and panels that are so popular at the moment. So with all these beautiful new fabrics now on offer to me I decided to expand my repertoire and dip my toe into sewing with chiffon. When I say 'dip my toe' I mean that fairly literally as I only opted to use it for a wide band around the hem of this dress, but it was the perfect amount for a first go and I have conquered any fear I had of working with it!
I spent a fair bit of time looking up tips for working with chiffon and ended up more worried about it than I probably was to start with. However this silk chiffon is surprisingly easy to work with, it presses beautifully, holds the kick pleat at the centre back well and my machine didn't try to eat it even once! I opted to use the rolled hem foot on my machine, as this widely seemed to be the recommend hemming technique for chiffon, and even this decided to play nicely for once: it might be the best rolled hem I've managed yet!
To create the chiffon hem I marked the depth I wanted on my skirt pattern piece rather than just cutting a strip, as I wanted to continue the pegged shape of the pencil skirt. I added enough width at the centre back seam to create the box pleat then cut the back on the fold to avoid extra seams in the chiffon. I assembled the chiffon panel entirely separately to the skirt (including basting the pleat in place, french seaming the side seams and hemming) and attached it in one to the bottom edge of the skirt. I bound the edge of this seam, pressed it up towards the skirt and slipstitched it down as you would with a normal hem.
The main body of the dress is wool crepe which is one of my all time favourite fabrics; it looks lovely, wears beautifully and is just scrummy to work with. I saw this powder blue wool crepe on the Mood Fabrics website and was sold. Who can resist wool crepe in such a delicious colour?! Apparently not many people as it's now sold out (!) but this ivory Italian crepe is very similar.
There's quite a lot of discussion on the internet about how to pretreat wool crepe (the post Carolyn wrote on it ages ago is really great). The most preferred method involves chucking it in the dryer with wet towels and while the speed and ease of this really appeals I don't have a dryer so instead I steamed it like crazy with my iron. I'm not too worried about further shrinkage as it's a special dress and with that silk chiffon hem it'll be going to the dry cleaners anyway.
The crepe was perfect for this style of dress; nice and soft to suit those lovely bust pleats but with a good amount of body for the shape of the skirt. I love how your stitches sink almost invisibly into this stuff too. This particular crepe does need lining as it's fairly lightweight. I went all out and used this china silk for the lining which feels so great, I'll be using it in every special dress I make from now on.
I wanted to make this dress extra special so drafted a full lining in a style which has intrigued me ever since I saw a dress Gertie made in this way (although I cannot for the life of me find that post to share with you now!) I used all-in-one facings of the wool crepe and then the china silk beneath that. I am absolutely in love with the professional look of this inside and also how it eliminates the risk of lining peeking out of the neckline or sleeves. I know some people have had trouble with the Anna facings flipping out over the neckline and it eliminates that problem too! It's a bit of extra work as after drafting the new facings I then had to remove them from the pattern pieces for the lining, remembering to add seam allowances of course. But I think it's totally worth it, don't you agree?! I carefully clipped and under-stitched the neckline to prevent the facings from rolling out and am really pleased with the nice clean finish.
I've been making a conscious effort to put into practice a lot of the tips I've been picking up from you guys (and pinning to my Sewing Tips Pinterest board!) This dress was the first time I tried interfacing the centre back seam allowances before I inserted the zip. I've seen this tip a few times lately, including in Lladybird's amazingly thorough invisible zip tutorial. It makes such a difference! Those waist seams matched up first time and the finish is beautifully smooth. To finish off the now lovely and pain-free zip I used Karen's tutorial to insert a concealed hook and eye at the top.
I put a lot more work into the paper pattern before cutting than I usually do (I even made a muslin!) As I was using a plain fabric in a pale colour I knew all my seams needed to match up perfectly so I moved the darts on the skirt to match the pleats on the centre front bodice and combined the double back darts to match the single darts on the bodice back. It involved a bit of maths and some head scratching but was fairly straightforward! Next I used Sonja's tutorial to remove a bit of the width from both the front and back neckline as my previous versions of Anna gaped a little in this area and I knew in the wool crepe this would create unsightly bulges. The final adjustment I made was a result of the muslin. The kimono sleeves were perfect on me in a drapey silk or viscose but in a fabric with more body like the crepe I was looking a little bit like an extra from Star Trek! I simply reduced the length of the shoulder seams by folding the required amount under at the outer edge of both front and back pattern pieces, tapering away to nothing at the underarm.
The extra little bit of time it took to make all these adjustments was completely worth it as I'm incredibly pleased with and proud of the fit on this dress now, especially down the back. It's definitely the best fitting thing I've ever made and has really challenged my sewing skills. If this is what sewing with top quality fabrics does to my sewing I can't wait for my next MSN make!