Today I want to share some details of the construction of my fashion contest entry and some photos of me modelling it in the fashion show at Edinburgh Festival.
The first thing I did was to cut a muslin for the skirt from old sheets. The sheets were cotton, not quite as heavy as the final fabric but with a similar drape. I wanted to check the levels of the hemline on both the low side and the high side, and make sure that the S-shape of the hem curve was deep enough. I was happy with it first time, thankfully.
I actually muslined the pleats too, but only the front. I wanted to check on the weight of the skirt, as well as get an idea of how wide the final pleats would be and how that would look. I was happy at this stage that the design was starting to come together.
Before cutting out any of the final fabric, the first step for any project is always to pre-wash it and press it in the way that you’ll be washing the final garment. You want to make sure that the fabric is pre-shrunk, and that any loose dye is removed as much as possible. When I unwrapped the fabric from its packaging, it had the unmistakeable smell of pigment and I was concerned that the fabric might lose some of its colour in the washing process. The last thing I wanted was for the pink to lose any vibrancy, or for the colour to bleed into the white border area. So, I did a test.
I took two small pieces of fabric and measured them.
I placed one in hot water (from the kettle) and one in hand-hot water (water the same temperature as my hand – supposed to represent a 30-degree wash). I stirred them vigorously to see if any colour came out.
Against a white background, it’s obvious even after an hour that no colour was lost from the samples.
After air-drying the pieces, they were frayed but hadn’t lost any length, so I concluded that the fabric had not shrunk.
I should note here that despite the results of the test, I decided in the end that I wouldn’t pre-wash my fabric as I was running out of time, figuring the final dress would have to be dry-cleaned in future anyway.... oh well.
Upper skirt section
I cut my skirt pieces first, preserving the white border section separately. The white border section was to be appliquéd on to the upper skirt section, around the hem of it. Bending it around the curved sections was tricky – I eventually settled on a running stitch around the inside edge and a lot of steam. It doesn’t totally lie flat but there was not much I could think of to help.
Note that I applied the border before I stitched the skirt darts, just to make the pieces easier to handle as they were flat. Here’s a close up of the border sewn on.
I sewed the darts and side seams as per usual and hemmed this section by turning under once and machine stitching with matching pink thread. The hem stitches are pretty much invisible.
Lower skirt section
The lower skirt section was much harder. This section comprises an underskirt cut from muslin fabric (those sheets again) onto which the pleated section is attached. The upper skirt and lower skirt are independent of each other to allow movement – they are joined only at the waist.
Actually forming the pleats was a mammoth task. I used a hot iron, lots of steam and a large amount of spray starch to help keep them crisp. I was actually using my pattern master as a jig for most of it, to make sure the pleats had an even depth. It wasn’t ideal because the fabric was obviously a lot longer than the ruler.
Here’s how the pleated section looked when I had finished. Note that I basted along the top edge and pinned every pleat shut along the bottom to make it easier to handle. It was a large, heavy piece to work with at this point and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
I cut another copy of my upper skirt pieces from the old sheets to serve as an underskirt to attach the pleats to. In this picture I have laid it out to check that the pleats are at least the right height all the way along.
Lining and volume layer
Underneath the skirt layers is the lining, again cut to the upper skirt pattern, with a gathered ruffle section attached in lining fabric for the lower skirt section. Over the gathered ruffle were four layers of gathered tulle, intended to give the pleats some volume. Again, the sheer volume of fabric and the size of the pieces meant this was tricky to sew, but I persevered.
Putting the skirt sections together
Here are a couple of pictures showing the underskirt on top of the lining, and then finally with the overskirt on top of it all. It looks a bit strange in these pictures because the underskirt/pleats were still open at the side seam and pinned shut at the bottom, but you can get an idea of how it looked at this stage.
I was delighted with the curve of the upper skirt, emphasised by the white border.
The bodice of the dress was made from fuchsia-coloured Harris tweed, which I have to say was wonderful to work with. Lots of ease in the wool, responded really well to steam and that colour is just incredible.
As it’s a thicker fabric, I cut the bulk away from the inside of the darts before pressing.
The bodice was hemmed by hand using a catch stitch. I had mitred the corners by machine for neatness. I was delighted to sew in my Harris tweed label as well!
Here’s how the lined bodice looks on the stand.
I assembled the whole dress as per the Martini instructions, which call for a French seam at the waist. To reduce bulk, I actually sewed only the bodice lining and skirt lining together, wrong sides together, as a first step. Then I trimmed the seam allowance of the skirt layers to around 5mm and folded the lining seam around it, before sewing the final waist seam through all the layers. So it’s basically a regular seam enclosed by the lining. Sorry I haven’t got a photograph of this but it just looks like a French seam from the outside anyway!
The instructions also call for a zip guard in grosgrain ribbon. I picked the only piece in my stash with any pink tones it in – I think it was actually used to wrap a present originally.
Of course, the final thing to do was to try it on and admire my handiwork. Unfortunately, disaster struck! The front bodice, due to my rather extravagant use of steam, had stretched outwards at the hem by quite a large amount; it was hanging terribly and looked ugly.
To fix it, I cut a piece of cotton twill tape to the required bodice hem length, which I measured from my pattern pieces. I marked the correct position of the side seams on the tape with a pencil. I unpicked my bodice hem and pinned on the tape securely at centre front, centre back and both side seams. It was clear the majority of the stretch had happened at the bodice front. I pinned the hemline to the tape evenly, compressing the tweed between my fingers where it had stretched. I machine stitched it on, just inside the hemline, and pressed the whole thing again. It was looking much better.
I decided also to add a couple of small weights to help the back pieces hang closed (a trick I stole from some curtains, haha). I am actually using 5p pieces sewn securely into the bottom corners. They are so small that they are barely visible.
Here are some images of the final dress modelled at home. I was really, really happy with the shape of the curves on the upper skirt and the white border frames it nicely. The pleats can be volumised by fluffing up the tulle layers as required.
Here it is with the sash. The sash is simply the two metres of fabric remaining, with the weft threads removed from about the first and last 1.5cm of the fabric to make a nice frayed edge.
The Fashion Show!
The Weaving Destination fashion show took place at St John’s church in Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh Festival. It’s a beautiful building at the end of Princes Street and was the perfect setting for such a dramatic outfit!
Here’s me doing my best supermodel impression during the show.
Image courtesy of Lorna at Little Sewing Corner – many thanks Lorna!
I should point out that modelling is actually really hard! Remembering where to stand, which direction to walk in and where to stop was a bit nerve wracking. We had to walk several times, including walking off the stage and down the central aisle of the church and around the sides, which was a reasonable distance. Also, no-one told me that there would be several steps up and down onto the stage – a bit nerve wracking to be going up and down those in 5” heels when you can’t see your feet for 4 layers of tulle and there are 100 people watching... the church main floor, down the far sides of the pews, had grates with holes in covering almost the entire path all the way down. Have a look at the width of my heels on the picture of my shoes below and you’ll realise why I was worried about these, eek!
I did want to change my shoe choice when I saw the venue but unfortunately the hem length of the dress was already fixed – I couldn’t shorten it from the bottom because of the border – so it was 5” heels or bust at that point.
Here is a rather gratuitous amount of images, taken on the stage after the show.
On the day, I decided that what with the steps and the long distance to walk, it was too risky to wear the sash. I had to manually lift up the front of the dress with both hands to go up and down the steps and I wasn’t confident that I could keep the sash on while doing it. I also wasn’t happy that people could get a good enough view of the dress with the sash on, so I think it was better without.
Overall, it was rather exhilarating! I really enjoyed my modelling debut, but I think I’ll stick to my day job in future!
I was delighted to win second place in the fashion contest; I won a copy of Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ and a lovely pair of brand new fabric shears. Thank you so much to everyone who came to watch the Weaving Destination fashion show, and especially those who voted for me!
I hope you enjoyed reading about this epic project! Thanks for sticking with me this far!