Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Thanks so much for all your nice comments on my dress. I wore it to my son’s High School graduation ceremony last week. I made a point of linking back to the blogs of “new to me” commenters, and as a result I added a load of blogs to my Google reader subscription list.

While I was working on the dress, I had to set everything aside, and attend a Bra Workshop and Lecture I was signed up for. I was not really interested in sewing bras, but I always sign up and support garment/fashion related classes put on by the local ASG organization. Otherwise the course offerings start to skew into the realm of “Glitzy embroidery techniques for tote bags made of felted sweaters, pet hair, and dryer lint”. My thoughts about sewing bras: the fabrics are hard to find and sew, the construction techniques are difficult, and what with all the wonderful things RTW bras can do, why would I need to sew them?

The question "What kind of problems do you have with your current bras?” was on the pre-class questionnaire. When I reviewed my answer, “cup shape is not the same shape as I am, the shoulder straps fall off, and the back band hikes up” I started to think I might benefit from the class after all.
The class included a bra fitting session, a customized bra pattern, hands on sewing instructions and the guarantee that you would leave the class with a complete, custom fitted bra. The instructor was Anne St Clair, owner of Needle Nook Fabrics in Wichita, Kansas. She has become known as “The Bra Lady” on the sewing expo and ASG education circuit.

Day 1 - Anne fit each of us in a bra during a short, private 1 on 1 session. She had brought close to 90 sample bras for the fitting exercise. During the fitting she noted any changes that needed to be made to the pattern. That evening after class, she and her assistant Janet, hand drafted a custom pattern for each of the attendees, based on the changes noted during the fitting. We received a packaged bra pattern, either the Elite and Queen Elite based on our bra size, plus customized pattern pattern pieces, as well a list of the exact lengths for the elastics for the band bottom, under arm and center front, and the underwire size.
Anne encouraged us to compare our customized pattern pieces to the packaged pattern pieces so we could see the modifications she had made.
The afternoon of day 1 was a lecture on what makes a well-fitting bra, and how to make changes to the pattern to achieve it. Also discussed was modifying the pattern to make nursing, exercise and sleep bras. And making bras out of nontraditional fabrics like poly/lycra , cotton/ lycra, and wovens. To “support” her lecture, Anne would lift up her T shirt, made in a cute cotton/lycra print and show us on her own bra, which was made in the same fabric as the T shirt. We were all a bit startled the first time she did it, but it was a very good visual.

The second day of class we were split up in groups. Each group was guided through all steps of the bra making process, from cutting the fabric through the final step of sewing on the straps. I was surprised to find that the sewing was not that difficult. The stitching was either straight or zigzag, with a decorative stretch stitch thrown in as an alternative to the zig-zag. The seams are all rather short so sewing went quickly. Tricot fabric, used for the lining on the cup, can be a bit slippery, but there were tips and tricks taught on how to deal with it. Roseana’s blog post has great pictures of the class she took with Anne and the tips. Class Pictures

At the end of the day we tried on our completed bras for a final fit confirmation by Anne. We left the class with the completed bra, and enough fabrics and elastics remaining in the class kit to make two additional bras. I was amazed that I had a completed bra and how well it fit. The cup shape modifications Anne made included dropping the cup seam by ½ inch so that it crossed my apex, and removing some of the curve in the center front cup seams. My straps stay in place because they are none stretch and cut to the length I need for each shoulder, one of which is lower than the other. The straps are attached to the bra above the apex in the front and closer to the center in the back so there is no slippage. We were told that RTW bras have stretch straps with adjusters in order to fit a wider range of customer shapes. With custom made straps the only stretch needed, for ease of movement, is provided by a small piece of elastic where they are attached to the back band. And the back band stays horizontal across my back. It is also one size smaller than I was buying in RTW, but the difference that makes to the fit is incredible and it is not uncomfortable.
Anne had prepackaged bra kits with unique fashion fabrics and matching elastics, tricot, power net /mesh and hooks for sale for $12-15. This was a great price for a kit that includes all the materials to make a bra. Especially since the bra fabrics, plush back elastics, appropriate laces and the fittings; rings, underwire, or hooks, cannot be found in local fabric stores.
My only dissatisfaction with the class was the printed instruction materials. The pattern instructions and the separately purchased book were not complete and the illustrations were poor. Sewing steps were left out or in a different order than presented in class and the illustrations were originally black and white photos that had been rendered fuzzy and unrecognizable by copying copies instead of originals. So the week following the class, I sewed a couple of the kits together to reinforce the steps in memory and added notes to the instructions. Here is the rather basic bra as completed in class; thin tricot cups, high front, underwired, no padding.

My second bra was to made from a poly/ lycra animal print knit. The key to using other fabrics successfully is to maintain the structural integrity of the bra by compensating for the different weights and stretch of the materials used. In this one the fashion fabric is used over the power net of the band and the tricot of the cups so that the original stretch and support is maintained.

My third bra had some light padding (fusible fleece), a poly cotton nude knit with the same stretch characteristics as tricot for the cup lining, and a woven jacquard poly nylon fabric cut on the bias for the cups. Again the power net and cup lining maintains the support.

I am really glad I took this class. I learned so much about bra fitting and alterations. Being shown the steps for constructing a bra eliminated all my concerns about sewing nylon stretch fabrics. And I can take the learning’s from the class and apply them to the sewing of other bra, swimsuit, and corset patterns that I have in my collection. Here are some recent purchases.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carolina Herrera Dress Knock-Off - Finished!

Remember the inspiration dress?
Well here is my knock off. All finished, yeah. I am surprised how much it looks like the inspiration dress.
It took lots of research, planning, samples, ripping out (oh yes) but overall it was enjoyable. I missed completing the dress by the contest deadline. No long holiday weekend for me. I work in IT for a company that regards holidays as an opportunity to work. My employer moved their data center from NY to NC this weekend. I helped and I have the cup to prove it.
Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for having a good job that finances my hobbies. No matter, I use the contest end date as a self-imposed deadline. Here are some closeups of the details.

Carolina Herrera Dress Knock Off - Part 3

One of the features of the CH dress that caught my eye was the ruching around the neckline. Ruching (rooshing)is a French term that means gathering, ruffling or pleating. Ruching has been used to embellish garments for hundreds of years. I have loved this detail since first seeing it in the book Decorative Dressmaking. This book is a good addition to a sewing library, especially for inspiration. The book takes a technique, such as ruching, faggoting, piping, pin tucking, etc. and presents a collection of pictures showing the technique used in garments over the years. Then the author sketches ideas for using it in current garments , as well as providing direction for one garment (warning - circa 1990’s). I have several patterns in my stash that feature ruched trim.

I have made this Vogue DK T-shirt, which was donated to Goodwill because I used a poly sheer for the inset ruching and it puffed unattractively, and the Burdastyle jacket below.

Both used a method of inserting the ruched strip between two seams. The fabric to be ruched is cut in a strip on the straight of grain. The width of the strip is determined by the width of the desired insertion. The length will be determined by the fabric weight and the amount of gathering desired. Gathering stitches are sewn along each cut edge. The stitches are pulled so that the strip is gathered to the finished length and inserted into seams on both sides.

Sample 1 is an example of this method I considered for this dress. One side of the strip is inserted in the band to bodice seam and the other is finished off with a wide bias binding to
create the dark border.

On the close up photo of the dress neck line, I could see what looked like a line of stitches ¼ inch from the edge of the ruched strip and it didn’t look like the strip was inserted into a seam. Sample 2 was my first attempt to acheive that look. A strip of the silk chiffon was cut on the straight of grain. A small hem of 3/8 inch is turned under on the long edges before sewing the gathering stitch ¼ from edge. The strip was gathered and top stitched in place sewing ¼ from the edges, over the gathering stitches. But the double layer on the outside edge appeared more opaque than the rest of the strip. Not quite what I was seeing on the dress.

The third sample was a bias cut strip of chiffon, gathering stitches sewn slightly more than ¼ from the cut edge. I gathered the strip and top stitched to neckband ¼ inch from cut edge. The bias cut edge does not fray and gives a softer edge look to the ruched strip. You can even trim it after applying, if you didn’t stay 1/4 “ from the edge.

The method used for Sample 3 was the one I chose to use on the dress based on the finished appearance. I love the look of silk chiffon fabric, but I dislike working with it because it is so light weight and hard to control. My bias cut white chiffon stripes acted just like long slithery ghost snakes; slipping, sliding, changing width, catching on any rough surface, aarg! And my chiffon fabric was 52 inches wide which is great for long bias strips, but bigger than most home sewer's cutting tables. The wool rug in my living room came in handy for cutting the bias strips. I lined up the edges of the silk square with the edges of the border in the rug and the texture of the rug kept the silk from shifting while I cut the strips using sharp shears.
The neckline inner edge also had brown sheer fabric that extended beyond the dark band , softening the edge. To achieve this I used a bias cut strip of brown chiffon that when folded double measured ¾ inch wide. I sewed it ½’ from the finished neck edge. so that it extended beyond the edge by ¼ inch. In the picture below the facing has not yet been sewn to the front band and the brown chiffon appears flush with the band inner edge.

This method of finishing an edge was used in the Vogue Issey Miyake pattern 2796 below. You just never know when those weird IM techniques will come in handy.