The thoughts, sewing projects, and fabric oglings of a dedicated sewist.

Wool Wiggle Dress, Gertie Style


In my last post, I asked people to guess what I was sewing from this picture:

Those funny organza strips went into making underarm gussets for wiggle dress I made for a client last week. 

Pretty cool, huh?

The dress pattern is from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing.  I've made two other patterns from this book, the Bow-Tied Blouse (here) and her Pencil Skirt (here and here).  The wiggle dress I made had shorter sleeves like the dress on the book cover.

Fitting this dress on my client was relatively easy.  I cut a size 10 on top and scaled down to a size 6 at the hips.  The muslin looked a hot mess at first.  I've been following the LCD fitting technique I learned in a Peggy Sagers workshop (LCD - adjust length then circumference then depth) and when I pinched 1.25 inches off the length of the bodice (where it looked bunchy between bust and waist), it all worked.   The only other alterations I made was to take in the side seams at the hip about 1/4", peg the sides at the hem by 2" overall, and take in the princess seam under the bust at the second fitting.

I used a lot of the skills I learned from Susan Khalje's Couture Dress Craftsy Class and advice I got from Rhonda Buss while making the wedding dress.

The dress is underlined in black cotton batiste, which kept the soft drape of the wool but gave it a bit more support and structure.

I added organza selvedge strips to the back opening to keep the bias cut from stretching and hand-picked the lapped center zipper down the back (most of the zipper was inserted during Cora's piano lesson):

I attached the lining to the sleeves by hand with a slip stitch and understitched the lining with a pick stitch:

I added drapery weights to the back vent and thread chains to help the lining and dress move well together:

I bought 5 yards of this wool/wool blend fabric from a woman who was destashing on Craigslist before moving out-of-state.  The lining is an Ambiance Bemberg lining I purchased from about a year ago when it was on sale.

This dress made me think about couture vs. home or industrial sewing.  I used a number of couture techniques, but I also used quicker techniques when I thought going couture wouldn't add significantly.   Here are some of the places where I decided to go the home/industrial route:
  • I didn't hand baste the pieces before sewing (although I probably should have done this with the princess seams as I had to sew the second one three times before I got it right).
  • I serged the seam allowances instead of binding them in some way (I love the way a bound seam looks but I knew my client didn't care enough about this to pay for the extra time).
  • I attached the lining to the dress at the neckline by machine and understitched by machine with only a few hand stitches where I thought they were needed (time/cost issue).
One of the co-organizers of Berwyn Makers (a group for folks needing help running a creative business) wrote an interesting blog post on this issue last week.  Elaine Luther is a metal smith and jewelery maker (and lately, a painter).  She recently attended The Zoom Symposium, to discuss the Future of Craft, and she sums up how her thoughts on process have evolved over the years in a post on what she calls The Cult of the Handcrafted.  It's interesting to read about how she has moved away from needing to handcraft everything to deciding in certain instances to use quicker/high tech methods.  You can read the post here.

I'd like to take a course soon on industrial sewing techniques so that I can learn more about that side of things.  I want each garment to involve making decisions about technique based on the fabric, the style, the client, the cost.  What matters to me in this case is that I am happy with the way the dress turned out,  I don't feel like I cheated in order to save time, and my client loves it!

What about you?  Do you enjoy couture techniques?  When do you use them and when do you not?

Can you guess?

I have two guessing games for you today.  Who's feeling clever?

First, can you guess what I wrestled into submission yesterday?

Second, I received 500 fancy new labels earlier this week.  I'm so excited to be able to put my signature on my own garments and those I make for clients!  I bought them from, (recommended by Angela Wolf in her How to Start a Home-Based Fashion Design Business) and from order to arrival took about 2 weeks.  I love them! 


Can anyone guess how long it will take me to use all 500 labels????

Graphic Studio Faro Pencil Skirt

Sometime back in the summer I agreed to be a pattern test for Studio Faro's Pencil Skirt Worksheet.  I finished my muslin in late August or September, but then the wedding dress took over.  All along I planned to make up the skirt using this fabric, and when I saw that the challenge this week on Project Sewn was for a graphic print, I knew I had to get busy.

I like having bold prints or bright colors on my lower half as it provides a balance for my broad shoulders. This fabric is a stretch cotton sateen from, and it's on sale this weekend!

I used some of the techniques I learned while making the wedding dress, a combination of instruction from Rhonda Buss, Susan Khalje, and Gertie Hirsch:

Underlined the waistband with flannel and organza and added spiral steel boning.  I also drafted the skirt with a 2-inch contoured waistband, because I like it like that.

Installed a waist stay to keep the skirt in place (I walk fast and my side seam often ends up a center front).

Why not magenta?

Put drapery weights in the back vent to keep the corners from flipping up (I like how the weights tap the back of my knees when I walk) and finished the hem with lace and a blind stitch.

Installed the zipper by hand with a pick stitch so that I could better match across the seam.

I used one of my favorite buttons from my button collection.  I found this at a thrift store where it was the only one of it's kind - perfect for a skirt!  Isn't it a beauty?

I've drafted pencil skirts before but Studio Faro's directions were a bit different than I had seen previously. The thing that most amazed me was the perfect fit on the butt!  When I've drafted skirts using a different method, I usually have to play around for ages to get this fit:

I tweaked the fit a bit between the muslin and this skirt by taking in the side seams a titch, as my muslin was made with, well, MUSLIN, and my fashion fabric was a stretch cotton sateen.  I'm really amazed how well this came off the drafting table!

I should have some finished wedding dress photos to show you soon and I plan to write a "what I learned" post about the whole experience.  Next up: Gertie's wiggle dress for a client!

Student Work

I had two adult classes wrap up this week and I wanted to share some of my student's work.  These women were lovely to work with and I'm sorry the classes had to end!

In my Monday morning class, I taught four ladies how to make a messenger bag.  I didn't get photos (yet!) of two of the bags, but here are the two I managed to capture.

Lori's bag - wide messenger

Lori's bag - back pocket detail
Courtney's narrow messenger bag - sorry for the iPod blur!

UPDATE: The two students who didn't quite finish during class time due to child-related absences sent me a photo once they had finished up at home:

I had two students in my Tuesday morning class and we did a variety of practical projects: hemming pants and tops, mending holes and tears, making tote bags and zippered pouches.  One of my students had saved a maternity dress for 10 years because she had a vision of what it could be.  I didn't get a before shot, but here's the tag to prove it's maternity status:

She wanted to take this tent-like jersey v-neck maternity dress and turn it into a fitted dress with a plunging neckline.  And this is what she created after adding front and back darts, taking in the side seams, and hacking away at the front and back neckline.  I think we probably removed a total of about 14 inches to get this:

I loved working with these funny, interesting, motivated ladies!

It's starting to look like a Real Wedding Dress!

My Velveteen Rabbit project is starting to look real!

Free Sewing Tutorial: Curvy Color Block Ponte Knit Pencil Skirt

After the disappointment of the Elisalex dress, I wanted to sew something that would cheer me up.  I'm going back to the Elisalex dress soon (I will not be vanquished by thee, Madam Elisalex!), but in the meantime, sewing with knit/jersey fabric is fast, easy to fit, and (usually) highly satisfying.

I love making variations on my TNT patterns.  I consider the patterns in Sew U Home Stretch my knit block patterns, as they are simple, I know they fit, and they are easy to draft from for making variations.  I'm working on a woven dress block so that I can draft variations there, too, but I'm still perfecting the muslin.  But my knit block pattern was all I needed for this project. 


I based this design on my corsetted pencil skirt, which has been really popular with clients (I think I've now made this skirt for five different people).

And because I like y'all so much, I'm going to show you how to do it.


Knit skirt block with waistband
2 or 3-inch elastic
Ballpoint/stretch sewing needle
Tracing/drafting paper (you need to see through it)
Medium to heavy weight knit fabric - I used two ponte knits from
Lining fabric (optional - I used a knit tricot)
Seam gauge or measuring tape

Draft Color Block Skirt
STEP 1: If you don't have this marked already, modify your skirt block to a pencil skirt.  I have a mini-tutorial on this here.

STEP 2: Take pencil skirt front pattern piece and place marks 3 inches in from the side seam all the way down to the hip line. UPDATE: For larger sizes, I have found that it's best to measure in thirds. You want the color block inset to take up about two-third of the skirt. On your quarter-block, measure across the waist and hip lines. Divide these numbers into thirds. So if my quarter-waist measurement is 8, I would place a mark about 2.75 inches in from the side seam at the waist. If my quarter-hip measurement is 11, I would place a mark at 3.75 inches from the side seam at the hip.

STEP 2: Place a mark 5-6 inches in from the side seam at the hem (remember to mark in from the pencil skirt line if you have simply drawn that on top on your regular block).  Using a ruler or other straight edge, draw a line between this mark and the 3-inch mark at the hip line.

STEP 3: Connect dots, smoothing out line at the hip.  Feel free to play with the line to make it more curvy or straight. If you have a French curve or hip curve, use it!

STEP 4: Repeat with pencil skirt back.  Your skirt blocks should now look like this:

STEP 5: Use tracing paper to trace your four new pattern pieces (center front, side front, center back, side back).  Make sure to add a grainline on the side front and side back pieces.  I do this simply by measuring over from the center front/back fold.

STEP 6: Add seam allowance to all your pieces.  I usually use 1/4" or 3/8" on knit fabric when I have already tweaked the pattern for fit.  Since I wanted a 3-inch elastic waistband and my skirt block only allows for a 2-inch waistband, I marked 1 inch lower on the waist to remind myself to cut there.  Your four pattern pieces will look something like this:

Hello, Toes!

Cut and Assemble Skirt
You probably already know how to do this because you've made this skirt before, but I'll walk through the steps in order to highlight how to sew this new shape.

STEP 1: Cut skirt and waistband pieces.  If you aren't sure which side of a solid knit/jersey fabric is the "right" side, hold onto the selvedge sides and pull across the cut edge.  The fabric will roll to the right side.  If you are using 3" elastic, the size of the waistband will be (your waist + 3/4") x 7".  For 2" elastic, the width will be 5". This allows for a 1/4 - 3/8" seam allowance plus a touch extra.

For my waistband, I wanted the color block design to carry through the waistband.  I cut four pieces (center front, center back, two sides) and just measured the top of the skirt color block pieces to know how wide to make each section.

Note: Place a mark at the hip line on your center front/back, and side front/back pieces.  This will make it easier to match up the skirt pieces in the next step.

STEP 2: Pin and sew front/back side pieces to front/back center pieces.  This step might feel wrong when you are doing it, as you'll be matching a concave curve to a convex curve.  Pin the hip mark first, then top and bottom, then the rest.  Feel free to use a lot of pins on the curves (I did).  You'll notice that the fabric won't lie flat - that's okay (see third photo).  As long as the fabric is flat within your seam allowance (this is why having a small seam allowance is helpful), all will be well in the end.

If you have a walking foot, this is a good time to use it.  I like to sew with a long stitch on my regular sewing machine then serge over the seam with my serger.

Press seams - this should take out any remaining ripples.

STEP 3: Pin and sew side seams.  Place front section on back section, right sides together, matching hip marks.  Pin and sew with long stretch stitch on sewing machine or with overlock stitch on the serger.

STEP 4: Sew waistband.  Fold waistband right sides together, matching short sides.  Pin and sew.  Press seam open or to one side.  Fold waistband in half along long side and press.

STEP 5: Attach waistband.  Divide skirt into 8 equal sections and mark with pins.  Divide waistband into 3 equal sections and mark with pins.  Place waistband over skirt, right sides together matching pins.  Pin in place.  I like to have the waistband seam at center back.  Sew around waistband leaving a 2-3 inch opening at center back to insert your elastic.  You may need to stretch the waistband slightly as you sew to match the skirt.

If you have a color block waistband, then you'll simply need to match up the sections.

STEP 6:  Cut and insert elastic.  Hold elastic around your waist to determine how long you want it.  The elastic should be slightly stretched.  Overlap by 1/4 - 3/8" for seam allowance.  Attach a safety pin to each end.  Use one safety pin to feed the elastic through the waistband and use the second safety pin to secure the other end to the skirt (so that you don't accidentally pull it all the way through - very annoying).  This is harder to do with 3" elastic, but you'll get there.  Once the elastic is all the way through, overlap the ends and pin.  Sew ends together with a zig-zag stitch and trim off excess elastic.

STEP 7: Finish skirt.  Pin opening on the waistband to the skirt and finish this seam.  Try on the skirt and determine where you would like the hem.  Fold and press hem allowance and stitch the hem.  You can stitch the hem with a straight stitch, zig-zag stitch, blind stitch, or coverstitch (I used the coverstitch on my serger). Now put on the skirt and feel curvy!

I don't know why I am looking up, unless I'm worried about
bird poop - that tree behind me is full of birds.

My attempt at looking curvy.

And finally a word on the fabric I used.  I bought this ponte knit over a year ago from thinking it would make a fun pencil skirt.  When it arrived, I liked it, but the thought of that bold, strong print swaddling my lower half was too much.  It sat around in my stash and I'd look at it every now and again and think, "How do I tame you?"  Finally this design idea came to me.  It was a "duh" moment (no angels singing opera) since I've seen about a million color block options online and this silhouette has been in my arsenal for a while now.  But I'll take "duh" for inspiration.  The black fabric came from and you can find it here.  I lined the skirt with a black knit tricot that I also purchased from (this isn't in stock but they have other knit linings).  I thought long and hard about where I placed the print on for the front and back pieces - I did not want to shine a spotlight on certain anatomical features!

Let me know if you have any questions and I'll add more construction photos the next time I make this skirt - I'm already scheming to make another version with this fabric (ponte knit and yes, it was also purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics - you can tell where I do most of my online shopping!):

If you make your own version of the skirt, please send me a picture or a link to your blog - I'd love to feature it!