Fabric Preparation - Washing, Drying & Ironing
For this dress, I am using silk dupioni and a nylon ruffle knit. I like to wash and dry all my fabrics as soon as they come into my home - that way I know that any fabric in my stash cupboard is prepared and ready to be cut.
When I wash silk dupioni, I fill my washer with warm water, to which a capful of Eucalan has been added. The fabric is added and pushed down into the water to ensure that it is completely soaked. I allow it to sit, without agitation, for 15 to 20 minutes and then it is spun dry. Depending on my level of patience, I either hang the yardage to dry or toss it in the dryer on the gentle cycle. Although the silk loses some of its crispness, I feel it is worth it because now I have a fabric that will not water stain. Considering I will likely be eating and drinking in the garment made from the silk, I think this is a prudent precaution. After the fabric is dry, I iron it with heavy steam - this usually restores any shine and most of the crispness lost in the washing process.
Nylon fabrics are also washed and dried prior to usage in my home. Although they are unlikely to shrink, I still like to remove any residues left from the processing and handling. I am always careful to dry any plastic-containing* fabrics on very low heat to ensure that no distortion of the fabric occurs. * The following info brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood chemistry geek: Nylon, a plastic, is actually a polyamide made during the condensation polymerization reaction between a diamine and dicarboxylic acid. Nylon is named for the number of carbon atoms found in the amine and acid. For instance, Nylon-6,6, is made from a diamine a dicarboxlic acid, each containing 6 carbon atoms, which link together through an amide or peptide linkage.*
Since this dress is a 50s design, I really wanted to have the full skirted look. One way to do this is to underline the skirt and lower bodice portion of the dress. I chose to use a cream silk organza for this purpose. I buy several yards of silk organza at a time from Thai Silks. They often have it on sale for a very good price (even after I figure in shipping, US-CDN exchange and any customs duties). I like having it on hand at all times - then when inspiration strikes, I'm good to go. The organza is also washed and dried on the gentle cycles and then ironed before use.
Each skirt piece had to be cut out twice. This means that all 4 pattern pieces (2 front and 2 back pieces) would be cut out of the dupioni and the organza using a double layer of fabric. If the dupioni had a distinct pattern, I would have cut out each skirt piece (all 8 of them) separately. This would allow me to match any pattern and place any motifs in appropriate positions on the body - you only need to make up a garment with a large flower right on a breast or bum cheek and you never make the mistake of blindly cutting patterned fabric again!
The dupioni was folded in half and the grain line was checked. To true the grain, try pulling a thread across the width of a fabric and then cut along the line left by the removal of that thread. The organza was also folded in half and laid very carefully on top of the dupioni, so that the open edges matched. The pattern was laid on top of the four layers of fabric and a ruler was used to ensure that each end of the pattern's grain line marking is equidistant from the fabric edge. I decided to pin the pattern to the fabric in this case, rather than using pattern weights, because I feel it gives me greater control over the slippery silks. I also leave the pattern pinned to the fabric until I am ready to sew - it is easier to transport this way and it causes less distortion and ravelling of the fabric.
Next the ruffle knit was cut out. I decided to line the bodice with another knit (a burgundy cotton jersey from Wazoodle) since the ruffle knit is a tad see-through. I used "pattern weights" to weigh down the pattern this time and the two knits were cut, layered one of top of the other.
I often use a method to underline and clean finish the inside of my garment at the same time. Each piece of the skirt fabric is matched up with an organza piece, which was cut to the same size. The fashion fabric and the underlining are sewn right sides together along each long edge and left open at the top and the hem, using a 1/4" seam (pic 1). These seams are first pressed open. I use a seam roll to avoid an impression of the seam on the fashion fabric (pic 2). The piece is then turned right sides out and pressed again (pic 3). Now, the skirt was constructed as usual, using scant 3/8" seams (the first 1/4" + the 3/8" = 5/8" seams). After each seam is sewn, it is pressed open, to leave a beautiful, clean seam that is quite strong (pic 4 & 5). I believe I learned of this technique from Thread's magazine.
In terms of construction, the front skirt was sewn together, then the back skirt. Each skirt portion was attached to the bodice. For this dress, I chose to use an invisible zipper - I find them to be the easiest, most unobtrusive zippers when I don't want the zipper to be a feature. The zipper was installed in the side and the remaining side seams were finished. I hand sewed the bodice lining down to the top of the skirt and this gives the entire inside of the dress a neat appearance. The next photos show the interior of the dress prior to hemming.
Next installment: hemming and outside finishing. Then I will tackle a petticoat to give the skirt just the right amount of "oomph." I have gotten some wonderful advice on petticoat construction from the ladies over at Stitcher's Guild, with a special nod to Kathryn.