Guts-y Sewing

Sewing a dress the right way with Making the Flame!

Ah, the joys of sewing cotton!

Sewing a dress the right way with Making the Flame!

Returning to the world of sewing wovens in order to improve my zipper installation technique, I made McCall’s M5971. It’s an OOP pencil dress with a sweetheart neckline, princess seam bodice, front and back waistband, and box pleats in the front skirt instead of darts. Sounds complicated, right? Happily, I’ve had plenty of practice with this pattern — this is my fifth time sewing it — and finally think I got things right.

Sewing a dress the right way with Making the Flame!

I used Mascaras de Pelea by Alexander Henry, a medium weight quilting cotton purchased about two years ago. It’s a rare instance of buying fabric to make something specific, and actually making that specific thing! I have no clue what fabric this pattern actually calls for, but it’s definitely some kind of woven so I always use boldly patterned quilting cotton. Any light to medium weight, crisp, stable woven would work well, though.

A photo posted by Ebi Poweigha (@makingtheflame) on

M5971 only goes up to a size 18! That’s a 40″ bust for those of you playing along at home. But don’t feel that you can’t size up from smaller sizes! You absolutely can.

For the bodice I added width under the arm on the front and back side bodice pieces (1 1/2″ each for a total of 6″), 1″ on the front bodice near the CF (for a total of 2″), and 5/8″ to the center back piece for a total of 1 1/4″. I sewed 1/2″ vertical seams for a total  increase of 1″. Overall, I added 10 1/4″ to grade up from an 18 to a 28. After this, I took a 1″ dart from the front armhole, 1″ below the front princess seam. Also, I made a note that I could lengthen the bodice 1/2″ if needed and I think I need it! So next time I sew this, I’ll also sew 3/8″ or 1/2″ horizontal seams for that extra bit of length.

For the waistband, I added 1 1/2″ at CF and 1 1/2″ at CB for a total increase of 6″. I also inserted 1 1/2″ width through the middle of each piece to add another  6″, which added 12″ overall to the waist and brought it to a size 30. For the skirt, I added 1 1/2″ to the side seams, CF, and CB, for a total increase of 12″, also bringing it to a size 30. I shaped the hip curvier at the SS and CB to match my body, and added a second pair of darts in the back skirt which also matched the curve of my body in the back. Finally, I raised the back vent a few inches so it starts right under my butt and I drafted a kick pleat underlay piece to be sewn on separately.

But I swear that this wasn’t so difficult! All of these were slash and spread, or slide, increases. All straight lines. Very, very easy. Well, altering the back vent and drafting an underlay piece was a bit complicated. But the rest was very straightforward.

Sewing a dress the right way with Making the Flame!

I beasted on the sewing, though! If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m all about the knits. I do not sew wovens, I do not fuss with finishing seam allowances. No. But I love this dress and wanted to play around with making the insides really nice.

Firstly, I used self fabric to line the bodice. This is a directional print that I started out accidentally cutting upside down — ie, self-fabric lining! I also cut the skirt front upside down…oops. I had bright yellow self-made bias tape that I used to finish the raw edge of the bodice lining and later the sleeves. Inside both bodices — fashion fabric and lining — I turned and stitched the straight seam allowances to finish them.  On curved seams, I stitched, pinked, and notched them to lay flat.

Can I repeat that? I notched seams! Me! I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to notch a seam allowance in my whole sewing life.

Lastly up top, I topstitched the bodice layers together instead of understitching, and brought that topstitching down and around the center front zipper. I love this pattern because you can easily move the zipper around — center back, side seam, or center front — with just a few tweaks. I hand basted that zipper in…I don’t remember the last time I basted a zipper in by hand or by machine. I bound the raw edges of the zipper with the homemade bias binding. It’s a very happy dress, lots of yellow inside!

Inside the skirt I stitched and pinked to finish the seams, and attempted to blind hem the bottom on my regular sewing machine. I didn’t do a great job, but I know for a fact it’s my lack of skill with blind hemming and not the machine. Eventually, I’ll get it right. Oh! I also graded seams allowances at the waist and neckline, and interfaced the stitching line of the kick pleat. Lots of work. I’d say doing a good sewing job took more work than the pattern alterations!

Sewing a dress the right way with Making the Flame!

This dress is done and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you on Tuesday, the first official day of summer and the longest day of the year! But the insides had such a great story as well that I decided to share that with you here. For those of you committed to fast and easy sewing, do you ever slow down and put in some major work on a piece? What causes you to do this, and how do you feel about the finished garment?

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  1. That neckline is EVERYTHING, Ebi! I will no longer sleep on that sweetheart shape! Can’t wait to see the whole frock. Thanks for the detailed teaser.

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