Couture Dress: fitting the muslin

I’ve fitted the muslin a couple of times. Made some changes in between. Fitted it again. Changed things. Fitted it some more. Laid it on a chair for a couple of weeks.
That’s a trusted way of proving sewing work, didn’t you know? It’s like good wine or bread dough, it has to have some time to make up its mind. * see foot note

The fitting is done. Now it’s time to take the muslin apart. I had one hour before reclining to the couch again (from where I’m writing you this)

Taking apart the muslin really is just a bit of work. The important thing is to carefully note all the changes you make. I used a green pen to draw the new sewing lines before taking them apart. Then, as soon as a seam was gone, I made sure to remove the stitching lines in black that were no longer relevant. They’d been replace by green pen lines in places.
If I don’t make very clear to myself which lines are the right ones I’ll go doubting further along in the process. Or worse: try and be smart(er).

Marking the new seam with green pen, before and after ripping the seam:

Before doing anything else: ripping out the obsolete black lines:

I am marking the new sewing lines on both sides of the fabric. I don’t know yet which side I’ll use as a template. Better be safe.
To mark a line on the right side of the fabric where you cannot see the seam I use this technique:

I’ve made small stripes across the seam, marking the fabric on both sides of it. (I’ll now flip over the fabric and trace the seam on the wrong side, on both pieces of fabric. This is easy.)
When I rip the seam the small marks will still be there when I fold open the fabric (and a small line of puncture dots. But don’t be fooled, I’ve resewn many seams while adjusting this muslin and I’ll easily loose track of which puncture dots are the line I want to mark)
The line I want will be where the small stripes have a sharp break.

I’d show you more clearly what I mean but it’s couchy time now… perhaps I have another hour tomorrow.


Here’s what really caused me to take so much time off sewing:

it was a lot of work fitting and changing the muslin, I was loosing my motivation a bit. So I sewed that bag and that skirt in between, that was fun!

In the mean time I’d been on holiday and had to recuperate from that for a couple of weeks. Meaning I couldn’t sit up long enough to sew or stand long enough to fit properly. I did a bit here and there, trying to leave myself good notes. But that didn’t work and every time I took up the muslin I had to fit it first again to understand what I was talking about.

Then, when I was a bit better I wore my working skirt for the first time, it was a Sunday morning. Suddenly a big dog came onto our terrain and chased our cat high up in a tree. I had to run outside and zipped up the skirt in a hurry, breaking the zipper in the process. The dog then jumped into our pond but came running when I bellowed for it. It pranced beside me to its owner, all the while streaking me with dirt and water.
Then we had to talk the cat down who was in shock. That’s when my broken, filthy skirt fell down to my ankles.

That’s when I lost the will to sew for a couple of weeks… Add another episode or two where my health took a blow and demanded some recuperation time en here we are, months along before I finally got my hands on the Couture Dress again.

But now I’m playing again! As soon as I have the chance I’ll work on it some more. I decided to make a practice dress first, without lining. Just so I have something to wear and something to play with. I’m a bit afraid to cut into the gnome fabric. First I want to get the pattern right.
I’m looking forward to playing and making a practice dress.


Practice Dress: Gotcha!

So I said I would add darts in the back of the skirt and take out even more fabric from the darts in the front. Which is what I did:
here you see the dart of the front panel of the skirt. The original is in white thread on the right, the new one is left of that, with the pencil stripe.

Alter 4 places and take away 2 centimeter of fabric in each?
The result was as to be expected: the dress got too tight. I could not even close the zipper on the bodice.

I didn’t worry about that because I also had sewn the bodice without much care, taking it in way too much in the process. What I had done was: aline bodice and skirt matching the center back and the center front. Starting from the center sew the skirt and bodice together until you encounter a side seam. Break thread. Start at center again until you run into another side seam. Do this four times in total. This aligned the two pieces nicely.
I then sewed together the sides of the bodice, pretty much as I found them, ignoring the extra fabric hanging about. Which made it way tighter than the four darts had. Of course.

Never mind, I got plenty of information from the fitting nonetheless and after zipper-must-be-closable-alteration my practice dress now looks like this:

The back looks very good now! My ‘holletje’ is properly clothed, it shows a nice line. The two extra darts in the back did the trick. They are long ones and I just sewed them by eye, each about a centimeter wide. (taking away 2 centimeter per dart)
(ah yes, you can see I did not attach the bottom of the zipper properly. I am showing granny panties on the internet it seems. All part of a normal woman’s life I guess.)

the back is still a bit wide (I have an arched back in the photo above) and on the photo below you can also see there’s a smidge too much fabric lengthwise:
I have since then pinned away the extra length for alteration which I will note in the muslin/pattern pieces. This will also make the waist horizontal again.
The wide back I will not note in the muslin. It may be solved when I cut the pattern for the back differently, making it higher. Also the seams and the binding of the lining will alter it some more. We’ll see. I am not altering that part of the muslin.

Under the bust could do with another tuck, there’s still plenty of air left between the dress and my skin. But to be honest, this amount of ease is comfortable and allows me to move and breathe in the dress without worrying that I am bombshelling pedestrians whenever I breathe in. (I had a telling typo here: I wrote bimbshelling. If there’s one thing this dress is not going to be associated with it is a bimbo! It is a female dress yes, it does not hide my forms, but it is intended for wearing pleasure. No sexiness here, nothing on display.)(well, except my bra and my panties)(but hey, those are just handy tools in clothing form!)

So before these pictures I took apart the bodice once more. Fixed the darts in the skirt (basically I undid the tightening of the front darts I showed in the top picture), sewed the two parts together again using the center back and center front as anchor points. I fudged the side seams of the bodice, making sure this time they were not too tight. Turns out I just have to follow the lines I drew on the muslin after the previous fitting. I have some genius in me, I guess. If I would just listen to her and follow her notes on the fabric…

here’s another view of the side:
There’s a little tuck or pucker in the side seam where bodice and skirt meet. It’s where I fudged them together. Because I sewed the horizontal line first and the vertical afterwards it puckers. It will not do so in the real dress. One sews the vertical lines first and then the horizontal one.

So here’s another Dutch word for you: “frunniken”. It means “fidgeting with something you can wrap around your fingers, such as hair, thread or fabric”. I “frunniked” the side seams together. Just so I could see if I had solved the tightness.

Right now, while I am typing this, I am wearing the practice dress, just to make sure it is comfortabel enough. I practice sitting and moving in it. And I’ve recently eaten and am checking I’m not bursting at the seams. I am not, I have found a comfortable amount of ease I think.

So I have got my template for this dress!

Soon I’ll be taking apart this Practice Dress to carefully copy the pieces into pattern pieces/muslin. Such as:

  • the little shortening in the back. Amazing how one or just half a centimeter will make a difference
  • the darts: the front skirt darts can be made into this shape instead of a triangle: ()
  • alter bodice pieces: make them close higher. (left shoulder is still a bit too loose/long)

I’m guessing I’m making The Real Dress next, in the pink flowery cotton!


things to do right:

  • match tops of dress panels with the bodice lines, width wise. During tracing, cutting and sewing.
  • cut very precise (sharpen those blades)
  • pin seam allowance carefully
  • sew together, fit to make sure, thén finish the seams.


Practice dress: fittings and alterations

the fitting was not perfect. But showed a lot. (aww, it wasn’t that horrible! Still much better than the fitting of original pattern)

  • The extra length in the bodice was uneccessary, it made the waist line sag.
  • there’s not enough curve hugging around, it still looks like a sack. Need wider darts in the skirt, less ease at the waist.
  • the back is wayyyy to big. Size 16 (EU44) is a mockery, my back needs a 12 (EU38).
  • back and front are too low. It’s not that I’m modest, it’s just that I like to move without assets falling out or my adrenals catching a cold
  • the flare is still too much. Have to take more out where the side panels meet the center back and front of the skirt
  • the shoulders are too high

I slept on it. Looked again. Took the bodice apart and altered it. Made notes on the muslin. Put the bodice together again. I now use the practice dress as an exercise tool and the muslin as a notebook.

the second (or third) fitting looks promising:


getting there, getting there.

The bodice fits much better now, the waist line lies horizontal again. The funny thing is I do need to follow the pattern lines size 16 describes for the waist, just below the bust.
It needs a whole lot of more darts and all the other lines need reducing (front top, shoulders and side seams) but the line under the breasts is a good one.

more decreasing in the skirt is needed. I will do this in the darts since they can be adjusted. The seams are pretty much stable at this point. But on the muslin I’ll make notes and adjust the pieces.

I need more following of the curve of my back. Being blessed with a tummy I don’t care for much darts in the front. But my back has this caving which I quite like. Over here we call it “the little hole in the small of your back” = “het holletje van je rug”. “Holletje” is the burrow of a rabbit or small critter. It is also the cup you can make with your hand.

it’s a good thing.

My “holletje” needs more darts to emphasize it. And less flare on the buttocks. Because I don’t have much in that department but I do have slender legs and a flaring skirt obscures that fact.

a quick look at the notes I made on the bodice muslin after two fittings:


I have taken apart the bodice, once more. Drawing on it with pencil to mark what I’ve done and what I want different.

I have loosened the darts in the skirt. I will sew them a bit wider and will adjust for that difference in circumference in the sideseams of the bodice. I already took them a bit in, then straightened them (I don’t need much room at the underarm) and will skew them now because I need less circumference at the bottom but have reached the limit at the underarms.
Basically I am drafting a size 12 with a FBA (Full Bust Adjustment)

there I go, getting ticked off at Butterick sizing again. No no no, better run to the sewing machine and put this thing together. I hope the next fitting will give me acceptable pattern pieces and then I can cut and sew from the real fabric.

I only have this sewing machine today and tomorrow and I would love to leave here with a dress. Where I’m going there is another sewing machine, not as good as this one. But there’s also a garden and a weaving loom and sheep with fleeces to be processed…


Practice Dress: the darts

I sewed together the center front and center back of the bodice. Stitch width 2 mm because it will not be permanent. Pressed the seam open but did not finish it properly. Because I expect to have to take it apart a few times to make adjustments.

I aligned this seam with the middle of the back/front panel of the skirt. (Put a dot with a pencil in the middle of the skirt panels for guidance.)

Here’s the inside of the back of the bodice, without its darts sews, lining up with the skirt. The skirt seams tell me where to sew the bodice darts exactly:


the difference between theory and reality:
a nice illustration in fabric of my learning curve: don’t draw the line where you want it, séw the line where you want it. I thought I was bound by the middle line of the dart having to follow the grain of the fabric. I now suspect this is not so.

The front gave me a chance to retry: lined up the fabric, took cues from the skirt where the bust dart seam had to end and sewed that line:


nice! The line up is good.

The width of the dart is a guess. From the muslin I know the bust dart needs to be 7 cm wide but because I added length I’m not sure at what point it should be 7 cm. Try and adjust for errors, I guess. I added length because experienced sewists saw my muslin and said: “if you are going to take in the empress waist you need to allow some extra length in the bodice because you are forcing it to reach further than it has to now.”

I sewed and pressed all darts. No, I pressed them, then I sewed them, then I pressed them some more. But not all the way to the pointy bit.
And it was pressing, not ironing. Tips I read: “make smaller stitches in the top of the dart, don’t press the top. steam rather than press. Start with folding and pressing the center line of the dart (but not the top point! it will pucker otherwise)
usually round darts are better.”

Tilly has a good tutorial for beginners

another good tutorial, this one has two vertical darts under the bust and great fabric choices. Two darts are a good idea when you are decreasing a lot of fabric. Like I am doing… well, maybe in the next practice dress.

I sewed the top to the skirt, put in the zipper.

I did not close the skirtdarts yet as I couldn’t asses their fit properly without the zipper. During fitting I found out about two skirt panels that should be identical which they are not. I must have made a mistake in sewing the seam allowance as the pieces were cut exactly alike. Because I finished all the seams on the skirt already I will not alter the panels. But it is something I brought back to the muslin and will concentrate on in the next dress.

Practice Dress: treating the seams of skirt

I’ve sewn all the seams of the skirt, except the side seam where the zipper will be and the darts.

I have held the skirt around me and it fits, it is not too small nor too big.
I will now finish the seams first. Then I’ll think about matching the darts and the bodice. Or perhaps put in part of the zipper first.

I press open the seams. I have given them a tug before this stage.

Now I will have to ‘tack’ down the sides. There will be stitching visible on the outside. One of the pleasures of a handsewn garment, besides excellent fit and personal style and awesome fabric choices, is the treatment of the details. In sewing seams are a big part of the details.
There is a big pleasure in knowing and/or seeing a little fun on the inside of a garment. Such as funny fabric for lining or a splurge of colour when the seams are bound with a contrasting coloured biasband.

The seams of my skirt may ravel when I do not protect the raw edges. Lots of people do this by using an overlocker, using a special kind of sewing machine. You know these seams from commercial garments:

I don’t like them. They are itchy. Sometimes even scratchy. There’s a lot of nylon and plastics in these seam treatments. Besides, I don’t have one of those machines…

So I am looking at other finishings. There are quite a few!
I have chosen to make a small fold in the pressed open seam,  a fold under. It will enclose the raw edge. I will stitch the fold down, this will result in two lines of stitching next to the seam. I will take care to ensure that these two lines have an equal distance from the seam.

folding the raw edge under and pressing it in place:

stitching it secure, from the inside. Taking care to keep the same distance from the seam at all times, no matter how wide or narrow the fold runs:

the stitching didn’t catch the fold everywhere. I will stitch this close by hand, making sure the stitches are barely visible from the good side of the dress. This is the view from the inside:

But on the outside there are just two neat lines of stitching on either side of the seam:
you’d never know whether or not the stitching did indeed catch all the fold on the wrong side and whether or not I had to secure small patches by hand.

This is excellent practice for working with the silk because that will fray and is slippery. Seam finishing is important with silk. I’ll probably do French seams with the silk. Or a binding with biasband (no, that will add weight and the silk I bought is very lightweight).

The seam finishing on this cotton practice dress is more the kind you see with jeans garments and shirts. Dress shirts? Man shirts?

By the way, here’s how the first seam showed me that I’d better spread the fabric a bit wide when it is guided through the sewing machine. Here I did not and you see how there’s a bit of excess fabric, with folds:

now thinking how to proceed. There’s a zipper, there are waist darts and there’s the bodice to align.

Sewing the Practice Dress

I’m on my way!


I set the stitch width from 2 to 1mm. I cut the fabric very precise. Now I am sewing the seams of the skirt, with 1,5cm seam allowance. You see the metal device guiding the 1,5 cm.

Right now I am sewing the side panels of the skirt to the front panel and to the back panel. I have not sewn the darts yet, I will match them with the lines of the bodice first.

But first I will fit the skirt to see if the skirt has indeed the right dimensions. Then I will secure the darts and finish the seams: press them open and stitch both sides to the fabric.

When fitting I will take especially care to see if/how the vertical seams line up with the seams and darts of the bodice.
I have altered the bodice and given it wider bust darts:

I cut plenty of extra fabric on the lower side so I can fold and match before cutting it definitely.

I also cut lining but I have changed my mind: I will attach this bodice to the skirt with a stitch width of 2mm, just like with a toile. When I have determined the definite shape of the bodice parts and have tried them on, on the skirt, I will detach them from the skirt and use them as a template for another fabric. The pink flowery one. I will use the lining for that.
The fabric I am sewing right now, I rather have with a different top. View A of this dress (Butterick 5603). I will cut new fabric for this other top, including lining.

No matter what top this dress will eventually have, I will have the skirt part finished like a real dress. With 1mm stitching and proper seam treatment.

PS. the other day I went out to get a zipper for that pink flowery fabric for the Real Dress and I fell over some silk in a nice colour. Only 5 euros per meter. That would be 15 euro in fabric for another Practice Dress. Practicing this pattern some more, practising with silk.
You do agree with me, don’t you, that it was very wise of me to buy it?
a girl needs practice. And some press on interfacing. And an invisible zipper. And owl measurement tapes. Always.