Sewing: the joy of hand stitching

see those little pecks in the lining of the back?
That’s understitching, done by hand.
I can’t believe it but that was one of the loveliest times I had last night, sewing in a little understitching by hand.
It goes quite fast to my surprise. And there’s maximum control over fabric and thread. Sewing by hand: a lovely thing to do?

It prompted me to take on that other job that was still waiting: fixing the neck line of the pink flowery dress. It was all wonky and tilted because I put in front darts when tired and not smart enough to get a ruler.
Without unpicking the seam I folded a new line and pressed it and sewed it in place by hand. The new line is on your lieft (my right when wearing it):

Folded it too much perhaps and now it’s not the same as the other side?
No. It was folded while I was wearing it and although it looks crooked in 2D it is actually in harmony in 3D. Or harmony-ish.

In the picture there’s also a little tell tale handstitching at the top of the centre back. I pulled on a wrong thread and the centre back seam came undone. So I stitched a little.
Also one side of the front might benefit from a little extra understitching…by hand.

Since I seem to love to stitch by hand.


Sewing the Dress: Understitching

well BOOh!

the instructions on Butterick 5603 could have been clearer. It states: stitch neck line. Stitch armhole. UNDERSTITCH as much as possible.

I read this as steps:

  1. stitch neck line
  2. stitch arm hole
  3. do your stinking best at UNDERSTITCHING

now I find out you’re supposed to do understitching right after step 1. too. It is an addendum to a stitched line.

this video explains that you stitch fabric and lining together. Stop. Open up the seam and stitch the lining onto the raw edges, stitching close to the fold/ seam. This stitching will not be visible from the fashion fabric side of the garment.

It is to prevent the lining from rolling upwards and taking a peek into the great wide world.

hmf! Clearly Butterick is not meant for a beginner…. or I am too dumb today.

luckily I have a darning tool today…

btw, “grumpy girl” in the picture is never as grumpy as seen here. Steve Ford from the UK knows this very well and took the picture.

UPDATE. so the real instructions, for people who like lists and bullitpoints are:

1. stitch one seam

2. trim the raw edge and clip notches if it’s a curved seam

3. open seam, fold edges to one side (press if you want to)

4. sew the lining onto the edges, close to the seam from step 1. Leave the right side fashion fabric alone. No stitching there.


as I prefer to be lazy instead of tired I’m first trying to understitch without taking apart the seams. I remember seeing this on the internet….

it can be done, with a bit of fudging and folding. But now I am confused as to how far away from the seam I have to stitch. Close by? further away? that’s why I am online again.

ah, a good tutorial over at Diana’s Sewing Lessons! And at Sewaholic.

“close to the seam” it is. Also good for facings (“beleg” in Dutch)

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.

study: a gala dress my mum made

as I still await the arrival of the two patterns I studie clothes I own. I have one handmade dress, my mum made it for me exactly 20 years ago. (ok, 19 years and 50 weeks ago)

It still fits!

It has prinsess lines, flaring skirt. It is made of silk (real silk, very flowing) and lined with synthetic shiny fabric, alsof very light and flowing)

You see some characteristics my body has: broad shoulders but not a big frame. A big bust (in relation to that frame) and neither a small waist nor big hips. I am a goblet. Or a reverted triangle.

V shaped necklines, 3/4 sleeves and garments that hug the hips and flare out at knee length look good on me. A wriggle dress will look smashing, as long as it suggests a waist rather than enforces it. (girl likes to breath)

There are a few issues with fit with this dress. The neck line gapes…

and so does the side bust.


It could do with a tuck but I do not yet know how to do this. I have read up on altering horizontal and vertical bust darts but with princess lines I take it the lines have to be unpicked. This dress is fully lined so that would mean unpicking the whole dress. Also, I may not want to because of sentimental value.

The gaping in the back might have been less 20 years ago, I am 41 now and my posture may have changed.

I love looking at the details. I start to see more and more things, the more I read about sewing.

The princess line in the back runs all the way up to the shoulder seam.(but it isn’t centered)
The lining in the armhole is attached to the silk with minute little hand stitches.The lining doesn’t run to the very edge of the arm hole, it stops just short and it doesn’t peak out.

there’s a zipper that is hidden, the silk has little overlaps to hide it.
A row of vertical little hand stitches runs next to the zipper, on both sides.

I don’t know why those stitches are there. Perhaps to keep the silk lay flat over the zipper? No flaring upwards? I take it on the inside it keeps the pieces neat.
from the inside it now shows me that the little stitches keep the lining nicely in place against the outer fabric. And out of the way when working that zipper, you wouldn’t want it to be caught in the zipper teeth.

Also in this picture you can see how the front neck was done. The lining and silk were sewed right in the ditch with the right sides facing. The piece was turned right side out and the seam was pressed.
I can see that the result is not as tidy as it was in the armhole, here the lining is visible from the outside. I do not know yet if this has to do with pressing, with bulk of the seam allowance in that part or with the used technique. I have read about other techniques but they take more time. This is a “good enough” fast technique.

It is fun to see some of my mothers thinking in this dress. She must have ran out of time or out of fun or it had to be finished sóón. She whipped open her bag of sewing skills and chose whatever got the job done.

This is what I love in all handmades, to see something personal of the creator come through. This is also why I do not care for perfect projects. (I aim for near perfection. Showing you my only sewing experiences in all their frumpiness (the skirt and the shirt) really put a dent in my self image.)

next: reinforcements
The front of the neck is reinforced with white fusible ….eh… interfacing! that’s it!

  • interfacing reinforces parts of a pattern piece that need it. (front neck line, arm hole)
  • underlining reinforces a whole pattern piece. Basically you sew two pieces of cloth together and treat them as one. Good for shear fabrics (white linen, chiffon, organza) or very light fabrics (chiffon, silk).
  • interlining is the same as underlining but has the purpose of adding an extra layer for warmth.
  • lining is an extra layer between the outer fabric and the body. It serves ease of putting on and ease of wearing. It reduces sweat getting to the outer fabric (handy for linen as it will wrinkle when confronted with body moisture) or for warmth. Or for the sheer fun of it (” Care for a bright bold pattern inside your very mature jacket, sir?”). Lining hides the seams (and protects them somewhat I think).
  • a slip is a separated piece of undergarment, a little dress, to be worn under a dress. It has the same functions as lining.

In my dress the interfacing is fused to the lining. Very clever as it would have shown up miserably were it to be fused to the silk outer fabric.

The ‘ragged’ seam you see in the right side of the white interface is where the seam is that is pressed and that shows a little bit on the outside in the picture above this one. It has little cuts in it to allow it to follow the curve. Perhaps if it was trimmed smaller, the excess fabric cut away, it would have been pressed more out of sight.

But this would probably demand more measures to prevent that seam from fraying. No wait, fused interface won’t fray and neither will the lining it is fused to. It may be more difficult to press in its proper shape, a seam with a short seam allowance. This then would benefit from a small row of stitches that keeps it into place. But those stitches would be visible from the outside, as they would be through the silk, and that is not desirable on this dress.


Inside I found three different kind of seams. One was pressed open, one was pressed to the side and one was pressed open and its sides handsewed. To prevent fraying I think. It also has little cuts, to allow for movement (?). I’ve seen this kind of seams online on a couture dress:

Marina von Koenig explains in a wonderful article over at

Here are two curves sewn together and the round cuts are for allowing that shape. The article also adresses working with linen and using both an interlining and a lining to get excellent results.

This is the kind of level I want to be at, intellectually. These are the sort of things I want to know, want to be able to do. Marina von Koenig has some wonderful reviews of dresses she made online.

Sparring partner in this yellow white dress was Susan Khalje who really knows a lot!

Years ago she wrote a wonderful book about using linen and cotton. It focuses on the fabric, not on patterns. It is no longer in print but it’s one I’d love to have. I’m thinking about buying the ebook even though I prefer paper books….

if only I lived in the USA…I’d take her class!

UPDATE: I purchased the ebook Linen and Cotton  by Susan Khalje with the publisher of Threadsmagazine. It was on sale and only cost $12,79.