The Sewaholic Saltspring dress

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wait, another dress? Aren't I supposed to be working on a couture dress in preparation for making a wedding dress?

Sometimes, when working on a massive project, I feel the need to do something smaller, something that I can bring to completion within a couple of days. I've just finished hand-basting my interlining to my fashion fabric, hand-basting all the pieces together, and fine-tuning the fit. Committing to it with machine stitches is a scary proposition after all this hand work.

In any case, the Sewaholic Saltspring Dress is the perfect diversion. It's simple and fun, and I've already got the fabric for it: 4 yards of a lightweight cotton (voile-ish) in a crazy print that I bought for less than $20 total at a fabric store in La Paz.

Admittedly, the first thing that attracted me to this pattern is the name. How many people get to make sewing patterns named after the place they grew up? In her blog post where she introduces the pattern, the designer Tasia says that she made the name one word so that it would be consistent with her other patterns, but little does she know that the naming of "Saltspring" is a contentious issue. I tend to use the one-word version, but according to the Chamber of Commerce website, "many residents prefer it spelled Salt Spring (two words)". Good thing I'm not a resident anymore I suppose...

Back to the pattern! I'm doing View A (the short dress) in a size 6. Based on the advice from various blogs, I chose to forego the zipper and cut the back in a single piece. This meant that almost every piece was cut on the fold, and me being the stingy person that I am, I didn't want to just fold my yardage in half and cut pieces down the length. I ended up doing a sort of 2/3-1/3 fold that let me lay out my pieces super efficiently:

Double the fold, double the efficiency!
I get a weird sense of satisfaction when I can do something like this. Of course, it takes a bit more time to line up two folds, but in the end I cut out the whole pattern with less than 2 yards. I could make an entire second dress out of the leftovers if I wanted to, but I think one crazy eye-boggling sun dress is enough.

I didn't take many pictures of the construction. I was convinced I could do the whole thing in an evening, but I didn't count on how long it would take me to turn the straps. I used a safety pin, but next time I think I'll try a bobby pin. I also was getting really tired and started making mistakes, so after cutting, staystitching, sewing the straps, and sewing together the top of the bodice, I called it a night when my bobbin thread started snarling in the middle of understitching.

The final result doesn't look quite as elegant as it does on the envelope - I think the blousing is better suited to a drapier fabric. Nonetheless it is a comfortable summery dress and was a satisfying self-contained project, and I'll do it again some time, perhaps in a rayon jersey. The temperature almost hit double digits in the sun, so I dragged Ryan outside to take some pictures! The dog came of her own accord.

My Sewaholic Saltspring dress
After making a dress with pockets, I want pockets in all skirts. Maybe I'll put them in my wedding dress.

It has pockets!
And now, back to working on the Couture Dress, with painstaking hand basting, multiple layers of slippery fraying silk, and no sergers allowed.

Experiments with silk part 2: Washing and dyeing

Monday, March 21, 2016

After my initial experiment with washing silk, I decided to buy a yard of the dupioni and give it a more thorough test. While I was pleased with the overall result on the 4" swatch, it was difficult really see the change in the hand of the fabric on such a tiny piece, and I needed to order organza and habotai for my couture dress project anyway. While I could have just bought coloured habotai I figured it'd be more fun to dye it myself, so I ordered some of Dharma's acid dye in the silver-grey colour when I ordered my silks. I decided to dye the dupioni at the same time, because I can at least use a yard of grey silk to make a skirt or something.

Anyways, back to the washing and draping. I took my yard of white dupioni and pinned and draped it around my dress form with folds somewhat similar to my wedding dress pattern. Ta-da! It almost looks like a dress already:

Unwashed dupioni pinned and draped
Unwashed dupioni close-up
Before washing, the fabric is fairly stiff, and the draped front section of the bodice is kind of bubbly and unflattering. I prefer how it falls after washing - it'll move with me rather than being a kind of exoskeleton.

Washed dupioni pinned and draped
Washed dupioni close-up
You can really see the difference at the sides of the skirt, where the unwashed fabric sticks out a lot more. I also didn't notice earlier, but the texture of the fabric has changed significantly. It is a lot smoother before washing, which admittedly does look nice, but I can't have both.

What about shrinkage? Turns out that Dharma cut me a rather generous "one yard", and my shrinkage was consistent with the test swatches.
One yard length before washing
One yard length after washing
On to the fun part! Now that I'd tested the draping behaviour of a whole yard of silk dupioni, it was time to dye it (along with my habotai), both to subject it to the most intense washing procedure ever, and to give me a more usable colour of fabric. The first step was weighing the silk and then washing with something to strip away any oils or sizing. I didn't have the recommended synthrapol, so I just used dish soap and very hot water. If it can handle this, it can handle anything!

1500 grams of silk getting a bath in the sink
I opted for the low end of the recommended intensity range, so I ended up using 22.5 g of dye powder for 1500 grams of silk, which is the combined weight of my 1.5 yards of habotai and 1 yard dupioni. The instructions stressed the importance of dissolving the dye thoroughly before adding the fabric, so I mixed it up with a cup of boiling water and let it sit for a while. This stuff did not want to dissolve in such a small quantity of water, but after about half an hour of sitting with occasional stirring, I decided it was as good as it was going to get. I strained it through a piece of organza to pick out any lumps:

My high-tech dye strainer 
In the end I had a pretty uniform cup of super-concentrated dye. Much to my surprise and delight, this did not get all over my kitchen - in fact, it only seemed to want to stick to its intended target, the silk.

The dye concentrate
As I was spending all this time dissolving the concentrated dye solution, my largest pot was slowly heating up on the stove. I think it holds something like 30 litres. The dye dissolved into the water really well, so I went ahead and added the silk. Apparently it's important that the silk be thoroughly wet before adding to the dye pot, and it should be brought up to temperature together. I think the water was around 130 F when I added the fabric (I actually had to put in some ice cubes because it fully boiled while I was futzing around with the concentrate).

This produces the most disgusting looking soup ever:

Yum
I basically stood over this pot and watched an entire episode of Supernatural while stirring and waiting for it to come up to temperature (185 F). It was really cool to watch the water clarify while the fabric sucked up the dye:

It's working!
When the water bath hit 185 F, I held the fabric to one side as well as I could and added about a cup of vinegar. I stirred this around and cooked it for another half hour, then pulled out the fabric and dumped it into a sink full of tepid water. The fabric took up the dye really well, leaving only a pale hue to the water bath:

This started as inky black!
Again, I was really impressed with how well the dye stuck to the fabric and only the fabric! I washed it again with dishsoap in warm water, and barely any dye ran out of it:

Washing the dyed fabric. That colour is stuck on really well!
To dry it out I strung up a clothesline in our hammock room/spare bedroom. I was so confident that the colour wouldn't drip off that I didn't even bother covering up the white duvet. At this point the fabric was quite a bit darker than I had anticipated, more of a dark plum than a silver grey:

Move over hammock, it's drying time.
 Since the dupioni has now been boiled for the better part of two hours and scrubbed twice with dish soap, I figured it's shrunk as much as it's going to. To my surprise, it only shrank an additional half inch. I wonder if Dharma sells their yardage in anticipation of shrinkage in the dying process, or if I just got lucky?

In the end, I have exactly one yard.
Just for fun, I went back to the dress form and draped the dress again, in grey this time. You can see how well the colour lightened up when it dried, and the silver grey description is pretty accurate. I don't think the hand has changed significantly compared to the single wash, but you can definitely tell I took the picture in daylight this time.

Washed, dyed, and draped dupioni
Close-up of bodice draping
In the end, I'm pretty confident in my decision to pre-wash my wedding dress fabrics. I'm also really excited at the possibilities opened up by this dying experience - it went way better than I expected, and now I want to make everything out of silk. 

The Couture Dress muslin

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Step one of my wedding dress plan is to learn how to make dresses properly. I'm not really sure I knew what "couture" meant when I signed up for The Couture Dress course on Craftsy, and while I still couldn't come up with a concrete definition, it's basically doing everything very slowly and methodically, with lots of hand stitching and adjustments at every step of the way. It also uses fancy fabrics, like silk organza instead of typical interfacing. In any case, I've finished the first step, so I figured I'd share.

The pattern that comes with the course is Vogue 8648:

Vogue 8648
This pattern provides different options for sleeve and skirt type. I decided to make it with the circle skirt, because it's more fun than the fitted option. I spent forever getting it to fit just so, and apparently didn't take many pictures. Here's the finished muslin on my dress form:

Muslin with circle skirt
I decided to fit it inside out, which is different from what Susan Khalje recommends. I used an old sheet that was thicker than average, so fitting it with the giant seam allowance on the inside just wasn't working properly. It does look kind of ugly this way though, so I don't have the best idea of what it's actually going to look like when it's all done.

After doing the circle skirt muslin I changed my mind and decided that the fitted skirt worked better with my fabric, so in the end I'm doing view A (the one that the real person is wearing in the picture). I took a risk and bought fabric on ebay! I'm pretty sure it was described as just "silk" when I bought it, but the listing has been updated to say Shantung. In any case, it's ridiculously cheap for silk, but it arrived quickly and seems pretty nice so far:

My fashion fabric
This fabric also has what may well be my favourite ebay description of all time:
the whole fabric make into shirt is very suitable for business women because of  mature. So I recommend you to make a shirt.
Thanks, seller, but I'm making a dress. Sorry.

Anyways, since most of the fitting on my muslin involved bodice adjustments, it wasn't too much lost time to make a new one for the fitted skirt. Apparently I was so eager to move on to the next step I didn't take any pictures of the finished muslin, but it's basically the same as the first one with a pencil skirt. I didn't really make any adjustments to the skirt, partly because it seemed to fit okay, and partly because I was getting impatient.

I did end up making a number of adjustments to the bodice, mostly to the back. I typically take 3/4" off the length of most sewing patterns, but I never knew I needed a "swayback" adjustment before. Check this out!

Bodice back muslin pieces
Overall, the adjustments to the back are a dead dart in the shoulder strap to remove bubbliness around the armscye, overall shortening by about an inch at the side seam, and something like 2" (there's more taken off the midriff pieces) removed in the middle. That diagonal line drawn across the back bottom is horizontal on me.

I also had to reduce the total circumference a little bit (patterns always tend to have too much ease), but I found it fit best if I took this out of the princess seams in the front. I have no idea if this is a good idea, but I'm going with it for now. Of course, this is couture - we're going to go super slow and do a bunch more test fittings, so I have time to make adjustments if need be.

The next step was tracing the sewing lines onto my silk organza interlining. I went against the recommendation in the course and pre-washed my organza (because apparently I'm obsessed with everything being washable), which really did make things more difficult because it was all squirrely to draw on. However, I got it done in an evening, and am now in the process of hand-basting the interlining to the fashion fabric along the stitch lines:

Hand basting the interlining to the fashion fabric
The next step will be to hand-baste all of the pieces together, at which point I get to make adjustments to the fit all over again. I'm starting to understand why custom wedding dresses cost so much...