Grainlines and other important lessons

Friday, April 15, 2016

My progress on my couture dress came to a bit of a demoralizing halt the other day. I spent so much time carefully fitting the bodice, but I think I rushed the skirt. In The Couture Dress class, Susan Khalje emphasizes the importance of perfect grain alignment many times, so I can't blame her when I got it wrong. The upshot is that the skirt portion of my dress has a tendency to twist around. It's kind of hard to photograph, but you can kind of see in this photo that the seam on the right is on the outside of my knee, while the seam on the left is more or less centred.

My grain-misaligned skirt
The best and most obvious solution is to scrap what I have so far and redo the entire skirt. I really don't want to do that though (after all, this is isn't my wedding dress!), so I instead chose to redo the worse panel. The Centre front was okay, but the irregular slubs of the Shantung allowed me to see that the front side left was kind of terribly aligned. See how the horizontal striations angle upwards from left to right?
Centre Front
Front Side Left
I haven't been trying to match this irregular grid pattern, and I think the fact that it's kind of almost aligned between the two panels just makes mistakes like this less obvious. However, if you follow your eye along a row of diamonds, you can sort of tell that the panel is off.

Because I have such giant seam allowances, I decided to try realigning the fabric without recutting the panel. Yes, I'm cheap and lazy. I also decided to try (gasp) glue-basting the organza with Elmer's washable glue instead of spending the time to hand baste. This worked out quite well and feels like it might actually be more precise than hand-basting, so I'm going to try using it more often in the future.

My new realigned and glue-basted skirt panel
One of the big advantages I see to glue basting is not needing to pick out all the hand basting after sewing by machine. The glue washes out really easily, and if you do it right you're sewing right on top of the hand basting. It took me forever to pick this out:

Fun times unbasting
Because my silk is fraying like crazy I decided to pink the seams before folding them open and catch stitching. This probably isn't a couture technique either, but I've clearly abandoned doing everything the "right" way.


Catch stitching is pretty much the most ridiculous kind of sewing I can think of. The whole point of it is to keep the seam allowances laying flat and pretty on the inside of the dress, and it has to be done by hand because you only want to sew to the organza and not have any stitches poke through to the outside. What this means is that I've spent several evenings painstakingly hand-sewing a part of the dress that not only won't be visible on the outside, but will be covered by the lining. However, it really does work, and since I'm planning on hand-washing instead of drycleaning this thing, it's probably pretty important that my seam allowances be secured.

Catch stitching with giant stitches
For this hand sewing I took the advice to use wax to keep the thread from twisting and knotting. I dug up an old beeswax candle from my basement and pulled my cotton thread past the surface, and it works really well. Even when I used enough thread to do the entire length of the skirt in one go, I didn't get any snarls.

Although I am itching to get started on my actual wedding dress, I am happy that I decided to work my way through this course on a less important project first. The biggest lessons I have learned so far are:
  • Grainlines are as important as everyone says they are. Do not be lazy with grain alignment!
  • Interlining is amazing for all sorts of reasons: changing the way the fabric behaves, giving you a surface to mark up, and providing a layer to sew on without having to go through to the outside.
  • Beeswax is awesome for hand sewing.
  • Anything on a curve should be pressed on a curve. I don't know why I never thought of this before, but it makes perfect sense. I bought a tailor's ham for this project and I'm going to use it a lot in the future.
So, did I solve my grain alignment issue? I'll tell you next post.

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