Petticoat sergery

Friday, August 5, 2016

My wedding dress pattern, particularly the short version that I'm making, requires a certain amount of poufiness in the skirt. I could easily buy something like this, which would pretty much do exactly what I want, but I have this weird obsession with natural fibres, so I decided to make my petticoat. Besides, this way I can make it the perfect length.

After a bit of research, I decided that cotton organdy would be the best material to use because it's both lightweight and stiff. I bought 5 yards from puresilks (via Ebay) and it arrived folded up in an envelope looking like paper. It's ridiculously stiff when unwashed:

Perhaps this stuff is a bit too stiff
 But of course, I want everything washable, so I managed to stuff 5 yards of paper-like fabric into the bathtub, where it promptly started shedding its starch:

The starch washing out of the organdy
 I was a bit worried at all the starch coming out because the organdy turned very soft when wet, but it stiffened up again nicely as it dried. Not as stiff as before, but with a much nicer feel - perfect for a petticoat:
Post-wash stiffness
I looked at my 5 yards of crumpled organdy and I looked at my mini Ikea ironing board and I took a break to make a new and better ironing board. I was kind of excited to use power tools, but it turned out we had a 2x4' chunk of OSB in the garage that was just the right size. I stapled on a layer of batting and some old home decorator weight canvas and I now have the world's biggest ironing board.

Giant ironing board diversion
To make my petticoat I more or less followed this tutorial. I didn't measure my lengths very carefully, I just started from the bottom up with my first tier being twice the length of my yardage. I wanted the whole thing to be about 26" long so I went with four 6.5" tiers, plus half an inch for serger-sized seam allowances. Since my fabric was somewhere around 5 yards I ended up with 10 yards on the bottom, then 5, then 2.5, then 1.25 that was gathered down to my waist measurement. This means that the top tier is less full than the rest (since I do not have a 22" waist), but I think that's a good thing. I also made the top tier out of my super smooth lightweight cotton voile instead of the stiff organdy to reduce the bulk around my waist.

I briefly considered cutting these giant long strips but quickly decided to rip them instead. This worked fabulously. Organdy is really quite fragile, and I was able to rip 17.5 yards in something like five minutes. There was a bit of distortion at the edges but it was still far more precise than cutting would have been.

Anyways, on to the serging! I would not have wanted to do this with a regular machine, but it was super fun on a serger. I was pretty much sewing full blast at all times.

I started with a rolled hem on the very bottom with a hint of pale blue wooly nylon:

A bit of something blue
Next I switched the serger to serging mode. To gather at a 2:1 ratio I loosened off the needle threads and increased the differential feed - I took a picture of my settings to use as a reference:

Serger settings for gathering
I did have to adjust the gathers a little bit to make the 10 yard tier match the 5 yard tier. Once you separate the needle threads from the looper threads you can slide the gathers along pretty easily. I fortunately had the foresight to mark both tiers at 1/4 length increments so my gathers are more or less even.

Adjusting the gathers. Feet can be useful for sewing.
I serged the two tiers together using a regular balanced 4-thread serger stitch. It looked a little messy feeding in at times but came out the other side all smooth and pretty.

Serging gathered to ungathered tiers
The first tier is the most unweildy - this project gets easier as you progress. Very satisfying.

Tier 1 complete! I'm drowning in fabric.
At this point my helper became very interested in what I was doing so I distracted her with the selvage:

Meow
I repeated the same gathering process a few times and my giant strips were starting to take shape!

Down to the last tier!
I should mention that I didn't sew my tiers together as circles like in the tutorial, but as strips. I also didn't bother with the ribbon finish stuff because I'm lazy.

Sewing as strips worked out pretty well and allowed for a bit of breathing room in case of imperfect gathers. I only had to finish the top tier (the voile), which I forgot to do before attaching it to the rest. It worked after the fact, but probably isn't as tidy as it could be.

Finishing the edge of the top tier
I gathered the top tier using more or less the same settings on my serger, but with a slightly lower differential feed ratio. At the waistband I just sewed the gathered edge down to a piece of petersham that was cut to fit tightly around my waist (on top of my inner bodice). I wanted it to be really tight in case I needed to use it as a waist stay for the rest of the dress, but now I'm hoping I didn't overdo it.

Sewing gathers to the waistband
Finally, the last machine step was to sew it all together into a circle from tier 2 down. The top tier is just open between the waistband and the next tier.

To secure the waistband I hand-sewed hooks and eyes in place. To do this I used the "couture way" that I learned in my couture dress course, which involves making a little hitch on each stitch instead of just looping it around. I thought this was a brilliant idea and hopefully will keep my extra tight waistband together.

Hand sewing the waist hook
In the end, I think it's just the right amount of poufiness!

All the undergarments
Here it is under my muslin with the usual terrible lighting and angles from a reluctant photographer.
It puffs
It smooths
I showed the picture of the back because the petticoat took care of some weird folding that was going on at the bottom of the zipper. There's still a lot of diagonal drag lines next to the zipper, but the real dress won't share a zipper with the underbodice, so I have faith that those lines will disappear.

All in all, making a petticoat was a fun and satisfying project-within-a-project, and a great way to really get to know my relatively new serger.

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