Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fears of the Self-Taught

In case it isn't obvious from my approach to sewing, I am almost entirely self-taught in the ways of the seamstress.  My mother is quite capable of sewing garments and taught me the basics of using a sewing machine, but beyond that I sorted things out on my own.  The techniques I use are picked up from several places: my mother, a most useful book from Kwik-Sew on making swimsuits, the few blogs that mention sewing costumes, a few fashion sewing youtube channels or other sewing tutorials, whatever I can reverse-engineer by studying other people's costumes, and whatever procedures make sense after I think things through.  I am very aware of my ignorance, and it means that there is always a bit of trepidation when I pull out the expensive fabric and start slicing it to ribbons to make the bodice.

The color of these photos is abysmal, by the way, from the sorry lighting of my apartment in the evenings.  It is winter in Belgium, or close enough, and Belgium's major cities are about as far north as places like Winchester, England and Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Right now, the sun has vanished by 5:15 p.m., and the lights in my apartment don't show colors well.  The true color is Chrisanne's jade, which is a rich, bright teal.

My fears of cutting up fabric aside, the pieces of the bodice came together pretty quickly.  I have found that there is a sensitivity in the hands that I've developed over time, and it is now much easier to sew nice seams and ease fabric together.  When I sewed my first leotard, I was placing pins every quarter inch/half centimeter down a seam and despairing of ever getting the tension settings right.  Now I can adjust the tension as I sew and see issues popping up.

Above you can see the two upper parts of the bodice draped across my dummy, the main outer bodice on the back of the couch, and the two parts of the leotard on the couch cushion.  My husband found the process of me making a bright teal bum-cover hilarious.  The top of the leotard, the main outer bodice, and the top part of the bodice were to be sewn together at the seam below the bust, but first I had to add the gathers.

This process is sometimes called draping, and the entire time I was working on it I ignored the niggling feeling that this should be beyond my skill level.  Skill levels only matter if one pays attention to such things, after all.

To do this, I pinned a bodice piece (I started with the back) in place on the dress dummy, and then laid a long pieces of stretch mesh across it, pinning it at the center back.  Then, with one hand on either side of the strip, I gathered in the fabric and pinned it in place.  The mesh was wider than the lycra base, so in the picture above the mesh is pinned to the dummy itself.  I kept going until I reached the side seam, then returned to the middle and went the other way.  When all the lycra was covered, I went back over the entire thing and moved pins and gathers to remove any unevenness.

Then I basted the gathers in place, repeated this process for the front, and sewed all the bodice pieces together.  Those last six words rather understate the magnitude of that undertaking; there were six, slippery layers of fabric held together in one seam below the bustline.  It took more than one attempt to get all the layers caught and held smoothly.  I then inserd the zipper and used mesh to bind the neckline together . . .

 . . . added straps and sewed on the leotard bottom, and then voila.

One complete dress bodice.

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