Monday, November 4, 2013

Vogue 8648: "The Couture Dress"

I spent so much of my life completing Vogue 8648, with "couture" techniques, I feel that  it should be documented.  Following is a post-mortem analysis of the project.

Vogue 8648, in blue silk.  Little brother's super soaker lying in wait.
First, the pattern: Vogue 8648 is not a complicated pattern. Although there are many pieces,  that just gave more opportunities for a better fit.  The time-consuming nature of the "couture techniques" are what complicated the project.

For the most part, I liked the pattern and would make it again.  I do question the extensive use of bias cuts, however.  The entire midriff section is cut on the bias.  Although this allows some "give" around the waistline, it makes the vertical seams a bit tricky.  They have a tendency to bow out a bit if you're not careful.  Of course, they are subject to stretching out of shape, as well.  Susan Khalje suggested using stays at the bias seams to counteract that vertical stretching.  It was easy to snip a few pieces of silk organza selvedge and tack them to the top and bottom of those bias seams.
Vertical stays along midriff seams to counteract stretching.
Skirt lining is already hand-stitched in place.
Eventually, the lining covers all this mess.
The side front and side back pieces are also cut on the bias, which results in a little too much stretch along the shoulders.  Silk organza stays were used there, as well.  My fabric had already stretched considerably, so I also had to stitch in some gathering stitches in the seam allowance, and ease them back into shape.  The iron quickly steam shrunk the ease into invisibility.  Stay stitching on most of the garment also helps prevent stretching. I stay-stitched almost every single edge of the garment.

This is a pretty basic design for a Vogue -- nothing fancy included in the pattern or the instructions -- leaving lots of room for the dressmaker's creativity.  We realized a bit too late that it was on the plain side for a special occasion dress, especially since we used a solid color fabric.  My daughter suggested some embroidery, which I would have been totally into, except that we were cutting it a bit too close to the deadline.  The inspiration piece for her vision (she was serious):
Believe this is Oscar de la Renta.  
It is lovely, but I don't own an embroidery machine, and well, I told her she was out of her mind.  I was thinking more along the lines of some simple tone-on-tone scroll work, not a tapestry.  In the end, I suggested we go with some simple piping at the neckline (self fabric).  It's very low key, and you can't really even see it in the pictures, but honestly, I was afraid of ruining the lines of the dress with something that screamed "My mom cross-stitched these Care Bares on my bodice."  I suggested she find an elegant necklace, instead (she chose one of my grandmother's chokers, also simple, but special).
Barely imperceptible piping.
I would add some sort of embellishment next time I make this dress -- something to call attention to that lovely neckline.

Fitting the muslin:
I did not do an FBA, at least not in the usual manner.  Instead, I put it together as-is and increased width via the princess seams, lowered the apex, and lowered the bottom edge of the upper bodice once the muslin was cut and on her.  It was quicker and more accurate than the slash-and-spread FBA.

The midriff design allowed me to make a lot of changes to the fit, especially with the swayback adjustment, which was more than an inch.

The toughest issue fitting this pattern were the shoulder straps.  The bias cut, coupled with a low back neckline made the straps want to slide off her shoulders, so we fiddled with the length quite a bit.  I also drafted cap sleeves, which she nixed in the final version.

Once the dress was constructed, we took even more width out via the side seams.

Next, the fabric:
Fashion fabric: Stephanie wanted silk.  I have spoiled her, but honestly, I'd much rather sew silk than the cheap polyester that we can buy around here.  And she wanted to create her own special color.  Again, I have spoiled her, but honestly, dying is fun!

We ordered a silk/cotton blend from Dharma, and dyed it Royal Blue with the fiber reactive dye, expecting something a little bit different on the silk (rather than using a protein-specific dye).  The silk side of the fabric took the dye much nicer than the cotton side, and even though I used a much higher ratio of dye to fabric than recommended, it still didn't come out as dark as the sample swatch.  It's a pretty color -- a good color for Stephanie -- but not as "royal" as we had hoped.

Not sure I love this fabric, but I didn't dislike it either.  It reminds me of a lighter-weight Dupioni without the slubs.  The weave is quite evident, but even.  Pros: it didn't fray as much as many silks do. Cons: it curled quite a bit, and it wasn't as shimmery on the silk side as I would have liked.  Another annoying trait, was the way it behaved along the bias -- it arced into a convex shape on the silk side and concave on the cotton side.

Underlining: Not knowing what sort of hand the fashion fabric would have, I ordered silk organza to underline it.  It was mostly okay.  The fashion fabric was a bit on the wimpy side, and my first thought was that the organza was too stiff, but in the end, it added the right amount of body for the skirt.

Lining: I assumed that I would be able to find a nice Bemberg Rayon lining locally. Nope.  Joann's did have a very nice poly lining that felt like Bemberg, and it worked out fine -- it was a Walmart Blue [exactly the color of my reusable shopping tote], slightly different from the fashion fabric, but you never see it anyway.  It was very nice to work with, and Stephanie thought it was comfortable.  I would definitely use it again.
Lining side out: Joann's "posh" lining.

Finally the techniques:
Every single seam is catch-stitched to the underlining.  Before this project I LOVED the catch-stitch.  Even mid-dress, I still loved the catch-stitch.  I have actually thought of writing an Ode To the Catch Stitch, extolling its beauty as I move my needle quickly through the fabric, leaving behind those lovely diagonal marks.  I looked for opportunities to use the catch stitch whenever possible.

I am so over the catch stitch now.  I see the benefit of this technique, which is only really possible with an underlining to which the stitching is anchored (without showing on the front side of the dress).  It just became so utilitarian to me after stitching it thousands of times.

Hand basting: The underlining is hand-basted to the fashion fabric and the individual pieces are initially hand-basted together for fitting.  I used this method with my tweed jacket, and it was completely worth the time to do it.  It gives you so much more control -- especially when pattern-matching or plaid-matching.  The pain is taking all that basting out after you've machine stitched it.  It's still worth the trouble.

Stays: As previously mentioned, stays were tacked in wherever there was any question about future stretching: all the bias seams, shoulders and shoulder straps.  I even toyed with inserting boning along many of the bias seams (removed in the end).  

Love the hand-picked zipper.  I can't believe that I've never used this technique before.  It makes zipper insertion so much easier.  I'm not sure it took me any longer to hand-stitch it than it would have to machine stitch it, and it allowed me to align the adjacent seams so neatly.  In fact, it was probably quicker to hand-stitch it than use the machine, because I so often rip out a zipper to re-align it.  The zipper seam is stabilized with silk organza selvedge.

Horsehair braid in the hem.  Also hand-stitched.  Five and a half yards of it.  First the bottom edge, then the top edge, then covered it with the hem, and stitched that by hand.  With the Catch Stitch.  It gave such a nice effect for a circle skirt, that I will definitely use it again.  Next time, I will order the kind with the string that allows you to shape it to the hem, though.

Lining is hand-stitched to the underlining.  Another really interesting technique that I wouldn't mind using again.  Much better looking final product than the method where you machine stitch the garment to the lining, try to under stitch it by machine, etc.  Under stitching is done by hand as well, and I actually enjoyed that part of the process.  This allows you to make little tiny adjustments as necessary (say when the lining is a slightly different width than the garment). The final product is really worth whatever extra time this takes.

I would make this pattern again -- probably for Stephanie, not for myself.  There are lots of great ideas to use here and there.  I will most certainly insert a zipper by hand, and hand-stitch a lining in the future, but I can't imagine putting another one of these together anytime soon.  I did not keep a formal tally of the time I spent on this, but it consumed many hours over several weeks.  In the last week alone, I probably spent 40 hours on it, rushing to finish it on time.
The requisite scooter shot.


  1. It is so interesting to me to read this, in terms of construction techniques. Also the fitting, which is first class. This is one of my favourite colours and S looks amazing in it. I agree, in retrospect, that it is somewhat "plain" but I think this is what makes it a classic and will ensure she is able to mix it up with a range of cardigans, scarves, belts, brooches etc. Very nice work indeed.

    1. Your comment timing is interesting. Just last weekend I saw a dress in a fashion article that made me think "that embellishment would look so good on that blue dress." Then I laughed because it's been nearly 2 years since I started this dress, but I'm still haunted by not jazzing it up enough. The simplicity does make it more useful in the long-term, though.

      Thanks for your compliments!


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