Lessons learned

Right now, I'm enjoying a (second) glass of wine, having (finally) delivered my most recent sewing job for someone else. This is not something I do often, and when I do, it tends to be for dear friends. This particular job was for a relative of a friend, and seemed easy enough at first (famous last words).

This dress had a lovely ruched bodice with a three layer skirt. The top two layers (chiffon and a sort of polyester lining fabric) were gathered at the waist, something my client was not fond of. Easy enough right? Detach skirt from bodice, pull out gathers, recut side seams and sew. The problem? Firstly, slippery fabric is slippery and hard enough to cut when it's painstakingly laid out flat on a table. When it's still attached to a dress (cause I sure as heck didn't want to detach all those layers from the zipper and reattach them), it's a little more evasive. The second problem: fabric cut on the bias.

Now, awhile back, I had read a feature in Threads magazine about Charles Kleibacker "Master of the Bias". You've probably read this article, because Threads has rerun it about three times now (is this a pet peeve of anyone else?) What I learned from this article is that fabric cut on the bias has, well, a bias, in that it leans more heavily in one direction than the other. This is because of the way fabric is woven. Wovens, you see, have a warp and a weft. The warp is threaded onto the loom (vertical threads) and the weft is shuttled back and forth between (horizontal threads). This creates a fabric which is more stable vertically than horizontally. This is why when you cut your pattern pieces, you lay them out with the straight grain indications running parallel to the selvedges of the fabric (the vertical sides).


When you cut on the bias (on a 45 degree angle to the straight grain), you still have to contend with the warp being more stable (taut) than the weft. This causes the fabric to lean more heavily to one side. According to Kleibacker, to rein this in, you want to add a centre seam to your garment, and cut so that the warp is radiating out from this centre seam, instead of across the whole of the garment, causing the fabric to bias evenly on either side. Allow me to illustrate (for actual photos of an actual garment, click on the Kleibacker link above):


On the left, we see a skirt front fully cut on the bias (no, my arrows are not perfectly on the 45 degrees - I mentioned I'm on my second glass of wine?). The arrows represent the warp threads leaning in one direction. On the right, we find a skirt with a centre front seam, each side having been cut with the warp radiating outwards. Now, picture a slightly a-line skirt that forms slight waves towards the hem when worn. The skirt on the left will have a more prominent wave on one side than the other. The skirt on the right will have equal waviness on either side, obviously the more desirable effect.

This lesson remained somewhat abstract to me until I undertook this project. This particular dress, having much fullness in the skirt, did not concern itself with a centre seam, since there was so much excess fabric, that gravity pretty much took care of any biased waving. Gathers removed, however, it was quite an endeavour to get a slimmer look without more of a wave on the sides (or, on one side) than on the front. The more I tried to slim it out, the more I got a pronounced "pook" on one side than the other. I ended up leaving more of a flare on the sides than desired, because at least it looked more even.

On the left is the result when I tried to slim out the skirt. It had a much more pronounced lean on one side than the other because it was cut on the bias in one piece. On the right is the skirt with more fullness than desired (as in, more on the sides than on the front), but at least it was even.

Well, I hope that made some sense. I didn't quite understand it myself until I tried to explain it to my boyfriend over dinner (yes, I do subject him to this sort of thing). I'm not very on the ball about taking pictures of my process, so line drawings shall have to suffice for now, dear reader(s?).

A review of lessons learned:

1. It's never as easy as it seems. In fact, sometimes, it may be easier to just make a new frikkin dress than to alter one.
2. You can't fight the fabric.
3. Until I have actually produced a complete wardrobe for myself, I shall not embark on any alterations for others, unless I truly love you. 

A Selfish Seamstress inspired haiku to leave off with:

It may seem easy.
I forgive you, you don't sew.
I should know better.


AllisonC said...

Great post, made complete sense to me and I haven't even had a glass of wine (yet). I agree with you though - don't even do my own alterations, I'm certainly not volunteering to do anyone elses!

AllisonC said...
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Lies said...

How did the relative of your friend react? Was she at least happy with the result, after all your hard work?
Nice haiku btw, it totally covers everything. I never appreciated the alterations my grandma used to do for me until I learned how to sew myself. It made me love her even more :-)

erin said...

hahaha, perfect timing! i just finished a monster alteration project (more like declared "done" than really finished... ha) as well. your story's so familiar and so encouraging!
and it's so true, sister--you really cannot fight the fabric. :)

Missy said...

great post! I have sworn off all alterations after a bear of one where the bride wanted an A-line dress turned into a sheath dress. Kudos to you for sticking with it and getting it done.