Sew, What's New?

Curating sewing and quilting talent, techniques, and tutorials, since 1997.

Exciting news! After 6 years of sewing from dress patterns, I havefinally figured out what "understitch" means. For years, I have been trying to decipher the vague instructions and obscure picture.

Up until now, I have just topstitched during that step of the construction project. But, while assembling the newest frock for my niece, the instructions magically made sense. I couldn't believe that I had been confused about something so simple for all of this time! Have you ever had a sewing "aha" moment?

Anyway, that tremendous discovery was the only good thing about constructing this dress. "Fast & Easy" my foot.

Selecting fabric became a nightmare when I realized that I only had about a yard of the green contrast. Since the skirt trim is cut on the bias, I didn't have enough for the long tie straps that the pattern calls for on the back of the dress. But, with a 16" zipper closure on the back, the tie seemed redundant. So, I say "phooey" to that.

If I had followed the instructions, there would be almost no exposed seams on the inside of the dress. Since I have a serger, that part of the construction design just ends up being more work, and more fabric, for me. In the future, I will alter the pattern pieces in the following ways:

  • No tie backs (redundant)
  • No sleeve lining (skipped it this time because it seems silly to have lined cap-like sleeves)
  • Cut the trim length in half and do a regular hem

This project took about 5 or 6 hours from cutting to completion, which is not "fast" for me. I like to finish dresses within about 3 hours or so. And, having to slipstitch the lining to the seams is for chumps. Unfortunately, I have yet to master the skill it takes to perfectly measure and fold so that the lining is flush enough with the seam to just topstitch.

On the other hand, I just love the neckline on this dress, and the way the skirt is full and twirly pleases me. I will probably make this again.

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Comment by Angela L on February 16, 2014 at 1:05am

The trim is cut on the bias because it is folded in half lengthwise before being attached to the skirt - basically like a super wide length of bias tape. That's why I mentioned that I would make an adjustment with the next attempt at this pattern, and alter the trim for a standard hem. I think that the pattern company just wanted a polished design that could be put together without the use of a serger.

Comment by Cheryl on February 15, 2014 at 11:18pm

Just because the pattern company told you to use a bias cut for that skirt hem doesn't mean you can't decide to do otherwise.  Bias cuts are generally only needed where some stretch is required of a non-stretch woven fabric OR whee stretch is required for "fluidity" in draping a non-stretch woven fabric.  I can't see any reason for that skirt hem to be cut on the bias. 

Just because the pattern company planned for you to fully line the bodice and the sleeve, you don't have to do that either.  Think of other ways you could finish off the neckline -- like making a facing pattern, or using bias tape which you could then turn totally to the inside and top stitch (to keep it permanently in place) OR turn totally to the outside as a "necklace" of color to match the hem band (and stitch either by hand or by machine to keep it permanently in place.  Then think about sophisticated seam treatments for the inside to make it "special" in there even though you aren't going to line the garment.  You can use bias tape to bind off seam cut edges.  You could use "french seams" for the shoulder and side seams -- in that technique, you sew the seams with a 1/4" depth AND wrong sides of fabric together.  Left just that way, the seams would show on the OUTSIDE of the garment.  Then you trim the seam allowance to half or less of its original depth AND you fold the seam so that trimmed seam allowance is between the two right sides of the fabric.  Iron the seam so everything is just the way you want it to lie when you're finished.  Finally, pin that ironed seam so you can stitch it one more time FROM the wrong side of the fabric.  Run another 1/4" seam line.  Now the seam will not show from the front side of the garment AND it will not have any raw edges showing inside either.  Instead, all you'll see is a nice little 1/4" seam that looks kind of like a spaghetti strap.  The french seam idea works best with seams that don't involve a lot of "curve".  For that sleeve circle, think about trimming the clipped seam allowance so it will "curve" appropriately and then applying bias binding to enclose the clipped curve.  Or just use two closely placed lines of straight stitch in a short stitch length to firmly secure the seam, trim the seam down to a 1/4" seam allowance, clip where needed to the second line of short straight stitiching, and calling it good enouth.  This sleeve seam is going to much of its length constituting a bias cut so it won't really ravel there.  Its also no going to get a lot of stress.  If you're still concerned, think about applying a piece of bias where the "wings" of the sleeve connect with the relatively uncurved part of the arm holle since that's the only part where any significant fraying could occur. 

Finally, consider giving yourself a bit more "seam allowance" in the back seam (of both the bodice AND the skirt) if you are going to put in a zipper.  Cut the center back with an extra 1/4" of fabric.  When you are at the stage of putting in the zipper, BASTE (by this, I mean use a longer that normal straight stitch) the part of the seam where you will apply the zipper 7/8" from the cut edge.  That is -- your normal 5/8" seam plus the 1/4" extra (i.e., the 2/8") that you added when you cut that part of the pattern from the whole cloth -- what you need the seam allowance to be to keep the garment fit in conformity with the size measurement the pattern intended.   Maintaining that 7/8" seam allowance, sew the rest of the back seam in the bodice (and down into the skirt -- assuming that you added width to that seam allowance because you knew the zipper would extend beyond the bodice) and the 5/8" seam allowance in the rmainder of the skirt (assuming you returned to the narrower seam allowance as you cut out that pattern piece).  DO NOT backstitch at the beginning or the end of this "basting" line of seam stitching.  Finish the seam line below the zipper section, back-stitching at each end, with your regular stitch length setting.  You'll find the extra seam allowance width very useful when you go to set in your zipper and the longer "basting" seam stitch (with no back stitching) easier to remove when you are finished setting in your zipper.  AND the remainder of your seam, with its backstitch securing at either end will stay secure and be snug right up to the bottom of your installed zipper. 

Comment by Evelyn Jane Gonzalez on February 15, 2014 at 4:21pm

aha! That's a novel idea to me. I think everything you do is novel to me, that's why I like this blog so much!

The pattern, I think, called for an invisible side zipper, and you put in a back zipper, traditional style. Tell me, did you purposely expose the green color of the zipper by not stitching close to the zipper feet? I guess you did.

Well, I haven't purchased a zipper yet for my dress, but I like your idea, so I guess I'll try it. 


Comment by Angela L on February 15, 2014 at 3:00pm

Actually, I didn't use an invisible zipper. I love the contrast detail of the visible zipper, but it shouldn't be a problem to install an invisible one. I used a 16" traditional zipper (this one actually has metal teeth, but that is all I had on hand in this color). Here is a pic:

Comment by Evelyn Jane Gonzalez on February 15, 2014 at 1:25pm

Yes, Angela, I will post the pic as soon as the dress is done - should be within the next 2 weeks.

Last question: You used an invisible zip, right? I do not have much zipper experience, but I have read up on installing an invisible zipper and the steps seem pretty easy. However, I have 0 experience on installing a side invisible zipper.

So I guess the question is what length zipper and type (traditional vs. invisible) you used.

Thank you again - that's one beautiful frock you made! I hope mine comes out as well!

Comment by Deedra Oates on February 15, 2014 at 12:22pm

This is so pretty!  Love the fabric combos as well.

Comment by Angela L on February 15, 2014 at 12:12pm

Evelyn, the only fully lined portion of the dress is the bodice, and if you line everything up carefully, you should be able to "stitch in the ditch" on the outside of the dress to tack down the lining where it meets with the skirt (and hides the raw edges of the skirt seam on the inside). That is the only hinky area when attaching the lining. 

Be sure to read the instructions on the pattern fully before you start to sew. I promise that it is a very easy design to follow, but it will be an advantage to have all of the steps clear before you start piecing the fabrics together.

I hope that you will post photos of your completed garment. I would love to see it!

Comment by Brenda J. Moore on February 15, 2014 at 11:35am

This is so pretty. I was just going through patterns ...thinking no-one puts young girls in dresses anymore. Nice to see that isn't true!

Comment by Evelyn Jane Gonzalez on February 15, 2014 at 11:05am

Angela L,

Thanks for the photo of the lovely Easter frock! This is my next project: Already have the material, just waiting for the pattern to arrive via mail. I am going to follow your lead and not line the sleeves, but I find it interesting that the sleeves match the border (in color). I had not thought of doing that before, but it certainly looks nice! I have never lined anything before, and this dress will be for my son's girlfriend's 5-year old daughter, so I want it to come out really nice. Any tips or posts I can go to for help with lining a garment? It kind of made me nervous when you said you had to blindstitch the lining to the dress. I will also take your advice and, since there's a back zipper, skip the ties.

Comment by Angela L on February 14, 2014 at 5:45pm

Thanks, Ann. I'm obviously impatient for Spring to arrive! :)

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