This is Kelly from The Vegan Tailor - once again, sewing up another lovely frock from Sew House Seven! I have worked with Peggy's lovely patterns twice before: for the Toaster Sweater (version 1 and 2), and the Tea House Dress. I'm excited to be involved again, sewing up the elegant Bridgetown backless frock.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, I am sure I echo many of your sentiments when I say: I am ready for spring! The Bridgetown dress is perfect to usher in the new season. You can go braless or layer the garment with a cami, or a fabulous bralette. You can also layer over a long-sleeved top or arm-warmers if you want a little warmth. It's an elegant, versatile style!
In my sew-along posts, I will first demonstrate a version in a woven rayon crepe (shown above on 15-year old Phoenix). Upon request, I am also illustrating how to hack the pattern into an ankle length version, with a 12" side slit (this hack works for knit or woven fabrics). In a few days, I will demonstrate the dress made up in a knit fabric - a lovely hemp stretch jersey from Nature's Fabrics (shown below on my lovely friend Astrid):
Today, we start with our cutting and marking of our crepe, and sew our bodice and facings. This will be the longest post of the sew-along. The bodice facing is a wonderful technique I predict you will employ in many other garments!
For cutting, after I wash and dry my fabric(s) I often find it helpful to clip my selvedges. This is something I do for knit and woven fabrics, when it seems like the selvedges are tight. Just a little clip every couple of inches, along the length of the fabric. This helps release the weave of the fabric, so you can more easily lay it on grain.
Sew House Seven has some of the most detailed fabric layouts I've seen. Now remember - I am demonstrating a long hack for the dress, so I will not be able to follow the layout perfect. But here is the layout I would use for my 60" fabric, if I were making the pattern to the standard (this layout is on the right, on page 6 of the pdf version and the left on page 6 of the printed version):
* Note an error was found - the above layout reads 0 - 18 and it should say 0 - 20.
Below, you see me contending with my largest pieces. At left, you see the "crumpled" selvedge - this is where I will take my long, straight facings (piece E), after I press this strip of fabric out a bit. For now, I'm focusing on cutting out the larger pieces.
Now, let's talk notches! I like to clip 1/8" into the seam allowances, right at all the notches. There are three notches on the front piece A (at shoulder, sleeve, side seam, and center front), four notches on the back bodice B (at shoulder, sleeve, side seam, and center back), four for sleeve piece C, two (or three) notches at front and back of skirt F (at side and center front, as well as hem for versions B & D), and two for front and back bottom band G (at top, and side). And finally - I like to mark the center front, at the neckline of the front bodice (piece A).
Below, you can see the little tiny clip I take out, at my notch position:
In order to cut the Front Neck Facing (piece D), we need to cut the strip on the bias. This bias cut allows the facing to stretch beautifully, when finishing the jewel neck of the dress. Below, you can see the "crinkles" in my crepe, running on the diagonal.
Below: my Back Facing (piece E); remember how I mentioned I pressed out my crepe, to get a very even cut? You may also notice a little bit of selvedge (at left). This is me, being very economical about my fabric. But be careful when you cut into that selvedge print - you don't want any of it included in the dress' public side. If you're not sure how to manage it, simply avoid cutting into that strip.
Now it's time for our length hack! If you aren't making a longer version, you can skip the next four photos.
So, for my 5'6", pattern size 10 model, as you can see below I added 20" to the length. This will put the dress at ankle length, with a nice deep 6" hem. You may not want a hem that deep. My advice is to determine a hem depth range, and try on the garment after affixing the bodice to the skirt, to tweak that hemline. The hemline will depend on whether the model is slim or full-figured, and where they like the elasticized waist to sit.
For a deep hem, you will want to mark, with chalk or tracing medium, your foldline - especially if you have a fabric like mine, with a shifting grain.
Finally, mark your slit length, on the front and back pieces, making sure to match sides. The good news is, you don't have to pick if you're putting the slit on the left or right, as the front and back pieces are identical rectangles. I marked up 18" from the hem (6" hem depth _ slit length of 12"):
OK, now it's time to get stitching!
So first, we staystitch all our bodice openings at 1/4" - the front jewel neck, and the long diagonal back-facing seams. Staystitching has several functions - usually to strengthen and to keep the fabric from stretching over time. Make sure to staystitch from the top of the garment, down (as shown on page 7). This means you will stitch from the public side of the left back bodice, and from the wrong side of the right back bodice.
Now, it's time to join our front and back shoulders (page 8). This is also where you want to make some decisions about how to finish the seams. For this dress, I am choosing to serge-finish. Stitching-and-pinking would also be a lovely way to go; you can also French seam or flat fell seam if you like. One caution about those two finishes - they are bulky, and you may not appreciate that when you apply your facing.
After finishing these shoulder seams, gently steam-press to set them.
Now, it's time to join our facing strips (page 8). For delicate and/or bias strips, I like to use a tiny bit of water-soluble stabilizer, when sewing these seams. This allows me to firmly backstitch, and keeps the strips from distorting:
Then, I trim off the stabilizer (I don't tear it, as that might distort the strips). Since I plan on laundering the dress in the washing machine, I just leave this tiny bit of stabilizer in the seam. It will rinse out upon first washing.
Now, it's time to press our facing strip, wrong-sides together. Use a delicate touch here. For some reason, I always find this very satisfying.
Before applying the facing to the bodice, I like to mark the center of the Front Neck Facing, so I can perfectly apply it to the center front of the front bodice (which, if you remember, I notched).
Go ahead and pin this facing to the joined bodice pieces (page 9). The pattern is drafted such that the facing strip is a little longer than the bodice - this is genius, as too-short strips are a pain.
I pin with the facing up, so that when I sew, the bodice will be against the machine bed.
Below, you can see my naughty bit of selvedge! It will be entirely enclosed and hidden, in the finished garment. Sew slowly here - this is an important seam.
Go ahead and clip at the jewel-front seam allowance, and carefully notch at the shoulder (step 4 on page 9). Your aim is to reduce bulk at that shoulder.
Now - according to the pattern, we press the seam allowance and facing away from the bodice, then understitch these layers together (top of page 10). For this fabric, which is very shifty and delicate but responds well to steam, I opted to trim the seam allowance down to 1/8", instead of understitching.
Turn the facings under, and topstitch them down.
In my case, since I was able to steam press the facing to the bodice, I slowly stitched from the facing side (that is, the wrong side of the bodice). Only do this if you are confident, and can sew slowly and evenly. Otherwise, follow the instructions in step 7, on page 10. When finished - firmly backstitching at the start and finish of this seam - go ahead and lightly steam press. There is no need, yet, to trim the longer edges of the facing strip.
This neckline is so gorgeous, and really makes for an elegant finish!
And - that's it for today! In our next post, we will start with our sleeves (page 11).
We hope you enjoyed today's stitching, and we hope you post pictures of your creations either here, Instagram #bridgetownbacklessdress - or on the Facebook page!