Tea House Top & Dress: Pattern and Fabric Preparation

We are back and ready to get cutting, marking, and preparing our fabrics!

Last entry, we discussed our supplies and equipment. Today, we will be laying our fabric out, and determining our seam finishes. 

Let's go over the basics first: how to select your view and yardage.

So, I am making the view C - with the wider tie, and the tea length - in a size four. Below, I have highlighted the view, the body measurements, and the fabric requirements:

A few more words about fabric requirements:

This dress is a loose A-line fit, with ties that can be brought to the front, or tied in the back. If you want the tie in front, consider adding some extra length to each tie - especially if your waist is an inch or two larger than the size chart. A good formula is (2*) for each tie. For example, if the pattern waist size is 30" but the wearer's waist is 32", the waist is 2" over and should be multiplied by 2, for 4" added to each tie.

Secondly, the pattern layouts already account for a directional print. But if you are matching motifs, you may want to cut carefully - for instance, I cut such that pattern pieces B and C would pattern match in a general way, as this seam is very visible on the finished garment.

And finally, the fabric itself. My yardage shrank quite a bit upon wash, and there was a 3" selvedge without any of the ikat pattern. I still had plenty of yardage, but that is something to consider.

Now let's get a little familiar with our pattern pieces

For my view C (and for views A and B), we require pieces A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and interfacing pieces K, L, and M. If you are making views D, E, or F you omit piece H and instead cut I and J.

Instead of cutting my pattern - which I rarely do! - I elected to trace my pattern size 4. The best way I have found to do this for very large pieces, is to tape the pattern to the widow (tabbing the ends of my clear tape, for easy removal later), and trace on the project paper I use for this purpose. I am patient with this and it's a great way to get acquainted with the pattern. When using the window, the sunlight makes all of the size lines show up clear as day:

If you don't have access to a window, make sure to trace on very light table, or put white paper under the pattern. Tracing on top of a dark surface is almost impossible!

Also: now is a good time to add any tie length you want to your pattern. It's too easy to to forget when you get to cutting fabric.

I also label everything rather painstakingly. This is because, as much as I sew, sometimes I find a little unlabeled paper pattern piece and I can't place where it belongs. I label with the pattern brand, name and number, the pattern piece label and name, and the cutting instructions. I put the size of the pattern in the upper-righthand corner of the pattern piece.

Now, for our layout.

The layout chart for Tea House is directional, meaning that it takes into account a fabric with nap or directional design. If you are used to layouts and/or you are spatially clever, you may be able to crowd the pieces more. In my case, I flipped pieces to fit them, and I also cut my pockets on the crossgrain (this is a good way to add a little bit of subtle interest to the dress):

So - time to lay out that fabric!

If you have a tight selvedge, you can make little clips about every 3/4" into the selvedge to help the grain lie straight. (This sounds like a pain, but it can really make a difference). Take the time to straighten your grain. Make sure to support any yardage you're not cutting - I use soft accordion pleats:

(You can also see the role of pimentos in my life, here!)

Make sure to include all the notches - they are especially handy for pocket placement and the long lines of the princess seams. I marked my 1" pleat at center back, on the wrong-side of the fabric using chalk. This was the only chalk marking I needed to do for this dress. For all the notches, I carefully clipped 1/8" into the seam allowance.

I have also taken to safety pinning at the right-side, front of each sleeve. This is important for separate sleeve pieces (which we don't have here), or fabrics that have sides that are identical or near-identical (as I do have here):

After I've cut my pieces, I like to lay them out flat with their corresponding pattern pieces. The less you handle them before sewing, and the sooner you sew them, the better.

Note at the top of my photo, you can see my three pattern interfacing pieces (K, L, and M), and the little strip-like interfaced pieces. We interface rather early in the process of garment-making. The directions for Tea House show us interfacing as we sew. I often interface everything at the beginning of the project - but either way is fine.

Now - let's talk about seam finishes!

We need to think about seam finishes early in the project, if possible. Seam finishing and pattern preparation are rather "chicken and egg". For instance: yesterday I was in my studio sewing a menswear shirt in double-gauze. The pattern had a 3/8" seam allowance. If I want to make french seams, or flat-felled seams at the shoulder, I would want a larger seam allowance. This would translate to my paper pattern, and adding 1/4" or more to make sure the finished garment retained its original dimensions.

Fortunately, with the Tea House, our seam allowances are 5/8" which allows for almost any seam finish we would like. Below are my recommendations:

From left to right: French seam, sewn-and-pinked seam, sewn-and-serged seam. A few notes:

The French seam is perfect for the shoulders (here is a tutorial; although I will be demonstrating it in post five). It can also be used for the vertical seams of the dress or top - the side seams, and even the A-line bodice seams. However, I don't tend to use french seams in vertical seams with curves, even though it can be done. I used the French seam for the shoulders.

The stitched-and-pinked seam! Pinking isn't just a cute or vintage effect - pinking actually keeps the seam from raveling, and works phenomenally well! As time goes on, I am more and more drawn to pinking. It is fast, and it is the lowest-bulk seam finish I have found. I used pinking for most of the assembly seams.

Stitched-then-serged - this effect can also be stunning. Shown here, a black serge I had on my machine. But when you take the time to colormatch your serge threads (in a pinch, you can use inexpensive all purpose sewing spools for a perfect match), the effect is very gorgeous. Serging is also the best way to emulate a ready-to-wear (RTW) look.

So there you have it! We are all ready to start stitching in earnest. Please comment if you have any questions or concerns. We will see you in a couple days!