The Couture Dress

Last week I told you all about the Tailored Jacket class I attended recently at Alison Smith's School of Sewing.  Today I'm going to share my experience of the Couture Dress class I went on a couple of weeks later.

I decided to make Simplicity 2404, a pattern that I've had for ages but never got round to making.  I think it might be out of print now, as I couldn't find it in Simplicity's online catalogue.  I added cap sleeves, or "flanges" as the pattern calls them from Simplicity 1156.

The class teaches you couture techniques, including hand finishing, and you are encouraged to use "special" fabrics.  You don't have to of course, but I changed my original plan of using a navy broderie angliase underlined with a coloured lining, to using this gorgeous shot silk taffeta.  I'd originally bought the taffeta to go under the broderie angliase.

As before, we spent a long time cutting out our fabric and preparing the pieces.  My bodice is underlined with silk taffeta and the skirt with cotton voile.  The underlining is hand basted to the fashion fabric within the seam allowances.

Hand basting the underlining in place.

I then learned to make balanced darts in the skirt pieces.  I think they're my new favourite thing!

Darts marked with tailors tacks - I learned to do these properly too!

Step one of a balanced dart - apply a folded strip of fashion fabric behind the dart position.

Stitching the balanced dart.

Completed balanced dart with "balance" fabric pressed the opposite way to the dart and clipped open to lie flat.

There was lots of hand sewing, which was actually very relaxing.  The opening for the concealed zip was stabilised with strips of silk organza which are hand applied.

Hand applied silk organza to zip opening.

The hem of the dress was hand sewn, taking tiny stitches into just the cotton voile underlining so that nothing shows from the outside. 

Invisibly hand stitching the hem.

The lining was then hand sewn down to the turned up hem of the fashion fabric, so that everything was completely enclosed and no raw edges or seams are on display. 

In progress shot - although it looks finished, I still had the hems to do at this stage.

I haven't had a chance to wear the finished dress yet - I'm waiting for an invitation to somewhere special - but it feels fabulous on.  The silk is so lightweight even with the underlining and the dress feels so comfortable. 

I can't wait to wear it!  I'll have to get my husband to take me out for a fancy meal somewhere, or cocktails!

Simplicity 2404 bodice close up.

As before I totally loved learning from Alison.  I've already put some of the skills I learned on both classes into practice as I'm making an outfit for a friend to wear to Ascot. 

I'm also hoping to go back to the School of Sewing for another class later in the year.  I have to say, I'm totally hooked on doing things properly now!

Doing things properly with Alison Smith

Hello.  Yes, it is me (I know, I sound like an Adele song!), I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. 

I'm still here and I'm definitely still sewing.  Sewing properly at that!

Over the last few weeks I've had the pleasure of attending two workshops with Alison Smith at her School of Sewing in Ashby-de-la-Zouch.   The first one I attended towards the end of April was her three day Tailored Jacket class and a couple of weeks later I went back to do another three day class, the Couture Dress.

During my first three days I made this jacket.

It's a Burdastyle pattern - Shawl Collar Blazer 12/2011 #121- and that double collar was a pain the you know where!  I don't think I'd ever have understood the directions on my own, but Alison sorted it all out for me.  She read through them, said "well, I think I know what they mean, but I wouldn't do it like that" and proceeded to explain exactly how I needed to do it.  As you can see, her method worked perfectly. 

I learnt so much during the three days.  Firstly I couldn't believe the preparation that went into our jackets.  I spent the whole of the first day just cutting out fabric and interfacing and fusing the interfacing to the fabric.  I now desperately want a steam press to fuse all my interfacing in the future. 

Front of jacket - shoulder piece made from bias cut hair canvas held in place with fusible interfacing.

Front of jacket - complete with all interfacing.  Front and collar are interfaced separately, and the collar roll line is also taped to help it fall correctly.
The back pieces were interfaced with a lighter weight fusible interfacing, with just the shoulders and underarm having the heavier weight added.

After spending my first evening in the hotel cutting out my lining pieces on day two I was able to start sewing.

Homework on the hotel room floor.

One of the first things I had to do was make the pockets, with welts and flaps.  Alison talked me through the potentially scary process, and I have to say it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.  I made two lovely pockets, with fancy lining to the pocket flaps.

Pocket in progress.

Completed pocket.

Fancy pocket flap - I love this lining fabric.

Once we'd sorted out the confusing instructions for the collar, the rest of the construction went quite smoothly.  By the start of day three I'd got a completed jacket body, without sleeves or lining.

Jacket in progress.

The sleeves had fluffy domette added to the heads to give a nice smooth finish and were carefully eased into the body of the jacket. 

Fluffy domette sleeve head and ease stitching.
I almost completed the jacket in the three days we had - all I had left to do when I got home was complete the hems to the sleeve and body lining, which took an evenings very pleasant hand sewing.

I had a brilliant time on this class.  Alison is a wonderful teacher, passing on her vast knowledge clearly.  As I've already mentioned I learned huge amounts and can't wait to put everything into practice on another jacket in the near future.  I'm not sure I'll be tackling the collar on this one again though, much as I love it.

I'm fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to attend these classes - they're not cheap, particularly when you take into account overnight accommodation as well, but to my mind the two I attended were worth every penny.  I'm already saving up for more!

Next time I'll tell you all about the dress I made on my second class.