Friday, November 26, 2010

THE CHRISTMAS DRESS - Front and Back Construction

If you read/have read dress pattern directions before, usually the first thing they tell you to do is stitch the shoulder seams.  This never made much sense to me because when you have to attach the skirt you have at least 3/4's of the dress flopping around.  So I am going to show you how I do it (actually, I misplaced the directions for the dress.  I know they are in my quilting room, somewhere!)  Here are the pieces we will be working with.

The front bodice and skirt.
The back bodices and skirts.  (I was going to include adding the zipper but decided to deal with that in the next post.)

Now because I am working with velvet and I need to press, I will be working with a needleboard.  This is what it looks like.

You need to use a needleboard for any fabric with a pile but especially with velvet.  If you press velvet directly against a flat surface, it will crush the pile.  Once you have crushed the pile it is virtually impossible to restore.

So we'll begin with the back bodices and skirt.  You will need to gather the skirt top.  Way back when, the instructions would be to run a long stitch at 1/2 inch in side the seam allowance and then pull up the bobbin thread.  This will still work, but here is an easier way.  Using a very strong thread, (quilting thread will do but I am using buttonhole thread), set your machine to the widest zigzag and longest stitch you have.  At 3/8's inches inside the seam allowance (remember that is 5/8's inches) zigzag over the buttonhole thread, like this, being careful not to catch it in the zigzagging.  I used white thread because this will be pulled out after final stitching.

It will look like this when finished.

This is the front skirt, do the same to the back skirts.  Velvet has a tendency to curl after stitching, so I used the needleboard to press the skirt top straight.   I'll also be using this technique on the sleeves.  Take a back bodice and skirt and pin one end together and wrap the white thread around the pin to secure it.

Now draw up the white thread to fit the bodice top and secure the other side of the white thread the same way.

If it doesn't quite fit, pull the string a little more.  Now, adjust the gathers so they are nice and even.

Start pinning by halves.  Half will place your first pin at the center, half again will place your second and third pins at the quarter mark
Keep pinning by halves until the skirt is secured to the bodice.  Notice the change in pins? 

The old-fashioned straight pin is actually a dressmakers pin.  It is shorter, fatter and sharper to secure fabric together for construction like this.  Here are my pinned pieces
Yes, I used a lot of pins. Velvet is a very slippery fabric and I don't want this to slip. Which is why I tell you to use as many pins as you are comfortable with. If this were cotton, I would probably only use 1/4 as many pins.
This is what the bodice back looks like. There should be no puckers or gathers along the back.

Do this again for the other bodice back and skirt.  Then set them aside while we deal with the front bodice and skirt.  You should have already run your gathering thread.  When working the front, divide the pinning in half.  Start the same way, but put your second pin at the center front of the bodice and pull your gathering thread up to match it to the center front of the skirt.  Pin by halves until you have half the skirt front secured.

I marked the centers with a white pencil and matched those marks.  If I were working with cotton, the crease would have been my center.  Now pull up the gathers on the second half and pin. 

Here is the back.

Here is the front.

See?  No puckers or gathers.  Now, stitch your 5/8's inch seam slowly and carefully, pulling out the pins as you come to them.  This is the first row of stitching.  I remember when I was a little girl, all we wore were dresses and two places always ripped out first.  The sleeve seam at the back and the waist line seam in the front (usually because I stepped on it after a tumble).  So I always double seam these two areas.  Run another seam line between your first seam and the gathering thread.

Pull out the gathering thread.  No need to pull the zigzag, it will not show. 

Trim the seam to just above the second row of stitching.

Press the seam up towards the bodice.  Do this for all 3 pieces.  Here they are all finished and waiting for the next step.
Let me know if you have any questions.  Next post we will tackle the zipper! 

Love from Liriopia


  1. It just occurred to me that I didn't give warning about pressing velvet. I have gone back and edited the first post to correct this.


  2. Looking good so far. That is certainly a much better way to gather.


  3. I don't know if or when I'll ever be gathering fabric for a project, but I'm going to try to remember your method. Looks much easier to me than trying to pull two threads without breaking at least one of them! ---"Love"

  4. Great way to gather the fabric. Thanks for doing this ongoing tutorial!

  5. What a great way to gather fabric. The next time I gather fabric I won't be cussing. Thanks. Connie 204