Wednesday, 26 November 2014

#SewingFrancoise: Sew the Darts

Sewing the Francoise dress? Today we’re going to sew the darts.

Darts are folds of fabric (often triangular- or diamond-shaped or a variation thereof) stitched down to shape a garment around your curves. The Francoise dress is great for practising sewing darts as it features no less than three different types – classic triangular-shaped bust darts; long diagonal French darts at the waist with a curved tip; and double-ended back darts.

Your darts should be marked on the wrong side of your fabric when you cut out your fabric. I like to also mark in the central line of each dart, as I find it easier to see where exactly to fold the fabric.

Let’s start with the bust darts on the front dress. You can do each pair of darts at the same time. Fold the fabric right sides together, bringing the dart lines (called the legs) directly on top of each other. Pin them together along the lines, with the tips of the pins pointing towards the edge of the fabric. Check that the pins are lined up with both dart legs on either side of the fabric - if they're not, try refolding the dart. Once the lines are lined up and pinned nicely, press the fold with an iron.

Stitch the lines of each dart together – start from the edge of the fabric, back tack (reverse stitch a couple of stitches) near the edge and sew to the tip of the dart, removing each pin just before the needle gets to it. Don’t back tack at the tip or it can cause an unsightly lump! Leave a couple of inches of thread and tie the threads in a tight double knot by hand. Alternatively, you can sew the last few stitches with a 1mm stitch length – the theory being that a tighter stitch is less likely to unravel so you won’t need to knot the threads.

Now you can press the darts downwards, on both wrong and right sides of the fabric. Placing a tailor’s ham or a rolled up towel under the dart while pressing and using plenty of steam (if your fabric can take it) will help you mould it into a nice curved shape.

Okay, let’s do the waist darts now – the long diagonal French darts on the front dress. Fold, pin and press the waist darts in the same way as you did the bust darts. There will be a weird sticky-out bit at the bottom like in this photo (above) - yes, it's meant to look like that! ;) Start stitching from the top point (notice that the top is gently curved, not straight) towards the bottom, tying the threads at each end by hand rather than back tacking (or sewing each end with a 1mm stitch length). If your fabric is fairly bulky, you can trim off some of the seam allowance of the dart – otherwise you may find it neater to leave the fold intact.

Press the waist darts towards the centre. The funny-shaped sticky-out bit should line up neatly with the side seam. Stay stitch across the bottom of the waist dart, by sewing a few stitches across the bottom flap, 10mm (3/8 in) from the raw edge. This will help keep it in place so we don’t accidentally fold it the wrong way when sewing the side seams.

Just the double-pointed darts on the back dress left to do. Fold, pin and press the back darts the same way you did the other darts. Stitch from the centre of the dart towards one tip, tying the threads at the tip together by hand. Now sew from the centre to the other tip, tying the end threads together by hand. You can also sew the centre threads to each other to stop them unravelling. Press the back darts towards the centre of the dress.

And finally, since there's always more than one way of doing the same thing, here are a few different dart-sewing techniques you might be interested to try. You’re welcome!

In the next post, I’ll show you how to sew the yoke and finish the armholes on the sleeveless version of the Francoise dress. And we’ll do the sleeves on the sleeved version after that…

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

#SewingFrancoise: Cut, Interface + Stay Stitch Your Fabric

Sewing the Francoise dress? Chosen your size? Checked how it fits you on a toile and made your alterations? Now comes the fun stuff – let’s cut our fabric!

Fabric can shrink in the wash, so it’s best to wash and dry it before you cut it out. Once it’s dry, iron out any creases. Fold the fabric in half lengthways, with the right sides together, bringing together the selvedges. The “right side” of the fabric is the side that you want to show on the outside of your dress. The selvedges are the finished edges running down two sides of the fabric. Lay the folded fabric out on a table, smoothing out any wrinkles. Don't worry if your fabric is too long for your table - just roll one end up neatly.

Take the pattern sheets out of the envelope, and find the pieces you need for your chosen version of Fran├žoise:

All versions:
Front dress – cut 1 on fold
Back dress – cut 2
Front neckline facing – cut 1 on fold
Back neckline facing – cut 2

Version with sleeves:
Front sleeve – cut 2
Back sleeve –cut 2

Sleeveless version:
Front yoke – cut 2
Back yoke –cut 2
Armhole binding – cut 2

Collar – cut 4
Tab – cut 2

If your dress fabric is on the heavy side, it’s a good idea to cut the neckline facings in a slightly lighter fabric to make them less bulky. Similarly, the armhole binding for the sleeveless version works well in medium weight cotton or satin, or you could buy ready-made 35mm bias tape. And if you want to, you can make the collar, yoke or sleeves in a different fabric to your main dress fabric.

Once you’ve found the pattern pieces that you need for your chosen version of Francoise, cut roughly around them with paper scissors. Lay them out on the fabric – there’s a suggested cutting layout included in the pattern instructions, or you may find a layout that is more economical depending on what size you’re cutting and which variation you’re making. Whether you follow the layout or wing it, there are a few things to pay attention to when laying your pattern out on the fabric:

1) Position any lines that say “place on fold” along the fold of the fabric.

2) Line up the grainline arrows (labelled on the pattern pieces) so they are exactly parallel to the selvedges. Stick a pin in one end of the grainline arrow and measure the distance from here to the selvedges or folded edge. Now measure the same distance from the selvedges or folded edge at the other end of the arrow, and pivot it from the pin until both ends of the arrow are parallel. If you’re making the armhole binding, notice that the grainline is diagonal.

3) The list above – and the pattern pieces themselves – tell you how many of each to cut. Because we’ve folded the fabric in half, we can cut two symmetrical pieces at once, or one double piece where the pattern piece is placed along the fold line. If you’re making the collar, note that you need 4 pieces – so you’ll need to lay the pattern piece out and cut it twice.

4) If your fabric has a directional print, make sure you place the pieces with the design pointing the correct way, so it doesn’t end up upside down!

Pin the pattern pieces to the fabric or you can hold them in place with some kind of weights, such as food cans, scissors, rulers or whatever you have to hand.

Find your pattern size lines – these are marked with a particular style of dashed/dotted/solid line as well as numbers. My favourite way of transferring the pattern lines (just the outlines in your size) to the fabric is by using dressmaker’s carbon and a tracing wheel – read up on how to do that. Alternatively, you can cut through the pattern and fabric on your size lines using scissors. Lay down a cutting mat (or some cardboard) if you don't want to mark the table! Next, mark the notches (the little lines perpendicular to the seam lines), darts (labelled on the pattern) and small circles (on the optional tab) on the wrong side of both layers of fabric. I like to use dressmakers’ carbon to do this too. (You don’t need to mark the grainlines or text on the fabric.) Read more on marking and cutting tools and techniques.

Remove the pattern pieces from the fabric and - if you traced with dressmaker’s carbon - carefully cut directly on the outlines using fabric scissors. The bottom of the waist dart on the front dress sticks out the side a little – take care to cut around it, not into it. I know if looks a bit weird right now, but it’ll make sense later when you come to sew it!

Cut short snips for the notches - about 5mm / 1/4in. (Snipped notches are more accurate than those little triangles you may have seen before, and are less likely to distort the edge of your fabric.) Snip an extra notch at the centre of the neckline on the front dress and front neckline facing. These notches will help us match everything up neatly later when it comes to sewing the pieces together.

You also need to cut the following pieces in interfacing:
Front neckline facing – cut 1 on fold
Back neckline facing – cut 2
Collar – optional, cut 2
Tab – optional, cut 1

Interfacing is a stiffening material which will give the neckline and optional collar and tab more structure. You can buy interfacing that you sew in, but if your fabric can handle it I recommend the iron-on stuff as it’s so easy to use. (Read more about interfacing.) Apply the interfacing to all three neckline facing pieces and, if you’re adding them, to two symmetrical collar pieces and one tab piece.

To apply the interfacing, place the (rough) glue side face down on the wrong side of the fabric and hold a hot, dry iron on top for a few seconds. Resist the urge to move the iron back and forth, or you might squidge up the interfacing into a gluey mess. And try to avoid touching the glue side of the interfacing to your iron or ironing board – again, messville!

We’re also going to stabilise the curved and diagonal lines on some of the dress pieces by “stay stitching” them – this will help prevent the fabric from stretching out of shape while we’re handling it and sewing with it. With your machine on a normal stitch length (2.2 - 2.5mm), sew a line of stitching 10mm (3/8 in) from the raw edge at the neckline and raglan seam lines on the front dress, back dress, front sleeve/yoke (depending on which version you’re making) and back sleeve/yoke. Try to sew in the same direction on each piece so that if any of them stretch a little during under the sewing machine, they all go the same way - so start each line of stitching from the shoulder. When you stay stitch the neckline on the front dress, sew from one shoulder to the centre (marked by the notch you cut earlier), then from the other shoulder to the centre.

And that’s it for today! Your fabric is all cut out and stabilised. In the next post, we’ll sew the darts…

Want to enter your Francoise dress into the contest to win a Janome sewing machine or fabric shopping vouchers? Upload your photo somewhere online (Pinterest, Twitter, Flickr...) with the hashtag #SewingFrancoise and email a link to your photo to by midnight GMT on 14 December 2014. Please check the full details of how to enter. I can't wait to see what you're making!

Monday, 24 November 2014


Can you believe Christmas is just a month away?! It's time to get shopping, so we're offering you a cheeky 15% discount off orders from our shop today and tomorrow. Woop!

Take a look at our gift shop for prezzie ideas for your sewing friends, such as gorgeous dressmaking patterns and the 'Dress Handmade' Fairtrade tote bag and badge set. For the friends you want to convert to sewing, Love at First Stitch offers the perfect introduction.

Not sure what to choose? Give a gift voucher! Gift vouchers are delivered as a code by email, but if you want something snazzy to print out, simply reply to the email and we'll send you a lovely PDF gift voucher to print at home.

And yes - getting a gift for yourself is totally legit!

To get 15% off your order - including workshops at our London studio - enter the discount code JINGLEBELLS at checkout before midnight GMT tomorrow, Tuesday 25 November 2014.

(The discount will show up after you've entered your shipping and billing info, before completing your purchase. We are unable to extend the discount to orders placed without the discount code, to previous orders or orders placed after this date.)

You're welcome!

Friday, 21 November 2014

#SewingFrancoise: More Fitting Alterations

Making the Francoise dress? We’ve talked quite a bit about fitting:
Today I want to show you a few more examples of pinching out or slashing and spreading fabric on a toile and transferring those changes to the paper pattern. Fitting is a huge topic and this list is by no means comprehensive - but I hope that it will give you a general understanding of the principle of adding and removing fullness which you can use on the particular area that you need to alter.

If you do need more help, I'm going to link to some further resources at the end of this post, written by people with much broader knowledge of the subject than me. Don't feel overwhelmed though, you really don't have to read a fitting book cover to cover in order to make something that fits you - you probably only need to make a handful of tweaks to a sewing pattern for your own fitting issues, and once you know what they are it'll become easier and easier for you to make these changes as you sew more things. Hooray!

(Ooh, BTW, in case you're looking at the piccies of the toile below and thinking, "But she said I didn't need to finish the seams on my toile!", you don't - ignore the zigzag stitching and stay stitching in the photos, this was a toile made by lovely Laura when she was testing out the pattern instructions - that lady is thorough!)

Right, onwards...

Adjusting the sleeve shoulder seams
One of the versions of the Francoise dress features two-piece raglan sleeves. Since our shoulders are different shapes, you may find that you need to alter the shape of the curve of the shoulder seam that joins the front and back sleeve pieces at the front. (The two-piece shoulder seam is designed to sit 1cm forward of the centre of your shoulder so you can see the style line from the front.) Repin the shoulder curve into a shape that fits you (you may need to unstitch the toile if you need to add fullness here), then draw your new shoulder seam shape onto the paper pattern - on both front and back sleeve pieces. Measure the seams on the front and back sleeves from the neckline to the first notch to check they are the same length, and adjust if you need to.

You can make a similar alteration if you need to add or subtract fullness at the raglan seam lines.

Wide or narrow shoulder
You can also add or subtract fullness horizontally. For example, if you find you have excess - or not enough - fabric at the shoulder on the sleeves, you can pinch some it out or slash and spread it on the toile. Then draw a cutting line in the same place on the paper pattern, marking the stitching line 15mm / 5/8in from the raglan seam line. Cut from each end of the line to this point, leaving a teeny bit of paper intact as a hinge. Slash open the shoulder seam side if you need extra space, or overlap the pieces if you are removing it. Glue or tape in place (with a new bit of paper under the gap if you've spread it open), and redraw the shoulder seam. Do the same on the front and back sleeve so that the shoulder seams end up the same length.

Sway back
If your lower back curves inwards more than most, you may find you have some excess fabric pooling itself horizontally around that area. Pinch out a wedge of fabric where you need to. Mark a cutting line in the same place on the paper pattern, and mark the stitching line 15mm / 5/8in in from the side seam. Cut from each end of the line to this point, leaving a teeny bit of paper intact as a hinge. Overlap the pieces at the centre back seam by the amount you removed from the toile. Glue or tape in place and redraw in smooth seam lines. Redraw the back waist dart.

Gaping or tight back neckline
If you find you have excess fabric - or not enough fabric - around the back neckline, the simplest place to make the alteration is on one of the existing seam lines. Try taking in or letting out the seam at the centre back opening or at the raglan seams joining the back dress to the back sleeve. Depending on the shape of your body, however, this might not always fix the problem...

If you tried that and found that actually the excess fabric falls around the middle of the back neckline, then that's where you want to pinch out a wedge of fabric. Measure how much you pinched out, then draw a dart the same size and in the same position on the paper pattern. If you are happy to sew a dart here on your real dress, then "true" the dart the same way as we did when we moved the bust dart.

If you'd rather not have a dart here, I get you. What you can do instead is draw a long wedge from the top of each dart leg to the bottom of the pattern (or to the waistline). Cut up one of the lines of the wedge, overlap the pieces at the lines and stick them down. Redraw smooth seam lines at the neckline, centre back and hemline if you need to.

If you change the neckline, don't forget to add or subtract the same amount of fullness to or from the neckline facings and the collar if you're making it.


I do hope this helps. But if you do need a more comprehensive list of fitting alterations, may I suggest the following resources:

Next week, we're going to cut out our Francoise dresses and then get sewing. I'm so excited to see what you make! Have you chosen your fabric yet? What did you pick? Tell me, tell me!