Thursday, 27 November 2014

#SewingFrancoise: Sleeveless version – Yoke + Armhole Facings

Shift dress sewing pattern

Sewing the Francoise dress? Today I’m going to show you how to sew the yoke, shoulder and side seams, and finish the armholes on the sleeveless version of the dress. If you’re making the version of the Francoise dress with sleeves, you can skip this post – I’ll show you how to sew the sleeves in the next post.

The Francoise dress includes a 15mm (5/8in) seam allowance. Sew with this seam allowance unless the step indicates otherwise.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Let’s start by sewing the yoke. You should have cut two front yoke pieces and two back yoke pieces, and stay stitched the necklines and raglan seam lines (I've done my stitching in a contrast thread so you can see it clearly). On the raglan seam lines (marked on the pattern) of the front and back yokes, clip perpendicular snips into each curve between the second and third notches, up to (but not over) the stay stitching line. The reason we do this is, because of the curved shape of the raglan seams, the cutting line is a different length to the stitching line 15mm (5/8in) in – so we need open up the seam allowances so we can match up the stitching lines with those on the dress pieces more accurately.

Lay the front yokes on top of the front dress at the raglan seam lines, right sides together. Pin them together, matching at the shoulders and notches. You can see in the photo above that the yoke isn't meant to stretch all the way under the armhole - we'll finish that bit later with the binding. And don’t worry if the fabric doesn’t lie flat, it needs to curve for the seam lines to fit together. Stitch the yokes to the dress, using a 15mm (5/8in) seam allowance, back tacking at each end. Now stitch again using a 10mm (3/8 in) seam allowance to reinforce the seam.

Pin and stitch the back yokes to the back dress pieces in the same way.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Trim the front and back seam allowances to about half their current width. Now you can finish the seams to neaten and strengthen them – either with zigzag stitch on your sewing machine or using an overlocker (serger) if you have one. Press the finished seam allowances up towards the yoke. (If your fabric is relatively heavy, you may prefer to finish the seam allowances separately and press them open.)

Shift dress sewing pattern

Now we can sew the shoulder seams and side seams of the dress. Lay the front dress on top of the back dress pieces, right sides together. Pin together at the shoulders and side seams, matching notches. Usually I like to insert pins perpendicular to the seams with the heads sticking out, so I can whip them out easily when sewing. This time though, pin parallel to the seams, directly on the stitching line – that way you can try your dress on and adjust the position of the stitching line (marking it with the pins) if you prefer a closer or looser fit.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Once you’re happy with the position of the stitching lines, sew the dress at the shoulder seams and side seams, back tacking at either end. Trim, finish and press the seam allowances either open or towards the back.

Okay, now we can finish the armholes. The Francoise dress includes a pattern piece to cut two strips of armhole binding on the bias (the pattern piece placed diagonally across your fabric). Armhole binding works well in medium weight cotton or satin, so you may want to use a different fabric from your main dress fabric if it’s on the heavy side. Alternatively you can buy ready-made 35mm wide bias tape and press the folds open.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Press one long edge of each armhole binding piece under 10mm (3/8in), wrong sides together, then unfold. Pin the un-pressed long edge of each binding piece around each dress armhole, right sides together, leaving a tail at either end. It’s up to you where you position the ends of the binding – personally I think it looks neater if they’re at the underarm seam of the dress.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Pin the ends of the binding together at the point where they meet, flush to the armhole. Stitch them together at the point you marked with the pin, keeping the dress out of the way.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Trim the ends of the binding and press the seam allowances open. Now you can pin this bit to the armhole too. Stitch the binding to the armhole all the way round, using a regular 15mm (5/8in) seam allowance.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Trim the seam allowances to 5mm. Clip perpendicular snips into the seam allowance where it curves at the underarm – this will help open up the seam allowance so it will lie flat when we turn the binding to the inside of the dress. Be careful not to cut over the stitching line.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Press the binding away from the dress and towards the seam allowances. Now we’re going to understitch the binding to the seam allowances, which means sewing the binding to the seam allowances close to the seam line to help keep it on the inside of the garment. Hold the fabric nice and taut either side of the seam line as you’re understitching so you don’t get any wrinkles.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Fold the binding to the inside of the dress, rolling the seam line in slightly to hide it on the inside of the dress (you can press it if you want). Fold the raw edge of the binding under along the line you pressed earlier, and pin this fold to the inside of the armhole.

Shift dress sewing pattern

Topstitch the binding to the armhole close to the inside fold. Repeat on the other armhole, and give them both a good press to smooth out any wrinkles.


In the next post, I'll show you how to sew the sleeves on the other version of the Francoise dress, and after that we'll do the optional collar and neckline facings...

And don’t forget to enter your dress into the #SewingFrancoise contest!

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!