Well, I've been making a First Communion dress for my second granddaughter.
I started at the end of February, thinking that it would be a simple and quickly completed project. Little did I know...
I wanted an elegant dress that would incorporate some of the heirloom techniques that I'd learned while making the my Heirloom Blouse, but simpler -- no lace shaping, for instance. McCall's 5792, a pattern from 1977 seemed perfect. It included tucks, which I think are darling on little girls, and would allow me to throw in a couple other heirloom flourishes. I was envisioning a dress sewn in white linen. But the teacher who taught the heirloom sewing class insisted that what I really wanted to use was silk dupioni. Well, what grandmother could resist the allure of sewing her granddaughter a silk dress? Plus, she offered to take me to the garment district on her next fabric shopping trip where we'd be able to find some at a reasonable price. (That trip was amazing and deserves its own post!)
So after buying the fabric, I blithely stitched up a muslin and mailed it off to my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Darwin. I'd had to draft a new bodice, because Darwinette #2 is longer waisted than the size 6 pattern which otherwise perfectly matches her measurements. That took a while because I'd never done alterations before. But it was fun to learn a new skill, and I looked forward to cutting out the silk and barreling ahead.
Alas! The muslin did not fit properly. The neck was too tight and the back would not close.
Panic ensued as I scoured eBay for another copy of my pattern, but in a larger size. In the meantime, I received reassuring emails from Rebekah of St. Gemma's Art and Needlework who had recently volunteered to be my online sewing buddy. (Rebekah is a talented young woman who has far more experience sewing clothes than I do. I'm just a simple quilter who is easily confused by 3-D garment sewing.) She assured me that my pattern wasn't the wrong size; it merely needed to be fitted to my granddaughter's personal measurements.
From the photos which Mrs. Darwin sent me, Rebekah surmised that the neckline was too high. And luckily, she knew how to fix that. She sent me photos and clear explanations which allowed Mrs. Darwin to mark a new neckline on the muslin.
Once I received it (yay, Priority Mail!), I was able to draft a new neckline for the bodice pattern and new facings. And of course a new collar -- because any time you alter a seam, you have to alter anything that's sewn to it. I found Gertie's Peter Pan collar tutorial to be invaluable. Not having a French curve, I had a little trouble getting the shape right, but at last it was finished.
I also had to alter the sleeve and cuff after I discovered that Miss D's upper arm measures 8.5" and the cuff was only 8.25. So I added an additional inch and hope it won't be too wide now.
So finally it was time to preshrink and iron the silk. Being a cautious seamstress, I cut off an 8 inch strip of fabric from the five yards that I'd bought. Then I cut it into two pieces and serged the edges. I soaked them in cold water and then hung one on a towel rack to drip dry. The other I tossed into the dryer on low. When the first piece was merely damp, I pressed it dry using the "Silk" setting on my iron and a piece of silk organza* as a press cloth.
It looked awful! And for the first time I noticed that my beautiful white fabric had tiny black flecks in it.
I felt devastated. Another paralyzing panic attack! Obviously I'd bought the wrong fabric. Gloomily I began to look through Martha Pullen's catalog. Maybe I'd better order some linen. Handkerchief or dress weight? Would her Victorian Batiste be too thin? What about her Classic Cotton?
(The piece that had been put into the dryer looked worse, even after ironing. But I didn't feel quite so bad about that piece, because the sewing teacher had told me not to put silk in the dryer, but I was just curious to see what would happen if I did.)
Luckily, the teacher was now back from her vacation, so I dropped by the shop with my questions. She said that I'd probably ironed the silk at too high a temperature. When I got home I re-wet the fabric and tried pressing at the "Synthetic" setting. Much better. She also told me that dark flecks were normal for this kind of silk. (I suppose the flecks wouldn't really be noticeable on a colored silk; they just show up more on white.) I still felt a little uncertain though. After all, this was a First Communion dress, with the white symbolizing purity.
Another thing I'd been worried about was where the two ends of the cuff overlap. As you can see from the pictures below, the pattern calls for clipping to the seam line at the bottom of the sleeve and then folding up the fabric between the two clips to make a narrow hem.
When the cuff is attached, the little corner near the end of the collar is actually a raw edge. This is a quickie technique that you sometimes see in children's patterns, and when used with something firmly woven, like a quilting cotton for instance, I suppose it's appropriate technology. But I was worried that the silk would fray. And it seemed a cheapish sort of technique to use with on a formal dress.
My teacher agreed and suggested that I put in a continuous placket (I think that's what it's called) which means another pattern alteration.
Right now I'm wondering if maybe a plain band cuff (no placket, no overlapping, and no buttonhole) might not be a better plan. But that brings up its own problems -- such as how to attach the lace.
And I still have qualms about the fabric. It looks like it will be very difficult to iron. And the dress will have to be hand washed (or machine washed on gentle), air dried until damp, and then ironed with a press cloth. Will it be too much of a hassle for my daughter-in-law? I'll include a piece of silk organza for a press cloth, but will she curse my name for not having chosen fabric that can be run through the washer and dryer?
Well, I guess it's time for me to stop hyper-ventillating and get back to work. But that's why I haven't been blogging.
*By the way, silk organza is amazing stuff! It's so thin that it's transparent. And though it looks extremely fragile, it can withstand very high heat.