Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sew along, days 1-2: prepping for the test run

The day has come! The sew along starts today! Usually I'll post one day at a time, but this first step is basically cutting out the pattern and making variations to your size/taste, so it could take you anywhere from 1-4 days to do it. I'll give you four days so you don't feel pressured, and once we move to actual sewing, I'll post things in shorter, day at a time posts.
The pattern!
You should have printed the free Coffee Date Dress pattern from Burda Style by this point and taped it together. This pattern was generated by Elaine of The Selfish Seamstress Blog. It won a pattern contest with Burda Style, and that's how it ended up on the Burda Style website. Elaine's blog is really fun to read, but unfortunately it looks like she stopped posting at the end of 2010.

Now, using regular paper scissors (not your good sewing scissors), but around each pattern piece. I like to leave a wide margin in case I need to use the pattern again later for a different size. 

Cut out the pattern pieces, you don't have to cut right on
the line, just separate them
This is not an actual pattern piece, it's a guide
for the ruffle that you will copy to your dress later.
Don't throw it away! Just set it aside for now.

Here comes the fabric part! Take out your cheap practice fabric--it can be an old sheet, old curtain, whatever, as long as it hangs similar enough to your actual fabric (you don't want upholstery fabric or something like that). First, find the grainline and the crossgrain. These terms have to do with the direction the threads go in the fabric. The grainline runs parallel to the selvedges (the ends of the fabric that are often a different color or have some text or little tiny holes on them). The crossgrain runs perpendicular and usually has a little stretch to it, even if you're not working with a stretch fabric. Fold your fabric along the grainline inside out (so the "wrong" side of the fabric is showing and the selvedges are together). Here's a good picture from describing fabric grain:
Click the picture to go to the article
Here's another good reference on fabric grains that I posted on the grocery bag practice sew along. It's a little longer, but it's very informative.

Fold the fabric along the grainline--I took this picture before
I ironed the fabric...
Sometimes the grain is skewed, meaning the threads don't go straight. Here's another GREAT link on fabric grain and how to fix a skewed grainline from American Doll Outfitters (haha, funny source, I know, but it's useful). If, when you fold your fabric in half lengthwise along the grainline, you get puckering along the fold in order for your selvedges to line up, then you have a crooked fabric grain! The link above has a great picture illustrating this. This can happen because of the way the fabric is pulled on the bolt at the store or because of the way it was pulled in the washing machine. There are a number of ways to fix this. My favorite (what I think is easiest) is to pull on the diagonal (called the bias) in both directions. The bias is labeled on the picture from totallystitchin. This usually pulls the grainline into place. I usually pull along the length of the fabric in several different places. The link has other methods you can use as well. So, however you choose, straighten that grainline now.
From American Girl Outfitters
Now that the grain of your fabric is straight (or maybe it was to begin with), you can start laying out your pattern!

First, you need to decide whether you want a back or a side zipper. I think side zippers are more forgiving to mistakes, but back zippers allow you to make alterations to the finished product much easier. Since we're doing this test run (making a muslin), you should solve all fitting issues ahead of time. So, I'll leave the zipper choice to you. If you're doing a side zipper, you should change the back pattern piece to say "cut on fold" at the center back like the front piece does. If you're doing a back zipper, keep the pattern as it is.

You only need four pattern pieces right now for this fitting: the bodice front, bodice back, skirt front, and skirt back. If you're doing a side zipper, then all four of these pieces will be cut on the fold. If you're doing the back zipper, then you'll want to cut the back pieces on folded fabric (so there are two copies of it after cutting), but you don't have to line it up with the fold you made. If your fabric is wide enough, you might want to refold it so you have two folds along the grainline (Fold both sides in toward the middle so the selvedges are touching and you have two folds).

I'll go through the rest of this with only one sample pattern piece. Place the pattern pieces on the fabric. Make sure all arrows that are labeled "grain line" are parallel to the grainline in your fabric. If you're cutting all the pieces on a fold, then this should be simple. Pin down the pattern pieces. Now, using a marker (you can use a regular marker here, it doesn't matter if it doesn't wash out because this is just a practice), mark the sewing lines for your appropriate size (if your bust is one size and your waist is another, just gradually go from one size at the bust to the other at the waist).
Pin down your pattern piece on the fold of the fabric
Trace/copy the pattern onto your fabric Make sure you also trace the dart lines. Copy any lines or other marks on the pattern, as well (this pattern doesn't have any).
Use a ruler to make sure the lines are straight. I like to press
the marker enough that some dots bleed through the paper,
then finish tracing with a ruler
Remove the paper pattern pieces. Add 5/8" to all the edges of the pattern on your practice fabric. You can mark this cutting line with a dotted line. You don't need to add anything at the fold or to the darts. Cut outside this line. Leaving some extra fabric will help you have room to work with when you do your alterations.
Add the seam allowance
Cut out, leaving a wide margin so you have space to alter
Ok, now you have all the main pattern pieces to play with! On Tuesday, I'll post some advice on how to alter the pattern!


  1. Thanks for all the details- very helpful! I'm planning a late sew-along hopefully before summer ends.

  2. Can I correct something? The site your are referring to on correcting skewed grainlines is American Doll Outfitters, not American Girl Outfitters. I know, because it is our site and the American Girl people would've had us shut down if we used their name. So our site is Maybe you could correct that here? I wouldn't want American Girl thinking someone is infringing on their name. Thanks a bunch.....Frank and Elizabeth (owners of the American Doll Outfitters site). P.S. Love your blog!

  3. Thanks for the correction! I just fixed the source!