I learned a few things while making my embroidered Hazel dress last week, mostly through experimentation.
I like problem-solving projects like this one. There was a fair bit of head scratching and chin stroking involved in the dress’s construction, so I’ll pass on the results of my little experiments to you.
My main questions going in were:
- Where should I place the borders?
- How do I match up the design at the seams properly?
- How do I stiffen and stabilize the border at the top so that it’s not floppy?
- How do I approach the sheerness of the fabric? Should I line it? And how do I attach the lining?
First, I needed to decide where I was going to use the borders. I knew I wanted to use the scalloped border both along the hem and the top of the bodice. But should it be used on the top of the back bodice too? What about the straps? I draped fabric on my dressform to help me visualize all of this. Above, you can see that I considered bordered dress straps, though I ultimately decided not to do that.
Matching the design
Second, there is the issue of matching up the embroidered design at the seams. This is actually pretty important when using a scalloped border fabric, because if it doesn’t match up you’ll have uneven scallops meeting at the seamlines, which would look pretty wonky.
So you need to place your pieces carefully on the fabric, folding back the seam allowances so that the designs match up at the seamlines (not the raw edges). Cut one piece, then move the adjoining piece around on your fabric so the designs match. This is actually pretty easy for the Hazel, because the front and side bodice pieces don’t have to match (since the sides are cut on the bias). Here is the order I cut mine in:
- Cut the front bodice first. I made sure the scallops were centered here.
- Cut the side front bodice pieces on the bias. There won’t be scallops at the top of these two. I cut an extra wide seam allowance at the top so I could fold over this edge (which I’ll show below).
- Cut the side back bodice.
- Cut the center back bodice to match the side back bodice at the seamline.
- Cut the front skirt.
- Cut the back skirt to match the front skirt at the side seamline.
See? In the end, you’re only matching at two seamlines for this pattern, which is not so bad.
Stabilize the border
Do you notice how floppy and wavy the border looks on this fabric as is? It works fine when the border is hanging (like on a hem), but at the neckline it would just look messy.
You can solve this in a few ways, but I decided to interface the whole bodice with a woven fusible interfacing. This serves a few purposes. First, it gives more body to an otherwise pretty flimsy fabric. Second, it helps stiffen the border at the top. Third, it gives the fabric more opacity, so that the seam allowances won’t show through as much.
If you do this, be sure to use a woven interfacing, and follow the same grainlines you use on your main fabric. Woven interfacing will stretch on the bias along with your fashion fabric. You could also use silk organza.
I cut the interfacing a little taller than the scallops at the top.
Then, I trimmed the interfacing right down to the edge using small, sharp shears.
If you were using a different color fabric and the interfacing color was really different, I’d probably suggest trimming the interfacing below the edge a bit before fusing, just so you know it won’t show. But if they match pretty well, my method worked fine.
Now. You’re likely going to have to line your dress because most fabrics like this are rather sheer. But how do you line that border at the top? It’s interfaced, so you can’t just leave it as is unless you like the look and feel of scratchy interfacing against your skin.
I did consult Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book (which is excellent) for some ideas here. I thought about zigzagging the lining along the scallop border, similar to something she suggests for lace, but realized it wouldn’t work very well here.
My solution was simple. I took my cut pattern pieces and laid them along the edge of the fabric I had leftover, matching up the scalloped edges. I then cut facings from the border.
I pinned the facing to the neckline of each pattern piece and carefully fellstitched them together by hand along the scalloped edge. It sounds painstaking, but it really doesn’t take very long. And having this extra layer means the border is now quite stiff.
There’s one final challenge with the neckline we should deal with. The side bodice pieces are cut on the bias, so they won’t have the scallop at the top. So how do you finish the neckline on these pieces and match them up with the scallop?
I simply cut the side bodice pieces with a nice wide seam allowance at the neckline. When I assembled the bodice, I pressed the seams toward the side bodice, then folded the seam allowance over at the neckline. Like so:
If I were doing it again, I’d cut the seam allowance much wider, so it would actually extend to the same width as the rest of the neckline facing.
Lining is pretty straightforward, actually.
I cut and sewed the lining just like lining any other dress. When it came time to attach it to the shell of the dress, the neckline was already taken care of with the border facing I’d made and fellstitched. So all I needed to do was attach the lining to the facing.
I think you could do this a couple ways. You could trim the lining at the neckline and machine stitch it to the facing. But I chose to simply pin the lining into the dress, matching the waistline and seams. Then I folded the lining under at the top and fellstitched it by hand to the facing. I chose to hand stitch it because it gave me more control.
And that’s it, a beautifully lined and finished dress, with no floppy scallops in sight!
I hope I haven’t made this seem too daunting, because it’s really not! After cutting it out, I sewed the whole dress in a day, so it’s not that time consuming, even with all the hand stitching I did.
Even if you don’t use these exact methods, I think just asking yourself the same questions I listed at the top is a good place to start. I’m sure there are many other methods you could use, but it’s helpful to keep these challenges in mind.