Sunday, March 24, 2013

Orange Linen Kirtle progress

Progress on the hand sewing hasn't been the fastest, but it has been going well. At this point, the back of the dress (two panels and center gore) have been sewn together, but not fully finished. I'm using a different assembly method for this dress than I've used in the past, and it's working out well so far.

With the speed advantage offered by the sewing machine, I always did as much sewing as I could in one sitting. This got the machine work out of the way quickly, leaving me with a fully assembled dress (minus sleeves) within about 2 hours total. My typical order of assembly for the machine has been to sew half gores to their corresponding panels, then sew the long seams between panels through the half gores to connect them, and finally sew the shoulders.

Then, with the dress together, I'd sit on the couch and finish the seams. Typically with a running stitch to make (again) quick work of the task. Then I'd create the sleeves, finish their seams, attach them, and if I was feeling spunky, finish the armhole seam.

Doing all the assembling by machine, which results in a functional dress, leaves only the finishing, which means that if my deadline is approaching, I don't have to worry about the dress not being wearable in time. Which I've always known was pretty lame. 'Cuz here's the thing: once I wear it once, I'm not going to work on it again unless there is a major problem (such as sleeve issues).

Doing this dress by hand, I certainly have the option of following my regular operating procedures. I could back stitch my way through assembly, and focus on finishing at the end, but this project is not about the quick result. This project is about what I've learned, and it's about showing myself that patience and craftsmanship trump instant gratification any day.

Right at the start of the assembly stage, as I was beginning to pin my half gores to my panels in my typical method, I took pause. I asked myself a question I had not asked since the first time I sewed a half gore to a tunic. I'm I doing this the best way?

Hand sewing a dress together means a change of perspective, which is a great opportunity to question my methods. My assembly order is perfectly fine for a "get it done quick" mentality. When finishing isn't the priority, sewing the dress together and dealing with the finishing later is acceptable. But when you earn each stitch, and focus on the skill of creating a garment with nothing but your hands (and needle and thread, obviously), leaving anything as an "I'll worry about that later" task is not even remotely acceptable.

So this time around, I'm taking it one section at a time. I began by sewing one set of half gores together with a back stitch. Then I finished that seam by hem stitching both sides of the seam allowance down. This created a very neat, obviously finished seam that I am very pleased with.

There is now no need to belabor the process by trying to line the half gores up for that perfect point at the top with the shoulder seam alignment also in the mix. So with the gore done, I sewed the back panels together down to the insertion point, then put the gore in. Since it's easier to insert gores by hand anyway, this was an extremely painless task! I did have two needles going for a bit, just so that I could sew a bit down both sides of the point and check it before sewing the entire length. That was actually kinda the fun part.

Next on the agenda is to finish that Y seam down the back with more hem stitch... earning this dress, one stitch at a time.


  1. You whipstitch the front AND the back of your seam? Damn, girl -- that's a dress that will last forever! I've always followed the practices shown on Laura Mellin's Extreme Costuming site
    A seam sewn like this is even stronger than a machine-sewn one, I'm told. I'm glad you're enjoying handsewing!

    1. I like that method. That's not what I'm doing- it's better!

      I think I may have used the wrong term to clarify what I'm doing. Right now, I'm using whip stitch to tack my folded seam allowance down on the left and right of my back stitched seam. I think most people would probably classify my finishing stitch as a "hem stitch", but diagrams of whip stitch are the only ones that match my stitches (their angles relative to the sewing direction, and their angles on the inside and outside of the piece). I think real whip stitch is usually used to connect the edges of two pieces, not the edge of one to the plane of another. This is what happens when you organically learn a skill- you don't necessarily learn "technique" in the process! Maybe I'll edit the post to just say hem stitch so that I'm not confusing anyone!

      Too late to try the Elizabethan seam on this one, but thanks for sharing the link! Maybe I'll try that on my husband's next tunic.