Sunday, January 27, 2008

A day of sewing and all I produced was this costume

This is the costume I promised to sew for a local high school's play. I spent a few hours yesterday working on the underskirt (the striped skirt) and finished the rest of the costume today. All in all, it took me about ten hours to complete. I gotta tell ya, it isn't perfect, but I kept in mind what the costume coordinator told me when I mentioned the thread they sent didn't match ... something about it doesn't matter when it will be seen ten feet away under bright lights.

The dress is for a student that I've never met. The only connection I have with that high school is a co-worker's children go there. In fact, that's the only reason I was sewing this costume to begin with. Her son is active in theater and a year ago she had mentioned they are always looking for help sewing costumes.

So what did I do? I said "oh, that would be fun, I might be interested in helping" when the correct response should have been "oh, I hope you find some people that are able to help you out."

The entire process was bit frustrating for me. It didn't help that I had been sick and hadn't looked at the pattern and fabric as soon as I received them. That meant I didn't realize I had a questions until a few weeks after everyone else had begun their sewing projects.

They sent me this pattern to work with - Simplicity 4092 - along with a photograph of what they wanted the costume to look like.
The instructions provided were a bit vague - railroad the skirt and add a collar so it looks like the picture. No note as to which piece of fabric to use for what, where to put the enclosed trim, what the collar was supposed to look like, or even how wide to make the sleeves.

I have yet to develop the mind-reading skill that would come in really handy in situations like this so I had no choice but to ask for more direction. In their defense I had been unable to attend the costume meeting that was held previously and that might have provided all of the answers, but still, more information would have been helpful. After getting most of these questions answered, I set aside as much time as I could to get down to business.

It's a good thing I asked for clarification on what fabric to use where, because the stomacher was supposed to be striped (I would have cut it from the plum color) and the sleeves needed to be "wide, like a bathrobe".
The stripes on the stomacher are about 1/2 the size of the stripes on the skirt. They look the same at the waistline because the underskirt is gathered tightly to a waistband. To achieve the narrow stripes, the fabric was pleated and then fused in place with steam a seam before cutting out the stomacher.

The underskirt was a piece of cake. It was cut railroaded the entire length of the striped fabric with one selvage edge gathered into a grosgrain ribbon waistband.

Now you know there was no way I would have been able to gather heavy home-decor fabric using the two rows of long stitches method. So I used the zig-zag over dental floss method. It works great with heavy fabrics and produces a nice even gather. It's easy to do and I find it quicker than sewing two rows of stitches.

Just secure the floss on one end with a pin. Set your machine to a wide zig-zag stitch - it needs to be wide enough so the floss is not caught in the stitches.
Sew the entire length to be gathered then gently pull the floss to create the gathers. I say pull gently because, depending on the type of floss you use, you could shred it as you pull and then you would have to start over.
The bodice is boned and consists of three layers. The outer fabric, a lining and interfacing. I used a home dec fabric for both the lining and the interfacing. M serger is still not working so I used a zig-zag stitch to secure all three layers of each piece together before sewing all of the seams. This acted as my basting as well as my seam finish.

I was instructed to cut a strip of fabric 3-1/2" wide out of velvet for the collar and face it with the plum fabric. I did just as instructed and then realized, when sewing it to the neckline, that you can't sew a straight piece of fabric to a won't lay properly. So I had to recut the strips longer and add some very slight gathers to the back edge so it would look right.

The instructions on the costume pattern call for purchased bias tape to finish the neck edge. Ugh - ugly. I made my own 1" bias tape - using my handy-dandy bias tape maker - out of the lining fabric. Much prettier. I also finished the corner where the stomacher meets the neckline differently than what the pattern instructions called for. I finished the stomacher edge first, then sewed the neck edge and bias facing to the stomacher.

I had to create my own pattern for the sleeves as the only instruction I received was to make them "wider, like a bathrobe." I assumed that meant like the sleeves on a kimono style bathrobe, so I pulled out an old bathrobe pattern to use for the desired width. The sleeve pattern provided is in two pieces and includes a flounce. To make sure the armhole fit and the length remained the same, I laid the three pattern pieces over the bathrobe sleeve pattern and measured the length. I then cut out the sleeve wide like the robe, but fitted at the armhole.

The sleeve is lined also as I didn't think the plum fabric had enough body to support the velvet cuff. The velvet cuff is a 10" strip of velvet folded in half, wrong sides together, sewn to the bottom of the sleeve, and turned up over the right side of the sleeve.

The last step was to gather and sew the overskirt to the bodice and sew in the zipper. Yikes, the zipper was a bear to put in. Trying to sew through all of those fabric layers while maneuvering a completed - and heavy - costume through my machine was not fun.

But, as my mother says, "All's well that ends well". The costume, while not perfect, looks pretty darn good. It wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as I had anticipated. And I didn't damage my machine sewing through multiple layers of home dec fabric. Shoot, I might even make one of these for myself.

But, the next time someone mentions that they are always looking for help sewing costumes I will remember that the correct response is "oh, I hope you find some people that are able to help you out." Pin It


  1. I put my foot in my mouth like that once but managed to extracate it when they called to confirm that I could make a costume at the same time that my company thought it was more important for me to go out of town on business...shew! Narrowly missed that one! *LOL* I have since learned NOT to volunteer!

    Not to say that volunteering for these events isn't important BUT when you are leading a busy life and have a job that eats up most of your time, it is grossly unfair to the school, students and costume director to volunteer...did I save that! *LOL*

    Sharon you did a great job on the costume! And kudos for getting it finished.

  2. You did a very good thing and now you have checked that box!

  3. Looks good Sharon! I too open my mouth and stick my foot in it from time to time...volunteering for a project that seems like it would be fun until I'm up half the night trying to get it done! Mary

  4. Sharon, what a nice thing you did and the costume is beautiful.

  5. You are way too nice! :) The costume looks great - there is going to be one happy thespian when she sees that dress.

  6. You did a beautiful job and, believe me (as someone who has done quite a bit of costume sewing for local theaters) they are very luck to have had your help...and they do know that. It is not easy to find someone who really knows how to sew clothes anymore.

  7. Beautiful job! But, what does 'railroad' mean? To railroad? Railroading? Why did you use the three sleeve types to make sure the arm/sleeve fit was ok? Wouldn't just using another sleeve pattern have worked? Thanks for answering.

  8. I've always wanted to make a costume like that! Yours is absolutely gorgeous and it was so wonderful of you to donate your time to make it.

  9. You did such a great job with it! So, so pretty and what a super kind and generous gesture of you.

  10. The costume looks great and I'm sure they are grateful for your help!

  11. Wow. And you don't even have a kid in the show or anything.

    Unlike me; since I've got one on stage I *can't* say no...if I didn't sew, I'd end up doing something worse....

    But, speaking as a castmother...thanks for helping!!! :D

  12. marty8:25 AM

    Sharon, what a beautiful costume. I've been volunteered for projects like that. It's usually my DD who does the volunteering of my services without talking to me first. This time she has volunteered me to make a dress for her dorm mate to wear to the big spring sorority formal. They are driving down tomorrow so I can take her measurements. DH said he will have a talk with her. I'm still trying to finish 2007 Christmas gifts and would like to sew for myself.

  13. wow wee! you have inspired me...I think I might be Queen Anne for Halloween.

  14. Great job! I enjoy your blog.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin