Monday, November 4, 2013

Queen Susan At Her Coronation

This dress!

I cannot begin to extol its simplicity

and sigh over how amazingly it drapes and falls

and skims and sits 

and sweeps and moves

and how much Emily loves it.

And how absolutely appallingly its fabric behaved on my drafting table.

It is so heavy, this fabric. Jersey knit usually is, but this one also stretched in all directions. And pulled itself down. And lowered every reference line on Emily's basic block till her waist ended up at her hip. And her hip was at her thigh, and... well, you get the idea. If you've sewn with knits and slopers, you might have heard the term "negative ease" - you know, the principle that requires you to draft or cut your pattern smaller than even your actual body measurements. Unaccounted for in a draft, it makes a knit garment look really bad, hanging off your body like a sack. But it is especially nauseating when that ease also manifests significantly in the vertical dimension, so that everything droops and your armscyes are like portholes and your crotchseam hits the floor. It is a sight to behold, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

I will say that I had a good laugh after Emily's first fitting (and I'd recovered from my fright at seeing how the dress looked on her, poor kid). Everything had to be taken apart and recut. So funny. Oh, this crazy, heavy fabric. It doesn't look heavy, does it, floating around on her arms and falling in soft waves around her legs? See- that's the thing: the falling. Because it had a field day falling

Fortunately, the alterations were self-explanatory and obvious, so they got done relatively painlessly. It's just that when a person goes from light fleece and rigid satin one year to utterly fluid jersey the next, one tends to forget how much the fabric really calls the shots in a garment like this.  

The final result was a happy one, thankfully.

I'm going to bulldoze through the garment structure and then linger at the sleeves, which are somewhat interesting. 

Emily wanted her dress almost exactly like Jenna's old Renaissance Festival one here.
The neckline was faced on the RS of the dress, not the WS as is usually done, and then trimmed really narrow and hidden under the trim. This way there is no flapping bit of facing on the inside of the dress and no need to line it. 

The dress in general was a single layer, unlined, except for the front skirt, which had that extra white inner skirt underneath. The front of the dress was a bodice sewn to the double-layered front skirt at the drop-waistline. The back was cut as a single piece from shoulder to ankle, with back darts to shape the waist.

Emily's sash was some wide trim (I'd added some to the sleeves) fastened around her hips with one of those bracelet embellishments I found in the jewelry aisle at JoAnn. The sash slides through cunning openings at both ends and Emily pulls them to tighten or let out as she feels fit.

Let's talk about that sleeve now.

The top portion is just a regular set-in sleeve. Note the armscye is a nice, snug one for two reasons:
  1. knit fabric allows that and
  2. the golden rule of sleeve-armscye drafting is: You should make as small an armscye as possible and will still be comfortable, because your sleeve caps will fit better.

The lower half of the sleeve is a semi-circular asymmetrical, off-center draft. Think of it as a semi-circular skirt with a tiny "waist", whose hem is skewed. Here is the draft.

Don't faint, people. It takes some visualizing but it's not alien. First, note the pink line in the photo above. That's the actual bottom seam of the sleeve - you know, were it a regular bell sleeve, that seam would close the sleeve into a conical tube, and that same seam would continue up to the armpit and continue further into the side seam of the bodice, okay? It doesn't look like it (yet) but follow along. 

I'll rotate that newspaper pattern a bit and add two red dashed lines on either side of that pink seamline. Are you beginning to see some symmetry? 
Now, we'll fold over the pointy bit at the top so that the two straight edges meet. Those two straight edges form the new seam.

Do you see the symmetry in the sleeve now? It's like one of those fashionable skirts whose front hem is much shorter than the back, right?  Can you also see how that pink (old) seam line is

  • now in the middle of the sleeve
  • unfortunately also in the longest part of the seam, meaning that it will create a very long, noticeable seam allowance (even if you used a french seam finish) because the front of the sleeve doesn't cover its WS all the way down to the bottom?

Here is the sleeve, with the pink line showing where that long seam would've been if we hadn't shifted it. Ick.

So, summary: We've shifted the seam so that the sleeve opens along a shorter radius of the semicircle and the resulting SA is shorter and less noticeable when worn.
Look - even the the sleeve fully spread, you can hardly see that seam (but I've pointed it out with a yellow arrow).

And here it is again (before I trimmed the SA) - much shorter than the old, central seam would've been. 

This seam is still going to lie at the bottom of the sleeve, where it joins to the (bottom) seam of the sleeve cap and the side seam of the bodice. However, when worn, the weight of the fabric causes the sleeve to naturally drape and twist so that the longest (and seamless) radius of the semicircle hangs at the bottom, now shorter and hidden at the side (closest to the body).

See -

And all the different radii of the semicircle served to create those layered folds when the sleeve is at rest.

Is this confusing? Sorry if it is. Obviously, you can ignore all this sleeve-drafting stuff and just look at the outfit for what it is. Thought I'd include it for anyone who's interested in the subtleties of sleeves and seam-shifting. Like dart-shifting. There's a principle to everything in sewing, which once understood, gives you a lot of control over how a garment turns out and/or behaves on the body.  

Unrelated, did anyone notice how I didn't bother to finish the hems of anything in this dress? I figured - why? They don't fray and they are perfect as is. I offered to roll-hem the sleeve hems with gold thread for contrast but Emily was aghast because it counted as "fancy" and she abhors fancy. Incidentally, fancy according to Emily = ornate and gilded and shiny. Flowers (even the veritable garden that her garland turned out to be) are not fancy, apparently. They're "natural". 

Speaking of garden, here is Emily's garland. 

It is a fabric headband stabilized with some interfacing fused to felt and surrounded by regular cotton fabric. 

The back is a 3-4" section of elasticized casing (no stabilizer in this part) for a comfortable fit.

Then we went shopping at Michaels and came home with artificial flowers, which we pulled off their stems and hot-glued onto the headband.  No wires or anything poky like that. 

My sweet girl, all grown up (there I go again). 

Incidentally, I think I want to write a separate post on how subtle drafting is. I mean, there's "Here Is How To Draft A Basic Block" or "Steps To Adapt A Skirt Block To An A-Line Skirt" or "Correcting Commercial Patterns For Fit Using Standard Adjustments Like (insert FBA or other drafting nomenclature here)"- kind of drafting which you can find everywhere. And then there are the more subtle aspects of drafting that you sorta hafta feel deep inside you, that tell you what looks right and good and polished and beautiful. That you may not find in drafting books because they're subjective and have no rules to say they must be done. 

Like this sleeve seam nonsense that we talked about today. Or Kate's altered armscye/neckline in this dress that changed how her sleeve cap sat on her shoulder (before I mangled the neckline, I mean). 

It's principles, I think, that I'm talking about - drafting principles, which are completely different from drafting rules or drafting instructions. They're so hard to teach; they're the kind of thing that hit you only as you're working on a specific project and you yell for your kid to quick come so you can show them what you're doing because it will probably never happen again in another project. And then you hope their brain stores it somewhere in their mental archives to get assimilated and organized so it can be regurgitated sometime in the future at just the right moment when they need it.  

Another day, perhaps. 


  1. So lovely! Both the dress... and Emily's expressive eyes! They dance and flow well together! :)

  2. This dress is incredible. I'm in awe of it. So stunning!

    And the flowers for her hair were the perfect finishing touch.

  3. The dress is gorgeous, as are the other two Pevensies. I love the shifted sleeve seam, thank you for sharing! Little tips like that are incredibly useful to me.

  4. I am just in awe but notvsurprised as you are so talented and make such awesome things for your kids. Thank you for taking the time to share. The dress is beautiful and so is Emily.

  5. absolutely beautiful! These are the sleeves I have been dreaming of for my wedding dress, and now I know how to do them! Thank you!


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