Hi again, sewing friends! In case you missed my announcement via Facebook and Twitter, I was on spring break last week. Thanks for rejoining me for my weekly sewing adventures!
This week’s post is all about the April pattern for Project #SewMyStyle: the Bridgetown backless dress and tunic from Sew House Seven. Guys, this dress took me forever to sew. It was just one thing after another.
This dress isn’t composed of a ton of pattern pieces, nor is it a beast to fit. On the surface, it seems like a straight-forward sew.
The cause of my tortoise-like pace was the fabric: a stretchy, thin rayon-spandex knit with an off-grain print.
Keep reading to discover how I powered through sewing the Bridgetown backless — and tips for stitching your own hot-cha-cha Bridgetown backless dress or tunic!
Construction details for my Bridgetown backless
Here’s a quick-and-dirty overview of what I was working with!
Size: 2. I was in between a 0 and 4 for body measurements. Size 2 was good for me because its finished garment hip measurement is 38 1/2 inches and my hips are 37; I wanted the skirt to skim vs. cling.
Fabric: Lightish knit of 95 percent rayon, 5 percent spandex from Jo-Ann. It’s another Nicole Miller fabric (I also used Nicole Miller x Jo-Ann fabric for my Victory Patterns Jackie dress in scuba knit).
• I added 1 inch to the bodice to accommodate long waistedness.
• I sewed a 2-inch hem instead of 3/4-inch hem.
• I added a strapless bodice per a wonderful tutorial from Indiesew. I’m not comfortable going braless in public, and I didn’t want to layer a tank under the Bridgetown backless every time I left my house. The bodice lets me wear a normal bra with this dress, and it also provides extra coverage inside the generous armholes.
What I love about the Bridgetown backless
I treated myself to the printed version of the Bridgetown backless dress and tunic pattern. Pattern pieces are printed three pages of 17-by-22-inch printer-weight paper, which were easy to handle while tracing. And after I was done tracing, the pattern pages easily folded back into the envelope. Even before I started sewing, I had a great user experience! Kudos to Sew House Seven.
Rayon is cool to the touch. I predict my Bridgetown backless dress be comfortable as temperatures climb. (The open back will help with that, too, no doubt!)
The Bridgetown backless is an unusual look for me. My current collection of dresses and skirts features structured styles and few flowing garments. That’s mostly because I built an office-appropriate wardrobe. This Bridgetown backless isn’t really office appropriate. Well, maybe with a blazer (but I think you could say that about just about anything, ha).
What makes this the forever dress: Challenges sewing the Bridgetown backless
Sweet baby Jesus, the print on this fabric is crazy off grain, you guys — like probably more than an inch off across the warp. That means the horizontal “stripe” isn’t perpendicular to the grain… and on certain pattern pieces, the stripe drifts down. (This is most pronounced on the skirt. You can see it at the hem in my totes ferosh pic above.)
When I started work on Bridgetown, I cut the front bodice and skirt pattern pieces full size (not split in half vertically to place on the fold). I wanted to cut the fabric flat (not on the fold) to be meticulous about pattern placement.
When I laid out my fabric for flat cutting, I discovered I couldn’t get the pattern to align nicely on the print. The vertical triangles or horizontal stripes always were off.
The washed fabric had been folded in a bin for a while, so I thought maybe it needed to relax some more to straighten the grain. I laid the three yard flat on the hardwood in my bedroom for a full day.
Still crooked. What. To. Do.
I knew if I fiddled with the pattern pieces while cutting to make the printing look correct on my body after the dress was sewn that everything would be slightly off grain and probably not drape correctly. And let’s not even get into the how hellish stripe matching across seams would be.
In the end, my fix was to cut the front and back bodice pieces on the bias to mitigate the appearance of crooked printing. Call it Operation Diagonal Distraction! I cut the strapless bodice, skirt, sleeve, and neck facing pieces as directed (on grain); I didn’t have enough fabric to cut everything on the bias.
Cutting the bodice on the bias (tongue twister!) was a good move. The Bridgetown backless is a simple design, and a crazy-print fabric suits it. I wish the stripes on the skirt didn’t drift (and that I could have matched stripes). Oh well.
So, once I FINALLY cut all the pattern pieces… I stalled on the first step in the instructions: staystitching.
You’re probably like: WHAT? WHY? It’s staystitching. You know, staystitching… so your fabric pieces don’t stretch out.
Yes, I know what staystitching is. But, I wasn’t sure how to handle staystitching on the front and back bodice pieces that were cut on the bias — the direction of most stretch.
My solution was to stitch twill tape (affiliate link) around the neck and back openings. Twill tape will keep those edges from stretching out!
Twill tape is a great product, but not for this application. The edges to which I’d sewn the tape were wavy and misshapen. Stretched out. GAH! The tape added too much bulk, and my technique sewing it was flawed.
I cozied up with my seam ripper, unpicked the tape, and gently steamed/pressed the edges back into shape. Yet again, it was one step forward, two steps back.
Tension, needles, and feet
Finding the correct combo of machine tension, needle, and presser foot was rough, guys. There were some spots were I sewed through 6 layers of fabric. So I’d switch to a beefier stretch needle. But then I had too much/too little upper thread tension.
I switched between my stitch guide foot, zig-zag foot, and walking foot throughout the Bridgetown backless. I used the walking foot most because it fed the fabric evenly and seemed to be most gentle when it came to applying pressure.
The short story is, it took a lot of trial and error, stopping and starting, to make sure the stitches were correct. I’m planning a follow-up post comparing different tension-needle-foot combos when sewing stretchy knits; stay tuned for that! I think it’s good info to share with the sewing community!
Tips for sewing your own Bridgetown backless dress and tunic
Now that you’ve finished reading about why it took so long for me to sew my Bridgetown backless, here’s more insight on how to make sewing your own a (relative) breeze!
Slow down with a naughty knit
And by naughty knit, I mean something that’s stretchy, slinky, and/or thin!
You can’t rush with these types of knits and expect good results. Use A LOT of pins (sometimes one pin every 1/4 inch). Baste before committing a final line of stitching. Test needles, feet, tension, and various stitches (“lightning” stretch, zig-zag, triple stretch, etc.) on scrap pieces of fabric. Take time NOW or use your seam ripper LATER. Trust me on this!
Pick a drapey fabric
The instructions call for “lightweight fabrics with some drape.” (BTW, in case you didn’t know, you can make Bridgetown in knit or woven.) I say, forget “some drape” and gun for “TONS of drape.” It’s important that the fabric flows off your body — vs. stands away from it. The sleeves look especially nice in a drapey fabric (see above — could they be any prettier?!?). If I were to sew this in a woven, I’d go for rayon crepe.
Hem at the end
Curiously, the directions call for you to hem after you’ve sewn the front and back skirt pieces together but before the skirt is sewn to the bodice. I hemmed at the end because I wanted to ensure I got the length just right. I suggest you do the same.
OK, party people. What are YOUR bestest tips for sewing naughty knits? What would you like me to explore in my blog post about tension-needle-foot combos for sewing naughty knits? If you sewed a Bridgetown backless, how do you plan to style it? Please share your answers AND MORE (!!!) in the comments! Thanks!
P.S. Here are my other Project #SewMyStyle posts:
Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater #2: The stylish sweatshirt
Named Saunio Cardigan: Harder than it looks
Becoming a (Manila) leggings person for Project #SewMyStyle
P.P.S. Here’s another blog post about working with knits: How to press scuba knit and more: Tips for working with scuba fabric.