Saturday, August 27, 2011

Make Yourself a Dress, Part 2

Once I had all of my materials gathered, it was time to get to work preparing the pattern and fabric. Which leads us to…

Make Yourself a Dress, Part 2: Prep That Sucker

I skipped the steps you'd follow if you wanted to preserve your pattern by tracing a copy of the original. I also skipped the steps you'd take if you employed tracing carbon paper, using it and a tracing wheel to imprint the pattern onto your fabric. Instead, I went with the following steps:

1. Study your pattern. Open the package and carefully remove the pieces of your pattern and the instructions. If you're like me, a pattern-sewing virgin, study each step and its corresponding piece(s), until you feel pretty confident that you know what they mean. It may require you to look up various terms and techniques online (for example, I had to look up "basting" and "straight grain"). Pay extra-close attention to any instructions telling you which side of the fabric to pin or trace the pattern onto, which pieces must abut a fold, and which pieces you will be cutting two of at once (by doubling up the fabric).

2. Prep and cut your pattern. This is fairly self-explanatory. Your instructions may vary, but generally you simply cut along the solid outer lines of your paper pattern, until all of the pieces are neatly trimmed into the shapes the fabric will ultimately be. My pattern probably hasn't been taken out of its envelope in sixty years, so I found it necessary to spread it under a handkerchief and iron it smooth (no steam, obviously), as its creases were quite tenacious. That plus cutting took me a careful hour.

My dress pattern, fully cut.

3. Pin the pattern to the fabric. Again, this is if you choose to pin your pattern, versus using tracing carbon to transfer the lines. Iron your fabric, if it's wrinkled. If you have the exact amount of fabric needed, according to the pattern's package, lay the pieces out precisely as instructed, to make sure you don't short-change yourself. Not trusting my own patience or experience, I bought an extra yard, so I didn't have to lay things out quite so precisely.

Be sure to do this step in strict accordance with your pattern's instructions, as well as the instructions printed on the individual pieces of the pattern. You'll need to pay close attention to folds, as some pieces of the pattern may be one half of a mirror image, doubled by butting them along the fold of a doubled-up length of fabric (like cutting out a Valentine heart from a folded piece of paper). Read the instructions carefully, as some pieces of the pattern will need to be pinned to the front the fabric, others to the back.

Once you're confident of the placement of the pattern pieces on the uncut fabric, pin the pattern in place using straight pins (I placed one pin about every inch or inch and a half, set a half-inch inside the pattern's edges).

Pin the pattern carefully to the fabric, to make cutting the fabric accurate and easy.

4. Cut the fabric. Cut out the various shapes roughly, so they're separate and easier to handle, as opposed to wrestling with long swathes of pin-covered fabric and delicate pattern paper. Using sharp fabric scissors (actually, I used hair-cutting scissors) cut the fabric right along the border of the pinned patterns. Also cut any "clip" lines, which will be labeled on the pattern.

My big old pile of pinned and cut pattern pieces and fabric, ready to baste!

That's it for the prep stage! Sounds easy, but go slow and read all the instructions twice before you cut anything. All together, cutting the pattern and fabric took me about four hours, including ironing and snack breaks and running up- and downstairs doing the laundry, pre-hurricane.

Back soon with the next stages—marking and basting!


  1. This is going to be the cutest owlish dress ever. But where will you find elbow-length gloves and a 17" waist to complete the look?

  2. Pish! I'll just have a couple of my less important ribs removed.