November 23, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #8: Neckline and closure

Today, we whirl through a veritable tornado of techniques. It's always the little things -- the loop turning, the bias binding, the button installation -- that cumulatively take the most time, eh? In my early days of sewing, I wouldn't spend any more effort than necessary when constructing a garment. They were flimsy and sloppy, and I wore them proudly.

But now that the novelty of being able to attach one pattern piece to another has worn off, the pride comes from attention to detail. That has led to my recent interest in couture and tailoring techniques. And, whoo boy, do we have some detailed techniques in this post! We'd better get started.

Loopy time

The BurdaStyle pattern recommends a thread loop closure on the neckline. Which is fine. However, I opted for a fabric loop closure. Why? Because, after [redacted - a very large number of years] of sewing, I finally bought a loop turner. It's tons of fun. And this project is a perfect place to use it.

Dritz Loop Turner: one of those under-$5 single-purpose tools that's worth the investment and space.

Fabric tube: Cut a piece of fabric about 4" x 3/4", with the grain. Fold in half the long way, right sides together. With a short stitch (because this seam is going to be abused a little), sew about 1/8" from the raw edge. Now you have a fabric tube!

Material in pre-tube stage

Loop turner works its magic: When you buy this gadget, keep the packaging, for it contains the instructions that you will inevitably forget (or just look online).

Run the turner through the entire length of the fabric tube, until the hook and latch pop out the other end. Pierce the end of the fabric with the hinged latch. Push the latch closed.

Pierce the fabric about 1/4" from the raw edge so that it doesn't immediately unravel when you pull through.

Now, hook your finger through the ring on the other end, and pull the tube right side out. You may need to guide it along a little if it bunches. Don't yank too hard, or the fabric will unravel.

This motion always feel slightly obscene to me. Also, my tan cat's foot can be seen in the upper right. Ssssh, don't say anything; she's shy.

At the very end, it may be impossible to turn the fabric completely with the loop. Just detach the tool and roll the end between your thumb and forefinger until it pops out.

Or, as we say in my high-tech atelier, "Squinch the tube until it does the thingy."

Iron the tube flat. Then set the tube aside for a while -- we'll pick it back up after the first bias tape edge is sewn.

Make bias binding

Again, you don't have to make binding from scratch. Use the pre-made stuff, if that is your heart's desire. But you should know, the homemade stuff is super easy. So, Zo has written a great post about how to make bias binding. Below, I'll show you my version.

Cut strips of fabric: As the name implies, we cut this fabric on the bias -- that is, diagonally in relation to the grain. Cut 1" strips, for a total of about 2 feet. The strip(s) can be all one piece, or patchworked together, depending on how much fabric you have. I used scraps from the front bodice, and ended up with 3 pieces. Sew the strips together, if needed, to make your 2 foot length. This binding goes on the inside, so unsightly seams are not a huge concern, but if you want to do it fancy couture style, cut 1 continuous strip (and waste a bunch of fabric, ha ha).

Press each raw edge toward center: You can eyeball this. Trust yourself. Iron both folds thoroughly.

And here's a little tip: I spray the fabric with starch before pressing. This is not entirely necessary for something as iron-compliant as 100% cotton flannel, but it can help with slinky polyester and other fabrics that don't hold a pressing very well on their own.

Uncharacteristically crisp flannel, thanks to the spray starch.

Bind the neckline

That sounds like a spell from a videogame, doesn't it? 

Mark back neckline: So, the front of your bodice already includes security stitches along the neckline, which will serve as a guide for the binding. But the back doesn't include this feature. So, 5/8" from the raw edge, mark the line that you will be your seam guide. Make sure it connects just inside the security stitches on the front.

Or your could thread trace this line, and then remove the basting when complete.

Sew bias tape to outside: This is familiar, right? From our adventure with the pockets? Except the bias tape ends will be exposed, so we need to make sure we do something about the raw edges.

Unfold one edge of the bias binding, all along the strip. Match this lengthwise fold line with the markings you just made, with both raw edges pointing outward (but not aligned).

At the end of the tape, fold over the raw edge (the one perpendicular to the strip length) so that we get a nice clean finish.

Before starting the seam stitching, fold over the end of the bias tape to make a lovely clean edge.

Sew along the lengthwise fold. When you get to the bodice front, make sure you're sewing inside the security stitches (toward the bodice) so they won't show in the end product. And at the end of the tape, fold the raw edge under again for a clean finish.

The seam goes all around the neckline, with the bias binding folded over at both ends for a non-raw finish.

Clip excess seam allowance: That 5/8" seam allowance sure was nice to have when sewing the first line. Now that it has served its purpose, like any good minion in an evil empire, it must be obliterated. All along the seamline, snip away the excess.

Mwa ha haaaah. Goodbye, you foolish plebs.

Attach the loop: Pick up the button loop you set aside earlier. Form a loopy shape (yes). Do a test pass of the button through it, to make sure the loop is the right size. Now, sew the loop to the unsewn portion of the bias tape on one side.

You might need to overlap a little, depending on how wide your loop tube is, in order to fit it to the width of the bias binding.

Press bias binding toward inside: Just as we did with the pockets, steam the bejeezholes out of the bias binding, pressing it toward the inside of the garment. Around the tight curves, steaming really helps.

One bejeezhole, properly steamed out.

Catch stitch binding to bodice: You could just topstitch the binding down, as we did for the pockets. Perfectly cromulent, that. Or, come with me and apply delicate catch-stitching to seal the deal. I like this method, particularly for the smocked front bodice, because you can catch the non-visible part of the smocking so that nothing shows on the outside. Your tiny catch-stitches will show on the back, though, but they'll be less visible than topstitching.

What's a catch-stitch, you may ask? Here, let Craftsy show you.

You can also stitch down the ends of the bias binding with tiny fell stitches, for extra durability.

Wee little catch-stitches to secure the bias binding.

The Button

Have you sewn on a button before? Are you sure? What if I asked you if you've ever properly sewn on a button before? What if I said I didn't believe you?

(at this point in the narrative, I might get punched in the face)

Frank & Oak's website lays the smack down on the haters, with a wonderful button-sewing how-to. I figure any kid's garment is gonna suffer a lot of wear & tear from climbing on the jungle gym and whatnot, so I build in extra sturdiness whenever possible.

And, we are outta here

Another session with our BurdaStyle girl's smocked dress, in the can. High-five!

Below, a quintessential photo of everything we've accomplished today:
  • Created bias binding from scraps
  • Made a button loop and had a jolly old time with the loop turner
  • Applied bias binding to the neckline, secured with couture-style catch-stitching
  • Learned how to properly install a button (with or without face punching)

Four techniques in one!
Oh, but there's more in store for us. Next time, we hem the sleeves and the skirt, and optionally apply little fell stitches for a perma-sleeve-roll.

Got any questions? How did the loop turning go? Or the bias binding? Ask away, in the comments.

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