November 3, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #2: Make your paper pattern

Welcome back to the sew-along for this casual, fun smocked girl's dress. In the last post, we gathered our supplies and discussed some fabric options. Ready to start making a paper pattern?

If you're here in the United States, this might be your first exposure to sewing a pattern without a seam allowance. The printed patterns available here - McCall's, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity - include a 5/8" seam allowance. You construct the garment by lining up the fabric's raw edges with the 5/8" mark on your machine, and sewing the seam in relation to that raw edge.

But BurdaStyle patterns don't have a seam allowance. They show only the seam lines, which you transfer onto the fabric with a tracing wheel. The the amount of seam allowance doesn't matter; it's up to you. Many designers prefer this style because it lets them make adjustments quickly, without measuring a new exact 5/8" seam allowance every time.

But that's not my bag, baby.

Team Seam Allowance: mount up!

In this sew-along, I'll show you how to add 5/8" seam allowances to the BurdaStyle pattern. After using both styles, I prefer the ones with a seam allowance built in. But this sew-along will also work if you're comfortable with the BurdaStyle method of tracing seam lines; skip this post, trace the seams as you normally would, and we'll see you on the flipside.

Trace paper pattern pieces for bodice (21, 22) and sleeve (23)

NOTE: Whether or not you add seam allowances to the other pieces, the front bodice (21) will not include them. Because of the smocking, we don't want to cut the bodice before it's completely sewn to the other pieces; if you cut the piece before that, and all your hard work will unravel. So we'll be marking the sewing lines on the raw smocked fabric, and securing all seams before the scissors come out. If you like, you can make an extra piece #21 that does include the 5/8" seam allowance, for some future date involving a non-smocked version.

Choose your size. In the magazine, flip to the start of the pattern instructions (page 98 in the US edition). With children's clothing, BurdaStyle sizes are designated by the child's height, in centimeters.

Snapshot of the BurdaStyle magazine page. And they provide a US size translation for us Yanks.

Find the line style for that size. BurdaStyle patterns don't list the size on the pattern pieces. Instead, different line styles designate different sizes, according to the pattern key. This key is located in the grey box, below the drawing of the pattern.

For me, size 116 (6x) is the long-short-short line style in the middle. This will be the one I'll trace from the pattern sheet.

Locate the pieces in the maelstrom: BurdaStyle magazine includes many patterns in each issue, and they're printed on top of each other in different colors. Therefore, the magazine gives each piece a unique color/number combo. That's a good thing! If every pattern started at #1, it would be too easy to accidentally trace the wrong piece for another garment. You could end up with three sleeves or something.

You don't want three sleeves. Or maybe you do.

For this pattern, we need pieces 21, 22, and 23.

But where are they? Take a look at the pattern sheet: can you spot 'em?

When pattern drafters party too hard: line vomit.

Ha! Don't worry. BurdaStyle helps you find the needle in the haystack. Look again at the grey box showing the line styles for each size, above. At the top, it says "Blue pattern line, sheet D." So we'll grab Sheet D and prepare to find blue stuff.

On Sheet D, look along the margins. Like an old timey printed map with a grid, the numbers appear closest to the pattern pieces they represent.

I spy, with my little eye, the breadcrumb trail to pieces 22 and 23.

Trace the pattern pieces. Leave an obscene amount of space between these pieces, because we'll be adding seam allowances everywhere. Need further detail about how to do this? Nah. You're a superstar. Here, have a picture anyway.

Be sure to trace the line style that corresponds with the size you want. Once in a while, peek underneath to make sure you're on course -- especially around curves where the lines cross each other.

Perforate and cut the pattern pieces

Your sewing machine is the star of this show. Most modern sewing machines include a built-in guide for a 5/8" seam allowance. We're going to reverse this feature for our own nefarious pattern-making ends.

Roughly cut out the pieces, leaving plenty of space. I'm always underestimating what 5/8" is. Don't be like me. Leave lots of room.

Cut the seam lines for the front bodice (21). Like I said earlier, this piece will not include seam allowances. So, just cut the lines you traced.

Perforate 5/8" around each edge of back bodice (22) and sleeve (23). Remove the thread and bobbin from your sewing machine. Now it's a perforating machine! Magic.

Place the pattern piece into your machine, so that the sewing line (the one you drew) aligns with the 5/8" seam allowance line on your machine's plate. This is the opposite of how you normally sew; the bulk of the paper will be on your right. Now, perforate! Start and end from the rough-cut edges of each piece. The perforations will overlap at corners as you go along.

See, very faintly, how the pen line aligns with the 5/8" mark on the sewing machine plate underneath?

Now, cut the paper along the perforations. Enjoy the loveliness. But you're not done yet! Because you definitely need to ...

Label the pieces. Do it. It's worth the extra 10 seconds. As a prolific sewist, you already know that random pattern pieces can end up in the strangest places. Without a label, all your pattern-tracing efforts could be for naught.

In my world, all pieces include this info:

  • Name of pattern (BurdaStyle US, Fall 2015, Girl's Dress, #136/137)
  • Size (Girl's 6x, 116cm)
  • Piece number and name (22, bodice back)
  • Number of pieces to cut, and how (cut 1 on fold, for example)
  • For piece #21 (smocked bodice front), a note about the lack of seam allowance, in huge letters, so it never accidentally gets cut out as if it had seam allowances
  • A little sketch of the garment, cuz it gives me a happy

Spot the error! Did you answer, "It's labeled size 6, but then it says 116cm ... which is actually 6X"? You win the prize! Your prize is not making this mistake in your version.

Trophy unlocked: seam allowance hero

Whew! Done. I gotta admit: the first time I saw a BurdaStyle magazine pattern, I wasted a lot of time figuring out how it works. Once you get the hang of it, everything goes faster.

Take a break, shake it off, and join me for the next installment, when we draft the skirt and pocket pieces.

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