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Show off your style with eye-catching homemade dresses. In this fun, easy-to-follow guide, Project Runway contestant Buffi Jashanmal shows you how to create your own custom-fitted dresses or revamp a piece that’s already hanging in your closet. Learn to design personalized patterns for three basic dress shapes — the shift, the sheath, and the princess seam — and make them rock by exploring variations with measurements and fabric types. Your dresses will fit your body, suit your taste, and express your individuality.
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About the Author
Buffi Jashanmal has been in the fashion industry for over 10 years. She was a popular contestant on Season 10 of Project Runway. She currently lives in Dubai but has lived in New York City, where she taught sewing workshops to children and adults at Space Craft, Burda Styles, the Textile Art Center, Hewitt School, and Etsy.
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Fabrics and Tools
With such a huge variety of fabrics to choose from, it's important to go into stores with an idea of what you are looking for. Otherwise it can be a real challenge to decide what to buy. As much as I love fabric shopping, I have spent many wasted hours wandering around expecting the perfect fabric to jump right out at me, but with so many options, it can be overwhelming. Read through this chapter and make a list of the fabrics, notions, and tools you need. Always check your patterns and the cutting information so you know how much yardage to buy. I usually make a complete list that reads, "Fabric 1 : 1 yards, Fabric 2: 2 yards, interfacing, 7" zipper," and so on. Then it's time to go shopping — and let the fun begin!
In my sewing classes, I always encourage my students to choose their own fabric. So, even though I'll tell you the type of fabric I used to make each dress featured in this book, feel free to use something completely different. There are definitely no rules when it comes to designing, so have fun choosing your fabrics. For beginners, though, I suggest you start with medium-weight woven fabrics, which are far easier to cut and control with a sewing machine than shiny, slippery fabrics. As beautiful as they are, silks and satins are especially tricky to cut and machine-stitch.
Obviously, the fabric you use will have a huge effect on how a dress turns out. For instance, sewing with silk takes some experience, but it will create a totally different look than, say, sewing with medium-weight cotton. It's a good idea to go through your wardrobe and study what you have. Take a look at your dresses and get familiar with how they are made. What fabric is used and why? Are most of your dresses casual or are they more suited for work or special occasions? Check inside the garment and see how the seams have been finished. Have any seams been serged? Is there a lining, or even a French seam? You can learn a lot by looking. Then read on and learn how to make your own fabulous dresses.
In this book, we work with woven fabrics (as opposed to knits) to make a variety of dresses from summer frocks to evening wear. You can create something casual, cute, funky, or super comfortable (my favorite)! Having a dress for every occasion is almost like having a costume for each situation life brings you. I say dress up and have fun!
Having worked with woven fabrics for a long time, I feel most comfortable making dresses out of them. Working with knits requires different patterns and slopers, and that's a whole other book! So let's take one step at a time. For a beginning designer and sewer, deciding to work with woven fabric, with a general understanding of some useful terms, is the best way to start.
Weft, Warp, and Grainline
Woven fabrics are made up of warp and weft yarns or threads. The warp threads are the first to go on the loom and are secured tightly; they go down the length of the loom and become the lengthwise or straight grain of the fabric. The weft threads are then woven back and forth across the width of the fabric, to become the crosswise grain of the fabric. The selvages, which run along two sides of the fabric, are where the wefts form a non-fraying edge. The bias is the 45-degree diagonal to the straight grain.
When you're ready to cut out a pattern, you can lay it out on the fabric in one of three directions: on the lengthwise grain, on the crosswise grain, or on the bias. The way you cut out the fabric will affect how the garment will hang on your body. Most patterns are cut so the length of the garment (from neck to hem) aligns with the lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvage) because this is the strongest grain with the least amount of stretch.
The crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvage and also has little or no stretch. Most large dress pattern pieces, such as the front, back, and sleeves, are cut on the lengthwise (straight) grain, but small pieces like straps or pockets can be cut on the crosswise grain. A pattern cut on the bias will have the most drape and the most stretch. The front opening of All Wrapped Up (see page 120) is cut on the bias. Bias tape keeps the front opening of this dress lying flat against the body and prevents gravity from stretching it out.
You want to cut larger pieces on the same grain to make sure everything hangs in the same way; otherwise, your design could be compromised. So, when you lay out your patterns, check to make sure the grainline arrows (see page 57) on the pattern line up with the correct grain of the fabric (the lengthwise grain, unless stated otherwise).
Straightening the Grain
When the warp and weft threads are perpendicular, the fabric is said to be "on grain." It's important for the fabric to be on grain for the dress to hang as intended. To check if your fabric is on grain, fold the fabric in half so the selvages align, and if the cut (or torn) edges line up exactly, the fabric is on grain. If the fabric is off grain, follow the steps below to straighten the grain.
First you have to make sure the cut ends follow a crosswise thread. You can carefully cut across one crosswise thread (twill and satin weave fabrics), or use a quick trick (steps 1 and 2) if you are working with plain-weave fabrics. Once the cut (or torn) edge follows a crosswise grain, follow steps 3–6 to straighten the grain.
1. Make a small cut into the selvage in the direction of the crosswise grain.
2. Hold the fabric on both sides of the cut, and just rip the fabric until you reach the other end. The edge of the fabric is now exactly on the straight crosswise grain. The fabric will probably be distorted, so you'll need to work with it a bit, as follows.
3. Iron your fabric so it is smooth and flat.
4. Lay your fabric flat on a clean smooth surface.
5. Fold the fabric along the crosswise grain and see if the torn (or cut) edges line up exactly. If they don't, your fabric is off grain and you should proceed to step 6. If the edges do line up, you are ready to lay out your pattern pieces.
6. Pull the fabric gently from the corners until right angles are formed, the cut or torn edges align, and the fabric lies flat on grain.
There is a huge variety of fabrics made of both natural and synthetic fibers. Most of the dresses in this book are made of cotton and linen fabrics, with some synthetic blends. Fabrics behave differently depending on their fiber content and weave; therefore, you need to treat them differently. Always check the fabric bolt for manufacturer's care instructions. Some fabrics shrink when washed, so play it safe and wash them before you cut out your pattern.
Cotton is a natural fiber made from the seedpods of the cotton plant. The longer the original fiber length, the better the quality of the cotton, and therefore the more expensive. Cotton doesn't tear easily and is heat resistant. Cotton can absorb a lot of water; however, it dries slowly.
Fabric care. Most colored cottons need to be washed in cold water (no higher than 40°C) to keep the colors from running.
Good for. Shift and Shout (see page 65), Raglan and Scones (see page 77).
Linen is made from flax fibers and has a crisp texture. It tends to wrinkle very easily, which can be part of its appeal. The great thing about linen is that it softens with every washing.
Fabric care. Wash in warm water or dry clean. If you prefer pressed linen, use a hot iron while the linen is still slightly damp. Use spray starch and iron with steam.
Good for. Shift and Shout (see page 65), All Wrapped Up (see page 120).
There are some wonderful synthetic fibers, with variations being introduced all the time. They tend to feature qualities of elasticity, moisture resistance, durability, and colorfastness.
Fabric care. Depends on the type of fiber. Rayon might require dry cleaning. Polyester is usually easy to launder in a washer and dryer. Microfibers can also be machine-washed and dried. Press with low heat and steam.
Good for. Sweetheart Sundress (see page 20), The Captain's Shirt Dress (see page 108).
Most of these popular fabrics are easy to sew and are made of cotton (or linen) fibers. They also can often be found blended with synthetic fibers to combine the winning characteristics of the multiple fibers.
Corduroy has a ribbed texture, formed by woven twisted fibers that follow the lengthwise grain. The width of the ribs can vary, ranging from narrow needle-cord to wide-wale cord.
Fabric care: It's a good idea to wash corduroy inside out to prevent the nap from matting down. Wash corduroy with similar colors and avoid washing it with lint-producing fabrics like fleece. Corduroy tends to shrink, so dry the garment on low heat and shake it out as soon as you remove it from the dryer.
Good for: Jump Around (see page 93), Sunday-Best Button Dress (see page 132).
Cotton lawn is lightweight and semitransparent, from gauzy to sheer to practically opaque. Lawn can be white, dyed, or printed, and is an excellent choice for cool summer dresses.
Fabric care. Machine-wash in cool water with mild fabric detergent. Let the garment air-dry flat. Use a warm iron to press out wrinkles.
Good for. Sweetheart Sundress (see page 20).
This heavyweight cotton twill has warp threads that are usually dyed blue or black and appear on the right or top side of the fabric. The weft is white.
Fabric care. Machine-wash denim garments in cold water with other dark clothing of the same weight. Machine-dry until damp and then air-dry.
Good for: Jump Around (see page 93), The Captain's Shirt Dress (see page 108).
Great for summer, eyelet is usually light to medium in weight and looks great with a bright lining that is visible through the eyelet openings.
Fabric care. Care really depends on the size of the eyelets. If they are small, you can wash your cotton eyelet as you would regular cotton. Eyelet with larger holes requires more careful treatment. I suggest hand-washing or using a delicate machine wash cycle with delicate fabric detergent.
Good for. Peep Show (see page 127), Sweetheart Sundress (see page 20) — just remember to add a lining to it!
I've got a real love for gingham and its fun retro vibe! This medium-weight, plain-weave fabric has a checkered or striped appearance. The fibers are dyed before they are woven.
Fabric care. Cotton gingham wrinkles easily and tends to shrink, so wash it in cold water and dry it on low setting. It will probably require pressing. A synthetic blend can handle a regular warm machine wash and dry with no problems.
Good for: Baking Babe (see page 87), Mini-Break Basic (see page 103).
Voile is a lightweight cotton fabric. It can be quite transparent, so make sure you add a lining to a dress made from this fabric.
Fabric care. Wash in a gentle cycle or hand-wash.
Good for. Garden Goddess (see page 81), Sweetheart Sundress (see page 20).
Party time! Whether or not you like to party in tutus and circle skirts, these fabulous fabrics are sure to bring life and soul to you and your favorite dresses!
Chiffon is a lightweight, plain-weave sheer fabric. It is woven with twisted crepe yarns that give the fabric both stretch and a slightly rough feel. Chiffon is available in both natural and synthetic fibers.
Fabric care. Hand-wash to protect this delicate fabric.
Good for. Sweetheart Sundress (see page 20).
Lace is an openwork fabric with holes in it, made either by machine or hand. It is manufactured from natural fibers, such as cotton, silk, and linen, as well as synthetic fibers. Use vibrantly dyed lace as an accented detail to add some pop to your dresses. Lace comes in all kinds of great colors, from pastels to neons, so be sweet and girly, or outright loud with it!
Fabric care. Hand-wash this delicate fabric. After washing, lace might need some reshaping, so don't freak out if it doesn't look right when it's wet. Lay it flat, pull it gently back into shape, and leave it flat to dry.
Good for. Peep Show (see page 127), design details: think collars, cuffs, pockets, and linings (oohhh, how secretive).
Satin can be woven in natural and/or synthetic fibers. It has a shiny surface and slippery texture with a dull background created by its warp-dominated weaving technique.
Fabric care. With cold water, hand-wash or use the delicate cycle of your washing machine. Do not use the dryer or wring out the dress. Instead, lay it out flat on a dry, clean towel and roll it in the towel to remove excess water. Transfer the dress to a new, dry towel and allow it to dry flat. Iron on a medium-heat setting and do not use steam.
Good for. Princess Perfect (see page 139), Flirty Flare (see page 144).
Crisp and smooth, this plain-weave fabric is made in either silk or synthetic fabrics. You can find some incredible taffetas, some of which are also incredibly expensive!
Fabric care. Dry-clean only.
Good for. Flirty Flare (see page 144), Enchanted Evening (see page 160), and Ruffle and Ready (see page 15).
I'm not known as The Queen of the Tutu for nothing! There is no harm in sticking a tutu under your dress, right? Tulle adds volume and that party-girl feel to any dress! I love to use tulle with fabrics that it's not normally paired with.
Tulle is a sheer synthetic fabric typically made from nylon, rayon, or silk. It is lightweight netting that is often starched and can be relatively cheap, depending on the fiber content. Tulle is available in many colors and can be easily dyed. The fabric is traditionally used for bridal and eveningwear.
Fabric care. I find that dry cleaning flattens the tulle, which you do not want. Either hand-wash or machine-wash on a low temperature setting.
Good for: Flirty Flare (see page 144).
Mix and Match
I have always been a fan of mixing fabrics together in one project. When you mix fabrics, though, you need to:
* Choose fabrics of similar weight and drape so they work together.
* Make sure that the fabrics can all be cleaned and treated in the same way.
* Preshrink the fabrics before cutting and sewing.
* Wash test swatches of the fabrics together to make sure the colors do not run.
My green and pink polka-dot tool kit is so fun and inspiring. When I go into my studio, I feel like a child rummaging through my dress-up box! My tool kit is super organized and has all my essentials in one place. Make your design world inspirational by transforming your work space and tool kit into a reflection of your own individual style and personality.
Your patternmaking tools are your weapons in the work space — at least this is how it felt on Project Runway! Before you start to work, lay out the tools you are going to use, and take good care of them. You'll be using them a lot!
Cardstock: Make your slopers out of cardstock rather than pattern paper since you will use them over and over again. Cardstock slopers will maintain their shape, won't tear, and are easier to trace. Large pieces of cardstock can be found at most arts and crafts stores. The sheets come in various sizes, but if you can only find the 8" × 11" size, simply tape the pieces together until they are large enough for your sloper. I like to use invisible tape because it has a matte finish that you can draw on with both pens and pencils.
Dress Forms: A dress form, also known as a mannequin, is an adjustable figure you can use to test the fit and shape of a garment. Depending on how far you take your dressmaking, whether it remains a hobby or becomes a career, investing in a dress form is a good idea and will make a huge difference when fitting your dresses. It is far easier to fix the shape of a dress when it is on a form than on your body.
Dress forms come in all sizes and are available in different price ranges. The least expensive ones come in adjustable styles, but they are not very sturdy and tend to be difficult to work on since they are hard to pin into. Professional dress forms are a great investment and will last you a lifetime. Generally, they cost around $300 to $400, but you might get lucky and find something online in the $150 to $200 range. If you truly want the best possible dress form, have one custom-made to your measurements and specifications. Check with your local fabric stores to see if they know a good resource.
Dressmaker's Pins: Dressmaker's pins are used for pinning fabrics together, but are also useful when working with paper patterns. Many people prefer pins with colored heads because they are easier to see on fabric, but they do tend to distort the fabric a bit when pinning and you might not get a clean cut. I prefer the Precision Point Pins #24. It's just a personal preference. If you go for the colored ball-head pins, opt for glass; they won't melt under the iron.
Excerpted from "Buffi's Dress Design: Sew 30 Fun Styles"
Copyright © 2014 Buffi Jashanmal.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Fabrics and Tools
Slopers, Patterns, and Muslins
The Shift Dress
The Sheath Dress
The Princess Seam Dress