A Bias Cut Disaster, Rescued!


This was a great shame.  This was a simple bias cut dress pattern, and they should have been so pretty, but they weren't.  The customer had spent 200 on each of these dresses, and they were unwearable.  Luckily (!) they gave me a whole month to work in, but unluckily, two of the three girls were away for part of the time, and I was trying to get booked to go to the NEC for a quilt show and a RCTQ meet-up...  I can see me taking them with me to my friend's house in Kenilworth!

I did the best I could with the pictures, but the colour isn't always quite right.

lindsay1.jpg (34626 bytes) This is the dress that needs to be completely re sewn: it is way too short, and on the lass, the hem is even more wonky than it looks here!
This is the worst zip, but it is typical of the elegant peaked effect the dressmaker has achieved at the top. lziptop.jpg (61569 bytes)
invizip.jpg (69076 bytes) This is supposed to be a concealed zip...  It's about as concealed as a decorative anorak zip!
Here's another of the dresses.  Note the interesting ripples all down the seam... Lindsayside.jpg (25698 bytes)
Rippleeffect.jpg (47116 bytes) Oh!  How... erm... original!  Coo!  I wonder how she did that? 

Actually, I know how to produce this effect: you put the zip in with the bias at full drop, so when you put the garment on, pulling the weave back into shape gives this interesting three dimensional effect to the zip!

This will be ripped out and the correct length stabilized before putting the new light weight concealed zip in.

This is another good one: the twisted seam!  At this late date, I cannot do much about this.  It happens when you cut two panels parallel to each other rather than at right angles.  Cutting at right angles takes more fabric, but is worth the extra for the lack of corkscrew effect in the seams. seamtwist.jpg (47422 bytes)
ripplehem.jpg (220842 bytes) The hems again look worse on the girls, but you can get a bit of the effect looking at this.
Oh, what beautiful stitching!  Now why didn't I think of putting up the hem of a bias cut dress using the blind hem stitch on the sewing machine?  Possibly because it doesn't work!  This will be ripped out and re-stitched by hand. nicehem.jpg (108031 bytes)
contrastthread.jpg (169642 bytes) I do like the contrast stitching!  This shows more in real life, as the thread is almost white!
She didn't want this bit to come out in a hurry!  Once unpicked, it did show some damage to the fabric, but luckily as these are made up matte side out, it won't show too much. loadsathread.jpg (182326 bytes)

One thing that was revealed by putting the garments on the dress stand, dialed to the size they were cut out, was that they hang better on the stand than they were on the girls.  A little experimenting has lead me to the conclusion that the reason the dresses are more pulled out of shape on the girls than they are on the stand is that they are TOO SMALL!

I thought, when I first looked at them on the girls, that they were reasonably OK for size, but after comparing the way the zips pull on the stand to the way they pull on the girls, I have to conclude that all the dresses are a size too small.  The pattern has been cut out at a size 14 - barely!  The top of the ZIP SIDE (i.e. the left side) has been cut down to almost a 12, while the other side has been left at the size 14 line...  Yes, the pattern has been cut out lop-sided!  Now I know that we women are rarely EXACTLY symmetrical, but once in a bra, we tend to be better than this unless we have very severe fitting problems.  Were that the case, we wouldn't be making this bias cut dartless dress pattern at all, would we?

I have also measured all three girls, and according to the sizes on the pattern envelope, all three girls are at least a 16, with some 18 hips...  No, none of them are fat, they are just well covered, rather than walking skeletons, and they all look lovely.  They will look good in the dresses, if I can possibly save them!

I have ripped out the zips of two of the dresses, pinned the lasses into them, and we have determined that they can both get in and out of the dresses with the zip going down just to the waist.  This eliminates the unsightly bulge at the bottom of the zip on each lass, and gives me a working measurement for the zip opening:  When on the girls and pinned to fit as best I can, and as flat as I can, I have an opening of 8" in one and 9" in the other.  There may be a second one to remake, as this one was so tight in the bust as to be uncomfortable, even with a bias cut!

Having pinned Debbi's opening on her dress, and determined that it needed to be 9" long, it was time to put it in...

mumsewing.jpg (105322 bytes) Here I am squidging the fabric to shape!  I think young James took an excellent photo of me here!  Typical Kate bright skirt and T-shirt!  Oh, and silly hair ornament!
Here it is pinned to length: the ironing board is excellent for this sort of work! noneinches.jpg (79429 bytes)
tape.jpg (44378 bytes) Seam tape in place, ready to stabilize!  This stuff is an iron-on one from Vilene: very light, and will add no bulk to the area.
Pressing the seam tape in place!  I quite often use bits of kitchen paper for this: nice and small for a small area, and if it gets sticky, you can just bin it. pressingtape.jpg (98206 bytes)
pinnedzip.jpg (41153 bytes) Here's the zip just pinned in, to make sure we are on the right tracks!  I think it looks better already...
Sewing the zip in place: you can see the way the big zip foot uncurls the edge of the concealed zip so you can get a really close finish. sewingzip.jpg (93371 bytes)
stitchingjpg.jpg (166019 bytes) My stitching compared to the 'white' stitching made by the original dressmaker.

If you look closely, you will see that the original stitching is a large straight stitch and my replacement stitching is a small, very narrow zigzag.  This is to control any tendency to puckering on a poly satin fabric (much less likely with a small stitch), and to allow the seam to have more stretch than the straight stitching allows.  Ideally, a stretch or bias cut garment should be stitched with a stretchy seam.


Someone remarked that it seemed a bit mean to compare my stitching to the original stitching.  It is not my intention to prove I can sew better than everyone else.  The purpose of this set of photos is to show why your stitch length, style and tension should be correct for the fabric and purpose.  Here you can see what happens to the original stitching as soon as the garment is worn and the stitching is under tension: it pulls apart at the seam and gapes, showing as holes and miss matched thread. badstitchoutside.jpg (59438 bytes)
goodstitchoutside.jpg (94572 bytes) Here the replacement stitching is under the same tension: it neither gapes nor shows miss matched thread, because it has been stitched correctly and with a thread that matches more closely to the garment colour.

These photos are gray scale because it shows the stitching better.  They come from Jo's dress, where part of each side seam was let out to allow her breathing room!

The end of the zip, given a new thread stop, and trimmed off.  It will be covered by the lining.  If the dress were not lined, I'd sew a sort of patch over the end so it didn't scratch the wearer. zipstop.jpg (117782 bytes)
zipin11.jpg (76173 bytes) Just a quick try on the stand to see how we are going...
And the top pinned neatly into place!  Eventually this will have a hook and eye on it. ziptop.jpg (97857 bytes)
ondebbi1.jpg (50806 bytes) Debbi in her dress: this shows clearly how much better the zip looks now I have replaced it.
Debbi, showing a nice smooth outline.  The lining is so small it pulls up a whole six inches shorter inside the dress! ondebbi2.jpg (57037 bytes)
ondebbizipjpg.jpg (30883 bytes) A closer look at the smoother zip: compare this with Lindsay's dress, further up.

PHEW!!  At least I've managed to improve this one considerably!  However, I still can't see any way to get rid of the twist!  All the girls are lovely, and did not deserve this heap of trouble!  The dress still isn't perfect...  It's never going to be perfect now, but it will be wearable.

Having sorted out Debbi's dress as far as possible without the hand stitching, I turned to Jo's.  Jo's problem was more severe, in that not only was the zip horribly puckered, but the top a whole 4" too small.  Well I did all I could, and we shall see, but I make no promises.

seamallowance.jpg (188357 bytes) The seams appeared to have a full width seam allowance AFTER being serged.  No wonder the dresses are so much too small, if the seam allowances have been skimmed by the serger as well as being cut out too small to begin with!
I pinned Jo's zip in with the minimum seam allowance I could: any narrower and we'd be in the danger zone as well as inside the 4 thread serged 'neatening' Jozippinned.jpg (146304 bytes)
needle position.jpg (76601 bytes) Here's how close you need to get with the needle into that curl in the concealed zip.  This one is black and white because the colour was so off it was distressing!
And this is what the zip is like when sewn in properly.  It is not difficult, but it does take patience and practice. jozipin.jpg (78902 bytes)
restitch.jpg (90459 bytes) This shows how much I skimmed off the seam allowance at the other side, to give Jo as much breathing space as possible.
Some parts of the dresses were neatly stitched, but this 'neatening' doesn't disguise the lumps made by using too heavy a stitching method.


inside.jpg (116439 bytes)
letout.jpg (131507 bytes) Here you can see how little I managed to add to the dress's circumference.  I just hope it's enough, or we'll be remaking this one, too!
Jo's zip in place: another decent looking zip rather than a pig's breakfast! Jozipfinished.jpg (195693 bytes)
joziptop.jpg (85245 bytes) It will be very hard to get the inside neat as there are no seam allowances left on the facing or lining!  NOT as neat ad Debbi's at this point, but we shall see...
Here is the much smoother profile given by letting this dress out just a tad and sewing the zip in properly. Jozipprofile.jpg (36184 bytes)
jodress.jpg (49099 bytes) Even with not quite the right bra on, this is so much better!
Stitching the hem needs to be done with care.  With some satins, you can slide the needle behind the floats on the satin side, and no stitch will show on the outside of the garment.  This wasn't possible with this satin, so the trick is to take as tiny a stitch as you can. tinyhemstitchinside.jpg (144408 bytes)
tinyhemstitchneedle.jpg (72455 bytes) Here you see the same stitch from the outside.  Hardly any needle shows...
... so when the thread is a good match, the stitches barely show at all!  Just the effect we are looking for. tinyhemstitchoutside.jpg (452502 bytes)
insidehemstitches.jpg (139174 bytes) On the inside the stitches are a little more noticeable, but not too bad.  I tried to match the thread to the garment as closely as possible, using a Guttermann silk thread for all the hand stitching, and a fine milliner's needle for sewing with.
Once pressed, the stitching almost vanishes.  Luckily, the holes from the previous machine stitching almost vanished too!  I was relieved at this, because the seamstress had obviously used a large blunt needle, as there was quite a bit of needle damage round all the hems.  For this fabric a size 70 needle is adequate, and one should start EVERY project (or each garment in a multi garment project) with a new needle. pressedhemoutside.jpg (181363 bytes)
hemstraight.jpg (60755 bytes) Here's the hem, as straight as I could get it without making the dress knee length!
It does look MUCH better, I'm happy to report, though there are a few things I don't like...  The biggest is that as soon as I stitched the lining down to the zip inside, some of the rippled effect reappeared!  UGH!  After looking closely and trying a few things, I just left it unpicked!  Unfortunately there is so much too little fabric that even after letting it out almost to danger point, there isn't enough to stitch down.  With the dress on the stand, the lining gapes about an inch, causing the rucking if i drag it over and nail it in place.  Jo has been made aware that this may be the case, and is happy that the dress is wearable at all! Jofinnished.jpg (153548 bytes)

This dress had the best hem, once I'd done this to it.  I do need to rip and re-stitch, but the length is ok.  I'm very pleased also that letting this out a small amount also eased the twisted seam effect quite considerably!


After the 'interesting times' with the two dresses I could fix, there came the fixing of the pattern so I could remake Lindsay's dress...

patternfrontenvelope.jpg (64363 bytes) Here you can see the front of the pattern.  Very nice it is, too.  The view we are aiming for is the yellow one in the middle.
The back of the envelope, showing drawings of all the back views and the yardage.  Note the complete lack of lining yardage for the view we are doing, C! patternback.jpg (102701 bytes)
insidechart.jpg (83258 bytes) This is the pattern chart from the instructions.  There's another one on the envelope that has the same sizes on it...  I'm still puzzled as to why the dresses were cut out so much too small.
Here you can see how much was chopped off the left side of the front at the top patterchoppedoff.jpg (38994 bytes)
hackedpattern.jpg (41774 bytes) And the mess made at the bottom of the zip on the pattern  If they were cut to this profile, no wonder they were so lumpy at the bottom of the zips!
I am puzzled as to why there were so many pin holes in the pattern.  It was only used 3 times, but looks like it was re-pinned half a dozen times for each dress! HolyHolyHoly.jpg (57696 bytes)
patterncut.jpg (28673 bytes) Here's the top right hand side, clearly cut on the size 14 line!
Pattern restoration!  The left side restored before re-sizing to the correct size. restoration1.jpg (95662 bytes)

Before we go any further, let me just show you the problem we faced with the sizes of these dresses:  I say 'we' because it was as much a problem for the girls trying to wear them as it was for me sorting them out!  The following is a table of the girls measurements, and the sizes needed for each of them:

Bust waist Hip finished length pattern size needed Pattern cut out size
Lindsay 39 3/4" 33" 39" 60 1/2 " 16-18 12-14
Debbi 39" 33" 39" standard 16-18 12-14
Jo 39" 32" 42" Standard 18-20 12-14

My instinct would have been to cut them all out on an 18-20 pattern size, and take those I needed to in at the hips...  There is a valuable lesson here in buying and cutting pattern sizes according to measurements rather than according to ready to wear dress size!


Having just cut Lindsay's dress out, I have discovered another interesting thing...  While I was doing the initial fittings, I noticed that some of the straps were cut out on the bias, and a bit twisted.  I thought then that instinct would lead me to cut them out on the straight grain to avoid this phenomenon.  I find that the strap pattern piece, obviously used, has the grain line down the middle of it.  They should be cut on the straight grain!  Why were some cut on the bias?  Lindsay's original dress has one straight grain strap and one bias cut strap!

Ho hum!  On with the dance!  Here come some interesting cutting out points...

patternfront2.jpg (82436 bytes) The whole of the pattern front, once altered
The altered top of the pattern... fronttop.jpg (118202 bytes)
frontbottom.jpg (124339 bytes) ...and the extra added to the hem, which did not appear to have been added the first time a dress was made for Lindsay, despite her requirement for a finished length of 60.5", rather than the patterns finished length of 57". 
Some extra added to the top of the back. backtop5.jpg (121522 bytes)
backbottom.jpg (93674 bytes) And some more added to the hem so it matched the front!
To fit the extended pattern piece on the fabric (even though it was 60" wide), I had to let part of the facing fall off the top.  This is no problem as I will just add a little later and it won't show as it will be hidden under the arms on the inside. layouttop.jpg (75677 bytes)
layoutbottom.jpg (73238 bytes) See how the front hem just fits on the fabric?  I really didn't want to piece this where it would show!
Kate's patent table extension in use! extensiontable1.jpg (85373 bytes)
fabric weights.jpg (81864 bytes) A couple of eccentric fabric weights!
Finding the true bias!  Quilting rulers have some additional uses!  There are some really useful bias lines on this one! grainfinding.jpg (126700 bytes)
frontlayoutflat.jpg (216862 bytes) The front fully on the table.  There are big triangular spare bits at the side of the pattern pieces, and I rolled them loosely and pinned them so that they didn't hang down and drag at the cloth on the table and distort it.
The extension table in use again!  See, I said quilting rulers have more than one use!  This is far better than moving a whole pattern piece for a small corner. bottomlayout.jpg (54568 bytes)
backinterfacing.jpg (136502 bytes) This is how the back interfacing should be put in: applied to the dress piece.  The other dresses have it applied to the facing.
Some under-stitching to keep the facing from rolling to the outside.  This is stitched through all layers of facing and seam allowance, after clipping, and then pressed flat. understitching.jpg (146521 bytes)

I cut the back out completely before repositioning the front to cut it out.  I'm glad we got the extra fabric as it meant that I could cut the two pieces out on 'opposite lock' as it were, thus hoping to eliminate some of the twist generated in the other two dresses!

Basting will happen after lunch, with a fitting scheduled for 3:30 pm. today.  Let's see how we get on!

This page is turning out to be something of a saga, but I think folk will find the information here useful.



Well, it fits just fine!  I had a leeeetle bit of trouble setting up the serger for 2 thread stitching...  It's not something I do often, and I couldn't remember which way up the widget went and couldn't find the manual!  Once I got it all set up, and tested on some scraps, I got a nice neat result.

basting.jpg (102461 bytes) On slippery bias cut stuff like this I like to baste seams.  I do this with a fine two ply silk thread as it's very light and doesn't leave marks if you press it.  This is my lovely Empress Mills thread.  You can find their details on the Fabric List.
This is where I do a lot of handwork!  I like to stand up with the work supported at waist height.  The ironing board helps stuff not to slide onto the floor! workspace.jpg (133226 bytes)
frontdrape.jpg (113326 bytes) Here's the front drape: this looks much better than the tight tops of the other dresses.  Making them the right size according to a correct set of measurements is half the battle.
The zip is in nicely!  This is easier than it is with a seam sewn by someone else! nicezip.jpg (61059 bytes)
niceziptop.jpg (77095 bytes) The top of the zip, showing how it should be done!  Again, not difficult, but it does take a little patience.  I fold the facings down on the stand and stick a reminder pin in to show me where to turn the facing ends to avoid the pulled peaked effect.
This is what the side seams OUGHT to look like: hanging nice and straight!  Compare this with the one at the top with the twist in!  This is done by cutting the back and front at right angles to each other rather than parallel.  Always look at the pattern instructions before buying the fabric to make sure there are no built in nasties like this!  I will be sending comments about this to Butterick. straightseam.jpg (51186 bytes)
Bias cut parallel.jpg (28714 bytes) Here's a sample layout of an imaginary top:  This one shows it as the pattern instructions would have it with the back and front cut out parallel with each other.
Here are the same pattern pieces with the back and front laid out at right angles:  note that the TOP of both pattern pieces is still pointing towards the 'TOP' of the fabric. Bias cut right angle.jpg (29283 bytes)
Bias sewing.jpg (25411 bytes) Here in the top diagram you can see a little of what happens if the parallel layout is used: when the pattern pieces are put together, and the garment is laid flat, the grain lines are at right angles to each other, pulling the garment into a spiral.

In the bottom diagram, they have been cut at right angles to each other: when sewn together and laid flat, the grain lines are now parallel, eliminating twist.

Unless the pattern on your fabric dictates otherwise, this is the way to cut a bias garment.

This dress is easier to do than fixing the other two.   I sewed the side seams with a 4 thread serged stitch, as we are not aiming to line this one.  If we get show through on this one, we will make it a separate slip.


The saga continues... 

This afternoon's fitting was fine: there is a tiny bit at the bottom of the zip that I need to re-sew, and then I can fix the straps.  We got their length fixed today.  The back covers the bra nicely, and I adjusted the straps to go over the bra straps.  Even though all the girls have bought bras with 'invisible' elastic straps, we want to cover them as best we can.   There is a little show-through (we were trying it on Lindsay in bright sunlight - the sewing room faces south!), so I will make a slip for this.  I'll show you how I make the slip pattern from the dress pattern when I do it.  

YIPPEE!  The end is nigh!

As of today (29 August) I have one complete and two almost finished.  Lindsay's needs the hem trimming and sewing on both dress and slip, and one strap fixing in place.  Debbi's needs the hem trimming and sewing, and the lining and facing tacking in place inside.  They will be ready in plenty of time for picking up tomorrow afternoon.

Hay!  A tip for all you gals out there who, like me, don't want to go braless: either get a bra with these invisible straps (made of clear elastic), buy a conversion kit (readily available from any good haberdashery outlet), or make the bra some new straps out of the same fabric as the dress!  All these solutions can work well.

To stop bra and dress coming adrift, you can sew a worked loop to the bra strap using a matching silk thread, and sew a tiny hook to the inside of the dress.  Once both are on, hook the dress to the bra.  With a bra with the invisible straps, sew the worked loop just below the strap attachment points, as you cannot sew through the clear elastic without risking a tear.  Remember to match the thread to the BRA colour, not the dress colour!

Here's the final installment!

slip.jpg (45132 bytes) Here's the attached slip made for Lindsay's dress: this is cut out using the same pattern as the dress, just slightly altered.  The top edges and the hem are narrow: I cheated mightily by using Magic Tape to stick them down firmly for sewing, then washed it out after the stitched were in!  Works a treat!  

One advantage of this over a conventional lining is that the seams are on the inside, so show less than lining seams.

Here you can see the slip inside the dress: it's just tacked in below the strap attachment points, and held closed with a hand worked loop and a small button.  It doesn't show at all from the outside. sideopening.jpg (73206 bytes)
Lindsayhemstitch.jpg (124161 bytes) I do like it when I manage to get the hem stitch small enough not to show on the outside!
Here you can see the difference in hem length between the unwearable original dress made for Lindsay and the new one.  If I'd managed to straighten the hem, it would have been another inch shorter! differenthems.jpg (110106 bytes)
Lindsayboackfinished.jpg (42296 bytes) Lindsay's new dress from the back.  I'm quite pleased with this one, though it would have been nicer to have a little more time for fittings and more hand finishing.
And finally the front!  All done and dusted...  PHEW! Lindsayfrontfinished.jpg (43036 bytes)

In the end I am quite satisfied with this job.  I managed to rescue two of the three dresses.  While they will never be as good as they should have been, they are wearable and cost the customer less than having all three remade.  The last one was an unmitigated disaster, and unfortunately could not be saved.  It would have been nice to have more time for the remake: I'd have liked to make a toile for this pattern, and use more couture finishes.  They are so light, and the drape of the fabric makes the extra work well worth while.

You know what I REALLY feel smug about?  I finished the dresses and the last of the web page with an hour to spare!


Kate Dicey

30 August 2003.

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