Sunday, 20 March 2016

Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, Shirtwaist Dress

I've had Gertie's first two dressmaking books in my collection for over a year. I remember looking through when I'd only been sewing about six or seven months and thinking everything looked terribly hard! There seemed to be a lot of altering that needed to be done to each paper pattern before you even started sewing. Splitting and splaying pieces, omitting other pieces, redrafting... I just wanted to cut out and sew together something that was guaranteed to look the way it was meant to.
I'm pretty glad I waited until I was a bit more practiced before diving in, as I incorporated a lot of things that I have learnt over the past two years that I maybe would never have even considered before. Top of that list is pattern matching, and pattern matching is what took me two days to get this fabric cut out.

The problem was, was this fancy fabric that I found in Fine Fabrics, Hillsborough had a black strip along one side of the design. As lovely and intricate as it looked- matching selvedge to selvedge to cut out would have resulted in there being a black strip down the side of one part of the circle skirt. I tried for a long time, but there was no way to cut the skirt on the grainline. After much deliberation, I decided it wouldn't be the end of the world to fold my fabric the other way, cut the pieces out crossgrain, and utilise the black strip along the bottom of the fabric.

Being a round skirt, I found it was going to be impossible to have the black edge along the bottom of my skirt. Second choice was to use it at the bottom of the bodice- matching up the dart placement with the intricate edge of the fabric patterning. Laying all this out, trying to pattern match, cut economically and make sure I didn't run out of fabric, on a floor that was smaller than my actual fabric piece was a bit of a nightmare! I focussed on making sure pieces were symmetrical as I knew this would pay off in the end. I cut half of a piece at a time, then folded over to match the exact pattern. The fabric is pretty slippy so cutting on the fold would have ended is disappointment. I found straight lines within the fabric design to make sure I wasn't placing things off-grain. Like I said- a nightmare but well well worth it!!

There's all sorts going off with the construction of the dress (none of which I found quite as frustrating as cutting out!). There are three pleats on either side of the skirt (which have come out SO symmetrically I get a bit excited every time I look at them), elastic shirring on the lower back, which I think I did a bit slapdash but thankfully, somehow looks absolutely lovely. I must remember in future to leave long ends of the elastic and tie the ends off as I found overstretching can make even a sturdy back-stitch ping! Thankfully there's not much need for overstretching though as it fits pretty snuggly around my middle- also helping stop that baggy lower back thing that seems to keep being a issue even on shop bought clothes.

The book then suggested I leave the elastic in the bobbin to sew my gathering stitches in the top of the back of the dress. I was a little sceptical as I thought that having my gathering stretching around could end in disaster, but in the name of trying something new I gave it a go. Gertie's right- It is a helpful tip- taking less time, but perhaps leaving a little less control over where the gathers end up... Maybe I just need more practice. Either way it looks great and it was much less faff than stitching and pulling then distributing fabric evenly. Thanks Gertie.

This was my first official go at pockets sewn into the side seams. I seem to remember they felt a little low down and inched them up a little. I've read similar things on other blogs. I'm still amazed to find the fabric design on the pocket openings match on each side perfectly.

I knew sleeves would slow me up a bit. I'd read some other blogs saying that the shoulders on the pattern were much too long and the actual sleeve caps did not sit on the shoulder. I knew I was probably going to have to remove some fabric from the bodice/yoke at the armholes. I also knew that I wasn't going to be mad keen on the shoulder puffs. There was a lot of tacking and practising then unpicking and measuring before I took the scissors to both the arm holes and the sleeve caps hoping to make the perfect fit. I'm going to be honest- I was winging it a bit and didn't entirely know what I was doing or what was going to happen. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd just omit the sleeves and bind the arm holes.
I'd remembered not liking the poofs on the sleeves of my Megan Dress, so again traced the sleeve from the Skater Dress pattern in hope this smaller sleeve cap would be less puffy. I was slightly concerned removing fabric would affect the amount of movement I had in the arms/chest area, but there was no real way of telling how much this would be affected until neckline/buttons were finished and I could have a proper try on! So I did the best I could- I'm not 100% on the sleeves, but I think thats really because I know all the guessing and snipping that went into them. They are still a million times better than they would have been without alterations so I really can't complain.

After mastering the sleeves, getting the collar and neck facing on was exciting- the dress finally taking proper shape without too much stress. I made sure my centre back collar lined up bang on with my centre back yoke, which was a success!

Next step was hemming- I cut quite a wedge off the bottom of the dress. I think using quite a drapey fabric made bottom hang a little too low. If I'd used a cotton with more body I think it would have taken much more shape at the pleats on the waist and would have hung at around knee length. I cut a good few inches off the bottom (though somehow my front had come out way longer than my back anyway? Hmmm? Slippy fabric!?), then did a narrow hem to finish off.

Button holes were the usual traumatic experience with my machine freaking out when it reached even slightly bulky seams. I did my button holes horizontally as it showed on the pattern, but I think next time, vertically would hopefully prevent reaching any of the bulk around the facing seams and make for a much smoother process. To attach the buttons I put the dress on and stitched where appropriate.

My favourite make so far.


Currently listening to: This Shroud, Rose Windows
Location: Hagg Lane, Rivelin Valley


  1. Jou did a very good yob! Jou cut the material very nice! I olso made this "Shirtwaist Dress" from very different material for my friend. Jou can look at it on my blog "De Gelukkige Naaister " look for "The Shirtwaist Dress" in the right colem. Greetings from Marie Bartels.

  2. It's so so good!! I really need to crack open my gertie book pile as I've also left them in the 'when I'm much better at sewing' pile!! Xox

  3. fabulous use of the border print.

  4. It looks AMAZING! Love the back and the shirring so much. You have so much patience to get that pattern matching so perfect - well worth all the time and effort. If I was you I'd never want to take it off :) x

  5. I agree about how you've used the border print, it's such a nice design touch! I really like how you've modified the sleeves too. I also have the first Gertie book but haven't made anything yet, might be time for me to change that!

  6. This is gorgeous! Ooo, that fabric!! You did a brillant job.