Being Helena

With the prospect of Susan Khalje visiting Australia again, I decided to try another challenging project – this outfit worn by Helena Bonham-Carter at a Berlin Film Festival.


After trawling through pinterest, here’s how Helena wore this outfit.

I love how this suit is a deconstructed, fitted suit.

For this project, I ordered from the Minerva Crafts website a paisley lining and two different suitings plus the buttons and trims to reflect the original photos of Helena’s outfit. Bear in mind that I didn’t have the patterns available so I ordered plenty of lining and suiting just in case I needed to include lots of detailing.

The patterns
As you can see, the jacket uses McCalls 7513 body and Vogue 8931 sleeves.
Two-piece sleeve
My choice of McCalls 7513 was because it has amazing pleating at the base of the jacket.
The easiest way to make this suit would be to make a basic jacket and pencil skirt. My aim was to  make something close to the actual outfit and I knew Susan would have the couture experience to help me achieve this.

I did use Vogue 8931 in 2014 and 2015 so I knew the sleeve pattern would work. 

This is the pinning needed to make sure the sleeve was positioned correctly.

PreparationDuring the 6 days couture sewing week, I prepped the jacket and skirt pattern using calico. My working was made more accurate using the Prym products to mark the seam allowances and pattern markings for this project.

The jacket fabric is made up of a Portuguese Pinstripe Stretch Suiting.

 

Without knowing how much fabric I needed, I ordered 2 metres and I used it all for the jacket.

Sewing with Winter suiting during our humid Summer was a huge task but so worth doing.

Back to the jacket…

Would you believe this was my starting point for both the jacket and the skirt? 

When you think about it, the project might be daunting.

However, as you can see, Susan had pinned the jacket into the shape that I wanted and she prompted got to helping someone online, with a handy cup of tea.

This is where I got to on day 2 of the workshop.

Faux vest

These closeup photos of the jacket show a faux vest.

Here’s the toile of my version of this faux vest piece.

I had to include the faux collar on the faux vest at the top of this pattern piece.


What you see here is the prepped faux vest piece thread traced so I could have the buttonholes sewn professionally.

This is the industry button hole sewing machine used to sew most of the buttonhole. This was done on day 5 of the workshop.

What you see here is Mick sewing the bar tack end of the buttonhole on a separate industry machine. In Sydney Mick is the only person who does this work for the garment industry and he’s more than happy to do this for us locals.

When I saw these buttons on the Minerva Crafts website, I knew they would be perfect for this jacket.
Crendon Embossed Floral Metal Buttons
I love that this button is metal and has a darkness to it. The flowers on this button gives this a bespoke feel to the jacket while still being a bit girlie.

Jacket pleats
Days 3 and 4 confounded me as I tried to get the fit of the jacket pleats accurately.

To get the pleats to sit flat, I had to thread trace the pleats and adjust them to my shape.

The pleats did need some re-work.

The collar
The other challenge was the collar.

Every seam allowance on the collar was thread traced and rechecked to the pattern.

In the end, we repined the collar and it’s less wide than the original collar in the McCalls pattern but suits my size – petite.

Below is the jacket body ready for a lot of work to apply the lining at the end of day 6.

There was still a lot of work to do and I was happy with the fit. Ecstatic.

Below is the pinning required to hand sew the lining into the jacket.

You can see the lining pleat along the centre back seam.

The sleeve of my jacket has a faux opening with the button sewn onto it.


The skirt

The skirt was made using this Portuguese self pinstripe in a navy.


There wasn’t enough time to adjust the pattern for this project.
What you’re looking at above, it the calico example that Susan set up for me so I could replicate this on the skirt pattern after the week ended.
The original pattern for the skirt was Susan’s straight skirt pattern.
What you see here is the full sized pattern I developed.
These are the thread traced pleats on the front of the skirt.
I rechecked my work against the green test version of Susan’s pencil skirt pattern. After making the initial skirt fit adjustments on the calico, I sewed up a test skirt in green and it fit well.
This shows how the final pleating looked with thread tracing intact.
This shows how the inside of the skirt hides all the seaming. I’ve used grosgrain to face the waist of the skirt.
Could I replicate this suit again? Yes.
Would I replicate this suite again? Yes.
The jacket is so unique that I want a casual version to wear in winter. That will happen once our hot humid weather subsides. It’s just way to hot and humid to sew suits in Sydney at the moment.
Thanks Minerva Crafts for supporting my couture habit again this year.


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Rambling rose garden guipure

Guipure lace sewing and jigsaw puzzles take time to complete but they’re fun to work on. 

Making guipure lace fit you is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together and this dress was the same.

Today I released the front darts and unstitched the lining from the hem.

I used New Look 6000 for this project because this dress fits and is easy to tweak into place when I need to change the size.

I had some key battles with the fashion fabric let alone placing the guipure lace in a way that’s balanced. Guipure lace needs to be placed so it runs continuously horizontally and vertically.

Front view of rambling rose garden
I’m pleased this dress has worked out and the flowers placement is balanced.

The fashion fabric is a light-weight stretch woven but it was the perfect base fabric for this lace.

Back bodice closeup

Pitt Trading was kind enough to provide me with the fabrics and notions I needed for this dress.

The lining is a firm poplin as is the underlayer of the fashion fabric.

Today I unpicked the lining off the hem and released the back darts.

Together with the lace, this dress has 4 layers of fabric and it took a lot of time to keep each layer together.

You can kinda see the poplin underlayer beneath the fashion fabric.

This work in progress shot shows you a lot about placing the lace.

All the lace is hand sewn onto the fashion fabric.

I’m attempting to hand pick the zipper in.
The constant shifting of the fashion fabric made me decide to hand pick the zipper in place. This was the most secure way to sew in the zipper.
Sewing in the zipper and hand stitching the lace did get very scary at times dealing with a number of fluid layers of fabric. The fabric layers were also hand basted together so this was challenging.
One of the contest criteria was to make a project that reflects your skills so I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve used couture sewing techniques fulfils this component of the contest.
I used the sleeves to add more lace but in a rambling way. I’ve used the grey flowers for most of the sleeve.

There’s a lace contest on Pattern Review that I made this dress so it requires 75% lace component so this was my way of meeting that criteria while keeping this dress interesting.
There was a number of nights when I would just put this project to one side because the lace puzzle pieces were doing my head in,
At one point I was contemplating applying lace to this felt hat but right now my fingers are worn out from hand sewing guipure lace to the dress.
Would I sew with guipure lace again? In a heart beat.
I have one WIP Summer lace dress that I put aside to work on this dress for the Pattern Review lace contest.

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Simply couture

Do you ever wonder…can I really make this on my own? After attending such an intensive workshop, I wondered if I could still use my new couture skills without Susan Khalje’s being there. This month’s Minerva Crafts project has shown me that I can.

When I initially ordered this lovely guipure lace, I ordered extra for another project but I wasn’t sure what the project would be. This strapless cocktail dress was my project of choice.

The bodice uses the foundation bodice from my February cocktail dress (Vogue 1174).

Double checking the lace for this dress.
The skirt is the one I used in my March project (Simplicity1460).
This guipure lace is woven with a lovely curved border and I again used scalloped border on the skirt hem.
Work in progress view from the front
Work in progress lace from the back
For this project, I cut into the lace across the top of the bodice for more wow.
Bodice lace work in progress
Getting the dimensions right is all in the prep work for this little cocktail number.
Overlaying the lace to finish the centre back seam evenly
Once I had placed the lace onto the dress, I was a bit disappointed that the flowers pointed down however the flower base points were balanced well across the bodice so I took advantage of this and cut into the lace for a more striking bodice edge.
Stepping out with the finished dress

Couture tools

These Prym tools really keep my sewing more accurate and looking more refined that I’ve done in the past. Prym’s red dot tools are ergonomically designed and the Prym Love range are just as well designed and very easy to find when you’re in the ‘throes of sewing up a storm’.

Using all the tools for a better finish
Prep work and Netflix
On both the front bodice and front skirt, I thread-basted the centre front seam. This made aligning the lace work more accurate and helped balance the lace features of this dress.

From my experience you need at least two boxes of pins to secure this type of lace onto your base fabric.

The back of this dress has the full lace across the bodice.

There’s a lot of lace hand sewing to reduce the shadowing that happens when you layer lace over satin. Believe me when I say there’s loads of applique stitching that took a good day to complete. It was during this time that Netflix became my BFF.

Foundation bodice
After making my February cocktail dress I decided to add a nicer looking foundation piece. One side of this foundation bodice is calico with 5cm seam allowances for the boning. The side you can see uses the lining fabric so the inside is a lovely as the outside of the dress.
The internal bodice reading for a different dress
It turns out that as awesome as this foundation piece is, the dress was fitted to me without the foundation piece so after diligently hand sewing this to the dress, I couldn’t close the zipper so I had to take out the foundation bodice. No great loss. I can still use this for a future dress, but I’ll build the dress around the foundation bodice.

Getting help

Now this is the part I needed an expert to check how well the dress fit on me. I went to Bobbin & Ink and the lovely Juliet checked the dress fit and we discovered I needed to add a bit of room at the zipper waist.
When I rechecked my toile pattern pieces, I had the adjusted seam line drawn in a lighter colour, hence this adjustment was the same as I had done in February.
hand finishing the zipper
Fit basics

If I was taller then I would wear clothes that have more flow and drape. However, I just don’t have the height or shape to wear lots of drape and feel confident. I always admire others who can wear clothes with lots of drape but at the end of the day, they don’t work for me.

The fit of the bodice is quite firm so while there’s no boning in the seam, the four layers of fabric keep this dress in place. It doesn’t slip and slide and the dress is very heavy.

I will add the boning to the seams later this month because I don’t think I could wear this with confidence without boning.
Conclusion

Couture sewing takes time and I’m really enjoying it. I prefer not to hand stitch but when the results are this good, I’d be kicking myself to not use my couture sewing skills more often.

The final results are so satisfying. Taking the to make special outfits will make it easier to agree to more formal functions in the future because I now have some really lovely outfits that I’ve made with the help of Minerva Crafts fabric and notion range.

Couture sewing part one

Last November I saw Susan Khalje was coming to run her couture workshops in Australia. I booked into the 6-day couture workshop in Sydney and created this strapless dress using Minerva Crafts John Kaldor Floral Print Slinky Satin Dress Fabric.

I have sewn enough now to want to raise my sewing skill and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to learn from Susan.

Minerva Crafts were happy to supply me with all the couture sewing fabrics and notions to learn couture sewing and make up a fully structured strapless dress. This made me realise how enabling Minerva Crafts is with their range of fabrics and notions and I’ve seen inside Minerva’s amazing warehouse too!


Susan Khalje has worked in a New York couture house and she passes on her couture sewing knowledge through her workshops in Baltimore and now through Craftsy courses.

The dress
Vogue 1174 is a classic strapless dress and reviews of this pattern show it does have its challenges so it made sense to get Susan’s expertise on fit, design balance and construction to come up with this cocktail dress. 

For me, the end result is I can use the outer dress and lining patterns for up to four strapless dress variations.

Susan maintains all patterns are a starting point. When you have that philosophy, it becomes easy to make the adjustments you need to have well-fitted clothes.

The fabric
This fabric has a silky feel and it acts like silk even though it’s a polyester fibre. The weave and feel really is silky. I picked this silky feel fabric for this workshop to build my fabric handling skills. I looked at all of the John Kaldor prints on Minerva Crafts website and this classic print was available. Bingo. Choice made!


The lining is a similar weight to the fashion fabric so again, the fabrics I needed were all available through their website.


Foundation bodice
The dress pattern suggests horse hair canvas for the foundation bodice but this felt really harsh against my skin so I used calico to build the foundation bodice. 

Calico is easy to get in various weights and this medium-weight calico gave me a firm and seamless structure to the dress bodice.

Once I finalised the foundation bodice, I overlayed the dress fashion fabric and lining to better structure the dress fit. It took 4 fittings to get the bodice shape right.

Couture techniques
Setting up a toile wasn’t my idea of fun but it’s actually worth doing for a great finished product. I’ll normally make a wearable toile but making a toile that you use as your ‘laboratory’ is so much better for a great fitting garment. Putting the time in beforehand pays off.

Thread tracing seam lines and using 2.5cm seam allowances are essential when you are aiming for a great fit too.

Warning:  This pattern has 27 pieces. Just remember that when you’re using an old tracing wheel to trace out your pattern. Do yourself a favour and buy the Prym Tracing wheel. It’s ergonomically designed so your wrist doesn’t get fatigued.

I’ve taken advantage of the Prym products I’ve been given and the ergonomically designed tools are worth treating yourself once you step into couture sewing. The glass head pin, shears, tracing wheel and measuring tools have made a difference to my sewing and I can sew for a long time and not get any muscular strains.

Each fashion fabric piece is interlined with silk organza and I’ve thread-traced every stitching line. The 2.5cm seams act as facings so no pattern facings were included.

Even the skirt pocket pieces are interlined.

Did I say that we basically sewed 10 hours days for this 6-day workshop? The first three days I still did my usual 6am gym workouts before the workshop but by day 4, I needed my energy to get through the final 3 days the gym didn’t happen for the rest of the week. I did use this energy for homework or dinners/breakfasts with some of the ladies who came to Sydney from other parts of Australia.

While I didn’t sew in a hand-picked zipper , Susan demonstrated this and a few other techniques to the class throughout the 6 days.

Final pattern pieces
They look something like this…

As you can see, the pattern pieces are on the calico. They’ll remain here for now and I’ll use these again for future strapless dresses.

There are separate pattern pieces for the lining dress and outer dress. This means I can make up to 4 different strapless dresses from these pieces.

After the course
After such an intensive workshop, I found it difficult to come back to reality. I sewed some cozzies and felt more grounded.

However I still needed to finish off the bodice and hems. In a way, sewing cozzies was a way to practice sewing with swimwear elastic for a closer dress bodice fit.

There were 2 issues that needed ‘fixing’ along the top of the bodice.

1 The top of the bodice while keeping me in shape, the bodice was keenly pointing to the sky but not hugging my body.
2 I used calico for the foundation layer and the calico edge was peeking out at the top of the dress bodice.


Solution to issue 1: I machine sewed swimwear elastic across the front of the bodice. This meant I had to unpick my hand stitching; machine sew on the elastic; re-hand stitch the foundation to the bodice while pulling it taunt.


Solution to issue 2: I hand-stitched self made bias using the John Kaldor fabric. This has resulted is a really lovely internal finish as well as resolving issue 2. If the foundation layer peeks above the dress, you’ll only see more of the fashion fabric. I’m happy with this result.
Watching Netflix helped me stay focused while hand stitching the bias to the top of the bodice.

Issue 3: There was one other issue…hooking up the foundation layer…by Mr V. I used pliers to adjust the hooks so Mr V can help me dress. So you could say, there’s a reality aspect to this dress aside from couture sewing I had to resolve.


Hemming
Having an organza layer under the fashion fabric is really useful. I hand sewed the hem onto the organza layer. This also keep the shape of dress skirt. The lining is hemmed separately.

Wrapping it up

My initial idea was to play a velvet trim somewhere on the dress for some definition. Susan placed the trim on the waist and fashioned a bow for me. I’ve now hand sewn this on the dress.

There are faux straps that I’ve also prepared for a different feel to the dress. These faux bra straps are made from the fashion fabric and give the dress a subtle change.


This wider fashion fabric ribbon gives this dress a ‘50s vibe to it.

So this same dress, with the same shoes can be worn at least three different ways.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of my couture sewing journey. Thanks to Susan for travelling to Australia and running these workshops.

A big thank you to Vicki and the team at Minerva Crafts for providing me with all the fabrics and notions for this workshop. The name of everyone who packs each online order is on the label of your purchase.

Also a big shout out to Prym products for providing me with all their ergonomic sewing tools that have made this workshop more enjoyable. Remember there’s a 10% discount on all Prym products when you apply the discount code ‘maria’.

Next month, I’ll be making the couture lace skirt in Susan’s class and sharing what I learnt with you. You’ll love the fabrics I’ve chosen too!

Couture WIP

Today is day 5 of the 6 day Couture Workshop with Susan Khalje.

 We have the opportunity to really see Susan’s awesome work.

Sharpies are so useful for marking toiles. 

This is the first pinning of the foundation garment. 

 This is the pattern I’ve used for the foundation garment.

 The detailing in Susan’s lace skirt is so detailed.

At least I didn’t have to think about print placement for the pockets. 

The lining is on the left and the out dress is on the right. 

 Here’s the foundation garment with finally pinning.

 I’ve used hook and eye tape for the back.

 My Prym pen is used to mark the boning so it’s the right length for each channel.

Now the foundation garment is ready to sew into the dress.

 We’ve used 2.5cm seams and they did get used. Lots of marking was needed.

This is my pattern placing the dress back bodice. 

By the way, I’ve used at least two boxes of pins.

There are more photos on instagram… 

Back to the workshop for me.

Couture prepping

Would you choose to do a couture workshop?
I did because Susan Khalje announced she would be running workshops in Australia. Having Susan run these workshops here is an amazing opportunity.

I had real reservations about attending these workshops:

  • What did I really want to learn (more about fit and construction techniques)
  • Could I get the time off work to do any of these classes (yes but only just)
  • Is our dollar going to make this a huge expense (yes)
  • Did I really want to make a French style jacket (no)

Prepping for the 6 day couture workshop meant at least a full day’s worth of work prepping a test dress (toile/muslin).

I love going to parties so I chose Vogue 1174 as my main pattern and a Burda 7746 trouser pattern to tweak for a future Winter project. Yes more than 1 project but I’m just like that with sewing projects.

The toile instruction meant a lot of preparation work so by the time I had prepared Vogue 1174 I was determined to at least get the pants ready to tweak. 

We were asked to bring our favourite hand-sewing needles, good quality thread, good scissors, beeswax, tracing paper (old-fashioned wax paper), a tracing wheel, good pins, calico, our patterns and a tape measure. 


Tools of the trade
My generous Prym team sent me a few new sewing tools including tools we were asked to bring to class. 

The design of Prym’s sewingtools are ergonomic so I was keen to use these for my workshop prep.

Ergonomic designed tools should result in less fatigue, and that’s always a good thing. The red tracing tool pictured is the original tracing wheel I’ve been using. There’s no comparison.


The basic tracing wheel has never felt very stable or accurate and was fatiguing to use. 

The Prym tracing wheel is really accurate. It doesn’t wobble like the classic red wheel I’ve been using. It’s is molded to allow you to do lots of couture work. 

I’m getting used to wearing the Prym arm pin cushion. The pins types I have work well.

I work on the floor for tracing and cutting, sewing on the machine and on the sewing bench to check the instructions as I go.

The Prym Love magnet and pin set were great to use for prepping the toile. I prefer to use pins of one colour so I know what to look for when they drop on the floor or when I’m scanning a pinned project.

Making the test version
We were asked to partly make up our test version but I made all of the two garments up to be tweaked.
The strapless dress has 27 pieces.
The pants only has 4 pieces to cut and mark.

Our test pattern pieces have 2.5cm seams. 
Seam lines marked and stitched in contrasting thread.
Seams sewn with basting stitches.
All notches are marked on the calico.

I’m packing my sewing kit as we speak as Monday’s day 1 for the 6 day workshop.

Don’t forget use the discount code ‘maria’ and get 10% off all Prym purchases at Minerva Crafts