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The Wendy Smock | the frilled dress hack

WENDY SMOCK HACK | I did a little hacking of our Wendy Smock pattern and, if I do say so myself, made a rather splendid dress! 

This was actually a salvage job from a previously failed hack and that poor thing has lain, neglected, in the pile of doom all lockdown. But then the sun came out and the UK got hot. And nothing fits anymore (I’m talking body and mood, here! hello menopause, lockdown and well…cake and beer) so I needed a new plan. And voila…she’s now a cool frilled hem dress that’s perfect for the heat!

There’s no actual tutorial just these ramblings…it really is just a case of making our Wendy pattern longer and attaching a frill, but check out our French Dart Frill Sleeve Hack tutorial if you are looking for a little more in the way of detail – it’s exactly the same process just on a different scale.

You’ll need to make a few decisions |

  • how long you’d like your dress
  • how deep you’d like your frill
  • how full you’ll like your frill
  • I’ve included my measurements as a guide but I’m only 5’2″ so bear that in mind. This dress finishes about 5″ above my ankles so adjust to your height/needs/desires! 

PATTERN |

First up: lengthen the bodice pattern.

  • overall length – frill depth = amount to add + seam allowances

I added about 5cm extra to the length of the bodice patterns and added 1cm SA to attach the frill. Please remember I am short! And keep in mind we are still going to add more length with the frill. Don’t over-complicate this bit, I literally just extended the side seams and added on the extra length. Do take the time to check your side seams are the same length and that they will create a smooth hemline when you join them.

FRILL | I didn’t actually make a pattern I just chalked it straight on my fabric as the frill is just made up of 2 rectangles, one for the front one for the back.

DEPTH | You’ll need to decide how deep and how full you would like your frill to be.

I made my frill to finish 33cm deep and added 1cm SA to attach to the body and 2cm hem allowance so I could turn it twice and have a cleanly finished hem, so I cut the rectangle 36cm deep.

WIDTH | The width of your pattern will dictate how gathered your frill is. I decided on a gathering ratio of 2:1. That just means whatever the hem width of the front or back panel is, I doubled it for the frill width. My front had a hem width of 65cm; 65cm x 2 = 130cm + 1cm each end for the seam allowance = my rectangle was cut 132cm wide.

You can change the ratio to suit you and your fabric, a bit more or a bit less gathering to work with the amount of fabric you have will be fine! If you are short of fabric you can join several rectangles together to make your frill.  I just made the same size for the front and back panels as they weren’t very different in size and I was very short of fabric!

GRAINLINE | I cut the frill across the piece of fabric so it is on the same grain line as the bodice. If you have a plain fabric you can cut the frill with the longest length parallel to the selvedge, but be aware if you have a printed fabric it may look odd. 

CONSTRUCTION | remember to press everything as you sew.

It’s all very straight forward – make your Wendy as usual and when you get to the hemming stage, just stick a frill on the bottom!

  • Run gathering stitches across the top of each rectangle. I did 2 rows, but do 3 if you prefer, and I gathered each rectangle in 2 sections so I could gather half a rectangle at a time to make it more manageable. 
  • With right sides of the fabric together, join the frills at the side seam. Neaten and press seams open.
  • Hem the frill.
  • Attach frill to the body with a 1cm seam allowance. Neaten the seam together and press upwards away from the frill.
  • Waft around the house/park/shop at whatever is this week’s acceptably social distance.
  • If you need a little more frill info see our French Dart Frill Sleeve Hack tutorial as the method is the same.
  • I decided later to run my dress in a little at the sides and our High Neck Smock tutorial has instructions to help you!

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted a couple of other differences. I used a wider elastic, 2.5cm wide, at the cuff and I can confirm it’s quite comfy! And the neckline of this Wendy is different too as I have elasticated her rather than finished with the usual binding. This was actually the first method I tried out for Wendy at the toile stage many moons ago before settling on the binding method, but I think that will need to be a whole different tutorial!

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The Somerset | neck alteration tutorial

The Somerset t-shirt has a very elegant and lovely bateau neckline and we don’t want anything to disrupt the clean line.

But, one of the fitting issues you may come across with a slash neck t-shirt is a baggy neckline. The neckline doesn’t sit quite flat – it’s that annoying little bumpy gape you can see. There can be a few different reasons why this happens, we are all different shapes and sizes so sometimes we do have to adjust to fit. I’ve found that this is more common on the back neckline but it could be an issue on the front neckline too.

Before we jump straight into the pattern alteration, let’s just make sure it’s the alteration you need.

DON’T STRETCH THE NECKLINE | First of all, make sure you are not stretching the neckline as you press and topstitch. 

FABRIC & BOOBS | Before you adjust the neckline just take a look at how your t-shirt fits your bust. If it is too tight the t-shirt doesn’t sit where it should and instead works its way upwards and forcing the neckline to sit too high on the body and it then it can’t sit flat. A telltale sign of this is you keep wanting to tug your t-shirt down.

I have found fabric plays a part in how my t-shirts fit – a very soft lycra bamboo jersey gives me no problems, fitting nice and flat across the neckline. The stripey sample, however, is made in a much firmer cotton lycra knit that doesn’t relax as much over my boobage and therefore my t-shirt travels upwards with a little wear, giving me a baggy back neck. I should actually do an FBA but I probably won’t – next time I’ll grade between the sizes and go up a size for my bust while keeping neckline and shoulders my usual size. 

If your Somerset t-shirt is generally too big across the shoulders and neckline, you may be better to choose a smaller size for your shoulder area and to blend between sizes.

THE NECKLINE IS TOO BIG |

You’ve decided the neckline is indeed too big for you. Excellent! I have a pattern alteration fix for that! 

GOOD TO KNOW | I have used one of my original toiles for the photos in this tutorial, so it is only stitched with a normal straight stitch rather than twin needled. I’ve actually worn it quite a bit and it’s been washed and abused like any other of my t-shirts and that stitching has held up perfectly. It is also quite likely the cat slept on it immediately before photos were taken.

EQUIPMENT |

  • Copy of the back pattern (or the ability to re-print)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Sticky tape
  • Tape measure
  • Paper scissors
  • Pattern paper

PREPARE YOUR PATTERN | First, as always with any pattern alteration, trace off your pattern. This gives you the opportunity to preserve your original and the chance to start again if things go horribly wrong! 

Mark all the seam allowances/stitch lines on the pattern to make your life easier.

TOILE | Pop on your toile/offending garment and pin the excess fabric at the neckline a little way back from each shoulder.

  • Use chalk or an extra pin to remark the ‘dart’ so the neckline can lay flat.
  • It’s unlikely that the two ‘darts’ you’ve pinned are of an equal amount and in the same position along the neckline. Unless you have a pronounced difference in your shoulders we just need to even them out.
  • Measure them both and find the TOTAL amount to be removed. 
  • We will be altering half a pattern so DIVIDE the total amount by 2. In this example, I need to remove 4cm in total from the back neckline, so 2cm is to be removed from the actual pattern.
  • It’s the same idea for the position of the ‘dart’ – just split the difference. If you have pinned one at 7cm and one at 5cm from the shoulder – split the difference and use 6cm.

TRANSFER TO PATTERN | 

  • Transfer the marking from your garment to your pattern.
  • Measure the amount to be reduced on the FOLDLINE of the neckline, not on the outside edge.
  • This will give you 2 points on the neckline – A & B
  • Find the midway point between A & B.
  • Draw a line from that midpoint to intersect with the armhole stitchline. This is point C.

DRAW AN ACTUAL DART |

  • Join A to C & B to C
  • You are really just taking a dart out of your pattern to reduce the length of the back neck with the pointy end of the dart (point C) finishing on the stitchline, not the cut outside edge of the pattern. This will keep the armhole length the same so the sleeve will still fit!

CUT |

  • Cut along line A and stop at point C.
  • Make a snip from the outside edge of the pattern in the seam allowance towards point C stopping at the stitchline, leaving a small hinge of paper.
  • Point C will be the pivot point.

CLOSE THE DART |

  • Using the hinge at point C as a pivot point, close the dart up so the excess is removed and tape the pattern together. 
  • Nearly there now,  but you can see we now have a stagger at the neck and the armhole has a bit of a pointy shape.

SMOOTH |

  • Redraw a smooth curve at the neckline to even out that staggered line.
  • Smooth the armhole lines too and fill in the seam allowance by taping some paper behind it.
  • TIP | If you find your armhole shape has become too distorted it may be because you are trying to remove too much from the pattern in one place. Try spreading this alteration over 2 places rather than one. Or check your sizing as you may be better using the neckline of a smaller size and blending it with your body size.
  • That’s it – you’re finished!

 

 

 

 

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How to sew with a twin needle | The Somerset T-shirt

HEMMING JERSEY | TWIN NEEDLE

The Somerset T-shirt has a flattering Bateaux neckline, and on a minimalist style garment such as this, it’s important to understand that any stitching will a very visible detail. One of the ways to make your clothes look less home-made and more handmade is by paying attention to the finishing of your garments. And for jersey and knit fabrics, a twin-needled hem gives a very professional look.  Most factory-finished ‘Ready To Wear’ t-shirts will have been hemmed with an industrial coverstitch machine, which creates that unmistakeable double row of topstitching that has an inbuilt stretch to it. You can buy domestic coverstitch machines and if you’ve got one, happy stitching! But, if you have got one, I’m going to assume you’ve stopped reading this because it will all be a bit irrelevant!

Now, I don’t own a coverstitch machine and if you don’t either, don’t worry, as it can be easily replicated on an ordinary domestic sewing machine. You just need to use either a ballpoint twin or stretch twin needle for your machine. They come in different widths, which is the size of the gap between the needles and this is how far apart your 2 rows of topstitching will be. I use a 4mm needle, just make sure the one you choose will fit inside your presser foot.

THREADING YOUR MACHINE |

You will need to refer to your sewing machine instruction manual to get the exact information for your machine. Use your usual thread in the bobbin and then use 2 reels of thread for the top threading of your machine. Thread your machine as usual with the first reel of thread. Your machine may have a second spool to attach to hold the second reel. Not all machines do have a second spool holder and if like my machine yours doesn’t you can to use a separate spool stand. Thread the second reel of thread as the first, but when you get to the last thread guide above the needle leave it free to help prevent tangling (but again defer to your manual) and thread the eye of the other needle.

PRESS |

Press the hem or facing allowance 2.5cm to the wrong side of the garment (the actual amount may vary depending on your pattern).

WENDY’S TOP TIP! | Machine baste the facing

I can’t take credit for this tip! Wendy, one of my lovely testers, passed on this to me as she always does this before twin needling, stitching a facing or hem from the right side of a garment. It’s much quicker and gives an accurate guideline to follow. It’s also quicker than tacking by hand.

  • Use a contrast colour on your bobbin, it will give you and an easy-to-see and an easy-to-remove colourful basting stitch on the right side.
  • Set your stitch to the longest length.
  • With the wrong side of the garment up, stitch a row 2cm from the folded edge. (Adjust the measurement for your particular need!)
  • This will give you a stitch line to act as a guide for your twin needle row.
  • After twin needling, you can remove the basting stitches.

TWIN NEEDLE |

You want both needles to catch the hem allowance. I have a 2.5cm allowance but I line up the folded edge with the 2cm mark on my machine throat plate – 2cm will actually be the midpoint between the 2 rows of stitching, so I can make sure that I catch the allowance easily (that should also allow enough allowance if you are using a twin needle bigger than 4mm). I’ll trim any excess allowance away later if it needs it, but usually, it is quite a minimal amount so I don’t worry too much. The twin needle creates a zig-zag on the back so there is no need to pre-neaten your hems, but jersey doesn’t really fray anyway.

  • Use a stretch or ballpoint twin needle to create a faux coverstitch.
  • Stitch from the right side of the garment.
  • Test the tension and stitch length on a folded piece of fabric so you are stitching through 2 layers.
  • Check there is enough elasticity in the seam so the stitches don’t crack and snap when pulled.
  • Remember to make a note of your stitch settings so you can switch between settings on your machine with ease during the construction phase.
  • Use a good quality thread to help prevent it snapping.
  • Leave long ends and don’t backstitch, just stitch the ends in by hand later.
  • Increase your stitch length for neater looking stitches.
  • Don’t stretch as you sew.
  • A good press with steam often improves the look of the twin needling.
  • I found a higher tension and slightly longer stitch length worked for my machine.
  • On the wrong side, trim away any excess hem allowance after you’ve finished.
  • OPTIONAL | A walking foot (great if you’ve got one, but they can be expensive if you haven’t) will help feed both layers of fabric through your machine evenly.
  • Alternatively, you could use a zig-zag stitch set to a medium width/length.

OOPS! WHAT WENT WRONG?! 

First of all, did you give it a good press? Never underestimate how much pressing your seams and hems will improve the look of your finished garment. And do remember that pressing is just that, lift your iron and use it in an up and down motion, not a dragging side to side motion. And be gentle, you don’t want to stretch anything.

TIME TO TROUBLESHOOT THOSE STITCHES |

Sometimes, no matter how much fiddling around with pressing, tension and stitch length settings, you may find using a twin needle creates a ridge or ‘tunnel’ effect. Before you get upset by it, go off and have a coffee or something, come back and look at it with fresh eyes. Would it have bothered you if you bought it from a shop or are you chasing unobtainable perfection? Because you know what, that picture above, it’s not that bad! But if it is bothering you…

Stabilising the area may help. Try these ideas;

  • try using spray starch to stabilise the area
  • place a tear-away stabilizer underneath before sewing and gently remove after.
  • You could try using wash away wonder tape on the hems. This is a double-sided tape that washes away. When I tested it I found due to the curved shape of the neckline and the tape is straight and not cut on the bias, it caused more problems than it solved, but you may find it useful for hems. And as all fabrics respond differently, it might be worth a little test sample of the neck area to see if it works for you.
  • Stabilise with strips of tricot interfacing.
  • Don’t forget, it’s not worth getting hot and bothered over! You can always use a different stitch, just select a zig-zag or other decorative stretch stitch to finish the hems and neckline.

STABILISE WITH INTERFACING|

To improve the look of tunnelling try applying a strip of fusible interfacing to the hem allowance before stitching. Use a tricot (knitted) interfacing, this is a stretch lightweight polyester iron-on interfacing and is available in black or white.

 

Cut the interfacing into 2.5cm (1”) wide straight strips (or whatever the width of your hem allowance is) with the most stretch running in direction of their longest length, so it will stretch with your knit fabric and finished garment. As we are using knitted interfacing you will be able to curve the strips into shape as you press in place on your t-shirt. And then test your stitches again!

Other Somerset T-shirt tutorials | Sewing with Knits

 

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| Sewing with knits |

| SEWING JERSEY TIPS |

Sewing a knit garment can sometimes seem a bit daunting. Many makers think you need specialised machinery, but really good results can be achieved on an ordinary domestic machine. The trick is to test your machine stitch and tension settings before you start and make sure you use the correct needle to avoid skipped stitches.

UNDERPRESSING |

My one major piece of advice I would like to offer, and this applies to ALL of your makes, is to take your time and underpress at each stage of construction. Underpressing just means that you will press as you go and press each seam after sewing it. I tend to sew everything I can in one hit and then move on to press everything I can while I’m at the ironing board. I apply the same principle to neatening my seams at the overlocker. I was taught by the sample machinists I worked with to first press the seam flat so the stitches are set into the fabric, and then either press the seam allowance open or to one side. This does give a more professional finish and even though you are effectively pressing each seam twice, pressing the seam allowance flat and together first makes it much easier and quicker to press open or to one side. And do remember that pressing is just that, lift your iron and use it in an up and down motion, not a dragging side to side motion. And be gentle!

  • Always use a ballpoint, jersey or stretch (usually recommended for Lycra) needle so you don’t get skipped stitches.
  • Use a stretch or ballpoint twin needle to create a faux coverstitch for the hem.
  • Use ordinary polyester thread as it has more ‘give’ than cotton thread so will stretch with the garment and is less likely to snap.
  • Don’t pull and stretch your fabric as you sew, though I find holding it firmly to create a bit of tension as it is stitched can be helpful.
  • If your seam goes a bit wavy after stitching, very gently steam and press flat.
  • I have used a walking foot in the past, which helped but I don’t think it was essential. It would be worth trying if you have one, but they can be expensive to buy.
  • My machine tried to swallow the garment into the footplate at the beginning of a seam, so I placed a piece of paper under the garment before stitching. I had some heavy tissue paper handy but the off-cuts from printed Indie sewing patterns would be perfect!
  • Not sure which needle to use – here’s a link to a handy chart.

| STITCHES |

The Somerset T-shirt Stitch Chart | Maven Patterns
| The Stitch Chart |

 

Create a Stitch Library | Test your stitches on a scrap bit of fabric first. Stitch in both directions, along the selvedge and across the width of the knit, to make sure your stitches don’t crack when you pull them. Record your machine settings on the Stitch Chart included in the Somerset T-shirt pattern, or in a notebook, to create your own Stitch Library so you can refer back to them easily during the construction of this (and future!) garments.

Tension and stitch settings will vary and be dependant on your machine and your fabric. The best method, tension and stitch length settings will vary depending on your sewing machine, the fabric you are using and the finish you prefer.

There are a couple of different options (listed below) for stitching your seams. You really need to get friendly with your sewing machine manual and you may find further guidance there on selecting a suitable stretch stitch as your machine may have different stitch options available than those we have listed.

Zig-zag stitch | lightning stitch | straight stitch | 4 thread overlocker

 

  • zig zag on a narrow width and 2.5-3mm length (I used this as was quicker than the lightning stitch, and set my stitch width to 0.5 and stitch length to 2).
  • Stretch stitch (sometimes called lightning stitch)
  • This one may be controversial but I actually stitched mine with a straight stitch, and just pulled the fabric very slightly in front of the needle so it was under tension as it was stitched but I was very careful not to stretch my seams. My t-shirt has been heavily worn and washed and the seams haven’t cracked to date. Keep in mind what type of garment you are making and what type of knit you are using. Do not use this if you are sewing a very stretchy jersey or making activewear or swimwear though, I haven’t tried it but I’m pretty sure your seams will crack under those circumstances.
  • Overlocker – you can cut, sew and neaten your seams all in one go. 3 threads are usually just used for neatening seams, 4 (or 5) threads are used for all in one seam stitching as it makes for a stronger seam. The stitches have a built-in stretch to them.
  • To neaten your seams either use a zig-zag or overlock together. You could in theory just stitch and leave the edges raw and unfinished or trim them with pinking shears as knit fabric don’t really fray.

| CUTTING |

  • Prewash and press
  • Lay the fabric flat on the table, do not stretch it but let it relax.
  • It’s preferable to cut knit fabrics in a single layer for accuracy.
  • If folded make sure the underneath layer is flat too as it has a tendency to ‘ripple’ as it grabs the top layer.
  • Do not let it hang off the edge of the table as it will stretch the cloth out of shape or pull it off-grain.
  • Pin in the seam allowances to prevent marking the body of your garment.
  • Or use weights and cut with a rotary cutter.
  • INDUSTRY TIP | mark the wrong side of the fabric with a chalk cross it if isn’t easy to spot the right and wrong side. Black jersey – I’m looking at you!

Other Somerset T-shirt tutorials | How to Twin Needle | The Somerset t-shirt