Monday, September 9, 2013

Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing: Shirtwaist dress

I really enjoy Gretchen Hirsch's  New Book for Better SewingWith so many tips and photos, the book is ideal for a beginning sewer but  appeals to the intermediate seamstress as well.
There are several things I would like to sew and learn better or new sewing techniques in the process.
I have decided to make it a monthly goal to sew one item from her book over the next few months.
For the month of August September it will be the Shirtwaist dress in Liberty Lawn cotton.

The new skills that I will learn from sewing this dress are:
1. Shirring
2. Bound buttonholes? hmmm... I think I will learn this skill when I have only one  or two buttonholes to do. My machine buttonholes will work for this project.

I have the Liberty lawn from  laundered and ironed waiting to be sewn.
I  made a muslin of just the bodice and altered the paper pattern using my techniques that I learned from  The Craftsy class Sew the Perfect Fit.

              Narrow Shoulder Adjustment that I always have to make.

Checking to be sure my shoulder seams line up on the front bodice and back bodice.

         I really need to buy some fabric weights, instead of using my phone.

        Fabric prepared and ready to cut..Ohhh I love this Liberty Lawn cotton. 

 The book has additional tips to help along the way to help apply the fitting alterations to your paper pattern. I just had to show the a page that I viewed on the sleeve caps.

First New Skill: 1. Shirring

Instructions were detailed in the book, describing how to wind the bobbin thread with elastic by hand pulling slightly to create a bit of tension. Then you basically sew in straight lines 1/4 inch apart until you have 6 lines. Then you use an iron to steam the elastic thread causing it to shrink back up.

Here is what I learned: Always practice first to be sure you have your bobbin wound with enough tension and chopsticks make a great tool in the sewing room. I used the chopstick with the bobbin, holding it between my knees freeing up two hands to wind the thread. It wasn't pretty but it worked well.

The second thing I learned was to stitch on the right side of the fabric up. I just stitched it to the wrong side showing the elastic thread thread on the right side.  

I unpicked it and rewound more elastic thread into my bobbin by hand and restitched onto  the right side the fabric. Looks much better.

It was fun steaming the fabric watching the elastic shrink up. Many of my vintage pattern instructions recommend basting the garment together and checking the fit and since the fabric was a splurge I decided I would follow this recommendation just to be careful.
I assembled the front and back bodice, yoke, pockets and skirts and did a fitting.The dress needed a few alterations in the length of the bodice (1 inch) and the pocket placement but other than that I was happy with the fit so I restitched the dress adding the changes and was ready to set in the sleeves. Until this point, sewing the dress was completely enjoyable.

I started this in August and planned on finishing it sooner and posting photos over the Labor day weekend.
Life was busy and I had to delay my sewing on the dress for a week.
I pulled out the dress yesterday and allotted some sewing time, telling my family DO NOT DISTURB ME unless there is blood and lots of it.  After setting in the sleeves before attaching the collar and the facings.I decided to do another fitting 
I was struggling over the sleeves and unsure about the fit even after all the pattern adjustments. I have such narrow shoulders and always struggle with this.I even considered making the dress sleeveless or go for a 1940's look and add shoulder pads to fill out the shoulders .After un-picking the sleeves many times I basted in one sleeve to check the fit  again. I apologize for the poor cell phone photos.

Here is a photo of a basted sleeve with a thin padding to look at adding a shoulder pad. It helps with the fit and pulls up some of the excess fabric pooling over the bust.

Now that I look at the photos I think maybe that they may work, but I do not want to go 1980's. My motto is "if I have worn a style before then I should not wear it again".

My oldest daughter liked the sleeveless side better, she said it looked more modern. My vintage-ista daughter liked the sleeved version best. Next I asked my husband, he just told me how nice it looked. Smart Man right? He new better than to pick a side. I decided at this point to stop as I was only getting more frustrated. Am I being too picky?

Here is the sleeveless side. Now I am Sleeve or not to Sleeve? What do you think? 


  1. I love sleeves! I don't think the sleeved side looks padded at all, so I'd go for it. I'm excited to see it done-- I've been wanting to make that dress. Gotta love Gertie :)

  2. I agree with Denise and Paige. Since your shoulders are narrow, the padding simply makes them look less narrow, not padded, if that makes since. The style should have sleeves.
    As for the lawn, I have several 1/4 yds. of it in that and other colors, for doll clothes! So much easier! I did enjoy making clothes for myself in my 30's and 40's though. You have surpassed my skills.

  3. Thank you Ladies! I will add the sleeves with a small shoulder pad.

  4. I vote sleeves, too :)

    Also, I've used cans of tuna for fabric weights :)

  5. I agree, it looks best with the sleeves. Also, I use large nuts for my weights. $7 purchased a box of 25 at Lowes - one of the best sewing purchases I ever made.