Marinablogimage_large

After 60 yards of thread-tracing, 30 yards of catch-stitching, 30 yards of basting, and 10 yards of fell-stitching, I am now the proud owner of a couture skirt and blouse. But let me recap what this is about first. Back in March, I challenged myself to create a couture wardrobe picking one style each month from a current issue of Burda Style Magazine. With the help of my couture mentor in this project, Susan Khalje, I plan to complete each project before the next issue is released.

The April challenge: Create a couture garment based on the patterns for a high-waisted princess seam pencil skirt (#118B) and a wrap blouse (#126A) from the April 2012 issue of the Burda Style Magazine.



A skirt and blouse from the Bella Donna feature, Burda Style Magazine, April 2012

The couture mentor: Susan Khalje, founder of the Couture Sewing School, author of Bridal Couture, and contributing editor to Threads magazine.

This post will cover the making of the final garments and focus less on the how-tos of couture techniques – tutorials will be posted separately, both here on BurdaStyle and on my blog. Considering this format, my intention was to discuss where and why these couture techniques were applied, covering the following five interdependent elements that form the backbone of a couture garment, according to Susan:

• Design
• Fabric
• Fit and proportion
• Engineering
• Construction

Looking at this picture of the finished skirt and the blouse, you would hardly suspect that I spent five days working on this project. However, the joy of having a fitted, meticulously constructed couture garment far exceeds the cost of this time investment.



The finished garments



The making of the high-waisted princess seam pencil skirt (#118B): It all comes down to support

The style of this skirt was a home run for me! Being petite, and somewhere between pear-shaped and hour-glass-shaped, I was happy to achieve an instant slimming effect and elongate the torso with princess seams and the raised waistline. It was key to select fabric that would accentuate the princess seams, and with warmer months approaching, I settled for silk faille. It is a ribbed silk fabric that has a firm, but supple hand and in medium weight, is suitable for tailored styles that are shaped with seams to eliminate bulk. Just perfect for this style!

As with all my couture projects, I started with a trial garment (or toile). In this step, all pattern markings are transferred to muslin, or calico, fabric which is then sewn to check the fit. This tutorial explains the process in detail.

Tip: Use long machine stitches to sew your trial garment – it will be easier to take apart once you are finished fitting. If you baste it by hand, make shorter basting stitches (they should not be longer than ¼” or 0.5 cm) – it will ensure accurate fit as the fabric doesn’t pull apart at the seams.

Underlining the fashion fabric was one of the first construction steps. Underlining – and additional layer of fabric attached to the wrong side of the fashion fabric – gives body to a garment, helps it keep its shape longer and resist wrinkling, and helps hide the construction details. For this skirt, silk organza was my preferred choice as it adds support and crispness and reduces sagging or wrinkling. I cut the same pattern pieces in organza and in fashion fabric, basted the corresponding pieces together, and then treated them as one layer.



Catch stitches, used to stabilize seam allowances, are sewn through silk organza only, making them invisible from the outside.

Adding boning to support the raised waist was probably the most important engineering decision. I knew that the high-waist could collapse without inner support, so boning the waist portion of the garment was essential. In addition, ‘to make sure that things are smooth over the stomach,’ Susan suggested extending the boning another 3” (7.5 cm) below the waist. Following her instructions, I attached boning to the facing and covered it with a layer of flannel to camouflage the inner works.


Channels are sewn through the facing fabric and organza underlining layers, and the boning is inserted between the layers. Flannel layer is added between the lining and the facing.

The lining is not sewn to the facing but to the fashion fabric at the top edge, as it was important to allow some movement between the skirt and the facing, which has essentially become the foundation/inner support for the skirt. The bottom edge of the facing was hand overcast to finish the edge and to reduce the bulk – machine treatment could stiffen the edge and make it show through.



The inner support and the lining function independently at the bottom edge of the facing

The facing is understitched along the top edge of the garment, approximately ½” away from it. Understitching helps keep the facing and lining in place and is sewn through all layers (including underlining) except the outermost layer of fashion fabric.



Channels are sewn through the facing fabric and organza underlining layers, and the boning is inserted between the layers. Flannel layer is added between the lining and the facing.

All seam allowances, as well as the hem, were catch-stitched to the underlining to prevent them from shifting (as shown earlier); and the lining was sewn to the skirt hem allowance using a loose but secure running stitch. An ease pleat, achieved by adding extra length to the lining, covers the stitches and adds wearing comfort.



Ease pleat



Lace wrap blouse (#126A): Light as a feather



Couture version of the blouse

This blouse, which hardly weighs anything, took me longer to complete than the skirt! This happened mostly because I decided to use lace scallops along all edges, instead of bias binding, as suggested in the magazine. This was rather a personal preference than a techniques choice. In terms of planning, this meant more fabric to provide for scallop edges, and also more time to apply them. But more about that later.

After the first fit (I used lightweight muslin for the trial garment), it was clear that the lace would not look nice and tidy at the back where the ends of the front bodice tied. They just stood out, while the rectangle-cut back was peeking from above the tied ends. I believe making the ends longer might have helped solve this problem, but instead, under Susan’s guidance, I decided to add darts to the back to eliminate excess fabric, and draped the fronts so they would button up at the side seams. The front looked the same as on the picture, while the back was fitted.



The blouse is buttoned at the side seam.

I decided not to underline the blouse since I was planning to wear this blouse over a black bustier (in the making). It was simply challenging to choose underlining color that would nicely blend with both the black bustier and the skin. Seams were the easy part, even though it was virtually impossible to stitch them by machine. I could have stitched them through paper, but I decided to make them by hand using tiny running stitches. It didn’t take long at all, and I could control the lace much better. I went on with French seams for sides – the bulk of lace does look black in a French seam, but it disappears against a black undergarment.



Making French seams by hand didn’t take longer than half an hour.

Regular seams are used for the shoulders. After making a row of tiny running stitches, seam allowances were trimmed down to ¼” (approximately 0.5 cm) and bound with flesh-colored netting, making the seam virtually invisible against the skin.



Shoulder seams were trimmed with flesh-colored netting.

Applying lace scallops took the longest. For several hours, I was applying cut-out scallops to the blouse edges using tiny fell stitches.



Eliminating underlining posed another challenge: French Chantilly lace – a beautiful, but very delicate and somewhat stretchy fabric – had to be stabilized and stayed along the edges. So, the edges were stayed with a bias-cut strip of organza, which was cut, stretched and steam-pressed into a long strip of organza stay tape. “This is how the French do it!” said Susan. And it is really smart!



After steam-pressing and stretching, the width of the organza bias stay reduced in half!



Stay tape is attached using tiny running stitches.

This is all, dear readers! I hope you discovered new ways to do things in my post, or had your knowledge confirmed. Please post any questions you may have and stay tuned for future posts and tutorials here on BurdaStyle, as well as my blog.

For more information about Susan Khalje and her Couture Sewing School, click here. Marina von Koenig shares her couture learning experience on her blog Frabjous Couture (also available in German.

36 Comments

  • Avi_large

    Apr 11, 2012, 02.44 PMby SymonDezyn

    I loved the photos of the garments but I really love seeing them being worn – bravo for all your hard work and for helping us see the potential in any pattern to turn it couture!!! :)

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Apr 12, 2012, 02.28 PMby Marina von Koenig

      There are definitely many styles that can benefit from couture treatment! I always find a few of those in every issue of Burdastyle – I wish I had more time to make them all :-)

  • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

    Apr 11, 2012, 02.26 PMby wzrdreams

    GORGEOUS! Thank you for all the lovely detail photos!

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Apr 11, 2012, 12.00 PMby pinkli

    Fantastic idea for a series, and a brilliant resulting outfit. I am so impressed with your talent and the final garments. Simply lovely. Thank you so much for this post – it’s really inspiring.

  • Madmen_icon_large

    Apr 11, 2012, 08.59 AMby carmencitab

    It’s beautiful Marina! I’m speechless.

    1 Reply
  • Bs1107_bus_0711_091__large_large

    Apr 11, 2012, 07.47 AMby Itsbeensewlong

    Fabulous post Marina and a superb result! Both the Skirt and Blouse are simply STUNNING! I look forward to reading many more Couture Posts here on Burdastyle and your Blog…. :-) thanks also to Susan for sharing her expertise with Marina and the rest of the Burda sewing world… Greatly appreciated. Lou x

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Apr 12, 2012, 02.31 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Susan is a great teacher! I am so glad she agreed to be a part of this project!

  • 5453090784_5a98f34607_m_large

    Apr 11, 2012, 06.01 AMby ahearta

    Bravo Marina! Gorgeous garments. I wish I had the time and money to take lessons from Susan Khalje. Until then, I will take in all of your advice to the best of my abilities!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Apr 12, 2012, 02.33 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Check out her Craftsy class! It is very (!) good – there is an immense amount of knowledge and expertise both filmed and on the message board! The best thing is, you can make several projects using different dress styles and she will guide you through…

    • This is a question
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