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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.


  • Missing

    Apr 20, 2014, 01.24 PMby rosecrane

    Wow, so useful, thank you. Thrilled to have found your blog. And here’s one question about having the facing on top of the lining: I recently read that the boning should be closer to the fashion fabric, but you suggest that the lining should be closer and that it allows for movement. I’m confused about the logic of both theories. Can you give me a hint?

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    Aug 15, 2013, 03.32 PMby CLB mod

    Two beautifully and meticulously constructed couture garments.

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    May 5, 2013, 07.26 PMby Aeshna

    Your interpretation of the top and the pencil skirt is great! I am using a pattern from “Burda” magazine (8/2012) to sew my (very first one) pencil skirt and I have a problem with a facing which is probably the same as in your skirt. I mean,I believe I have cut out the proper pattern and still when trying to fit the facing, matching left side with a right side of the skirt lining they do not fit at all: the facing is much too short (even considering I had to make waist tucks wider) and I had to do with it what I am doing when sewing in a sleeve (as a result it’s very stretched and creased). Do you think I am doing something wrong? I so much would like to make this skirt nicely:( I would appreciate any help if possible. I hope I have explained clearly:)

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    Sep 11, 2012, 02.03 AMby delama

    I always want one of these

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    Aug 14, 2012, 04.37 PMby Amy Choate

    Can you link me up to the flash colored netting you used, I have my version waiting for the seams to be finished and sewn in by hand, but deciding how to finish them has been troubling. Thanks so much for all the pictures!

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    May 2, 2012, 09.02 AMby hinon

    I love what you’ve done Marina, you’ve made two beautiful garments. You look great! I am looking forward to reading what you are doing with for the next challenge.

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    Apr 21, 2012, 02.35 PMby wintersky

    love what you did with the skirt :)

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    Apr 18, 2012, 10.09 AMby olgarosita

    Marina, thank you for this post and congratulations for two beautifully crafted garments! I also like high waisted skirts, but my torso being short, I always avoided them because I thought they would shorten my torso even more by hiding it in that high waist. I read that you think the contrary, that they elongate your torso… You definitely gave me something to think about. I think I need to go to a store, find a high waisted skirt and try it on! :)

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    Apr 15, 2012, 02.29 PMby Joy Frizzell

    This is so great, thank you for writing it up. I did get confused with the descriptive details of the last two photos of the skirt. I think perhaps something went wrong there? I think it should be describing the understiching of the facing and something about the lining and ease pleaat? Instead, it is a repeat of earlier steps in the process. I really enjoyed this and your outfit is stunning on you!

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    Apr 13, 2012, 10.43 PMby Susan Arnold

    Very pretty!

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    Apr 12, 2012, 03.32 PMby nouvellegamine

    this is completely amazing. thank you so much for writing this up & posting it :D your versions are really lovely!

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    Apr 12, 2012, 08.19 AMby 1sewingprincess

    This is great Marina! Very instructive post and beaufigul result. I have been loving Susan’s course on Craftsy

    1 Reply
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      Apr 12, 2012, 02.20 PMby Marina von Koenig

      It’s a great course, I agree! I think making a couture dress provides foundation for many other projects.

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    Apr 12, 2012, 07.18 AMby Suellen Tomkins

    Hey Marina, wonderful job. Out of interest what fabric did you use for the inner support? Also why did you choose different seam treatments on the shoulder and the side seams?

    1 Reply
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      Apr 12, 2012, 02.18 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you! Let me answer your questions:

      The inner support is integrated in the ‘facing’, which is constructed in three layers: the (multi-color) silk taffeta, (navy blue) silk organza and a layer of flannel. Boning channels are stitched through the silk organza and silk taffeta layers.

      I chose french seams for side seams because it would look inconspicuous over a dark corselet. And I bound shoulder seams with flesh-coloured netting for the same reason – the color of the background. It is purely a design decision, rather than engineering one.

      If you wanted to emphasize the lines (=seams) like in the original blouse, using french seams everywhere would be the a good choice. I would then also finish the he and the edges with black silk organza bias binding – for the sake of consistency. Actually, I like this latter version a lot – and it would take less time :-)

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    Apr 12, 2012, 04.35 AMby servareginae

    Beautiful hand sewn french seams and clever treatment of the shoulder seams. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I will go back to this article a few times to glean all I can from it.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 12, 2012, 01.09 AMby Tracey McGowan Wirth

    STUNNING! You could wear this inside out and it would be just as pretty!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 12, 2012, 02.22 PMby Marina von Koenig

      I should try it – maybe at home (?) :-)
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    Apr 11, 2012, 08.35 PMby thecuriouskiwi

    Gorgeous! I love all the detail pics, this is so inspiring, I am itching to go out and find some beautiful lace now ;)

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    Apr 11, 2012, 07.44 PMby Amalitar

    Wow, absolutely stunning! Many thanks Marina for the clear instructions and photos. I have to try some of these techniques soon. I can’t wait to see what you make for May!

    1 Reply
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    Apr 11, 2012, 06.38 PMby Swirlz1

    Marina.. this is absolutely stunning!! Thank you sooo much for shariing.

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    Apr 11, 2012, 05.24 PMby pendlestitches

    Stunning. Simply stunning. Such beautiful work and such a wonderful result. Very inspiring.

    1 Reply
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