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What happens when you take on a self-imposed monthly couture challenge? I completed the April project and here I was, restless, waiting for the next issue to arrive so I could choose a sewing pattern for the May project. Remember what this was all about? Here’s a refresher:

The challenge: Choose a garment from the current issue of burda style magazine, and make a couture version of it.

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

Armed with Susan’s tips, I can tackle anything, right? The sky’s the limit! So, what sewing pattern would it be for May? This month, I found, again, several styles that would be perfect for couture construction. (I will talk about these in a separate post.) One essential (me-made) rule of this challenge is to choose a garment that requires couture construction that is different from what I have done so far. (Can you also imagine the challenges in the months to come?) Well, that pretty much narrowed down my choice to the panel dress (#107C), a beautiful white linen dress with a yellow curvy stripe running through the center front from the May 2012 issue.

First of all, the dress is spectacular! White panels take “optical” inches off the hips and broadens the shoulders before drawing the eyes to the waist. Taking a cue from Stella McCartney’s optical illusion dress, as worn by Kate Moss and other celebrities, this seems like a very flattering trend to go for. One big advantage of the burda style magazine version is that you can actually wear it (during the day).

But what is more exciting about this dress is the technical side – curved seams are among the more interesting couture techniques to try. And how often do you get seams that are so curvy! If you are a sewing nerd, this is your dream come true! Now, on to planning, readers!

Finding linen in the color combination was not easy, but I was lucky to score these two cuts of Irish linen at B&J Fabrics in New York.

Fabric choices
The dress as featured in burda style magazine is made in linen. Initially, I was considering a lightweight wool appropriate for summer, but what sealed the deal for me with linen is the availability of colors – it was much easier to source this neon yellow in linen than wool!

With linen as my shell fabric, I had to find a solution for wrinkling – the biggest turnoff for anyone who knows the fabric. Those who work with underlining will know that this would be an answer to the problem – and it ought to be silk organza – the best choice if you want to reduce (!) wrinkling on the garment.

To line or not to line?
You won’t believe how much time I spent researching lining in couture dresses. Why? The dress I chose is unlined, and apparently, there are a lot of couture dresses that are unlined, too. But I was just not comfortable with this as-is. I am always struggling with the “why” part of anything. So I researched, and what I found is that there are no rules for lining (as with anything else in couture). I looked at museum collections and case studies by couture experts, and it seems that lining was always used when it was not constricting the movement and the drape of the shell fabric.

It was clear for me that I wanted lining – it just feels more comfortable. I was relieved when Susan agreed: “Certainly, one sees couture garments that are unlined, but think of the advantages of the lining: [it] absorbs perspiration, cuts down on wrinkling, covers up all that’s going on inside, makes the dress easy to slip off and on, reduces wear and tear on the inside of the garment. I’d certainly use one…. And there is no need to do the curved seams in the lining of course.”

Now, it was important to find the perfect weight to suit the hot and humid New York summer, and silk crepe-de-chine was the answer. “I think that’s a perfect combination,” Susan said. “If you want something really, really lightweight, you could use a lighter lining. Though crepe-de-chine is pretty light, sometimes you can find nice and light silks (broadcloth, for one) that make lovely linings. Better quality than China silk or habutai, and quite lovely on lightweight summer dresses.”

Panel dress (#107C burda style magazine 05/2012)

Concave or convex?
I’ve always had a hard time remembering the difference between convex and concave curves! I guess this dress will drill this one into my head. burda style magazine had just two short sentences on how to sew curved seams. Unless you know what you are doing, you will end up with a mess. So, I asked Susan to explain in more detail. “A little prep makes it easy,” she said. Her tips as bulleted out below to make it easier to follow.

I recommend staystitching both sides of the curved seams, and then clipping any U-shaped (concave) curves, to allow you to fan them out and shape them to the corresponding seamline (the convex curves). The staystitching will help keep the seamlines from getting out of shape. Handle them carefully – with all of those curves and varying degrees of off-grain seamlines, you don’t want any distortion!

Give yourself lots of matchpoints, every inch or two, just to make sure everything lines up as it should.

Baste the curved seams, of course – basting will hold them better than any amount of pins, plus you’ll be able to use both hands to control the fabric as you stitch, without having to constantly stop to take out pins as you go along.

Once you’re happy with stitching and take out the basting, then you can press the seams carefully and catch stitch the seam allowances to the underlining.

That was all, dear readers! Two weeks to make the fabulous summer dress and master another couture technique with fun colors to work with. Stay tuned for my couture debriefing with the finished garment!

Marina von Koenig shares her couture learning experience on her blog Frabjous Couture (also available in German).


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    Nov 14, 2012, 08.35 PMby KristinaBerisha

    Great dress . I would like tu make it in black and white version

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    May 14, 2012, 12.36 PMby sewmodest

    For concave and convex just think of the phrase “caved in” and you know that concave curves in and convex curves out. At one time these use to confuse me so the last time someone helped me I came up with that phrase so I could always remember. So of like “spring up” and “fall back” for the clock settings. Where can I learn these techniques so I can apply these to my garments? I see that her bridal book is no longer in print and cost a pretty penny used. Any other books? TIA

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      May 15, 2012, 06.59 AMby Marina von Koenig

      You can order ‘Bridal Couture’ on a CD-rom as a PDF file from her website – this is what I have. Also, she has a great book called ‘Linen & Cotton’ – out of print, but it is very easy to find, and it is inexpensive compared to Bridal Couture. ‘Linen & Cotton’ has a lot of couture sewing techniques.

      I also recommend Claire Shaeffer’s ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ (the second edition has more content), as well as Roberta Carr’s ‘The Art of Fine Sewing’ (out of print, but also easy to find). The latter features very outdated garments, but disregard those – the book is a gem. I loved the chapter on pressing techniques.

      Finally, get the Threads Archive – it is packed with articles on couture sewing. (you will easily find it – just google).

      Hope this helps!

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    May 7, 2012, 10.24 PMby Adriana Orozco

    Pretty summer dress!!! just one detail….and good finishings to make this a special piece!!! very nice….

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    May 7, 2012, 08.00 PMby Testosterone

    Couture and more! Linen and silk infused with guidance from Susan Khalje. If there was a color called “obscene green”, that would come closest to describing my envy.

    Outstanding effort!

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    May 7, 2012, 10.50 AMby Sabrina Wharton-Brown

    I remember concave and convex curves like this: con_cave_ curves go in like a cave; convex curves go the other way.

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    May 5, 2012, 07.36 PMby heavenlygurl

    I adore this dress. It is soooo chic. Has anyone transferred it to plus size? I’m size 22. I hesitate to try because of the curves…kinda ironic.

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    May 5, 2012, 12.49 PMby moyogirlhotmailcom

    very cool and classy

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    May 5, 2012, 08.03 AMby lorelle

    Hi Marina, Great post as always, thankyou, this will be a beautiful dress. I am looking forward to following along. Would the lining be cut as per the dress pattern or would you trace a new lining pattern putting the peices together and putting darts in the lining side seams?

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      May 5, 2012, 06.22 PMby Marina von Koenig

      For the back, you can use the same piece as in the pattern. For the front, I recommend laying your pattern pieces flat on the table and joining all the three front pieces together with some tape, all the way up to the bust point – they will align nicely since there is no shaping in that area. From the bust point up a dart will form between pieces. Cut your front lining using this taped front pattern, transfer the two darts and sew. Very easy! Let me know if you have any additional questions.

      Oh, and, I forgot, you would make an edge-to-edge lining (no facing pieces), so the pattern pieces for the shell and the lining will be identical, except for the curves.

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    May 3, 2012, 07.26 AMby ph123

    The dress is lovely, thanks for the tips! I can imagine in from a stripy fabric, it would boost up the op-art quality. But – any suggestions how to make a FBA on this pattern? If I just go size up, the dress would not be very flattering…

    3 Replies
    • Marina_large

      May 3, 2012, 02.45 PMby Marina von Koenig

      If you have done FBA on regular styles – this is no different. I would suggest join the central front panel (yellow) with the side panels on the pattern and you will see that they nicely align all the way up to the bust point. There is no shaping below the bust point, and if you close those curves (below the bust point) with some tape, you will get a dart going from the bust point to the armscye. This dart is what you can adjust to make the pattern fit. Make your usual FBA alterations and, if the curve line was distorted in the process, redraw it – it will be only the upper portion that will need some adjustments. Hope this helps!

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      May 3, 2012, 08.24 PMby ph123

      Thank you!, Marina. You are right that the asymmetry starts below the bust point. Will give it a try!

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      May 10, 2012, 07.13 AMby ph123

      finished the muslin! it was quite a challenge – the FBA did add a lot of bulk in the waist area so I basically had to move the zipper to the back and drape the sides/ front it into the final shape. Here is a quick pic: http://zrucniprace.blogspot.com/p/modelace.html (it still has a big dart at the center of the waistline, so the kaliko misbehaves a bit around there, but it will be ok once I take it out in the fashion fabric version. But I already can say that the dress will be very flattering for curvier figures, it’s definitely worth the extra time spend on fitting…

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    May 2, 2012, 09.37 PMby harrietbazley

    How do you finish curved seams after clipping them to prevent the clipped places from fraying?

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      May 2, 2012, 09.52 PMby Marina von Koenig

      I usually catchstitch seam allowances to the underlining (silk organza in this case). Big catchstitching – it goes really fast and is usually sufficient, especially if there is lining. It prevents fraying and holds seam allowances in place.

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    May 2, 2012, 03.57 PMby Itsbeensewlong

    Hi Marina, Great article and dress! love this pattern! I Would like to try two different versions…a Linen one, and a silk one with a lace panel….. The tip I have found most useful… and thankyou also to Susan for this.. Is the multiple match points for curved seams ….. So easy to do when using an interlining….. And basting of course…:-) I agree with the lining idea too… Have to confess I don’t think I would puchase a couture piece that was not lined…. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience… Great blog post! Lou x

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      May 2, 2012, 10.02 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you, Lou! I am glad you are making this dress as well!

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    May 2, 2012, 08.20 AMby janetheclerk

    i’m really keen to participate in the challenge, but could you clarify what you mean by a couture version? my understanding is an individual piece made to specific measurements, higher quality construction, lining, doing the job properly instead of shortcuts etc. am i on the right track?

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      May 2, 2012, 03.10 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Yes, absolutely! I would just add that a couture version would mean a customized garment, every detail of it. That is, every choice you make (about fabric, lining, colors, etc) should make you feel most comfortable and beautiful, and then these choices will affect the way you construct it.

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      May 2, 2012, 04.10 PMby janetheclerk

      coolio! i came up with a great idea for the rouched sheath dress this afternoon, so i will be making for one of my tall and curvy friends.

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    May 2, 2012, 02.11 AMby thewallinna

    Great post, Marina! I’ve just received my May issue and this dress caught my eye as well. I’ll definitely use your and Susan’s advise.

    1 Reply
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    May 1, 2012, 10.05 PMby Suellen Tomkins

    Interested to read that lining and interlining reduces wrinkling. Have made a cotton dress using techniques from Susan’s Couture dress class and have been concerned about the wrinkling. Decided against linen for that very reason. Great looking dress – looking forward to finished version.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      May 2, 2012, 02.06 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Yes, it’s not an easy decision. I did go for a linen dress, underlined with silk organza. I think the style plays a role too. I went for a full skirt version – there is less chance of wrinkling than with a fitted skirt. Linen is just such a nice fabric to wear, to sew, and to manipulate / shape!

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    May 1, 2012, 09.59 PMby nouvellegamine

    normally i stay away from linen bc of this:) why does lining a garment help reduce wrinkling?

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      May 2, 2012, 01.57 AMby Marina von Koenig

      heat and moisture are the main reason for wrinkling and lining and underlining create a two-layer barrier between the linen (in this case) and the body. In addition, underlining ( and the lining to certain extent) change the drape and the hand of the fabric, making it behave differently. I noticed that especially in case of silk organza, fashion fabric tends to straighten out more readily than without underlining. Lining adds up to this characteristic. I hope this answer explains your question :-)

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      May 2, 2012, 08.34 PMby nouvellegamine

      thank you! that clears quite a bit up for me!

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    May 1, 2012, 09.20 PMby JCM Collections

    Very easy to make

    • This is a question
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