The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Doing What I Love Most

Nothing like starting out the new year with something that I love to do, which is designing and making a gown that is:

  • custom fit
  • flattering fit (and those are two different things)
  • comfortable
  • beautiful

But that may not include looking good on the hanger.  As a matter of fact, the way it looks on the hanger is often extremely disappointing considering how good it looks on the body, but then I’m not really designing for the hanger, unlike a lot of RTW designers who have to get their garments noticed on the hanger before they are even considered for trying on!

So one of the things I’ve been trending towards these days is a stretch formal gown.  Parts of it can and sometimes have to be stable – which means parts have no stretch, but key parts are wonderful if they have stretch, like through the hips, fanny, tummy back and any other sensitive area.  This also makes fitting it a dream, because the stretch fabric can be a little more fitted (remember I do not like too much information with things too tight).  Still, there’s nothing dreamier than sitting in a stretch garment and going, “Aaaaaah!”

And there are some pretty terrific things you can do with a stretch fabric that you might not think you can.

This lady came to me, needing something formal for this spring, but also she’s a judge of dog shows.  And as she begins to move up to more prestigious shows and especially shows that have judging in the evening, she will need not only a more formal garment but something that she can move in so that she can better perform her judging duties.  She thought a basic black dress, and that’s about it.  Well, basic black is great, but what about basic black with some ornamentation and some beading!  Now that would be a killer dress…..and it was!


As we all know, taking pictures of black garments is fraught with problems, but these are about as good as I could get till the event.  I’ll post those when she passes them on!

So this lady is the typical Apple shape.  She has nice broad shoulders, a large chest and bust, not much of a waist, and thin hips.  She’s a little on the short side, but her proportions are pretty good for her height.  IOW, with her height, it wouldn’t take much girth for the proportions to get out of hand, but they aren’t.  In keeping with my taper-in-at-the-waist silhouette that I love so much right now, this figure offered me the perfect opportunity to show how to taper in when a figure doesn’t have much of a waist.

Note carefully here the silhouette on the side.  The dress actually does taper in a bit, mostly right under the bust, which is fine.  That hits the “above waist” zone I like so much.  Now once I tapered in there, the pattern dropped the seam straight down after that, because if you tape this in too much to show the thin hips, it doesn’t look good.  It takes away from the nip at the waist you’ve done.

So this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but one secret designers use to make waists look smaller (and like a figure has a very hour-glass shape) is to make hips bigger.  Using that same thinking, if you taper in the hips a lot, it’s going to make the waist look bigger.  Yes, I know – we’re adding fabric in a garment to make the figure look smaller, but if you’ve read any of my Proportion and Apex Points instruction, this is explained in detail.

Let’s look at this a little easier and I lightened the above photo up a lot.

So now we can see more detail of the dress.  One thing about this design is that as we made the skirt taper in very slightly, there was plenty of room and really a call to do something interesting on the bottom half of the skirt, and I liked the idea of a slit, which you can see closer here.  You can also see how beautifully this fits under the bust, but not too close and not all the way to the rib cage.  The fit under the bust is crucial and too much and it will over-accentuate the bust and that will not achieve the look we want.  What is vital here, not only for fit, but for the shape that is needed, is an FBA, side bust dart, bust dart alteration – any of those names are the same dart.  This dart instantly cleans up that under the armhole bodice bulk, and it naturally draws in the silhouette to make that shape that is so important and fashionable now.  Also, this dart allows you to put the shoulder on the shoulder which makes for another clean line and aids in the clean, tapered-in silhouette.

If you don’t do anything else, having an FBA will instantly solve so many problems for you.  But you must cut a size that is the same as your shoulders, because the shoulder, armhole, armscye. sleeve seams are the hardest seam to alter in all of your pattern pieces.  Why bring that headache on?  Simply insert an FBA and poof it’s done!  The FBA also adds the fabric where you need it in front, not in the back or the side or over the shoulder or any other location!

This really shows the silhouette detail in spades.  Nice fit on the bust, not too much, excellent side fit, shoulders of the dress are on the shoulders and attractive V neck.

The final detail to this gown was the black beading.  We could have left the dress as is, and alone that would have made a gorgeous gown, but the black beading isn’t a huge glaring ornamentation, but it is something that adds to a formal gown.  My client can still wear a necklace and yet if she would prefer something simple, that will work as well.  The main purpose of this is to draw attention to the face, and that’s why I love ornamentation around the neckline and decollatage area.

And most of all I like to make the design balanced but not symmetrical. Certain situations call for symmetrical, something like a bridal train where there is a lot of ornamentation.  But in this case where this a little bit, and there’s a little more freedom, having the design be balanced but not symmetrical, makes it more artistic, and couture.  This process is a little hit and miss, and to be very honest, I’m not sure how to describe how I do this.  I start out with exactly symmetrical pieces on the shoulder, but after that, it gets to be a free-for-all, and it’s more balance I’m looking for than symmetry.

What you can’t see in a photo is how the black beading really shimmers and draws your attention into the neckline.  

Most of all, I’m thrilled with how the dress hangs and flatters her figure.  It shows off her marvelous bustline, her great stature and the idea that there may or may not be a waist never really enters the viewer’s mind, maybe later, if at all.  This was a beautiful ponte di Roma knit that she found in New York (another reason to purchase online – this is the type of quality that you most likely can’t get at your local fabric store unless your local fabric store is Mood Fabrics!).  And I can not tell you the surprise my client had when I asked her to sit several times so that we could see how the gown not only felt but how it wrinkled when she stood back up.  It felt great and didn’t wrinkle!

Personally, I can’t wait to see the photos from her event!

  1. Absolutely beautiful, I so wish you were cloned so I could actually take a class from you , there’s so much I could learn from you in person

    • I would LOVE to travel to teach, but also I marvel at what technology can do, and hopefully can work out a virtual classroom where I can teach and see you all at the same time. Dreams like this can and do come true!!!

      • Do you have a tutorial on how to fit a sleeve with bicep and cap height adjustments into an existing armhole? I saw the little example you did in your old DesignU video on YouTube and I’ve been wishing for more details ever since! Sadly, I’ve been stumped on this for a couple years now.

        • Yes Cheryl – I just put something up today – check out the Resource Library for the Sleeve package – if you look through there you will see that it comes in parts, so if there’s only one part you want, you can purchase each part separately. Check it out here:

  2. I always learn something inspiring and new in your posts.
    This dress show looks absolutely stunning on this lady!
    I bet she’ll be closing down the town when she wears it!

    • I’m having fun these days mixing woven and stretch in the same garment. It’s a new jaunt I’m on!

  3. She looks fabulous in this gorgeous dress! You are a fit wizard!

    • Well, to be honest, this IS what I love doing and I actually couldn’t wait for this to be my first gown of 2019! Thank you for the compliment!

  4. Claire, another inspiring post! This dress is just beautiful and looks wonderful on your client. And made from ponte de Roma – much to think about!

    • Viki – this is my latest rage I’m on – mixing woven techniques with knit garments. Often the woven parts can be integrated into the stretch garment without losing the advantages of having the stretch garment. And wow – the comfort is unbelievable. In this case, this lady is a judge at dog shows, so she has to be able to move around to give commands, walk around the judging ring so stretch or something similar was almost a must. For other clients (Mothers of Brides/Grooms) they like it sheerly for the comfort factor and the fact that they can move and sit, and yet when they are posing in their picture they aren’t wearing a 1.) sack, 2.) gobs of fabric that show nothing or 3.) something way too tight it’s totally inappropriate and embarrassing later. I love doing this!!!

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