Trouble-Shooting: Dress Making

Hints and potential problems (with solutions) for dress-making.

If you've never made a dress before, you might not be sure what is involved with the dress. Here are some hints, and how to fix problems:

*Make sure you lay the fabric out exactly as the pattern indicates, unless you're sure it doesn't have a nap. Sometimes pieces have to be laid upside down or along a fold, so be sure to read the directions carefully. If your pieces don't seem to fit together, you may have cut them out wrong. Head this off by reading the layout carefully.

*Always match dots or other markings together. Sometimes, a pattern has to curve, and the fabric won't lay flat or in a straight line when you pin it together. This is especially true for the bust line and for sleeves.

*If the lines in the dress don't seem straight, chances are the seams are crooked or curved. Go back, rip them out, and sew them straight - and very carefully.

*If the dress is gaping at the back, sew part of the side seam tighter. For example, if the dress is gaping a few inches down, start just below that and sew it tighter at both sides. You can also adjust using the side-back seams, if they exist.

*If the front of the dress is too low, and you have a smaller chest, adjust the side seams and the shoulder seams to pull it up. If you have a larger chest, and the pattern has a bodice, sew the bodice to the skirt with a smaller seam allowance, then tighten the shoulder seams. If you have a larger chest and the pattern can't be adjusted, select some lace or tulle to go across the chest and hide the neckline.

*If, in a dress that has a bodice and long skirt, the bodice is too tight underneath the chest, let out the side seams a little bit.

*If the bodice doesn't fit the skirt, create larger darts (if the bodice is too big) or pleats in the skirt (if the skirt is too big).

*If the dress is loose and it has a zipper, fold a bit of the fabric over onto the zipper tape (the fold should NOT show on the outside) and re-sew.

*If the dress is loose underneath the chest and is designed with a front, side-front pattern, begin sewing the side-front seams underneath the chest and tighten them.

*If the seams are loose and the thread is looping, make the thread tension on your sewing machine higher. If the sewing machine won't sew at all or the thread keeps breaking, loosen the thread tension on your machine.

*If you're sewing a delicate fabric, like silk or satin, use a needle specially made for it in your sewing machine. A heavier needle could tear or punch noticeable holes in the fabric.

*If a delicate fabric is tearing and catching, loosen the tension on your sewing machine and choose a lighter needle.

*Satin or other "slippery" fabric must be pinned, or it will not stay together when you are sewing it. This can result in crooked seams, so pin it even if you're only sewing a straight line.

*If facings continue to come out of the dress, clip the seam allowance and cut the corners off (you should clip the corners anyway). This will help the facings to lie better. If they still don't, use a cool iron to press your dress with the facings inside (be careful with synthetic fabrics; you can melt holes in them!).

*If the sleeves are too tight, cut them again and make them larger in the top half (be careful to make them wider, but not to make the contact points larger). If you're having a LOT of trouble fitting the sleeves, go ahead and make them a lot larger, and sew the sleeve to the dress by matching the bottom seam to the side seam, and the top of the sleeve to the shoulder seam. Then, "puff" the sleeves. You will have little pleats in the sleeve, but it will be big enough to fit.

*If the dress is weighing down heavily (probably because the fabric is heavy and there's a lot of it), pull up the shoulder seams (sew again with a larger seam allowance).

*When lining a dress, put the lining on the individual pieces BEFORE attaching them (for the bodice). Do this by sewing the right side of the fabric to the right side of the interfacing (on three sides), then clipping the corners and flipping it over (the side that's free should be the bottom, which will be attached to the skirt). This gives the edges a nice look. Then, sew all the skirt pieces and skirt lining pieces together, then pin the lining inside the skirt, matching the seams. Do NOT sew the bottom of the lining to the bottom of the skirt. Cut the bottom of the lining short if you have to; it doesn't matter what it looks like. It only matters what the skirt looks like. Don't hem the lining along with the skirt.

I hope these tips help you create a beautiful, headache-free dress!

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