Sewing, Step by Step
1. Gather materials
In order to complete this project in a way that emphasizes the radical potential of crafting, I found it important to gather materials that were ethically sourced. Unfortunately, I already owned most of the reusable products necessary—and I bought my sewing machine for $30 off of eBay, so it can't possibly have been ethically made—so I focused instead on the materials I would use specifically for this project, which I bought at Michaels.
For this project, I used:
White imitation silk (2 yds)
2. Find inspiration and draw a design
Once I had secured the materials I needed to complete this project, I had to find inspiration. I didn't want to buy a dress pattern, both because I wanted to keep down the overall cost of the dress and because using a pattern limits a designer's creativity. At first I turned to platforms like Pinterest and TikTok for inspiration, but I decided soon after that being inspired by the very platforms I had set out to critique was not in the spirit of my project.
I ended up finding my inspiration in a dress I already owned, pictured above. This dress appealed to me as a basis for my design because it is a little outside of the current style, but it fits well; also, I had always thought it was a little too long to be really wearable, so using it as a model allowed me to make some much-needed changes.
After choosing my model, I drew a quick sketch of the design on a spare piece of cardboard that I had on hand.
3. Measure & cut
There is an old saying that goes,"Measure twice, cut once." Although it pains me to actually follow through on this advice every single time I sew, it is sage. My imitation silk cut very easily—it's essentially a step away from paper—so I didn't have much trouble with it, but about halfway through cutting out the pieces of the lower half of the dress I realized the material was entirely see-through, so I had to cut a whole extra layer. In total, this dress required 20 pieces: 10 for the skirt section, 8 for the top section, and 2 for the straps. I made sure to waste as little material as possible.
Although I think many traditional rules about the process of sewing aren't worth following, the rule about pinning down your pieces before you sew is one I find extremely useful. Although thinking on your feet as you sew is definitely possible, it truly makes everything more simple to just have the pieces pinned in place ahead of time.
Because it requires so much thought, pinning actually usually takes me more time than sewing. My intense pinning by necessity hiked up the amount of time I spent on the dress, but it also made the actual sewing much easier.
I had never worked with imitation silk before, so I was pretty shocked by the way in which the material bunched up when I fed it through the machine. However, once I had started I started to admire it as a style, and I made my peace with the design being more bunched up.
I started the actual sewing process by sewing the inner layer of the skirt section, pictured above. Next, I completed the outer layer. To put them together, I laid them back-to-back, pinned and sewed the outline, then turned the whole thing inside out. I did the same thing to the top of the design, pictured below, after having sewn the straps, which had to be tucked inside the design while its outline was being sewn.
Next came the most stressful part of the process: making the band of the dress. I decided to just line up the top half with the bottom half, and although these pieces were not the same length (due to my very vague measurements), I was able to fold a little bit of extra material underneath the zipper. Luckily, the dress fit.
6. Make adjustments
When I put on the dress for the first time, I noticed several problems. First of all, the piece was bunching strangely because of its double-layering, especially around the stomach area. To fix this, I made two small pleats right underneath the band, and thereby allowed the skirt to lie more flat, although it retains its bunched-up quality due to the material.
I also found that I hadn't quite put the zipper in correctly, so there was a little space where skin was visible at the bottom of the zipper. I remedied this by folding the outer layer of the skirt so that it covered the hole and sewing that layer in place. While fixing that issue, I accidentally sewed one of the straps to the inside of the zipper, but I fixed that quickly with a seam ripper.
Finally, one of the straps ended up being longer than the other, so I made a small fold to adjust the length of the long one and sewed it in place.
7. Take stock
Ultimately, the dress turned out pretty similar to my design, aside from the unforeseen bunching of the material. The shiny quality of the imitation silk makes this dress feel fancy despite the fact that it was cheap to make. I think the piece is very wearable, although I must admit that the hem at the bottom of the garment is tight, which makes sitting down in the dress a bit of a risky endeavor. Overall, I'm happy with the results of this experiment, in a material sense.
Check out the results of this experiment as it pertains to my crafting manifesto below.