I don’t sew for friends. Or if I do, consider yourself a really good friend. Someone dear to me recently requested a simple bat wing dress in a solid red for a wedding she was attending – in two weeks’ time. Could I do it? Maybe. We agreed a simple set of rules: if I didn’t think it was working, I was allowed to say so. If she hated the finished result, she didn’t have to wear it. And I was to deliver in enough time for her to do a last-minute rush to the shops.
(FYI, a belted bat wing dress is about as flattering as it gets. I traced this one from a dress my friend currently owns and loves.The mannequin does this no justice at all. I am now seriously tempted to make several bat wing dresses for myself.)
The two of us hit Goldhawk Road on a steaming hot day. We found a polyester satin that was at the high end of polyester satin, retailing at about £9 a metre. It had a nice matt finish that I thought would photograph well. Then, we found a much cheaper satin for the lining. Job done! Three metres of each, and off we went for lunch.
Back home, I began to doubt whether it was a good idea to line satin with satin but we needed a lining and I knew it had to be something that wouldn’t interfere with the drape of our fashion fabric. I did some Googling and the consensus seemed to be: Yeah, line satin with satin. So, ahead I plunged.
I know some immediate questions will be: but why polyester? I’m not gonna lie. I had no idea if I could pull this dress off. I wasn’t prepared to ask someone to spend £20 a metre on a better fabric, if the dress ended up in the bin. Together, we were going to take a gamble.
So, what did I learn about sewing with satin?
The more expensive satin was unbelievably better to work with. Seriously, don’t scrimp. The saving grace of this dress was the utter beauty of the fashion fabric. The drape, the glow, the ability to behave.
Buy a proper needle for your machine.
Satin has a tendency to pull threads with every needle puncture of the fabric. You need to invest in new needles, and specifically needles made for delicate fabrics.
Cut out between layers of paper.
This stuff slips, and then slips some more. You want accurate cutting out. I followed an excellent tutorial from Grainline studios and cut out the fabric between layers of paper. This technique really works!
Don’t expect to use your rolled hem foot on a first attempt.
I bought a rolled hem foot, but ended up not using it. There’s a great tutorial on rolled hem foots, but even then I struggled. Like, really struggled. Thank goodness, I’d had the foresight to have a practice go. And another practice, and another… In the end, I gave up. That’s a learning curve for another day. Pick your battles, people!
Instead, I chose to finish the sleeves and hem with very delicate hand stitching.
You’ll want a teeny tiny needle for this type of work. And a thimble. Possibly a magnifying glass. Definitely a head torch. I quite like the fact that even with the most careful work, you can still see the tiny catches in the fabric. In my current frame of mind those stitches say ‘bespoke’ rather than ‘ham fisted’. I’m sticking with that theory.
The one area of my work that I am least happy with is the neckline. I just knew that someone with more expertise would have a better method of construction. I sewed the lining and fashion fabric together at the neckline and top stitched. It was not my finest hour. I wondered about strips of silk organza to stabilise, but feared that even those strips would show through on the drape. Please, please, does anyone have hints or tips?
My conclusions? This was a steep learning curve. I did the best I could, but my best is only okay. This experience reminded me how desperately frustrated I felt, making my Vogue coat. You don’t know what you don’t know – you know? Sometimes a student needs an expert by her side. I had two weeks and no expert, so I blustered on through, determined that my friend would have a dress to either accept or reject. But as God was my witness, she’d have a dress. I finished sewing at 7am and hotfooted it to her office to deliver the dress at 10am.
Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t an unhappy experience. Just a learning experience, and I feel there’s much more to learn. Any tips?
One last thought. I put both fabrics through the washing machine on their own for a pre-wash. I’m sooooo glad I didn’t chuck them in with a main wash. I happened to be out in the back garden when the washing machine was pumping out water, and I saw what went down the drain. That water was red! There’s a reason we pre-wash and a good reason to keep those pre-washes separate. Seriously. Do you want all your pants to be pink?!