Sunday, 29 January 2017

Suede dreams, Part 2: Realising Rosalie, Self Drafted Rosalie Dress

Rosalie has been my most adventurous undertaking in the sewing world to date. In my last post I discussed the designing of the dress. Let me tell you about making her, with a few handy tips for sewing with suede.

Step one- Cutting out my suede pieces. Suede and leather is bought in hides, so the bits you get will never be rectangular. From the off this is quite different to using fabric with selvedges. Lay planning is difficult because you can't really plan ahead until you know what shape your animal skins are going to be! Due to the qualities of the fabric, I was unable to cut on the fold, so I had to be really careful trying to calculate where everything should go. Due to the cost implications it's important to be as economic as possible! You're looking at about £45 per hide, with each one being very roughly 1m square, so you really want to consider your lay planning before you start hacking into it. The next thing to remember while laying out, is that suede has a nap. There is quite an obvious "up and down" when you stroke it, and you want to make sure all your bits stroke the right way. I found, as the fabric isn't woven, you can get away with angling your pieces ever so slightly, especially if it means the difference between having a sleeve too short or a sleeve bang on.

I learnt that different areas within the same hide can be different in texture. By chance, but also quite luckily, the front pieces of my dress which have a curved seam, were cut from a thinner, softer area of the hide which seemed to have a little more stretch. This made those curves a little easier to sew.
I laid out on the right side of my fabric so that I could keep my eye on the nap, but also check my suede for any scars or dimples.

Pinning suede is a bit of a no go area, certainly at the cutting out stage. Instead I weighted down my pieces and drew around them, adding on my seam allowance as I went. I cut out with the rotary cutter and that was no hassle at all.

I was a bit nervous to use the wheeling through method to transfer my darts and markings, so instead I patented my own idea! I drew all the markings on the wrong side with biro! Yes Biro!! The pen shows up really well and doesn't rub off like chalk instantly would. As all these markings would be inside the dress it didn't matter that they were there. Obviously wouldn't recommend using biro if you were using a lighter coloured hide, but worked really really well for me!!

When it came to sewing the darts, despite what the internet says I saw no other way to do it than to pin them first. Pinning suede is a bit weird. As I was using pig skin, it wasn't too thick to use pins. I'm guessing cow hide would be much less possible. The internet suggests using clips or pegs, but I didn't see how that would work on a narrow dart point. Also, pins leave holes, so you have to be super careful where you're putting them. I figured if they were exactly through the stitch line then a few holes wouldn't cause any drama. I found the major downside of pinning suede was just how bumpy it made things. Its a good idea to remove the pin well before you reach it with your needle otherwise you're going to get stretches and bumps.

So on to sewing the darts- step one, you gotta have a leather needle otherwise you're just going to break everything- your needle, your machine, your desire to ever sew again, your will to live, all of it. Once you have a leather needle, you're ready to take it on. As all stitching together is most often done on the wrong side of a garment, you really have to keep your eye on suede. A normal metal machine foot will drag on the rubbery texture of the wrong side, and could potentially stretch your pieces out of shape. And trust me, you really really don't want that when you've spent 9 weeks drafting the perfect shaped pieces to fit your body!! On thinner areas of suede the dragging and stretching isn't quite so bad, but where it's a little thicker it can be a massive struggle. Set your stitch length to 4, this will help but at times even with my stitch length on 4 my stitches looked tiny as the feed on the machine wasn't feeding through the way it would a normal woven fabric.
So I guess you could go out and get yourself a walking foot and that would most likely solve it, but if like me, you've spent all your cash on suede (!) then you're going to need a cheaper solution.
You might remember, for my Simple Sew Kaftan I stitched with a layer of tissue underneath my fabric to make stitching easier. Tissue came in handy again while sewing with leather, as a way of reducing the friction between foot and fabric. This time I used the tissue on top of my fabric and stitched though it before tearing it away. The downside is you can't see your marked on stitch lines, but the upside is your fabric won't stretch or drag or buckle and your stitching will be lovely and even. I was so happy it worked otherwise sewing those side seams could have resulted in big fail!

For all it's tricky qualities, suede has it's upsides. The stuff doesn't fray so time saved not overlocking and not hemming was a godsend!

I also decided to line Rosalie, choosing a habotai from Abakhan. Make sure you swap your needles if you're swapping between the two fabrics! Use something sharp and petite for sewing your lining fabric otherwise you get big holes and puckers and you're possibly going to pull your threads, which is not cool.

Real quick- to make the lining I just used the exact same pattern pieces as I used for the outer fabric. I overlocked the back opening before pressing under my 1.5sm, simply because the risk of getting frayed lining threads caught in my zip was making me feel a bit nauseous. Make sure you set your overlocker to the right settings for light fabrics before jumping in with it (learnt the hard way). I set all my top dials real low to make sure my stitches weren't going to pull the fabric. I'm guessing it's a good idea to use a thinner overlocker needle too, but I don't have one and it wasn't the end of the world.
I attached the lining to the suede dress at the neckline, understitched, then turned it inside. I had a sudden brainwave, that I wouldn't be over locking my sleeve heads to my dress armholes as I usually would, as I didn't reckon putting suede through the overlocker would be a good experiment. I didn't want to loose any of the lining fabric at the arm holes, and didn't want to risk puckery overlocking, so instead did a narrow zigzag stitch around the armholes of the lining before attaching to stop fraying.

Inserting my sleeves wasn't the nightmare I'd been anticipating. I had to pin everything, despite what the internet says about suede and pins. You try inserting a sleeve head without them!!

My last little sneaky suede tip came into play when attaching the zip. Usually I would pin and tack a zip, check it, try it on, then stitch it in officially. I knew pinning would be much too bumpy to get away with on the zip area, and tacking would have been a slow and painful process that wouldn't necessarily be helpful. Instead, I cheated big time... and used double sided tape to hold the zip in position while I stitched it on!! I felt like a massive cheater but it was so so so worth it. Putting in a zip had never been so easy! I tried to remove the tape after but it wasn't really having it, but it's well hidden inside the makings of the dress... So you'd never know!

Then the fun bit- cutting my tassels! I just freestyled it and cut the suede panels I'd inserted to the underarm seam.

I tried on and was happy....... But! I wasn't loving my neckline. It just wasn't quite... right? The angle just seemed a little bit off, so I unpicked the understitching (bleh), and reshaped the neck a little. This was definitely not the best time to start doing this, as once the sleeves are in it's 100x harder to get to the neckline. I rounded it out a little, then re-understitched as far as I could.
Worth it though!

I checked length, which I was happy with, and hemmed the lining. Handstitched the lining to the zip (Zzzz) and we were about done.

I'm going to make a few changed to my pattern pieces for next time. I'm going to take some out of the back neck as it comes up a little too high, take a little out of the sleeve underarm seams and redraw that neckline. Lowering the back neckline will also result in the end of my 22inch zip sitting a little lower than it currently does, which would not be a bad thing. If my ass should magically get bigger for any reason it's going to be a bit of a struggle getting in unless I lift her over my head. I also extended by bum darts about 7cm longer than on my toile. I'm not sure if it was just due to suede's tendency to be a bit bulky, but the dart points were really sticking out at my backside. I found extending them a little lower made for a much better fit.

So there we have her! My Rosalie all ready for action. I love the flattering shape of the bust panels and side seams. I'm already planning my next dress from this block.


Location: Stanage Edge
Currently listening to: Mary Mountain, Quilt


  1. "break everything- your needle, your machine, your desire to ever sew again, your will to live, all of it." made me lol.

  2. Wow, awesome dress!!! It looks amazing on, the shape looks great and the loving the arm tassels. You did so well working such a hard fabric, I'm not sure I'd even attempt it, I struggle with normal fabric :)

    1. Thanks Lynsey!! I had a vision and I made her! Was really terrified of the fabric before I got stitching but was so proud of my first little sample piece that I've been keeping it in my jacket pocket!! Haha! xox

  3. Wowsers!! Your dress is amazing! You did a brilliant job, good luck with the pattern drafting.

    1. Thanks Lynne! Really proud of how it came out! I've found drafting is hard work! But so so worth it! Thank you xox