Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Costume Tutorial With A Serious Disclaimer

I made my Halloween costume this week, and of course having this awesome blog I thought "what a great opportunity to make a tutorial for my blog." What started as a "mostly" thought out plan to make a very simple replica of this bumblebee masterpiece my mom made in the early nineties...

... ended up as an entire evening of crafting a striped shift dress with a lined bodice. So while I would love for this post to be a sweet and simple tutorial (my fave kind) on a bee costume, unfortunately for everyone involved, it is anything but that. It is basically me talking about how to make a dress, that you would normally make from a pattern, out of thin air; aka a very "correct" but scrappy way to make a dress. I am no sewing master, but I would definitely not take this project on unless you have a few sewing projects under your belt.

So, without further ado, let's begin.

The level of prep involved in this project was low. Basically, I knew I needed some black and yellow fabric, and I am cheap, so Walmart it was (I hate me too). One thing I will tell you is that if you are ever sewing anything and you can use a WOVEN fabric instead of a KNIT fabric, choose woven at all costs. Woven is simple to explain; it's a zillion threads running horizontally and vertically as if you were weaving one of those nostalgic potholders on a loom with those stretchy fabric things. Over, under, over, under, over, under. You get it. Rocket science.

Knit fabric, on the other hand, is a huge network of tiny loops that link together to form the fabric. I want to compare it to chainmail but I am sort of guessing. Anyway, woven fabric has zero stretch, while knit has a lot of stretch. Cotton t shirts are knit fabric. That's why t shirt quilts are really freaking annoying to make. So, you want woven. The best, and cheapest, kind of woven fabric is just a simple dyed cotton. You'll know it's cotton because it will say "cotton," you'll know its woven because it won't stretch, and you will know its the right one to get if it's under $3 a yard. Fabric stores, specifically the quilting section of fabric stores will have the most unfathomable level of overabundance of cotton fabric you will ever see. Pick one and get out as fast as possible.

I chose what length to get in an embarrassingly haphazard way. (Basically throughout this non-tutorial I am going to tell you two versions of this story: what you should do to make this costume, and then what I actually did to make this costume.) When choosing fabrics I pulled a black cotton that didn't have much left on the ream, and asked the woman at the counter to cut the yellow fabric the same size as the black. It ended up being something weird, like 37.25 inches or so. I got lucky here because the manufactured width of the fabric was a standard 45 inches: just enough to get around my tush. If the fabric hadn't fit around my body I would have spent a lot more time sewing strips of fabric to get a large enough piece to go all the way around.

I figured out by holding the fabric up to my body that I wanted the length of the dress I was planning (plans change) to be 35 inches from my shoulders to the hem. This would mean I'd start with six, 6 inch strips of fabric with a half inch seam allowance to get to 35 inches. (After sewing a half inch seam allowance each piece, except for the ends, would be 5 inches.) By keeping the fabric folded while cutting I saved a bit of time. This is only recommended if your measurements don't have to be precise. That's true in this case, so go for it.

By the way, anytime you sew anything you really should wash and dry the fabric first. Things tend to shift around weird after the first wash, so if you are making anything you'd like to last: wash it.

After cutting 3 strips of 6 inch fabric (3 yellow, 3 black) I laid each pair out on a table and pinned them together. In my book pinning is optional, especially on a straight line of woven fabric, but in this case I pinned because I knew you'd see it. Gotta keep up my pro status.

And here is yet ANOTHER reason I love me some woven cotton... no side is the right side. When there's a right and wrong side of fabric (the fuzzy/shiny/printed/patterned side) you've got to do more thinking. Who wants that?

After each pair of fabric strips were sewn together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance (3/8 standard seam allowance, my ass), I pinned those together and sewed 'em up. I also feel that at this point in the project back stitching is also optional. So far any and all seams you've made up to this point will be crossed over with a different seam. Save your time.

Then I sewed the third pair to the first two, and viola, a big sheet of fabric strips sewn together. Good suggestion, but no we cannot stop here. Still so much work to be done.

Next, since we are sewing pros we are going to iron our seams open. I hate sloppy seams.

At this point in the project I am still thinking I'm going to go with my original costume construction plan. The plan was to sew a big, striped fabric tube, sew elastic on both ends, and cut armholes in it, just like my dear, old Momma did in the early 90s. It worked for a three year old so...

The next step was to sew the fabric ends onto themselves to make the fabric "tube" I mentioned. At this step is where the first glimmer of deviation from the original plan can be noted. Seeing as the width of my striped fabric sheet was just enough to clear the width of my baby-makin'-hips, I realized if I don't keep the upper part of the costume open, I'd risk ripping it every time I put it on or took it off. This is where I decided to measure about half way up the costume... just kidding. I held it up to my body and pointed to where about the opening would be. It happened to be at about 15 inches from the bottom seam. Think about any fitted dress you have that isn't stretchy... how would you get it on without a back zipper? This is what I was going for by leaving the top part of the back seam open.

I lined each seam up to each other and pinned perpendicularly to the direction I would be sewing.

You can see here that 15 inches happily ended up on the seam between a yellow and black panel. I sewed into the black panel to hide the majority of the stitches here. You can also see in the picture I back stitched quite a few times. This part of the dress has the potential to meet a lot of stress, so I reinforced it with the back stitching here, and also later in the process.

You'll definitely want to iron open your seam here because we are going to need to finish the edges of the fabric from this point, all the way to the top of the dress. You'll do this by ironing open the seam you just made, but continue to iron the raw edge of each side all the way to the neck end of the dress.

Here you can see the point at which the back seam opens to become each finished edge of the upper back of the dress. Note that the open/upper seams are not finished by sewing yet, but they are prepped by ironing them into shape.

Here I am finishing the edges of the upper part we just ironed open.

I back stitch like crazy here to give the dress some strength at the split in the fabric.

I also sewed across each seam for good measure.

This is a pivotal point in the entire project. Here I could either keep going with the body-tube plan, or I could take it a step further and actually make a dress. I also realized, regardless of the plan, I needed another strip of the 5 inch fabric at the top of the tube. So really, I am working with a 40 inch tube/dress thing. Not 35, where I originally started out. I added a piece of yellow to the top part of the dress and finished the seams off as if it had been there all along.

This is where we get very technical and lucky. I had finally decided to make a dress instead of a puffy tube of fabric for my costume, so I needed to figure out where my neckline would be. I say I was lucky because I had no clue of how to choose a neckline without the costume being on my body. I put it on and realized I could see my v-neck shirt underneath. Perfect neckline. I traced it with pencil. That's the technical part.

Before taking off the partial costume, I also noted where the bottom of an armhole would comfortably lay on my body. This happened to be "just above" (the most precise of measurements) the first black seam. I made a mental note.

Here you can maybe see the faint pencil neckline.

I realized that in order to make my beautiful neckline a reality I would need straps to come over my shoulders on one or both of my sides. Plain Jane chose both.

Now, I can't really explain why I did the next step this way, other than to say I didn't want to waste any fabric. I sewed black fabric on vertically to the top of the dress approximately where the shoulder straps would meet up with the neckline I had chosen.

Here, I drew a pencil line continuing from the neckline on the left of the photo, up to the black fabric, and back down again where my arm would fold over. I also drew under the entire arm hole and back up to the corresponding strap on the back side of the dress.

This is a better picture of the approximate drawing of the neckline. You can also see that pencil is a great thing to use on cotton fabric because the silver will show up on dark and light colors. Plus, who keeps chalk?

This is where things get somewhat complicated. One, it was getting late so I started slacking on pictures, and two, I was really winging it at this point. I'll talk you through it.

The biggest difference you may notice between the last step and the photo below is that I have cut the neckline of the dress. One thing that is verrrry important to notice is that I cut about a half inch outside of my pencil drawn neckline. You need to remember your seam allowances!

Another big difference here is that there is a layer of black fabric behind my project. This is intended to be the lining of the dress. I normally wouldn't line a Halloween costume. Especially this costume, because I will be fully dressed underneath. The reason I lined it, which you'll see in a minute is because the liner allows us to end up with a nice, finished seam all along the neckline. If I were making a dress for my wardrobe, I would definitely line it.

I pinned the lining (which happens to be an extra strip of 6 inch fabric I cut during the first step) under the neckline. Notice the "wrong side" of the fabric is facing out and the "right side" is facing in against the lining. We want it to be inside out while we sew.

I pinned the lining all around the garment from the neckline to the armpit holes, to the back, open seam.

I then sewed on the pencil line and cut the lining out.

Before turning the dress right-side-out I am cutting notches in the seam. For concave curves you always want to cut notches before turning right-side-out because the fabric will bunch inside the seam and we don't want that. If we were working with convex curves, however, we would only snip straight line cuts in the seam so the fabric can spread out when the seam gets turned right-side-out.

This is the dress when first turned right-side-out. It looks a little weird at first....

... But after ironing the seams, everything lays very nicely. You can see I ironed the seam so the front side of the dress overlaps the lining a little. We don't necessarily want to see a black lining sticking out from the yellow part of the dress. This makes it look a little more finished.

Another thing that makes our dress look a little more finished is under stitching. This step is totally optional, and is a little hard to explain. Basically your neckline of your dress can look even nicer if you under stitch the seam allowance to the lining. Below is a picture of me making the stitches, but I think the picture after might give a better idea of what to do.

Here you can see the stitch is along the lining side of the neckline. This helps the seam to lay flat and the front side of the dress to slightly "lean" over the seam so the lining doesn't show. Hopefully the picture below explains this step a little better. Don't do this step if my explanation doesn't make sense though because it's really not necessary and not worth the headache.

The last step shown is we need to sew the front and back straps together to make the dress a wearable item. I started by lining up the front and back straps back to back on one side. I hand stitched in a straight line for half of the strap.

Next I had to move the straps from their back-to-back position to have the openings facing each other like a tunnel (see picture). To continue to sew these together you need to switch from a normal walking stitch to a slip stitch to hide your seam.

Repeat this on the other strap, finish your bottom seam, add a button if you'd like, and you're done with the dress. Message or comment with any questions. Anything I missed I will gladly add to the post. Happy Halloween!

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