So Many Muslins

1 wearable muslin in Liberty silk

Option 2-horz

I left the decision of which dress to make for the big day to my significant other. He looked at the shortlist and quickly with no agonising chose the last.

I didn’t question this. Perhaps I should have, as in the picture the dress features hardly at all.  I mean, what did he think was going on there?  What if he’d been influenced by the colours whereas I had only been looking at the styles? (I have no intention of using grey or black.)

1 Double Dungarees

What they were wearing in 2000: dungarees!!

Maybe his decision was self-interested and he’d disregarded the first two because he didn’t want to look underdressed alongside me?

Anyway, I set to work. first padding out the narrow waist of my display dummy Anne (as in ‘Boleyn’ – geddit!?) with a layer of wadding to make it the same size as mine.  Admittedly it looks a little lumpy and unprofessional but my daughter finds Anne quite huggable now.  Just like mummy, she says.

Then I began drafting the sleeve, the distinguishing feature of the dressless dress!

1 sleeve pattern from PInterestBack in September when I made the prototype, I magnified the pattern piece from the original Pinterest picture until it fit my blouse’s armscye.  (in case you’re interested, I made a PDF which you can download).

1 sdWhile it looked good enough in a shirting fabric, the sleeve I ended up with told only half the story!  Mine is a typical gathered sleeve with an interesting ‘epaulette’ whereas the original has more fullness and soft pleats.  I think I’ve more or less worked out how it’s done: at the top and below in the very last picture you can see I’ve  made a wearable muslin (using printed Liberty silk leftover from my BHL Sarah pattern-test).  I worry somewhat that it isn’t good enough, or that when the dress is finally finished it won’t suit me but it’s too late to backtrack.

The pattern I’m using this time is this (I forgot to make all the markings, including ‘on fold’).  Can you see a subtle difference?  I’ve underlined with silk organza so the sleeves don’t crumple.

1 sleeve pattern

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

As for the dress part, after a preliminary look at the choices in Goldhawk Road, I settled for the idea of a maxi princess dress in silk, with maybe a couple of surprise details thrown in if all goes well, but hoping to find a silk that’s suitably heavy with sufficient drape.

Then the toiling began. I started from Winifred Aldrich’s close-fitting bodice block but it really needed to get closer and closer: a couple of adjustments were made at the bust and a few more at the back.

Look at these carcasses!

1 first muslins

1 close up

Toile number… I forget

It’s hard to get an idea of what one’s back looks using a mirror so with a tripod and a camera on a self-timer, I took photos of my back with arms relaxed by my sides and made adjustments to the pattern once I’d measured what I’ve taken in with pins.  Luckily, as I seemed to be shaving more than adding, I didn’t waste paper starting afresh with each alteration (and if I do need to add to a pattern, I tend to ‘extend’ by gluing a strip of scrap to the underneath of the original).

I’ll be using the same method to get an even closer fit for my Six Napoleon bodice,

1 I'll be waiting in the direction of the kitchen door

I made a longer version too.

I was slightly alarmed that after two weeks of tinkering, I had nothing concrete to show for my efforts except a pile of muslins. But as anyone who has painted walls or woodwork properly may tell you: preparation is everything!

Geez, I hope they’re right.  I mean, what do I know, I don’t paint….

Then panic set in. I went back to Goldhawk Road and suddenly the choices seemed both limited and overwhelming.  At about £15 a metre  for 115cm wide silk, mistakes could prove expensive, and shops are generally unwilling to offer samples to mull over, instead inviting you to take photos.  As any sewist knows, this gives no idea of the feel or weight and is rather misleading when it comes to colour too.

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

In Classic Fabrics, there was a tempting choice of Liberty printed silks, exactly the same weight as my muslin below, but I thought the graphics would detract from the sleeve design.  I wanted a solid, ideally a blue or green from a palette created by sheer serendipity when Connie printed off and coloured in felt tips this dragon which also probably reminds her of ma:

1 Colour inspiration

So with just over 2 weeks to go, I went to Woolcrest Textiles to see what they got!   It was a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The atmosphere in Hackney was vibrant: so refreshingly different from the suburbs and a feast for the eyes if you’re into people-watching.  But not for the squeamish perhaps:  just as I turned off Mare Street, I was accosted rather rudely  😯   Or at least I assume the offer was rude – I haven’t actually Googled ‘poom-poom’ yet  🙂

Woolcrest is huge, sporadically lit and precariously stacked to the vaults with bolts.  I strained my forearm lifting down something (the three members of staff I met were very kind and helpful, but just as small as me so I didn’t bother asking for help).  But I found a fabric of the right colour and weight: a silky-satin (i.e. polyester) in teal which I’ve established suits me.  At £2 a very wide metre, I couldn’t believe my luck.  It seemed silly not to buy masses of the stuff.   I was in such a good mood, almost laughing at the thought that my special dress will come from the sort of place the outside of which looks like where you go to buy a kidney, and not off the original donor!  By Sunday night, the dimpled-looking silky fabric (which remained dimpled despite repeated pressing) was washed, cut and stay-stitched.  By Tuesday, the sleeves were done, backed with organza and looking nice and soft.  Most of the dress was done too: and….  well… it crackled with static when I slipped it over my head….

By Wednesday, having learnt first-hand that the old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is true, I was in Goldhawk Road again settling for a silk crepe, a touch on the floaty side, in a deep turquoise.  Reader, one of the sleeves below is £2 a metre in a silky fabric that when pressed smells slightly of an oil slick and the other is £16 silk.  You better be able to tell which is which!1 sleeves 1 and 2

1 sleeve1-horz

So, I have a week.

1 Liberty wearable muslin

18 thoughts on “So Many Muslins

  1. Ooooh, ooh, the sleeve on the right is the real deal silk eh Marijana?! Looking good luv. I loved your description of the carcasses, so apt! Good luck with it 😉

  2. Ooh this is going to be so lovely. Such a fun read, too. I was going to wait and then I had to sneak a peak when Gianni was in the loo! Good luck in the final stretch! (Such a beautiful photo of your significant other and baby, too.)

  3. I love your wearable muslin – the finished dress in that beautiful teal silk crepe will look amazing, I can’t wait to see it.
    Bon courage!

    • Thanks Megan, you’re very encouraging!

      I’ve just had a look at Rhonda’s blog (thanks for the link); the last post was inexpectedly very moving.

  4. My heart sank when you mentioned the smell. The gasoline smell in the most beautiful French provincial print my sister wanted a dress made from. Never ever ever goes away (well, if you bury the rubber snake toy in the yard, after about a year it does stop smelling). Mildew eventually retreats, but la gasolina, no way.

    I think she still resents me for it. Too bad.
    And what is a project if not one that runs right up to the event?

    • Ah, so I’m not imagining it!
      You’re so right about running up to the event too. I’ve spent half a day making Hong Kong seam finishes. Probably not necessary, but since I have half a day….

  5. Can’t wait to see it Mariana, I know the feeling, four metres of Liberty silk keeps looking at me for my son’s wedding. Just bought a dummy we’ve christened her Mable. She’s now a vey well padded lady!
    Still I’ve got until August so just a few more Muslins……….


  6. Great work on the sleeve and on the fit of your princess line dress. It’s looking splendid.

    I am sure that the labour invested now will pay off later with not just the Nap6 dress getting easier but a well fitting dress block that you can use in different ways. And lots of sleeve variations and learning.

    I don’t think I would have considered cheap, smelly polyester for an important event, but actually the slight structure it has gives an interesting sleeve, and just in terms of the outline I prefer it. Is the slik one underlined?

    As ever a beautifully written and hilarious post. Especially about the kidneys.

    • Thank you Kate. What was I thinking?!! But the fabric didn’t smell particularly, till I got it home, and since I’ve bought it I’ve noticed places like Topshop selling tops made out of the very same stuff so it’s not ultra nasty. And like you say, the sleeve holds its shape beautifully. As I’d made the sleeves first, it was a bit of a false encouragement.

      But the silk sleeves look better on, with real arms inside, because of the intensity of the colour and the velvet-like texture.

  7. I’m on a reading catch up at the moment and whilst this is very amusing to read I hope all has gone well since this and you now have a beautiful dress for your event.

  8. Very impressing post – and that sleeve :O how clever! Is there a tutorial on how to konstruct it? I would like to give it a try 🙂 One question, are there 3 pleats on each side (not counting that pleats on the flap-thing)? On your paper-pattern are 3 lines but the sewn sleeves looks like only one pleat on each side plus the gathering at the top.

    • On the paper pattern, the three lines are one pleat, with the middle line being the fold. If you try it in a small size or on a scrap, sew the flap thing (on shoulder with a basting stitch and fold till the seam meets the centre sleeve with raw edges together. Then fold the pleat to lie alongside the flap-thing pieces and pull gathering stitched till everything fits together. Then it’s just a question of making it fit the garment like a normal sleeve, but if it’s too big, you can redo it with the first seam allowance (flap thing) more like 2cm or 2.5cm. It sounds complicated but really isn’t and is, dare I say it, even fun.

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