Princess Seams

I’ve been entrusted with the task of making a dress for my friend Julie.  Julie is tall, slender and not unlike Princess Aurora, so it’s only fitting that the dress I’m designing her is to have Princess Seams!

The princess line travels either from the shoulder, like in Aurora’s dress, or from the armhole as in Julie’s sleeveless bodice and it’s a curved seam that contours outwards towards the widest point of the bust then inwards to the narrowest part of the waist.  Often, the line can continue below the waist to the dress hem, curving outward to accommodate the hips.

The technique for construction is the same whether the seam starts from the shoulder or the armhole, and is the same for the back as for the front.  Having said that, the curve at the back is less radical that at the bust, so if this is your first go, I recommend that you get a little practice by doing the back first.

In this example, I’m using the front.

Step 1

On the centre front: reinforce the curved part of the seam by stitching 2mm away from the seamline inside the seam allowance, starting at the top and ending just below the bust point.  Clip the area at regular intervals.

Tip: Clipping means making single cuts into the seam allowance to enable the area to spread and curve outwards.

Tip: when clipping, watch the tip of your scissors carefully and ensure it doesn’t go too close to the stitch line.  That way you’re less likely to cut the stitching.

Step 2

With Side Front on top of Centre Front, match the bust points.  With the clipped area spread outwards, pin the two sections together.  Tack (red stitches).  Turn so the centre front is on top, and stitch, sweeping your index finger in front of the presser foot to ensure the underside is smooth.

Tip: when stitching curved areas, keep your stitch short and your speed slow to get the line as exact as possible.

Remove tacking.

Step 3

Finger-press (press seam open with your fingers) and notch out the Side Front seam allowance.  It’s best the notch out in between the clippings of the opposite seam allowance.

Tip: Notching means making double cuts, taking out wedge-shaped pieces in a seam allowance that curves inward.  This is to eliminate the excess fabric that would otherwise overlap or bunch upwards.

Step 4

Close the seam and press it over a tailor’s ham.  Do not press beyond the seamline into the body of the garment: this might create creases.

Press the seam open over a tailor’s ham.  As you go, move the curviest parts of the seam over the most curved parts of the ham.

Tip: don’t trim Seam Allowances as this might make them too short to lie flat against the body of the garment.

Finishing Seam Allowances: in this example, the seam allowances are unfinished so that the finish doesn’t show through the fabric on the right side of the garment.  Instead, the bodice is lined so that the raw edges are contained within and aren’t subject to much rubbing.  The alternative is to finish off the seam allowances prior to seam construction.

I think that once you’re sewing Princess Seams, you’re quite on your way to turning from dressmaker to tailoress; that is, beginning to create garments with a permanent shape built into them!

Get Ham!

A tailor’s ham is an essential piece of kit, used for pressing curved areas, for example in shaping princess seams or bust darts, and for moulding collars.  It takes no more than an hour to make so if you’re a keen dressmaker with some rags to spare, get yourself a ham!  Sooner or later, a project that requires it will land on your sewing table.

These instructions are based on those in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

You will need:

Rags (I use old toiles, cut to shreds, old socks and tights).  Or sawdust.

Two pieces of calico, 45cm x 35 cm each approx.  This is for the lining.

Two pieces of outer fabric, sized as above.

Step 1

Place your iron on the calico and draw around it.

Step 2

Enlarge this area all around by 7cm to an egg-like shape and cut out.  Repeat.  Cut two more from the outer fabric.

Step 3

Using the outer fabric and lining as one, stitch together the two pieces, right sides together and leaving a gap of 10cm open.  Stitch again: the reinforcement is important as the ham will be tightly stuffed!  Turn right side out, stuff with rags and slipstitch the opening securely.


Ham in action

For pressing princess seams: place the curved seam on the curve of the ham.  It’s useful to have one of these not just for constructing the seam but for pressing the completed garment after laundering.

For moulding the undercollar of a jacket: fold along the roll line and pin to ham, interfaced side out.  Press against ham.  Seam press if appropriate for your fabric and allow to dry before continuing.

When attaching a collar, rather than working on a flat surface, insert tailor’s ham inside the garment and pin the collar to the neckline.

P.S. You can’t put these in sandwiches, you know!