Long before I started this blog, I began work on Wendy Schoen’s Waterfall Christening Gown. I have now finished all of the embroidery on the dress and bonnet and now am beginning the construction. To give this gown a truly heirloom look, I’ve decided to construct it all by hand, and will document the process as much as possible on this blog. I’ll be using the techniques found in Sarah Howard Stone’s Book French Hand Sewing with a few exceptions that I will bring up as the construction progresses. You may wonder why I would make a gown completely by hand when there are relatively easy ways and plenty of resources to help us mimic French hand sewing techniques by machine. If you love hand embroidery, as most of you do or you wouldn’t be reading this, you will likely love and appreciate hand sewing. It’s incredibly satisfying to make a garment completely by hand, to know that you can do it, and to do it well.
This first photo above is a partial shot all the work completed to date on the front of the skirt. The back of the skirt also has dotted Swiss fabric attached to the batiste using point de Paris, or pin stitch, that follows the curve of the template in the pattern, but only along the hem.
This is one of the the back yoke pieces that are the first to be worked. The facing at the center back is folded over and blind stitched. Then the bottom of the yoke is rolled and whipped before sewing on the entredeux. Now, rolling and whipping isn't easy! It takes a fair amount of practice, which I haven't had. I've only sewn a few garments with hand rolling and whipping, so my edges are a bit uneven, but it doesn't look too bad. I'll try to remember to get some closeups for you to see next time. Sewing on the entredeux is simple, all you have to do is trim one edge of the fabric strip as I've done in the top of the photo, then whip stitch the rolled edge of the yoke to the square holes in the entredeux. The other side of the entredeux will then be used to attach the skirt to the yoke pieces.
The two back yokes with the entredeux sewn on, ready for the skirt back. Now it's time for the buttonholes! I really need practice on those.
The front yoke has all the embroidery finished and the entredeux attached. Here is my first instance of cheating. I debated on how to gather the skirts for attaching to the yoke. I could have hand sewed a running stitch using a strong thread to gather, run the fabric through a pleater, or run gathering threads on the machine. In the end I decided to use the machine. I’ve had a difficult time in the past gathering by hand so didn’t want to deal with a lot of uneven gathers. A pleater makes beautiful gathers, but on this lightweight fabric the gathers are very pronounced; the pleater is much better suited to heavier fabrics for this purpose. I went with the third choice, the sewing machine, using a polyester thread with a stitch length of 3.5 and ran two rows of stitching, lining up the edge of the presser foot with the edge of the fabric for the first row, then with the first row of stitching for the second row. The polyester thread is so strong that it pulled beautifully and didn’t break. Once the gown is finished no one will ever know - except all of you.
The next step is to stitch the gathered skirt pieces to the yokes. The traditional way is to roll and whip the top of the flat skirt, pulling on the thread to gather it. The gathered skirt is then stitched to the entredeux by whipping it through the holes in the entredeux. This technique takes a fair amount of time to master and unfortunately, I haven’t mastered it. I can roll and whip a flat edge with a slight degree of skill as mentioned above, but not gather it as well. So I will attach the gathered skirts to the entredeux using a running stitch, trim the gathered seam allowance, then fold the fabric of the entredeux over the gathers and stitch down with another running stitch. But that’s for the next post.
This dress is made with Bearrissima cotton batiste and cotton Dotted Swiss. The Bearrissima fabric is $26.00/yard, but at least it's 55 inches wide. It is absolutely the most heavenly fabric to work with. A firm finger press holds the fabric in place for all sewing. No trips to the iron are needed.
I have to say, I really love sewing this dress by hand. It is such a peaceful and contemplative process that yields lovely results. I hope that this series of articles will inspire you to try your hand at some heirloom hand sewing.
If you would like to see the (one) previous post, just click here to follow along.